Last summer, two Milwaukee music giants – John Sieger and Greg Koch – unveiled their CD collaboration, "Plays Well With Others," showing how two strong voices could reach a perfect pitch by working in unison.
Soon after, the pair took a band and traversed Europe. Sieger kept Milwaukee updated from the road with his blog posts at OnMilwaukee.com.
Back then, Sieger – who also remains active with his band Semi-Twang – made it clear that he and Koch had completed many more songs than could be collected on "Plays Well With Others." Now, another stack of them arrives in the form of Sieger’s "A Walk In The Park," which comes out on April 1.
We talked to John about working with Greg Koch and about the new record...
OnMilwaukee.com: You've been spending a lot of time with Greg Koch lately, eh? For the folks that, gasp, didn't follow your blogs from Europe, tell us a bit about how the tour went.
John Sieger: Well, we drove about 6,000 miles. I had no idea Europe was so big, it looks smaller on TV. There were many great gigs, nice hotels and a renewed interest in history. You can't drive go anywhere there without running into the ghosts of super czars like Charlemagne and Hitler. In Salzburg, we saw Mozart's birthplace. Lovely people everywhere we turned, who smiled whether they got the lyrics or not, and the food was spectacular!
OMC: Surely you guys played a lot from "Plays Well With Others," but did you also play some material from the new record that's out in your name?
JS: We did a funny one called "Lattimore," about a guy who learns about the blues the hard way and one called "Save Me From Myself," about a guy who doesn't learn anything at all. My moment in the spotlight was always mitigated by Greg's fans staring in rapture at his fingers! Like I said, English lyrics – not as universal as I had thought.
OMC: Tell us a bit about making "A Walk in the Park". Was it recorded at the same sessions as Plays Well or is it entirely separate? Is the band the same on both?
JS: Different sessions, mostly done at Chris Hanson's studio. I sang into his lovely Neumann mic, the one that went through his delectable Manley pre-amps. Very informal, pecking-away-at-it kind of process. Most everything started with me and Greg and then we added this and that. We were trying to keep it simple and straightforward and I think we did. I also had help from most of Semi-Twang and Chris added a some tasty guitar and organ. All in all, about the easiest thing I've ever done.
OMC: Since you wrote material for both records and you and Greg play on both records, can you explain a bit about the process of how you decided which songs would go where, who got top billing, etc.?
JS: Um, not sure, but I'd say that the ones on Greg's recording were picked so he could stretch out with his talented friends. His bread and butter is playing so good it makes other guitar players want to hang it up. The ones I chose were written around some of his spectacular hooks and didn't require too much more. I did give myself a couple solos on "Let Me Try Again," just for fun, but really I wasn't necessary.
OMC: Did you guys really write 67 songs for these projects? Will more of them see the light of day? That is, will there be a third and maybe fourth and fifth records coming?
JS: It's true and I hope to record every single one of them. The easiest part is coming up with the songs and recording them. It is also the part that gives me the greatest joy. The hard part is selling them, a job I neither relish or do well. But I'm trying!
OMC: And during all this, Semi-Twang has been at least semi-active, right? How do you keep all these plates spinning?
JS: Semi-Twang has its own special chemistry and must continue. I could kick myself for taking such a long hiatus before we got back together, but that's the nature of the "biz." Not being universally embraced made it hard for me to continue. Now I feel like this has to happen for me to stay sane. As long as you are making music, you are in the game in some fashion and we're hoping the world may see the error of its ways!
OMC: Jeez, how do you keep all these songs in your head?
JS: I don't. You must be confusing me with Dylan. I have a real problem remembering lyrics and I hope that it's not because they aren't memorable.
OMC: Tell us about the release gig.
JS: It's (Sunday) April 6 at Shank Hall (at 6 p.m.). The Tritonics, a really nice ska band with some twisted originals, will open. Then I'll do the first part of the evening with Greg in a duo. Next, we call up some of my Semi-Twang brethren to play the more band-oriented songs, plus a couple from Greg's record, "Plays Well With Others." If all goes well, it devolves into a jam with a few covers at the end. Then it's time for the jugglers and flame eaters.
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.