Milwaukee singer/songwriter Sam Llanas has just released his fourth solo record – and has already cracked open work on a follow-up.
"Return of the Goya – Part 1" is populated with heartfelt, direct songs that recall the best of classic country. Some of the songs, Llanas says, date back decades. The second set, he says, will be a bit more "rock."
While he’s already at work on Part 2 of the two-record "series," we caught up with Llanas – formerly of the BoDeans – to ask him about his inspiration for the new records, working with some new collaborators and the meaning behind the name, "Return of the Goya."
You can order "Return of the Goya – Part 1" at samllanas.com.
OnMilwaukee: Tell me a big about the significance of the name of the record.
Sam Llanas: I got this beautiful black jumbo acoustic guitar in 1984 that was made by the Goya company. It became my main guitar. That guitar also led me to many many songs. We were on tour in England in 1987 and the guitar was stolen in Manchester. I was devastated.
In all the years that followed I never saw another one like it.
Late in 2016 Tom Gleason whom I still have never met emailed me that he knew about the situation and had made it one of his life's missions to find one for me. In May of 2017 a package arrived at my house. Although it was not the same exact guitar, it was as close as I would ever get. The minute I strapped it on the romance was back on. In the next 30 days or so I wrote 12 new songs that have all been recorded for the Goya sessions.
I can't help but notice the "Part 1" in the title, that suggests there's a part 2 coming. What can you tell us?
I had a lot of songs laying around some going back to 1983-84 era. My first thought was that I should make a double album but that would have taken too long so I decided to break it up into two parts. I had a bunch of songs that were very much in the style of ‘50s country music which I love so I decided to make part 1 kind of a tribute to that style of music.
Part 2, which we have already begun and hope to release by June of this year, will be more of what people might expect from me. Both records however showcase my sunnier side of writing after making three records that were rooted in the darkness.
Although Gary Tanin is still involved in this one, you turned to Sean Williamson to produce.
Gary Tanin help me produce three records that I am very proud of, but for this new one I wanted to change things up. Sean Williamson and I have been working very closely together since about 2011. Although he is not known as a producer, per se, he did have a recording rig in his apartment and since I needed to make this record as economically as possible it seemed like it was worth a try.
Did Sean work differently in the studio? What did he bring to the final record?
Sean has a good ear for sound engineering and is very diligent in his pursuit of excellence. The first thing we did was buy a very good microphone and it is my belief that if you have a great performance of a great song recorded with a great microphone that's pretty much all you need. we recorded when we could around Sean's schedule. I think it was about 18 months from start to finish. We kept it very simple focusing on the song and my voice, mainly.
You worked with some new musicians this time, too, didn't you?
For this record we used Kevin Dunphy on drums. People might know him from his work with Fever Marlene. I didn't know him and did not meet him until we were almost halfway done with the record because he lives in Minneapolis now. Sean had worked with him before on another record and spoke highly of his work.
Sean and I would record a simple demo of a song and send it to Kevin. Kevin would then send me some examples of possible drum beats for the song. I would pick the one I thought was best and then Kevin would record the drums in his Studio in Minneapolis. Sean and I would then begin to layer on guitars and voices, etc.
Were you hoping to get a different vibe from them and, if so, did you find what you were looking for?
I knew the vibe of this record would be very different because of the songs that I chose and the approach that they seem to need. I am very pleased with the results.
Other than this weekend's show (since this won't run in time for that), when will you air these tunes live in Milwaukee next?
We have been playing several of the songs from this new record for a while now but I do not know when our next show in Milwaukee will be at this moment.
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.