By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Aug 21, 2007 at 5:25 AM

Stripping down music to the bones with nary an eye toward classification, John Muther records his folkish pop songs simply and releases them on CDs available on CDBaby.com or as downloads from iTunes.

His third and latest, "Everything That Makes You Feel Tired," is a four-track EP that conjures The Decemberists, both sonically and stylistically. But perhaps a lower-fi version.

But like Colin Meloy and company, Muther has cosmopolitan taste in music and that has left a subtle mark on the music.

"I was raised listening to classical music and folk music," Muther says. "My parents also took us kids to a lot of folk concerts. I also heard plenty of church music, and there was a fair amount of Beatles, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, classic blues, classic rock of course. When I got older I started listening to ska, then punk, then some hardcore/metal, then what people now call indie.  While in college, I studied music theory and music literature."

With its folky acoustic guitars, sometimes almost baroque piano figures -- see "Cost of Living," the first tune on the new CD -- it's a little hard to classify what Muther does. And that's just fine with him.

"I don't put much credence on genre labels," he says, "and who really does anymore? What is more important to me is a well written, catchy, original song. Until I hear something drastically different, it is all Pop music to my ears.  So, I have a fairly diverse musical background, and I think this is due to the fact that I sincerely love music overall."

Despite his long musical history, Muther says he's a relative newcomer to making his music in a serious way.

"I've been actively writing and performing only for about four years, as far as I can tell, but I had a very musical upbringing so music has always been a part of my life. "

In 2005 Muther released "5 Songs/5 Dollars," an EP, and last year followed with the eight-song "Right Lane for the Right Turn." Both CDs were recorded entirely at home by Muther alone.

The four songs on the new CD are all performed on acoustic guitar and piano. Some have a few basic overdubs of toy piano, trumpet and simple percussion (which sounds to these ears like a typewriter and a water glass!).

"I think my first two recordings were great, but I am very proud of this newest one, as it is a big step forward in every aspect," he says.

"When recording, I made it a point to use instruments only if they made their own sound, ditching the electronic keyboard, drum machine and electric guitar, at least for the moment. It gives the music a very present sound, like it could be played in the room. At this point I am still writing, arranging and playing everything on the recording, so everything you hear on the CD is me."

Muther has no gigs planned at the moment, but is working on booking some toward the end of September, so stay tuned.
 

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.