Eight years into his career as a performing musician, Mathew Haeffel has played nearly 700 gigs. That's nearly two entire years' of shows.
Despite all that hard work on stage and on the road -- or maybe exactly because of it -- Haeffel only recently issued his first full-length CD.
"Rhythm Ethics" was recorded last winter with Rae Nimeh at Chicago's United Technique studio on South Michigan Avenue.
The record has 10 well-crafted tracks that will especially delight fans of the likes of John Mayer and Jason Mraz.
It's been a long time since we checked in with him, so we caught up with Haeffel recently to ask about "Rhythm Ethics" and more.
OnMilwaukee.com: How has life been for the band lately? Lots of gigs?
Mathew Haeffel The gig list has been steadily growing since inception. Over the past few years the live performance average has been upwards of 100 shows. Playing has occurred in 60 plus cities across the Midwest and expansion is forthcoming. With such a hefty schedule, it has been difficult to find musicians able to commit to so many dates. As such, the latest incarnation of "the band" has been a mixture of many talented artists. I play solo, duo, trio, quartet, quintet.
Each show consists of different players -- chosen from a list of many different percussionists, bassists, keyboardists, guitarists, horn players, etc. -- that have all agreed to supply backing instrumentation on a case by case basis. It has been really great for me to experience playing with different talented musicians every show. It helps to hone my abilities as a player and has helped me to make new friendships and associates that I otherwise may never have had the pleasure of meeting.
Logistically, it helps for me to be able to alter performances to feature different settings. A typical week of shows will consist of a dinner setting, club setting, festival setting or any other type of setting. This "chameleon" effect positively affects the amount of shows I can play.
OMC: Tell us about the latest record and where, when and how it was made.
MH: "Rhythm Ethics" is my first attempt at a "radio" quality recording, to coin a music industry term that means "a really good one." Previous recordings were made primarily to catalog and copyright material, and to acquire gigs. Having made those previous recordings and the mistakes that come along with it, as well as meeting professionals and gaining the wisdom they've shared, I was more confident and prepared for the recording of "Rhythm Ethics."
I like to let songs work themselves out, and one of the best ways to do that is to write during live performances. A lot of the album was written on stage at different performances over the past couple years. The changes, syncopations and most of the lyrics were written in solidarity.
I met a musician, Larry Hubbard, through some ads I posted looking for bassists. Larry played/produced for the group BassX and has played with many great groups including Destiny's Child. We played several shows together and he connected me with United Technique and sound engineer Rae Nimeh in Chicago. Rae has played with Disturbed and recorded with industry heavyweights such as Beyonce and Mariah Carey. He has the best studio I've had the honor of playing in and is one of the best sound engineers around. Larry and Rae taught me invaluable information and were greatly helpful in making "Rhythm Ethics."
The players on this recording are beyond talented. Larry Hubbard played bass guitar for the song "Wonder" and Ricky Peterson laid down the organ. Ricky Peterson has played with greats such as Prince, John Mayer and Bonnie Raitt. It is an honor to have his talents on my new album. Matt Turner played bass for most of the album. Matt has played with great acts such as the BoDeans, De La Buena and Stealing Strings. Cody Calderon played drums for the album and has played with Chinese Finger Trap, The Superchiefs and Herman Astro.
OMC: It has a very relaxed vibe to it. Does that reflect the mood of the sessions?
MH: The sessions were actually quite intense; five 12-hour days over three weekends -- not to mention Illinois toll way traffic -- but everything went so smooth. Perhaps the "relaxed vibe" is the result of careful preparation, great players and an excellent studio, which led to an almost effortless, though intense, recording session.
OMC: Why did you choose Chicago for recording? Did recording down there -- in terms of logistics but also vibe -- change the way you approached making the record?
MH: I chose Chicago because I knew Rae would record a quality album. I had trust in his abilities and his equipment is phenomenal. United Technique is very professional and the people that they have worked with make you proud to be associated with them. I don't have connections like that anywhere else ... yet.
OMC: What's next for the Haeffel Band?
MH: More playing out, writing songs and working on making it all a success. I hope to make some real ground with the new album and the uber chameleon band. I am feeling ambitious and more prepared than ever to make a splash in the oceanic music industry complex.
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.