The last time we introduced OnMilwaukee.com readers to Milwaukee musician and composer Sigmund Snopek III, it was back in 2000. Since then, the prolific, occasionally eccentric and amazingly talented Snopek has produced everything from rock operas to classical compositions to Christmas CDs.
However, it's Snopek's latest effort, "Baseball," that has turned into a very personal endeavor for him. Not only is Snopek a rabid Brewers and baseball fan, he has, in some ways, been working on this CD for about 30 years. With a whopping 70 tracks, it's not hard to understand what took him so, either.
We caught up with our old friend Sig -- the guy who composed the original OnMilwaukee.com radio jingles -- recently at his East Side studio / apartment.
OMC: I think you were working on the "Beer" CD last time I interviewed you.
Snopek: That was quite a while ago. That's on its fourth pressing now.
OMC: But every time we've talked since, you've been telling me this baseball CD is coming out. And now it's out.
SS: It's a double CD that has 70 pieces of music on it. It's got guest artists. Gordon Gano (of the Violent Femmes) has a really beautiful song that he sings in Spanish. (Bad Boy's) Xeno is a guest, so is Richard Penny on one of the more cranky songs.
The first baseball song that we wrote was called "Powder River," and that was in the 1970s. It's based on two games between the Brewers and Yankees. There are regular songs, and I also started selling commercials.
OMC: I know there's a commercial for OnMilwaukee.com, but you never actually sold it to me. Did the commercial sales pay for the CD?
SS: It helped pay. I raised $8,000, but I sold them really inexpensively. But the CD cost $26,000.
OMC: Did you produce it yourself?
SS: It's on my label, yeah. There are also pieces of music on the CDs that I call musical baseball cards. They're done in the style of classical music called postmodern. That's where you get this trance-like, repetitive thing going. It's high-brow classical mixed with the goofy polka stuff. The CD comes with a pack of baseball cards. Now I have 56,000 baseball cards.
OMC: Where can people buy "Baseball?"
SS: Right now, you have to come to my gigs to buy it. But I'll be selling it through Exclusive Company and Barnes and Noble, online and through my Web site. I've been selling them all summer.
OMC: Lets talk about the Robin Yount song, "The Kid," since that's one of the first pieces of music I identified you with. I listened to in Cooperstown in 1999, and it actually made me a little weepy.
SS: Robin was a very instrumental player for me. I saw his first game.
OMC: So the lyrics in the song are true?
SS: I was there for all the things that I mentioned in the song. I was there for every hometown playoff and World Series game in '82. Of course, Robin Yount hit two home runs on that Sunday, and my parents were there with me.
OMC: Were the guest performers easy to line up?
SS: Everyone was willing. The guest artists were just coming out of the woodwork.
OMC: Gordon Gano is probably the biggest name. Does he do a lot of stuff like this?
SS: It's just because I've known him for so long, and because he's a baseball fan. I haven't heard what he thinks about it yet. He recorded it in New York, then I did the strings here. I used five or six studios.
OMC: Where does this project rank in your overall, gigantic opus of music?
SS: This CD almost killed me. It has a life of its own, and I will probably continue to write baseball songs and add to it. Once I opened up the "Pandora's box" of selling ads, I became an ad salesman.
OMC: Was that weird?
SS: No, it was fun.
OMC: We've talked about this before. You don't think the commercials cheapen the CD, because everything about baseball is commercial, right?
SS: It's a metaphor for baseball. When you go to the ballpark, everything you see is a commercial. Richard Penny pulled out of the project for a while, but I called him a year later and he said OK. But I think it's fun. It's a triptych, since these are all real places. The biggest difference on this CD is that everything I sing about is true and real. The "Beer" CD is fictitious stuff; my other CDs are a lot of fantasy stuff. But these are all real people. Baseball is a great way to live your life.
OMC: People who listen to the CD should probably know that you really are a big baseball and Brewers fan.
SS: I follow them every day. I find that going to the ballpark to be therapeutic; it's my favorite sport.
OMC: What else are you doing right now?
SS: I have a completely classical piece that I'm trying to get funded. I worked on it while I did this CD, so I was juggling two huge projects.
OMC: Are you playing out a lot?
SS: We play every Friday at the Old German Beer Hall. Saturdays, we do Irish clubs. We're starting up again at Linneman's.
OMC: As you get a little older, are you getting more serious with your music?
SS: I've always had humor in my music. Working at Summerfest for 25 years with comedians was like going to comedy school. You start to absorb their timing.
OMC: You're not touring with the Violent Femmes anymore, right?
SS: No. I don't think the Femmes are going to be touring anymore. I talked to Jerry Harrison Friday night and asked him about Brian (Ritchie) suing Gordon, and he thinks it's really stupid, and so do I. I think it's idiotic. If I was Gordon Gano and someone took me to court, I would say, "F--k you. I'm not going to play with you anymore, you're an a--hole." And you can quote me on that.
OMC: How old are you?
OMC: And you've never had a non-music, 9 to 5 job, right?
SS: I had a job unloading rock stars' stuff. That's how I snuck onto Deep Purple's jet and had a beer. I was on the plane that Lynyrd Skynyrd crashed on. I spent three days with Rudy Vallee. He could swear so eloquently, you would never think that he talked like that.
OMC: Where I'm going with this is that it's 1:15 p.m., and I woke you up when I got here. You're still living the rock and roll lifestyle. Given the chance, would you do anything differently?
OMC: And now you're doing a Reader's Digest Christmas album.
SS: They're licensing it and distributing it. When I went to the Opryland Hotel to premier this to them, it sold 500 CDs in an hour.
OMC: So after all this, the one that could pay your retirement is a Christmas CD?
SS: I'm not going to retire. I'm going to keep on playing. The thing about money is ... what do they call a musician without his girlfriend? Homeless!
Andy is the president, publisher and founder of OnMilwaukee. He returned to Milwaukee in 1996 after living on the East Coast for nine years, where he wrote for The Dallas Morning News Washington Bureau and worked in the White House Office of Communications. He was also Associate Editor of The GW Hatchet, his college newspaper at The George Washington University.
Before launching OnMilwaukee.com in 1998 at age 23, he worked in public relations for two Milwaukee firms, most of the time daydreaming about starting his own publication.
Hobbies include running when he finds the time, fixing the rust on his '75 MGB, mowing the lawn at his cottage in the Northwoods, and making an annual pilgrimage to Phoenix for Brewers Spring Training.