By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Aug 01, 2002 at 5:47 AM

Local impressario and muscian Jon Mueller is one of the city's unheralded musical movers and shakers. He has performed in numerous settings, the best-known being Pele, an instrumental trio in which he is the drummer.

Mueller also runs the respected Crouton Music, which he started in 1999 with Pele guitarist Chris Rosenau, with the intention of releasing creative music and literature in hand-designed packages in limited editions. Their releases are always intriguing to behold, both visually and sonically and are distributed around the world.

Mueller and Pele also release music on a variety of other labels and perform frequently not only outside Milwaukee, but soon even beyond the borders of the U.S. as a tour of Japan is slated for October.

We recently caught up with Mueller to learn more about his past and present and the future of Crouton, Pele and Mueller himself.

OMC: Why don't we begin with your musical history? Did you begin as a drummer? Tell us a bit about your background and the bands and projects in which you've been involved.

JM: I started playing drums when I was 15. Before that, I had taken guitar and piano lessons on and off since about the age of 7. Drums were the instrument I became fully interested in though, and stuck with them. To test my commitment, my parents first bought me a snare drum, and for one year, that's all I played (besides my friend's kits). Eventually, I finally got a full kit and then that's all I would do. I would come home from school and play for hours until my parents got home. I got involved in a couple of punk and metal bands early on, and eventually branched out in high school and started involving tapes and a vacuum cleaner into my playing.

In 1990 I moved to Chicago and started taking music theory and technique classes. This changed my playing quite a bit and I got interested in a lot of music I didn't really listen to before. Since then, I've just been following the same general direction, which is basically exploring what can be done with music beyond the surface. I try to be as active as I can in terms of playing with a variety of people to help keep my perspective and ideas growing. Sometimes this involves recording, and sometimes playing live with someone you've never played with before.

OMC: Many people know you as the drummer for Pele, an instrumental trio. Is the group very active?

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JM: Pele does keep us fairly busy, although we don't play in Milwaukee too often. Recording-wise, we just finished a split 12" that came out on Sixgunlover Records in Texas, a remix for the group Salvo Beta that will be released this fall on Some Odd Pilot Records in Chicago, a remix for the band Sangatsu that will be released on Weather Records in Japan this year, and our new full-length "Enemies," will be out on Polyvinyl Records on October 15. A Japan tour also coincides with that release, as well as a tour split 7" with the Japanese group Toe. We'll be at CMJ in New York at the end of October and then more shows in the U.S. will follow. For regular news updates, check www.pelemusic.com.

OMC: Are you a soccer fan or does the band's name have another significance?

JM: The name came about through word play when Chris Rosenau was trying to decide a name for a tape mailing project we did in '96. No relation to soccer, volcano goddesses, or anything else people might come up with. It's just a word that we picked.

OMC: Why did you begin Crouton Music?

JM:The label started out as a way to release stuff that Chris and I were doing without having to try and sell ourselves to an established label. We thought it was a lot more fun to do what we wanted, and have the freedom to design things ourselves, paint covers, write things, etc. So, the label just kind of started up. The Web site (www.croutonmusic.com), is more of a source for all kinds of stuff we're into -- other peoples music, interviews with people from all over the world who work in various mediums and of course info on the Crouton label.

OMC: Is it a one-man show?

JM: No. I handle the site information, the release schedule, promotions, advertising, mail order, etc., Chris Rosenau does most of the recording for the releases, and Scott Kawczynski handles all the design from his empire in Brooklyn, NY.

OMC: What's your philosophy as a label owner? Are you trying to make money or is the music all that counts?

JM: The whole project is what counts. Obviously, enough money needs to come in to fund further projects. Of course I'm trying to make money so that I can realize the dreams of future projects. The projects we release are somewhat costly due to the nature of our package designs. Nothing is or will be sold in a jewel case, and often times extended notes or literature is included. Full book and illustration projects are something we're looking to do and it's not cheap. So, yeah, I'm trying to make money to pay for all this, and fairly reward the people whose work is involved.

OMC: The releases on Crouton are quite adventurous. Now that you've got a good back catalogue do you get lots of submissions? How many are good leads for the label?

JM: There are enough projects on the plate so to speak that we can't really consider any submissions, which do come through regularly. Even though a lot of it is great work, I just can't take on everything that I like. Again, money... Time will usually tell what projects end up being developed and which ones won't.

OMC: The first thing most people notice about the discs are their unique packages. How do you approach packaging?

JM: A package should involve considerable thought and creativity. If you value what's inside it, you should represent it with something equally worthwhile. Scott, our designer, is not only a total pro at what he does, he also has a good sense of identity for what we're doing. The result is packaging that signals who we are and what we're interested in. Then you open it up and find out what's inside and the story continues.

OMC: Can you tell us about some of the projects in which you are currently engaged?

JM: Again, I try to play with many people individually in various settings -- live or recording. Recently I've been working with another drummer in Chicago named Steve Hess on recordings and drum performances, and guitarist and musique concrete artist Adam Sonderberg, also from Chicago. As far as groups go, the main ones are Pele, Collections of Colonies of Bees and Telecognac. Each one serves its own function and has its own way of providing some sense of personal satisfaction. Telecognac is a mostly electronic based group with shifting members, while the other groups have a stable line-up and are more rock oriented. It's refreshing to be able to do different things depending on how you feel. Or, discovering different ideas in the context of each particular group. Ideas that can sometimes cross into the other projects as well.

OMC: Tell us about your Japanese tour.

JM: As for Japan, there is a promoter there who invited us. He has also booked tours there for Hey Mercedes and asked them about getting in touch with us. The Japanese version of the first Crouton release -- Pele's "Emergency Room Egg" CD, was distributed by him. Now we'll finally be able to meet. The shows are scattered throughout the islands and then the final three nights are in Tokyo. It should be pretty amazing. These will be our first shows outside of the U.S. and we're hoping to get to Europe next year. We get a lot of emails about going there so we just have to figure it all out.

OMC: When can we next see you perform in Milwaukee?

JM: Pele plays August 2 at Onopa Brewing Co. I'll also be playing with mulit-instrumentalist Hal Rammel, guitarist Thomas Gaudynski and cellist Jeff Klatt at Woodland Pattern Book Center on August 11.

OMC: And Crouton's latest?

JM: "Collections of Colonies of Bees: fa.ce (a CD," and "Folktales No. 3 (Kevin Shea, Adam Sonderberg, Dan Warburton)," a 3-inch CD, are now available.

For more information contact Crouton Music, P.O. Box 070352, Milwaukee, WI 53207.

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.