Slo-Fi is one of those bands that's been quietly working away in town for a long time. Born from the ashes of Pet Engine, Steve Ziel and Al Hildebrand got the project going a decade ago, but it's only now that the fruits of those first 10 years are ripening.
Slo-Fi's double-CD disc, "Basement Symphonies LP," is out now and its got nearly two dozen guitar fueled alternative rock songs that show that Ziel hasn't lost his ability to write a good melody and sing his heart out.
Part of the reason it took so long? Ziel says that more than a few folks have come and gone over the years.
"It started 10 years ago with me writing and recording at home, playing most of the instruments with Al Hildebrand and others dropping in and adding things here and there," he recalls.
"It morphed into a band three years later and has continued in multiple incarnations since then; a loose collective of musicians picking up the torch and running with it for a while."
Look at the list of contributors to "Basement Symphonies" and you'll get the picture.
Former Lovelies frontwoman Liv Mueller on there. So are ex-Gufs Goran Kralj and Scott Schwebel, The Benjamins' Ben Pearlstein, former Pet Engine drummer Micah Havertape and even renowned session man Kenny Aronoff, among others.
But, says Ziel, Slo-Fi is actually a band with a solid lineup: Matt Franey on bass, drummer Tad Unold and the three-guitar attack of Ziel, Hildebrand and Jasen Kinart.
"Tad became the drummer early on, after Scott Schwebel left," says Ziel. "He's become a close collaborator, engineer, producer and dear friend. He is super patient in the studio and has a great ear for capturing the natural sound of guitars and drums.
"Jasen Kinart used to front a band called Sulu, played with El Oso and Those Royals and now splits time between Slo-Fi and his new band First Known Ruler. We'd known each other for a long time and have a ton in common musically. He is an amazing guitarist and a great singer.
"Matt Franey grew up a pet engine fan. I met him through a co-worker and we immediately bonded on our Guided By Voices fandom and love for late '80s early '90s indie alternative and Britpop."
Another reason that "Basement Symphonies" arrives now, after so much preparation, is that Ziel and Hildebrand are, like many musicians, dads with a full-time job, too.
But, he says, now that Slo-Fi has a record behind it, the band has started to play out more often and is planning on increasing that activity.
"(We are) finding more time to devote to rehearsing and recording," he says. "With my old band I was still learning how to write and got tired of what were doing quickly. With this band I'm way more confident in the songwriting and myself as a performer. Nothing fazes me anymore. I want to share everything with the world now."
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.