By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Aug 15, 2006 at 5:14 AM
Mike Fredrickson is a man about town; a renaissance man, too. He's one of those cats that everyone seems to know, whether its via his singing and writing songs for the now-defunct band The Mosleys, as a bass player touring and recording with Chicago's Robbie Fulks (Fredrickson was also a member of The Spanic Boys), as a talented and respected painter and art teacher at MIAD or via some other means.

Recently, Fredrickson has spent some of his much-in-demand time recording a new solo CD, "Poor Freddy's Almanac," in Chicago with Jay O'Rourke, who has worked as a producer and engineer with Fulks, Warren Zevon, Swans, Material Issue and others.

The result is a 10-song set loaded with examples of Fredrickson's catchy melodies, traditional harmonies that conjure the Everlys and, at times, the Beatles, and well-crafted lyrics. In addition to his bass work, Fredrickson also dishes up some fine electric guitar playing, too.

Between stints on the road with Fulks, we asked Fredrickson about making the record and more.

OMC: Was this the first time you ceded full control to an outside producer? As someone who has always appeared to have a clear vision of what he wants was that a hard thing to do?

MF: This wasn't the first time I worked with an "outside" producer. Kramer produced The Mosleys' "Tested Recipes" in 1996. He's the guy that got Urge Overkill to do that Neil Diamond song which ended up in "Pulp Fiction." As far as giving up control to anyone, it's never really been like I've brought in a bunch of demos and then couldn't recognize them when we're done.

On this record Jay O'Rourke had worked on tour with Robbie last summer so I got to know him then. Jay has worked in Chicago as the house sound man at the Park West and The Vic. He's produced tons of CDs including tracks for Warren Zevon, and currently works in his backyard and at Rax Trax and does sound for "Robbies' Secret Country" from Chicago's Old Town School for satellite radio. He's also (Fulks guitarist) Grant Tye's landlord. If you Google him it probably makes more sense.

Back to the "control" issue; we worked together on creative decisions. I've never ceded control to anyone with my songs. Jay was important because he has EARS. Mixing the record is easier said than done. He knows how.

OMC: Did you take anything away from it -- either technically or philosophically?

MF: I'm pretty sure I want to use Jay again, I'm just not so sure I can afford him. That's technically what I learned. As far as philosophy goes, I think I'd rather leave that subject to second year art students. In all candor I learned to slow down a little and be more patient with this project. In the past I've been used to banging out a CD in a weekend. I still feel more inclined to do it that way, but this time I had to learn to wait. I don't like waiting.

OMC: Can you tell us a bit about the band on the disc?

MF: The band on the disc is Robbie Fulks' tour band plus Scott Ligon, Melissa Zeimer, and the producer, Jay O'Rourke. Gerald Dowd played all the drums. Grant Tye, Jay and I played guitars. Scott played keyboards accept the occasional synth part that I threw in, and Melissa did alot of background vocals. They all reside in Chicago and play in lots of projects down that way.

The difference between Chicago musicians and the ones up here seems to be that down there the scene is more porous. People play with each other more fluidly in Chicago. They're also not afraid to rehearse. Up here the only guys that do that are blues guys, accept they don't rehearse.

OMC: Now that you've become a mainstay of Robbie Fulks' band, was there the temptation to get him to sing on the record so you could promote it as "featuring Robbie Fulks"?

MF: I've been playing with Robbie for four years. He was on a CD that I did two years ago called "Perfect Holiday." As far as your question is concerned, you've answered it yourself. No, I never considered exploiting Robbies' cult status in ways that I don't already do, since he signs most of my paychecks.

OMC: A lot of readers will be angry with me if I don't ask about The Mosleys. Will the band play together or record together again?

MF: The Mosleys were a fun band with more energy than most things on this planet. I wish we could have kept learning and growing together but like most things that you'd like to keep because you love them, you gotta let go. People need to do what they've got to do and more power to them. I have a hard time letting go of the Mosleys. Dave and Royce are like brothers to me and God knows I'd play with them in a heartbeat if the opportunity presented itself. Right now it's not in the cards.

OMC: Since you're also a visual artist, you must be busy most of the time working on something? Does that ever create conflict for you? That is, are you ever rehearsing or gigging with the band and just dying to pick up a brush?

MF: If you're trying to do two or three things at once you've got to learn how to  juggle. Time management is important. Learning to juggle is important. I don't know about you but my mind always wants to do the very thing that it's not capable of doing at any given moment, so when I'm painting I'm humming a song, and when I'm on tour I miss my attic. Life would be boring without some conflict.

OMC: Do you find that your visual art and music influence or affect each other? Do they inform each other? Or are they just completely separate modes of expression.

MF: That's a tough one. I think the thing that painting and playing music have in common is that you have to forget yourself and be in the moment to do either one. If you get to a place where the music is playing itself, or five hours have gone by while you're painting and it seems like 15 minutes, then that's the thing that they share. A heightened sense of concentration that also acts as a release for the person that's in it. Does that answer your question?

I know you want a literal comparison but I don't think about songs or paintings as things that I should try to "clarify" to myself or to others. I think people that claim to find meaning in that kind of talk are insulting what I know to be my own experience. In other words they're full of sh*t. Meaning is a private sphere. Finding it is personal and takes time. My ideas about these two forces in my life are mine and sharing them ain't happening ... at least not in this format.

OMC: What will you do now that the record is finished? Will you tour behind it or are you back out on the road with Robbie Fulks right away?

MF: This summer we went to: Ashburn, Va., Raleigh, N.C., Ashland, Va., Arlington. Va., New York, New Haven, Great Barrington, Mass., Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Edmonton, Calgary, Seattle, Vashon Island, Wash., Boise, Salt Lake City, Benton Harbor, Mich., Minneapolis, Champaign, Ill., Madison, Ann Arbor, Oshkosh and Milwaukee at Shank Hall on Aug. 25.

Now that this record is finished I'm going to try to sell them so people that are interested can look me up at CD Baby as I'm setting up an account there as we speak to sell my backlog of solo and Mosleys CDs. I'm sitting on a ton of boxes in my attic and they're crowding me out so I'm trying to rummage them off. Everything must go!!!!!!!

I'm having a showing of new paintings at Roast on Aug. 26 and they should be there for a month or so.

I'm playing solo at Linneman's on the 21st of August. I'm touring with Robbie, and I'm working on writing songs for a new CD slated to be recorded this winter, and I'm looking forward to jamming with some people locally with the intention of starting a brand new combo.

Whew, that was alot of typing for me. Come see us at Shank on Aug. 25. We'll be recording it so your obscene hoots and hollers could end up on Robbies' next record.
Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

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.