By Jason Keil   Published Feb 09, 2004 at 5:14 AM

{image1}When Chicago singer/songwriter Derek Phillips was looking for a guitarist for his new band Riviera, Milwaukeean Mick Radichel probably wasn't who he had in mind.

Before Radichel joined the Chicago quintet, he was a member of the successful Milwaukee/Minneapolis ska band The Pacers. After that band parted ways, Radichel found studio work in Memphis, but quickly grew tired of working in a repetitious and mechanical fashion and returned to Milwaukee to form the garage punk band Men from Mars. Despite their success, Radichel became restless. He once again left the Cream City to find a musical refuge in The City of Big Shoulders, where he joined Riviera in 2001.

At first glance, Radichel's background in punk and ska really doesn't fit the mold for a band that has a firm foundation in folk music. But when Phillips formed the band a year earlier, he was looking to create music that would build upon that foundation. Its members would add their own signatures to the songs. Radichel was able to apply some of the southern flair he learned in Memphis to give the songs some much-needed structure.

The band also includes bassist/guitarist Matt Usner, drummer Joshua Rogers, with whom Phillips worked with before, and vocalist/keyboardist Josh Boisvert, the band's newest member.

Their different styles of writing make things colorful, says Phillips.

"My lyrics are more like abstract images," Phillips explains, "I really like it open-ended. Josh and Mick have a good way of keeping their lyrics more concise and optimistic."

Songs like "Democratic Déjà vu," penned by Phillips, don't paint a pretty picture ("Here we go again/it's all the same old game/despite this déjà vu/this broken window view"), especially when compared to the slightly sunnier lyrics of the Radichel-penned "Such Sweet Sorrow" ("Now I'm a better man and when you think of me/I hope you never doubt a single thing I said or did to make it real"), but it prevents the group from being pigeon-holed into the often cynical "alt-country" genre.

"We've been letting some of our influences seep in," says Phillips, "(The 'alt-country' label) can be limiting. Being compared to Wilco is fine with me. With a band that great being so close, it's hard for them not to rub off on you, but we don't try to rehash the same old images. We have been experimenting to develop a sound that is uniquely our own."

The result of the band's experimentation is the debut EP "Broken Hearted Dreams," six melancholy tracks that bring some atmosphere to a traditional folk sound.

Critics have quickly caught on to what Riviera is trying hard to accomplish, with Johnny Loftus of the All Music Guide saying that the disc "is a hideaway of bungalow anthems and bedroom door confessionals inspired by the wisdom in a hollowed-out bible...But their debut EP never lets its influences lead the dance, instead dizzying them with literate doses of absurdist humor and liberal doses of the hidden hooch in that hollow bible."

Riviera begins work on first full-length album next month, and it will use the opportunity to once again pull its music in a different direction.

"We're trying to make a statement on this album," says Phillips, "There is a mood that we're establishing. The songs are going to be a little more concise and traditional, with not as much atmosphere."

It's creating that unique sound that made Phillips excited about making music with Riviera in the first place.

Mick Radichel makes his triumphant return to Milwaukee when Riviera appears with The Vega Star and Telectro at the Cactus Club, 2496 S. Wentworth Ave., on February 14 at 10 p.m. For more information on Riviera, please visit