By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Oct 14, 2005 at 5:18 AM

{image1}It's perhaps human nature to want to categorize things, especially, it seems, music and bands. But, when you come across a group like Waukesha trio Soul Amp, it's hard to be precise.

Certainly, the group -- which has just self-released its debut disc, "Strip Mall Heaven," plays rock and roll. But, when the group names The Pixies and Joy Division alongside AC/DC and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young as influences, you know you're in for an interesting ride.

Although it could use a bit of sonic spark, "Strip Mall Heaven" will nevertheless impress with its songwriting, which is emotional, direct and unadorned.

We recently asked singer and guitarist Brad Odland, drummer Mike Nettesheim and keyboardist Mike Fisk about the band, the disc, the songs and the future.

OMC: Tell us a bit about the history of the band.

Mike Fisk: Brad and I have known each other for about seven years or so. We spent countless hours discussing music. I was really into the stuff he was doing with bluegrass. The stuff he was writing sounded to me like a melding of a lot of different musical influences and wasn't just straight ahead bluegrass. I kept telling him that he seemed to have a great rock album in him and when was he going to write it? I had shared some of the music I had written on keys with him and one day he asked me over to jam.

Brad Odland: Soul Amp got started after my bluegrass band broke up and I was looking to "rock" again. Fisk and I had talked about doing something for a few years but I was always in another project. Finally I wasn't doing much and wanted to play rock again. He said that we should make a album (and) I agreed.

MF: We kept jamming and writing songs and Brad pursued getting a bass player and drummer. Our first drummer lasted about a month before he quit. So we moved back into the basement and after a collective bout of depression, we found Mike Nettesheim. We cranked out about 40 to 45 tunes and whittled it down to the ones on our CD. We recorded the whole thing in the basement and mastered and mixed upstairs in Brad's "music" room. We played a number of gigs and had the CD almost in the can when our bass player, Steven White, decided to split to pursue other stuff. We wished Steve well and basically became ... a trio. We've played a bunch of gigs and have recorded a number of tunes in this format and it appears to be working really well.

OMC: Were you guys in other bands before?

BO: I've been playing in bands since I was in high school and college. In '85 I moved to Minneapolis and did all orginals as a lead guitarist with The Landsliders until '91. Then I was in Frozen Soul as singer and guitarist. I burned out in '95 and went "roots" playing bluegrass banjo and mandolin in Kick the Hobbit String Band and Handful of Grass, until June of '04.

MF: I wasn't. I "managed" a band, SideWaysDown with Kurt Linn on lead vocals and guitar, a long time ago in Colorado and wrote some of their songs. I've been mostly a song writer/composer/engineer/producer behind the scenes.

Mike Nettesheim: I've played in several cover bands ranging from top 40 FM rock, rock-n-roll, metal, and punk. I've also been involved in a couple of original bands with some very talented locals like Patrick Nettesheim, my brother.

OMC: Have you always been an originals band or did you start off doing covers?

MF: The only covers I've ever played were "Born Free," when I was like seven, "Star Wars Theme," when I was maybe 12, and "Yesterday." I've been more interested in just making stuff up, which is both good and bad and takes forever to learn how to do.

BO: No covers for Soul Amp. We're totally original from day one.

MN: Cover bands can be fun, but this is about the art of creating. It really boils my oil when some crank requests Limp Bizkit in the middle of a two-hour set of originals. To me, thats like asking someone in the middle of creating an oil painting to change his vision and copy a famous artist.

OMC: Some of the songs are very emotional subjects, like "She Slit Her Wrists Again" and the story song "Johnny's Wife Drove Johnny Crazy;" where does the inspiration come from? Are these fictions or stories from your own lives?

BO: Some of both. "She Slit Her Wrists" is fictional and based on a theme of hope surprisingly enough. "Johnny's Wife" is a true story, slice of life. Fisk penned the lyrics for that one. Inspiration for lyrics for me comes from the emotion of the music, lyric snippets or themes.

MF: Even though it's fictional ("She Slit"), there's real people behind there with real emotions and stuff I've personally experienced that I needed to express and share and kind of get out of my system. I think of them as an expression of feelings and stories and thoughts condensed, filtered, distorted and twisted down into a three- to four-minute song. For me, lyric writing is tough and takes me a long while.

OMC: From where do you draw your musical inspiration?

MF: Music is pretty much in my head almost all the time. I wake up with a song there or melody or something and it never really seems to stop. As a kid I was hugely influenced by the Beatles and all that great music from the '60s: the Stones, Kinks, The Who, Janis Joplin, The Doors. My tastes are pretty eclectic, but center on rock that has some element of emotional truth to it and often an edginess or grit.

BO: I guess it would be from the vast collection of rock music out there now. I grew up listening to music. I have what I call my own personal soundtrack that seems to just keep getting larger and larger ... Beatles, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Neil Young, The Pixes, AC/DC, The Replacements, Sex Pistols, Joy Division, classical, jazz, blues ... just a vast array of stuff.

OMC: Is the band working on another record? What's next for Soul Amp?

BO: We are already laying the ground work for the next album. We've written several new songs in the past few months despite being busy with day jobs and gigging. Were trying to get out as much as possible in the next few months to promote this album then early next spring we'll hit the new album in full. This first disc had a lot of variety and we're not sure if we want to keep that trend of doing what we do and just write a ton of songs and put the best on the album or focus a bit more ... it may just happen naturally.

MF: Brad and I are always writing. I think we'll try to get the next record out next spring. We're going to try some new things on this next one. We've got some stuff already written, but who knows how it'll go? So gigging and writing and getting the word out is what's next for us.

MN: The band is always moving to the next level, challenging each other to feel in the sound, to be as expressive as possible both in the studio and on the stage and thrive on each other's skills to amp up our listeners' souls.

Soul Amp plays Saturday, Oct. 15 at Onopa Brewing Co. in Riverwest and Thursday, Oct. 20 at House of Guinness in Waukesha. The band's Web site is

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

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 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.