By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Apr 11, 2003 at 5:30 AM

Richard Jankovich was working as a solitary musician for a few years when he realized his Burnside Project could use some input from other artists. The result is the Burnside Project's debut disc as a band, "The networks, the circuits, the streams, the harmonies," released by Bar None Records, a respected East Coast indie.

While the record's smart and engaging mix of indie rock and electronica is notable and alluring, what will also be on interest to Milwaukeeans is Jankovich himself. A Madison native, Jankovich lived in Milwaukee in the first half of the 1990s. During that time, he and his then-band Big Mother Gig grew a devoted following that fiercely supported the band until Jankovich headed to New York in 1996.

Jankovich, who just recently turned 30, moved away just as Big Mother Gig was falling apart, he says.

"It was literally three days after our last show. I was getting engaged and we wanted to start over somewhere else."

What he found when he arrived in New York was that there was a whole world out there that he'd never known about.

"It's amazing to me how much the milwaukee scene exists in a complete vacuum, even from the rest of the Midwest," Jankovich says. When he was living here and performing regularly with Big Mother Gig, "There was never any reason to go out of Milwaukee. It was definitely a close-knit scene. It was really depressing to play outside Milwaukee, even Chicago was always a complete bust."

Although Big Mother Gig was making strides in the scene, Jankovich couldn't see it going anywhere.

"At the time we thought we were rock stars because we'd pack The Globe. Our final show in 1996, the Onion ran a full page ad and sponsored the show. The place was sold out and we had like 10 opening bands," Jankovich remembers. "It was bizarre coming from that to here where nobody knows who I am. At the time I thought the scene was really vital and imporant. Looking back it was really depressing, the same people getting drunk all the same places. There was no community beyond drinking. Nobody ever said, 'let's do something different.'"

So, when the opportunity came to check out something else, Jankovich took it. In New York, he made a conscious effort to investigate other things, like electronica, drum and bass, trip hop, turntablism.

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"I made a decision not to create another indie rock band with the traditional foursome format of drums, bass, guitar and voice. I really wanted to fuse different styles deliberately, even if they clashed."

Although you'd think they would clash, on the Burnside Project disc, they don't. In fact, the results feel almost organic, despite the technological aspect, and the album doesn't feel like a forced conglomeration of styles as much as an informed and progressive modern sound.

Although the Burnside Project is performing in support of the disc, Jankovich says they'll focus on the East Coast for now.

But he has maintained some ties with his old town, even if he doesn't stay in touch with many Milwaukee bands.

"Marc Solheim and I were really good friends before and after music. So, I keep in touch with him," says Jankovich, who also recalls his first visit back.

"I came back about a year after I left and opened for Dan Bern at The Rave and there were a lot of old Big Mother Gig fans there. Even after a year, I was so done with it and they wanted to hear Big Mother Gig. (But) I look back on (Milwaukee) with a lot of nostalgia."

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.