John Sieger needs no introduction to Milwaukee music fans; he's been a veteran of the scene here for decades, fronting bands like Semi Twang, The R&B Cadets and, currently, The Subcontinentals.
After a stint honing his skills as a songwriter, he also leads respected songwriting clinics in town, too.
If you didn't know his varied talents before, you've got no excuse now. In the space of a couple weeks, Sieger has launched CDs by his band and as a soloist.
His own, "Live at Bob's," was recorded live with his brother Mike on bass, guitarist Bill Dwyer and Subcontinentals singer Kelli Gonzalez lending a hand.
Also just out is "The Early Years," the much-anticipated debut outing by The Subcontinentals, which includes both Siegers, Gonzalez and drummer John Carr.
We asked Sieger about his unusual strategy -- at least on the local scene -- of launching two discs nearly simultaneously.
OnMilwaukee.com: You've got two new discs out now, tell us first about "Live at Bob's," which basically a John Sieger disc with a backing band. How did it come about?
John Sieger: It was a live house concert at the home of Bob Druker, a friend and a good songwriter in his own right. He lives in Mequon, on the lake, and is a fan of my songs. He flew in my favorite guitarist, Bill Dwyer, who I knew from my days in Nashville. He now lives in Montana. Then he paid my brother Mike and Kelli Gonzalez from the Subcontinentals, hired sound and a great local engineer, Kyle White, to record it.
Bob's listed as executive producer, but he's more like a saint. The songs are from all phases of my career and the majority of them have never been on any kind of recording. I couldn't be happier with the results.
OMC: The other disc is more a group effort; it's the Subcontinentals' long-awaited debut. Why did this one take so long to arrive when the band has been working on stage for so long?
JS: We've been plugging away and the delays are due to all them young 'uns -- 9 and under -- the other members have. I tried to talk them into putting them up for adoption, but they wouldn't listen to reason! My son just graduated from high school, so it's time for my second childhood ... or maybe my third. The other challenge I had was learning Pro Tools and recording it myself. I'm a reluctant engineer and it took a little time to get familiar with this program. Now I'm halfway competent.
OMC: I'm interested in how these two very different projects satisfy your creative muscle. Do you prefer one setting over the other, for example, or do you need both to kind of balance things out?
JS: I like being recorded by someone like Kyle, who has great chops and confidence. The live setting was nice, as is the atmosphere and roominess it gives the sound. I like playing acoustic guitar, that's how I write most of my songs, but I never get to play that way.
I am a band person though, and The Subs are the first band I've been in that doesn't have weird personal fault lines or hidden agendas. Just a real cooperative bunch, all good at what they do an always happy to be up on stage. It also helps to have another singer I really like, so I can take a break, Kelli has a great voice and is a real happy stage presence. With my brother Mike, we have a vocal blend that works and I wanted to capure that and some of our wacky material.
OMC: Do you think that your fan base is, overall, equally interested in both discs? Or do you think there are Subcontinentals fans that will be less interested in Live at Bob's and Sieger "purists" that will much prefer the latter?
JS: Thank you for saying I have a fan base. I hope anyone who likes me would also like the variety I offer ... and at bargain basement rates!
OMC: Is there a third installment coming next week? Maybe John Sieger "Duets" or "Live at Budokan" or something?
JS: We are taking a short break and regrouping. The timing of these two is a coincidence, I really wish I could have spaced them out a little, but they were both overdue and now it's like they are competing with each other!
I'm kicking a couple ideas around right now. A more "artistic" Subcontinentals recording, I have a huge unresolved conflict in my head between art and entertainment. There's a dialogue in my head that keeps me up nights, with a voice like L.B. Mayer's saying "Make 'em laugh kid!" and another, maybe more like Neil Young saying, "The hell with 'em, do your thing!"
The next solo collection I'm mulling is a collection of early songs I wrote with Mike Feldman when we first started. I have never really done justice to those and there are quite a few. It would be called kENOSHA, with a small "k" and everything else large, cause that's where we met.
OMC: I saw a funny quote from you recently in which you said you have enough songs for now and it conjured an image of you in John Sieger's Songs and Such Shoppe in Tosa Village -- or maybe on Vliet Street -- surrounded by a lot of unsold song inventory; a clearance sale sign in the window. You may have just been being quippy, but do you ever get to a point where you can "turn off" the inspiration for a while and just sit and contemplate the songs you've already got?
JS: I wasn't joking. Years ago I conquered writer's block so now I'm floating on a sea of unrecorded songs. I've always tended to write them and throw 'em in a drawer. In the last year or two I've written much less, but I like the ones I have captured. I now concentrate on recording the ones I have and teaching songwriting clinics, but I may have talked myself into a new block and I'm actually worried about it. We'll see what happens.
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.