When we last caught up with Milwaukee musician Paul Amitai, who landed on the local scene as the man behind ska band The Pacers, it was 2006. Amitai had released his solo debut the previous year and had recently relocated to New York.
Now, five years on, Amitai has a new CD and a new hometown, though maybe only temporarily.
"Luminent Sky" was written and recorded in New York and in Frankfurt, and, says Amitai, "reflects on changing global cultural and political conditions through a poetic and cinematic musical approach."
The music is a smart and successful blend of electronic music, soul, avant-garde rock and roll and dub.
"I had been writing bits and pieces of things over the last few years, but hadn't finished recording much beyond a few tracks that ended up on 'Luminent Sky' ('Luminent' and 'Coal Miner') and a collaboration with electronic musician Caural ('Cruel Fate of Spring' from the album, 'Mirrors for Eyes')," he tells me via email from London.
"I also performed fairly regularly with a VJ/live video artist named Zarah Cabañas (aka Lady Firefly), where we would improvise to one another. Some of these song ideas would end up in our performances, but much of what I was doing was more ambient or soundscape-oriented. I had started working quite a bit with Ableton Live software as both a performance and composition tool, so a lot of the songs that ended up on my new album began as building blocks that I would arrange and layer during live improv sets."
Amitai says that New York's hyperactive lifestyle contributed to the long wait between records.
"As hard as it sometimes is to admit, I got sucked up into the New York vortex a little bit. I worked as a curator/producer for five years at an art and technology center called Eyebeam. I was able to develop and get involved with a lot of amazing projects in my time there, and met many great people working at the cutting edge of new creative technology.
"I learned a lot, grew a lot, but wasn't always successful in balancing this work with some of my own creative pursuits. It's a cliche, but it's tough to not get worn down by the hustle. So both art and music projects were slower to develop than I might have hoped."
He says that he spent much of the past year doing artist residencies in Canada and Germany and it was in Frankfurt, where he was at the Frankfurter Kunstverein working on a site-specific visual research project called "In Between States," that he was finally able to put the new disc to bed.
"In the end," he says, "it was quite reassuring to know that I could still tap that creative well, which I had began to wonder if it had run dry."
"Despite the fact that the songs had developed in stops and starts over various time periods, I think it's pretty cohesive and has a sort of cinematic flow as an entire album. It covers a range of musical ground, but the lyrical content is pretty consistent across the whole album."
Alhough Amitai says the songs were heavily influenced by political situations in Middle East countries, he was conscious to avoid being heavy-handed about it.
"It's been on my mind, and is reflected in the album, but not in a heavy handed way," he says. "Ultimately, the songs are open to being interpreted in any number of ways. The way I write is more gestural than flag waving."
It's not lost on Amitai that he seems to put out his records at the same time he's packing his bags for a new city.
"It's funny that I'm once again putting out a new album at the same time as I'm making a big move," he says. "I've just relocated to London with my wife, who is attending graduate school here. We will be in London for at least a year, and then we'll see where things take us. Whatever happens, I'm pretty keen to find that better balance and/or integration of paying gigs and personal creative pursuits."
You can stream "Luminent Sky" at paulamitai.com, where you can also purchase it as a download. You can also download it at CDBaby, iTunes, last.fm, Amazon and many other digital music sites.
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.