Singer and songwriter Julie Moffitt is about to release her second CD in two years, which is a pretty good rate for a locally based performer. Her first, a full-length disc called "Everything I Never Asked For," was produced by veteran Milwaukee musician and producer Mike Hoffmann.
That disc led to a meeting with the Burst Collective's Daniel Holter, who heard a tune and liked it. That led to the recording of the new "Stolen EP," released this week. The disc -- fueled by Moffitt's warm voice and acoustic guitar -- is tender and passionate and is the kind of folk-infused pop that made Jewel a star.
I heard her voice on the OnMilwaukee.com sampler last summer and thought she'd be a good possibility for Burst, and we're always looking for female artists," says Holter, who added that after some discussions, it seemed like a good fit.
"You never really know until you spend some time together in the studio, which I do with all of our artists at first -- let's flirt a bit before we get married, you know," he says. "After hearing her sing and seeing that she was willing to work her butt off on her own, I knew we'd be a good match. She was in that place where she was primed to take that next step and put out something truly professional and top notch. She agreed, so we decided to try an EP.
With its ace, mainstream production, "Stolen" is the kind of record that could break Moffitt out to a huge audience. Holter says he's got high hopes.
"The best surprises always come about when you have amazing players and good people involved in the project. The end result is, in my opinion, pretty magical ... very organic, very vibey and real."
We asked Moffitt what thinks of "Stolen" and about the varied experiences of recording with the scrappy Hoffmann, whose productions are homegrown and often engagingly eclectic, and with the more polished Burst team.
OMC: The EP sounds a lot different than last year's LP. Do you see the difference between Mike Hoffmann's production and Daniel Holter's more radio-friendly approach as a progression or just a different road?
JM: Perhaps a progression down a different road. Seriously, I enjoyed working with Mike, and there are some songs on that album that I wouldn't have any other way. "Movin' On," for example. But it was also my first attempt at an album of my own music, my first time handing my songs over to a producer and saying, "Here, make it sound the way it sounded in my head when I wrote it!"
I hadn't performed most of those songs live at the time, had just plucked them out of my notebook and played them for Mike, and then settled in to work. So over the following year of playing live and writing a few new tunes, my ideas about the songs and the style of music that I wanted to write and perform definitely shifted. Those ideas are still shifting, and I'm sure they'll continue to do so indefinitely.
OMC: The methods were obviously quite different. Knowing Mike, you guys probably worked on your own over a longer time and at Burst you probably worked quicker and with seasoned studio musicians. What did you learn from those experiences?
JM: There are definitely aspects of each style that I appreciate. Mike's approach rings true with certain audiences in a way that a more radio-friendly style just won't, and vice versa. But I hate the notion of being pigeonholed into any one category, and even identifying myself within a genre for marketing purposes has driven me crazy at times. It's just a question of listening to each song and figuring out where it came from, and where it's going.
Regardless of the approach, there's always a lot of down time for me in the studio -- I confess to being completely out of the loop when it comes to the knobs and gadgets that make things sound amazing. I find myself spending a lot of time sitting on the couch and listening while the producer or sound tech makes minute adjustments to things, and then when a big decision comes up, I'm a little comatose from lack of activity.
So what I've learned, after being involved in the recording of two albums in two very different situations, is that a) I require large quantities of Sugar Free Red Bull to get through, and b) I work best when I go into the studio knowing what I want to hear, and can comfortably convey those desires to the producer and musicians. With Daniel, a lot of times I felt like I didn't even have to say anything-- the words were coming out of his mouth before I'd even opened mine. We had very similar visions right from the start, so I felt comfortable turning him loose.
OMC: How did you choose the songs for the EP? Presumably you had new ones to pick from, along with the tunes from the first record.
JM: When Daniel signed me to Burst, he already had a few ideas about which tunes he'd heard and wanted to produce from my earlier album. I played a few new tunes for him at the studio, and we picked one more that we agreed would be a good addition, "Try." But to be honest, I hadn't written very much in the year between recording "Everything I Never Asked For" and signing with Burst.
The inspiration comes in fits and starts, and that year was mostly devoted to playing live, working with my band (Racine's Shameless Place), and figuring out how to be an indie artist. It's a full-time job, on top of the five or six jobs I already had!
It wasn't until we settled into recording, my work situations changed a bit, and I started working with some of the other artists on the label that I really got inspired to write again. "Blue and Green" came from that time, and became the fifth song on the EP.
OMC: Why did you decide to re-record three tracks? Were you unhappy with the way they turned out the first time around?
JM: Hmm. I wouldn't say that I was unhappy with them, but like I said, it was my first attempt and, when we recorded them the first time, they were still kind of new to me. I didn't know what I wanted to be saying with those tunes yet.
It was my idea to play "Let Him Be" solo on my acoustic guitar and record it as a live track on "Everything I Never Asked For" but, after a year of playing it that way, I was thrilled to hear that Daniel wanted to re-record it with a full band.
"Slow," on the other hand, is just a completely different take now. The new version is almost unrecognizable compared to the old, and it was something that Daniel heard when he first listened to the original; a concept he had that he believed in enough to pursue.
"Stolen" is one of my favorite songs, one that I play at nearly every show, and the chance to put it on the new EP so that more people could hear it was just something I couldn't pass up. Again, it's very different in this version, but that's just part of the process.
As you play songs in front of an audience, and with a band, and in different settings, they change. They grow, they develop licks and pauses and emotional expression that they might not have had when they were first created. The new versions reflect a lot of that development. I'm sure that I could record all five of these songs again in a year and they'd be quite different, again.
OMC: Is the EP the forerunner of a full-length record?
JM: The EP is an EP; a collection of great songs that I'm excited to promote. As for a full-length album, that's up to Daniel. I've been talking about moving back out to California, but Burst is in Wauwatosa, and Burst is where I'm happy recording. If he asked me to stay for a full-length album, I think I'd be willing to just take a vacation and come right back to work. I don't think California is going anywhere.
OMC: Tell us a bit about the remix project.
JM: The remix project is a collaboration with Sony, kind of a cross-promotion that the guys at Burst came up with. Sony will be hosting a contest on their ACID Xpress software Web site, where people will be able to download my vocals and use them to create their own versions of the songs, in their own style. The EP itself has a CD-ROM portion that includes the same vocal tracks, plus the ACID Xpress software -- so if you buy the EP, you can go home that night and remix your own "Stolen EP"!
It's really a completely different take on the style of music that I'm known for. Whereas I'm generally considered a pop or acoustic singer / songwriter, the contest is dipping into the electronic and club music realms. And I love it. I was talking with one of the people who has already had a go at remixing a couple of tracks, and I told him that I just love hearing what someone who hasn't heard the songs over and over in their original form can do with them. The ideas that he came up with would never have crossed my mind, and yet they seem to take the core of the song and express it in an equally honest way, just through a new genre. I can't wait to hear what comes out of the contest itself.
OMC: Do you have a dream remixer; someone you'd love to have rip apart and rebuild one of your tunes?
JM: Faithless, a band from the UK. I've never considered myself a "fan" of anyone, not to the extreme that you see on MTV's TRL or anything, but there was a time in college where I thought about moving to London, stalking their producer (Dido's brother Rollo), and forcing my way into the band.
OMC: What's next: hitting the road?
JM: This summer is almost completely booked, both in and out of the Midwest, and then this fall I'm planning to do a three-month round trip tour to the West Coast. I went to college in LA and still consider it home in a lot of ways, so it will be really exciting to get back there with this new EP.
The "Stolen EP" is officially launched Tuesday, May 30 at 8 p.m. at Centanni, 218 N. Water St. Admission is free.
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.