By Jeff Sherman Staff Writer Published Jul 21, 2001 at 5:25 AM

Since their beginning in 1990, The Gufs have grown, matured and, like most bands, struggled to find a place in the crowded world of music.

Moving from a series of independent album releases and small club concerts to bigger shows in the Midwest and throughout the country, The Gufs have made a name for themselves.

But if you know The Gufs you know that good times have also been tempered with bad ones. Gufs singer/songwriter Goran Kralj reflected on those ebbs on the band's 1999 album "Holiday from You," their second and last disc for Atlantic Records.

The band -- guitarist Morgan Dawley, bassist Dejan Kralj and drummer Scott Schwebel -- turned out a great album in "Holiday From You," but its commercial success was limited despite a single featuring Rob Thomas from Matchbox 20.

In the year leading up to the recording sessions for the disc, The Gufs had their share of traumatic events, both professional and personal. They parted ways with percussionist Brian Pettit, took on new management (which had familial implications for the Kraljs, whose brother had been guiding the group), and members Goran Kralj, Dawley and Schwebel separated from their significant others.

Yet, The Gufs are still going strong, working on new material and like many bands in their shoes, trying hard to "make it" in the crazy world of music.

After Dawley and Goran Kralj's acoustic show at Bastille Days, caught up with Goran Kralj for an update on the band.

OMC: What's new this summer?

GK: As far as the band is concerned, we're doing a lot of writing, and demoing, all in hopes of putting out a new album sometime next year. We're still in the process of looking for a home (a new record company).

We're hoping that some of our new demo songs will turn people at record companies on. Otherwise, we're just going to put something out on our own. We're going to do a live acoustic album in the fall and put that out on our own. We recently did two songs with John Gilmore, who did the new Sugar Ray disc and Eve 6 and Lit. (Working with John) will hopefully stir up some major label interest which will help us out.

The Gufs are not doing too many shows this summer. That's why this acoustic thing has been really fun. As a band, we're trying to lay low and figure some stuff out. It's been fun to do something different.

The acoustic shows allow us to keep in touch with people, meet new people and try out some new material. Things our fans will want to hear.

OMC: Going back to the last record, what do you think the general perception was, especially for people who haven't heard The Gufs before.

GK: I think in general, a lot of fans really loved the last album. If anything, it may have been a little too deep. But for the most part, everybody was really into what we were trying to do.

For me, the album -- it was about timing -- there was a lot of s*it happening at the time when we were writing the songs -- stuff was going down. The songs were real stories. What else as a songwriter can you write about? You write about what's happening around you. I put myself out on a limb, and I think people appreciated it.

For people who didn't know The Gufs, I think that they liked the album, it was our strongest ever. I think we got lucky with songs like "Smile" and "Crash" -- it was naive writing. We didn't really know what we were doing. It just goes to show that we're a halfway decent band.

But this last album, we worked with a real producer for the first time and we really learned to play together as a band. I think if anybody was listening to us for the first time I would have them go to "Holiday From You," not a song like "Smile."

That album is more representative of what we're all about. And the newer stuff sounds more like "Holiday From You," but the lyrical aspect isn't as heavy. It's more positive.

OMC: Obviously you're still having fun and remain committed to the band.

GK: Yeah. We're all about having a good time. It's been harder to keep things together because we have band members living in different cities. It's not as easy to just say "Hey, come over. Let's work on a new song."

It's been fun and I've learned a lot about myself and songwriting this year. It feels so good to be practicing and playing our songs. It's funny, because when we get together we don't miss a beat. Summerfest this year was great. People are still really into us and it means a lot. That's a main reason we're still wanting to make The Gufs really happen.

Believe it or not, our Summerfest concert was more packed this year than last year. Part of the reason is the band has been lying low and trying to figure some stuff out, so people hadn't seen us in a while.

We want to still keep people wanting to see us. We only played a couple times this year, but we want the fans to stay strong. That's why the acoustic shows have been awesome because it gives people the chance to come and see us and be a part of our music.

OMC: What are your thoughts on the local band scene?

GK: From a pop music perspective, if you look, Milwaukee has many local bands that are really coming out. I don't know much about the Buzzhorn, but I hear they have a record deal and they're looking to record (The Buzzhorn recently signed to Atlantic Records -ed.).

Other bands like Pet Engine have been around for a while, and get radio play on LAZER. They're still ... trying to make something happen. I don't know of many other bands in Milwaukee in that emotional pop rock category (Matchbox 20, Third Eye Blind). Bender is another good local band.

OMC: What about radio play? Is it tough for local artists to get Milwaukee radio to play their stuff?

GK: I think for most bands, it's been really hard. For us, when things took off it was because local radio was behind us. The timing was awesome. The Point (the old 106.9 FM) was awesome, I wish that station was still here. In general it's been hard for a lot of bands to get radio support. There are not many bands in town that fit the major national ‘sounds' that stations are looking for.

It was tough for our last album, because there wasn't really a Lazer 103 song. But Lazer got behind us and played stuff that didn't really fit their format. I couldn't see KISS FM playing anything local, unless it was really taking off.

OMC: How did The Gufs' inclusion in the Aware Records compilation do for you?

GK: It was good. It opened up some doors. They're getting ready to put together an Aware Records greatest hits compilation. It's still in the works, but it will be really cool. They want to use a song of ours as a "future band -- still unsigned with hopes for being big superstars." They plan to take the disc to radio and it will feature bands like The Verve Pipe, Train, Matchbox 20 and other cool well-known bands that Aware Records has helped.

Watch for Goran and Morgan's acoustic shows throughout the rest of the summer. For a sample of new Gufs' tunes click here.

Jeff Sherman Staff Writer

A life-long and passionate community leader and Milwaukeean, Jeff Sherman is a co-founder of OnMilwaukee.

He grew up in Wauwatosa and graduated from Marquette University, as a Warrior. He holds an MBA from Cardinal Stritch University, and is the founding president of Young Professionals of Milwaukee (YPM)/Fuel Milwaukee.

Early in his career, Sherman was one of youngest members of the Greater Milwaukee Committee, and currently is involved in numerous civic and community groups - including board positions at The Wisconsin Center District, Wisconsin Club and Marcus Center for the Performing Arts.  He's honored to have been named to The Business Journal's "30 under 30" and Milwaukee Magazine's "35 under 35" lists.  

He owns a condo in Downtown and lives in greater Milwaukee with his wife Stephanie, his son, Jake, and daughter Pierce. He's a political, music, sports and news junkie and thinks, for what it's worth, that all new movies should be released in theaters, on demand, online and on DVD simultaneously.

He also thinks you should read OnMilwaukee each and every day.