A country twang, a classic British Invasion-style pop structure, an almost new wave guitar-chug chorus. Who can put all that together and make it sound easy?
That would be veteran Milwaukee musician Mike Fredrickson, who after his tenure with the storied Mosleys, played bass with Robbie Fulks and Paul Cebar – two gigs he still does with frequency – maintained a weekly residency as a singer and guitarist at Linneman’s Riverwest Inn.
Fredrickson has just issued his 13th CD – the 13-song "Make It Stop" – but because Fredrickson’s songwriting well is so deep that number 14 is already being manufactured and he’s got enough songs to crack open a 15th.
In the meantime, "Make It Stop" will do just fine, with its unadorned mix of rock and roll, country and folk. Fredrickson isn’t working on the fringes of styles, but, rather, absorbs styles into music that feels comfortable, familiar, but with a twist.
The uptempo acoustic "Dirty Girl" has a folk-y intro, "Kinda Crazy" is a power pop gem, "Hold Me Close" has a western swing vibe and I’m not even sure how to describe "Earn Your Love."
We asked Fredrickson about making "Make It Stop" and about the progress on its already numerous follow-ups...
OnMilwaukee.com: Let's get some background out of the way. What was your most recent CD before "Make It Stop"?
Mike Fredrickson: My most recent CD before "Make it Stop" was "Souvenirs," which I made in 2010 in John's (Sieger) basement, with Reggie Bordeaux on drums, and me and John doing the rest.
OMC: And who are you performing with these days? Are you still working with Paul?
MF: I'm still playing solo at Linneman's on the second Tuesday of each month, I'm still playing bass with Paul Cebar, and I still do the occasional Robbie Fulks gig when he needs his "rock" outfit.
OMC: Tell me a bit about making the new disc. Did it start out casually or were you planning on making a CD from the start?
MF: For the "Make It Stop" CD it was a continuation of where me and John had left off with "Souvenirs." I had a different bunch of songs and I really like recording in John's basement so we did another one. So, to answer your question, yes I wanted it to be a CD from the start.
OMC: You've got a nice cast of local all-stars backing you up. Did you have them in a room together or did folks kinda come in and do their parts one at a time over time?
MF: They came in as they were available. There are four different drummers on this one and Jason Klagstad as well as me and John on guitars, so it was a project that took the better part of a winter to complete. Sometimes, me and John were playing at the same time, but mostly it was me and (drummer) John Carr getting the bed tracks down first and then building it up from there. Bob Schneider added his drum parts to the end of a few of them, so we did it backwards, too!
OMC: Do you write a song and arrangement to completion and then record it or do you start with a more basic design and let it go where it goes with the other musicians in the studio?
MF: I usually have the song written first before I record it. John comes up with arrangement ideas that are invaluable and they usually find their way into the song, but a band doesn't sit around and "jam" on an idea until a song is born. I think that's moronic.
It's true that every player adds his own take on how his or her parts are sounding to them and I usually let them have a go at it, but I still have veto power throughout. With players that are this good, they usually have too many ideas to add so I'm more of an editor after the fact.
OMC: I know that you are an accomplished painter, too. Do you see parallels in the way you create music and the way you make visual art?
MF: Apples and oranges. They are both attempts at creating an alternate reality, but one is a team sport and the other is a long hard solo slog. And there's no applause at the end of a painting!
OMC: Do those media inform each other in some way, too, or are they distinct?
MF: Yes, I think dance, film, painting, music, comedy, theater, TV, print, is all swirling around in one big circus and we have to be able to pick what's going to influence our creative decisions and what we're going to ignore.
What really happens is when I'm in the back of a van on the road playing music all I think about is painting and wishing I could be home painting. And when I'm painting, songs keep bugging me and popping into my head and I keep wishing someone in this fricking town would let me play my own music in a band setting again.
So they act like two spoiled children that are jealous of each other and they never give me a moments peace. That's how they "inform" each other.
OMC: What's your plan for the disc? Will you play gigs to promote it actively?
MF: My plans for the disc are to sell it to as many people as possible. Without a band I'm kind of stuck as far as playing goes, but I do play these songs in my solo show and if anybody out there is interested in starting a band, I'm all ears.
OMC: Do you have a bag full of new songs already, since you finished this one, I mean?
MF: Yes, I've got about 12 songs ready to record. I just need to come up with the money to do it. Also, I'm releasing a compilation CD next month of songs from all 13 of my CDs, from The Mosleys through "Make It Stop." It has 24 tracks on it and is going to be called "MF Shuffle."
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.