By Jeff Sherman Staff Writer Published Oct 03, 2006 at 5:31 AM
The Gufs have a somewhat unique, Milwaukee musical story.  They’ve tasted success, led “regular lives,” and now are ready to finish a new CD and play on own
their terms for their faithful fans.  

After 18 years together and with all of the original members still in tow, the band has just put the wraps on "A Different Sea," their first new record in seven years. Their last album, “Holiday from You” (1999), featured the radio-friendly songs, “Last Goodbye” and “Give Back Yourself,” with guest vocals from Rob Thomas of Matchbox 20.

The band has come a long way since their independent debut with 1990’s “Staring into the Sun.”  Their subsequent indie releases, “Songs of Life” (1992) and “Circa 89” (1993), and their touring throughout the Midwest built them a strong fan base and solid exposure on college radio.

Then, in ’95, they signed a major label recording contract with Atlantic Records based on their fourth and last independent album, “Collide.”  Even today, the title track from this release gets radio play in our market. In 1998, the band hit the studios with renowned producer Arnold Lanni (Our Lady Peace, Finger Eleven, Simple Plan) to record their second and final album for Atlantic. “Holiday from You” (1999) was the band’s last record for Atlantic and would mark the time for a break and reflection on their disillusionment with the music industry.

Since 1999, the band has maintained that “the release of a new Gufs’ album was never in question; it was only a matter of time.” 

At Kevin Sucher’s Laboratory Recording Studio Downtown, OMC’s Jeff Sherman caught up with band members Scott Schwebel and Goran Kralj for this edition of “Milwaukee Talks.” 

OMC:  The music industry has changed a lot since you started.  Can you please talk a bit about the industry and how it’s evolved? 

Schwebel:  The great thing about the music business part of the industry that has changed, is accessibility to recording.  Studios were these things that were expensive, you needed a major label … now we can instantly release a record to the world tomorrow. 

OMC:  Do artists and bands have more control now? 

Kralj:  I think they are definitely more in control now.    The mindset now is that you don’t necessarily need a big label to be able to get your music out, whereas when we first started and when we first signed (with Atlantic Records) you needed it … that was the next thing to.  First you make it big in your town and you needed to get a record deal if you wanted people to hear you.  Now, it’s not the case.  Like Scott said, if we wanted to we could release our new record worldwide tonight. 

Schwebel:  The power of Internet and your ability to find music in so many places is overwhelming.  It used to be the best bands that you probably never heard of -- you never were going to hear of.  Now you just have to have the time and you can find everything.  There are all of these new avenues for people to share access to music.  There’s so much. 

OMC:  Does it seem like 15 years since your first record?

Kralj:  For me, it seems like yesterday. It’s like, where does time go?  The older I get time is just disappearing.  But we all feel good and it’s great that we are still all together. The band was based on friends so it’s obvious that as we get older we are all still friends and having fun.

Schwebel:  The fact is, we are still the same guys.  Whether you like our music or not, as a musician, (I like) having the chemistry among the four of us and the give and take and exchange of ideas … that’s what is so fun about it. 

OMC:  Define success.

Kralj:  I think it’s going to bed feeling good about what you did.  We honesty can feel good about what history we have created, and it was so unintentional too, that’s the beauty of it.  We just really got together to drink beer and pick up pretty girls.  And, who would have thought that 15 years later … well, we are still doing that now, just with our wives. 
OMC:  The fan response at the shows is amazing.  Are you surprised at the age diversity at your shows? 

Schwebel:  It’s crazy.  We have friends with kids who are fans.  It’s crazy.  It’s a wonderful testament to our music too.  We were never trying to be the hip, cutting edge band.  Our music is simple by nature, it’s bizarre to look out and see the dads and kids.  It’s great. 

OMC: What are your thoughts on the Milwaukee music scene?

Schwebel:  When we were coming up there was a very strong live band dynamic, that’s what you wanted to do, (when you were in college) you went to the bars to see great live bands. It wasn’t just cover bands, it was a live music scene, there were a lot of great bands.  It ebbed, but now it’s never been stronger.  Now there’s just a whacked variety, punk, pop, rock … it’s different, though.  There’s no distinct Milwaukee sound.  But, that’s okay. 

Kralj:  We do like a lot of the new area bands.  Northern Room is a great new band, Bascom Hill is actually a very strong sounding band.  Very cool.

Schwebel:  You’ve got bands like Maritime, who are conceivably more popular in Japan than they are in town.  There are some cool, really cool bands in Milwaukee.

OMC:  What can we expect from the new album?

Kralj:  It’s an extension from “Holiday from You.”  But, a little bit more positive like some of the earlier stuff.  When you write an album ... you just want to write a song.  You get an idea and you just go with it.  Then you listen to the whole body of the work and there’s a theme.  This one is all about forgiveness and second chances.  It’s sort of interesting that we are at a point of our careers where it is a second chance, a second coming as a band.  It sounds very melodic and uplifting. 

Schwebel:  I think this record has a lot of songs that are going to be really easy to listen to the first time. Very accessible, more heartfelt.  It’s really easy to listen to.

OMC:  Any big plans for the release of the album, other than The Pabst Theater show?

Kralj:  Just like how we started, great shows and I’m sure the die-hard fans will have ways to get the record a few days before (its release).  That’s the crazy thing with this whole Internet thing, we’ve really been able to stay in touch with people.  It’s exciting for us. 

Schwebel:  That’s the coolest thing, we used to just have a “sign up for a mailing list” at shows.  Now, it’s all accessible and instantly there’s information about the show after it happens before you even get back to your computer. 

Kralj:  Yeah, there used to be (seven years ago) a lot of exchange of bodily fluids back then (laughing), but now it’s e-mail, video phones …

OMC:  What else are you listening to these days?

Kralj:  The Gufs new record is really all I listen to! 

Schwebel:  Actually, that’s the only disc in my car.  All the sorta fader up mixes as we are in production and getting the tunes ready.  I do have a couple of country discs, too.  Feeder (and) a lot of obscure stuff too; a lot of it poppy.

Kralj:  Yes, the Wreckers.  That’s awesome.  Michelle Branch, there’s something about her.  She can write a song, it’s a great record.  I like that Fray album for a new pop band.

OMC:  Now, the one question I like to ask everyone.  If you could have a drink with anyone, who would it be and why? 

Kralj:  As I’m thinking, I’m thinking Bill Clinton.  I think I’d want to ask him how in the most powerful position in the world couldn’t you have self-restraint and control?  But, yeah, I would love to know the answer to that question. 

Schwebel:  Bob Costas.  Sure, a ton of music people (would be cool) too.  He seems like a nice guy, and an interesting storyteller to have a conversation with.  He’s seems brilliant when it comes to sports and he sorta has a way ... calming and entertaining. 

OMC:  What’s The Gufs favorite place to play?

Schwebel: We love every city, man!  But, we’ve played basically every venue in the city (of Milwaukee). Summerfest is just the best. 

Kralj:  Milwaukee is the best, Summerfest.  Really looking forward to The Pabst, too.    If we could just take all of Milwaukee with us on the road, it would be very, very good! 
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.