You know Sam Llanas thanks to the BoDeans; there’s no getting away from that. But, on his third solo studio effort -- "The Whole Night Thru," due out Nov. 18 -- Llanas finally feels liberated.
Though Llanas -- who owns one of the most distinctive voices in Milwaukee music -- didn’t want the band to end -- "I think people have this misconception that I left the BoDeans to pursue a solo career, but that’s just not the truth," he says, "I never wanted to break up the BoDeans" -- it’s over, despite the fact that Llanas says, "It broke my heart.
"I view ‘The Whole Night Thru’ as my first ‘official’ solo record. Though I had previously released two solo studio records, I had always been very careful to not compete with the BoDeans sound. But now that I’m no longer in that band, the gloves are off and this is a record that has many elements that fans of my former band love. If fans are looking for that BoDeans sound, it comes from my voice and it’s all over this record."
The nine-song disc was made with a band that includes a great line-up of seemingly ubiquitous Milwaukee musicians like guitarist Sean Williamson, bassist Matt Turner and drummer Ryan Schiedermayer. Gary Tanin was again manning the board as engineer, along with Ric Probst, and as producer.
We asked Llanas about the new record, the new band and his new-found feeling of freedom.
OnMilwaukee.com: You're probably sick of talking about this, but tell me a bit about the dynamic of making solo records after working so long and so closely with one collaborator. Is it freeing? Is it weird?
Sam Llanas: It's a double-edged sword in that although you are free to make something that is pretty much completely your own vision, you have to make all the artistic decisions yourself, which can be a little daunting at times.
OMC: Does it -- or did it initially -- feel risky? Did you almost feel a bit like you were starting over?
SL: A bit risky in the sense that if people dont like it, you alone take all of the blame. I don't know about starting over because before the BoDeans took off and had their success l did a lot of performing and some recording on my own.
OMC: But you've had something of a close collaborator now, too, in Gary Tanin, haven't you? What is it about working with him that keeps you coming back for more?
SL: Gary Tanin is a very talented producer / musician and engineer and those are things that l don’t have much patience for. His work ethic is very strong and he takes pride in taking the time to get it right.
OMC: I read that you consider this your first "real" solo record. What do you mean by that?
SL: Although I've made two previous solo records, l was always careful to not sound like l was trying to make a BoDeans record by myself. With this new one l just made the best record l could.
OMC: Trying to steer clear of the Bodeans sound sounds like a lot of mental work. How did you finally free yourself from that?
SL: It was. I just don’t care anymore. In light of how I've been treated by the BoDeans organization since l left, l was anxious to show that l can make a record that sounds just as much like a classic BoDeans record as that other guy can.
OMC: Tell me a bit about the guys on the record. Did they help push you in different directions?
SL: The guys that I'm playing with now are all much better musicians than me so after they've learned the song that l present it’s a much better song. The song "Everywhere But Here" is a great example of them pushing me to a different musical place than l could get to on my own. I feel very lucky to have this group of guys with me.
OMC: Finally, now that you've officially moved forward, so to speak, what's next?
SL: Well, unfortunately, we've had quite a few setbacks in the last few years but now things are finally coming together and so hopefully now we can get this show on the road.
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.