Janet Schiff, a Milwaukee cellist and the founder of the band 1913, recently appeared on OnMilwaukee.com's "100 coolest Milwaukeeans (that you've heard of)" list.
She's an amazingly talented musician, and the fact that she's a single mom, cancer survivor and recent college graduate are just a few more reasons why she made the list.
Recently, we caught up with Schiff to ask her about her music and her life after a two-year recovery.
OnMilwaukee.com: You had a CD coming out the last time we spoke, what happened with that? "Cello City," was it?
Janet Schiff: I had a major delay in releasing the first version of "Cello City." I had cancer diagnosis to deal with and had to stop my trips to the Georgia studio where I was recording. After a tough recovery and a two-year absence from the project, I returned to the recording studio to find that some of my music files were missing. I made the best of what I had and released it immediately. I did a digital only distribution of "Cello City." It's available on iTunes and lots of other digital stores.
Right now I'm in the recording studio of Jason Wietlispach (a musician and WMSE DJ). We are adding percussion and possibly other instrumentation to "Cello City" and it will be re-released that way by November. I might press physical CDs of the upcoming version.
OMC: Why is your band named 1913?
JS: My cello was made in the year 1913, so we thought it would be a perfect name for the band. I also wanted to have a collaborative identity instead of just my name.
OMC: Who is in 1913?
JS: I'm calling all of my cello projects 1913 and there is a rotating group of musicians that we work with. Cello and I have been working with these percussionists recently: Scott Johnson, Brian Kreuziger and John Sparrow.
OMC: How long have you been playing that cello?
JS: In total about 26 years. I've been playing my beloved Romanian cello for about 12 years. My cello is small but strong and has survived, just like me. About eight years ago I dropped it while it was in a soft case and broke the neck right before a gig. The repair was pretty good but I've been using a hard case for more protection ever since.
OMC: Why do you play cello?
JS: I wonder that sometimes myself. It's a passion, a challenge, a way for me to express a range of emotions. And the cello is a big part of me. It almost defines me. I need my cello as much as it needs me. I had some horrible practices really, but that is when I learn the most.
OMC: How is your music made?
JS: Through technology. I've employed a pick-up, effects pedals, loopers and a bass amp. I make cello layers live during performance, adding them one at a time as the drummer sets the beat. My new looper can even peel off the layers, similarly.
OMC: What are your musical goals?
JS: My goal is to make music for the masses. It's very accessible music that suits a multitude of venues and listeners. Can you believe that I played the exact same music at a basement punk show and at a high-art symphony event?
For a long time I thought that I'd have to choose between classical and progressive music. I merged the two with technology and I was so wrong.
My music's genre, chamber rock, seems to intrigue an interesting array of personalities. Recently, I played for Milwaukee's Mayor Tom Barrett and Mayor (Richard) Daley from Chicago at the Milwaukee Art Museum, along with the mayors from the major cities of the Great Lakes. I felt like I was chosen to perform at this event to musically represent Milwaukee as cutting edged, and refined, but progressive, like our city. It was quite an honor for me. That night was most certainly a major highlight of my life and career.
Ultimately, though, I want all ages, ethnicities and personalities to enjoy and feel the music that I make.
OMC: What are your musical inspirations?
JS: I love classic rock, British pop, some classical, modern chamber, indie music, funk, jazz, blues, country, experimental, space rock, speed metal, industrial and hip-hop.
OMC: If you could work with anyone, who would it be?
JS: Definitely Morrissey. If he isn't available, then David Byrne, Sigur Ros, David J. White, but he lives so far away. Let's work on it. Please?
OMC: Any women you'd like to work with?
JS: Gwen Stefani, Bjork, Madonna, Tracy Chapman, Erna Franssens of Belgium. I could list 100 at least.
OMC: What else do you do other than play the cello?
JS: I just earned a degree from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in psychology and have been working in a neuroscience laboratory for the past 1 1/2 years. My position there just ended.
I teach cello at students' homes and at JS Cable Music Instruction Studio in Riverwest. I also manage an apartment building so I have duties like mowing, shoveling, mediating tenant issues and boiler operations.
I am a mom to a cool 10-year-old who doesn't want anything to do with a cello. I like to help people, so I run around a bit, too, being good and causing a little mischief. I've been printing band T-shirts at home and picking apples from a neighbor's tree at night lately, too.
OMC: What do few people know about you?
JS: Hmmm ... I'm an amateur photographer and an identical twin.
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.