It's been just about a quarter-century since Milwaukee roots rock combo Semi-Twang inked a deal with Warner Brothers Records and headed out to Los Angeles to record its major label debut -- and swan song -- "Salty Tears."
The band, fronted by singer, songwriter, guitarist and singer John Sieger, was -- and is again, now that it's reunited -- a Milwaukee supergroup, with Sieger's brother Mike rock solid on bass, ace drummer Bob Schneider, keyboard player and saxman Bob Jennings and the talented two-guitar attack of Mike Hoffmann and Jason Klagstad.
With a major label contract in hand and big-name producers involved -- Mitchell Froom and Chris Thomas -- Semi-Twang created "Salty Tears" in something of a high-pressure situation.
This week, 23 years after the release of "Salty Tears" -- and on the heels of some reunion gigs around town -- Semi-Twang releases its sophomore record, "Wages of Sin," and it feels -- at least to an outsider -- like it was created in more easygoing circumstances.
Built on the same smart and sassy mix of Nashville and Memphis roots music -- read country and R&B -- "Wages of Sin" shows that while time ticked on, Semi-Twang hasn't lost a step.
We caught up with frontman John Sieger to ask about the new record and about what has changed and what's stayed the same in the years between "Salty Tears" and "Wages of Sin."
OnMilwaukee.com: Was it hard recapturing the Semi-Twang magic?
John Sieger: The band is somehow organically reunited with the vintage '80s vibe still there. It amazes all of us. After the 20 anniversary gig at Shank something told us to follow through in the studio, where this thing virtually slid out!
OMC: The line-up is now all-original, isn't it?
JS: Jason Klagstad has rejoined, so it is exactly the band we had up till the first recording.
OMC: I know the band has played some gigs in recent times, but it's been so long since the first record, why now?
JS: You know those movies where the high school quarterback gets a second chance on the blown play like t20enty years later? That's kind of what is going on here. No crazy expectations this time, obviously, but a sense that people will like to hear something like this now that it's a little more on the cultural radar screen. We are concentrating on the music and the fun we have playing it.
OMC: Can you tell me a bit about making the record?
JS: It started a little over a year ago and with conflicting schedules, stretched out for a good ten months. It was done mostly at Mike Hoffmann's House Studio, with a couple tracks done here at my studio. Mike produced and the ease with which it was done was kind of shocking.
OMC: Did it feel like old times or was it a little simpler in terms of internal politics and pressure in that there were no big label industry people milling about?
JS: It's not the highs and lows, thank God. Everyone is older, steadier, but also more concentrated on what's right with this band. There is chemistry that seems remarkably in place and mutual respect -- all bands should try that! Everyone seems to have each other's back this time around. This is not to say that were political issues first time, Semi-Twang collapsed under the weight of a somewhat disappointing script we seemed to be handed. There were no hard feelings when we started looking at other options.
OMC: Were the songs written to be Semi-Twang songs or did the band pick material out of your vast collection of material?
JS: We have a bit of a mish-mash on the album, 10 I wrote alone and two I co-wrote with (long-time collaborator, radio personality) Michael Feldman. Some we played back the then, one I wrote in Nashville 15 years ago that has Semi-Twang in it's DNA. Another one I wrote 10 years ago here called "Sonny Liston" and tried a couple times to get out. One brand new one, "Doubting Thomas." Call it a career dis-respective.
OMC: On a personal note, how's the blog going? You still crafting more songs than any human ought to be expected to do so?
JS: I am blogging down a little on my 130th day. I still have plenty left and a couple new ones every once in a while. I am trying to go a whole year, but my computer has it in for me. It is a bit of an obsession, I must say and when I get obsessed, I can show Monk a few things ... so we'll see.
OMC: Finally, release party details ...
JS: We are at Shank Hall, Saturday, March 19. Doors at 7. Jeffrey Foucault kicks it off, The Rocktails -- many former Yipes! and Men About Town-ers, including my other favorite Bobby, Pachner -- then we plan to play the whole CD and finish with a few more songs. We will try to have another in the pipeline in less than 23 years.
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.