The cover art says the new "Chicago" EP is by Dutch Courage but look closely and you'll see that this new seven-track disc, on Milwaukee's Latest Flame imprint, is largely the work of one man: Andy Puechner.
Puechner wrote, recorded and performed the pop-infused tunes, based on his experiences living in Chicago, with the help of a couple other musicians. Drummer Dan Hanke (Sometime Sweet Susan, Crime & Judy) and Tim Johnson (Strangest Places) helped with the performances and the recording.
Comparisons to Elliott Smith, Badly Drawn Boy and Nick Drake have surfaced, but Puechner's songs are infused with the melodic -- and not terribly moody -- sensibilities of the Beatles and similar bands.
We recently asked Puechner about the making of the record and what else is going on.
OMC: What's your background in Milwaukee music? Were you in any bands here before Dutch Courage?
AP: After high school I spent a bunch of time in bands that were never quite able to get off the ground. Some of the people I played with went on to form The Benjamins, The Response and Molitor.
OMC: So how did this EP project come about?
AP: Four or five years ago I went out and bought a Tascam cassette four-track and a Shure SM-57 microphone because I was frustrated with just being a bass player and I wanted to try my hand at songwriting. A few years later I met Tim Johnson through a mutual friend who slipped him a tape of some songs I had written. He was interested in recording some of my songs and he turned me on to using the computer as the recording medium. It really opened up the possibilities.
OMC: Except for drums, did you play everything?
AP: Everything except the kitchen sink (ba-dum-bum). I wrote and recorded the EP throughout 2004. I had tons of help in the recording process from Tim Johnson. Since we're both amateurs on the recording side of things, the songs went through a lot of revisions, re-recordings, etc. before we were happy with them. During that period we were also accumulating better recording gear and coming to grips with how best to use it. The magazine TapeOp -- and its accompanying Interweb message board -- was an enormous resource in that regard.
I was fortunate to find Dan Hanke to play drums on the EP. He believed in the songs enough to come down to the space and bang through the songs on a Sunday afternoon for me. In addition to the recording side of things, Tim contributed the Wurlitzer (organ) solo for the bridge section on "Wicker Park." Dushan Duvnjak helped out with some harmonies for the outro on "Big City" and the choruses on "Red Letter Day."
OMC: We've seen comparisons to Elliott Smith, Nick Drake and Badly Drawn Boy, but there's a definite poppy, almost Beatles-esque feel to the melodies of the songs. Is that pop-based rock and roll part of your musical psyche?
AP: You're right about that; 1960s pop is kind of inescapably part of my -- and I should think most people's -- subconscious. I guess it has a lot to do with the fact that the only music I listened to until I was about 10 was the "oldies" station. Thanks Mom and Dad.
Later on, after listening to a lot of punk records as a teenager, I got interested in the stuff those guys were inspired by: David Bowie, The Kinks, The Zombies, Big Star, The Who ... I could go on and on.
OMC: Since Milwaukee and Chicago sometimes have a shaky relationship, how do you think Milwaukeeans will take to the subject matter?
AP: Heh. I guess I never really thought about it. I spent a lot of time in Chicago prior to writing the songs, and at first I definitely had mixed feelings about that city. I think most Milwaukeeans have an inferiority complex about their city, especially in light of how big and influential Chicago is. In the end, I came away in love with Chicago despite the inherent annoyances -- parking, everything's expensive, etc. -- to people accustomed to life in Milwaukee.
Outside of Wicker Park, I think there may actually be more Milwaukee references in the songs -- "Big City" has a West Allis reference. How's that for a conflict of interest?
OMC: Will you take Dutch Courage onstage? If so, will you assemble a band or play solo shows?
AP: Actually, I've kind of done both! Back in May after the EP was finished I was able to nab Dan Hanke, Tom Behrendt, and Tim Johnson for three-show swing through Chicago, Cedar Falls, IA, and Milwaukee with Chicago's Riviera and the Gunshy.
In September I did my first solo show opening for Tom Behrendt's CD release at the Cactus Club. I was hesitant at first about the whole thing; how would it work logistically. But it went really well and I hope to do a lot more solo shows.
OMC: Are you writing/recording a follow-up yet?
AP: Yes, I started to work on a new LP a month or so ago. We've finished tracking on one song, and we have a few others we're working on. I'm really excited about the new songs. I have the title track almost finished and the cover/sleeve concept has been figured out.
Dutch Courage's Web site is http://dutchcouragemusic.com. There are links on the site for purchasing the "Chicago" EP.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.