Late last year, Milwaukee's premier purveyors of guitar-fueled pop, Sugar Stems, released a new disc, "Can't Wait."
Like the quartet's debut, "Sweet Sounds of The Sugar Stems," "Can't Wait" is laced with catchy songs like the first single, "Like I Do," built around around an "I Can't Explain"-style chord progression, with a verse that recalls the earliest records by The Go-Go's.
"Greatest Pretender," the record's opener may conjure British bands like Echobelly and Elastica.
Our attempts to catch up with singer and guitarist Betsy Heibler over the holidays were stymied as the band kicked off the new year by hitting the road.
When they returned after a jaunt to the southeast, Heibler was worse for wear, taking a little time off to recuperate. That trip was cut short by the creeping crud, which forced the Sugar Stems to cancel two gigs.
But now the Heibler and the band – which also includes guitarist/vocalist Drew Fredrichsen, bassist Stephanie Swinney Conard and drummer Jon Heibler – are back up and running and prepping for a Friday, Feb. 8 gig with Paul Collins Beat and Trolley at Club Garibaldi.
We caught up with Heibler to ask about "Can't Wait," the recent tour and more...
OnMilwaukee.com: You're just back from a tour, right? Where did you play?
Betsy Heibler: We traveled south: St. Louis, Memphis and Knoxville, Huntsville, Ala., Asheville, N.C.
OMC: How did the shows go?
BH: The shows were a lot of fun, and we sold a lot of copies of our new record which is great. We all kept commenting on how incredibly nice people in the South are, it is definitely true what they say about "southern hospitality." Every place we went people were really cool.
OMC: Before we talk about the new record, let's catch up. How did the first record do? Did it help raise your profile on a national level?
BH: I think it did pretty well! It was nice to hear from people we met all over on this last tour who had been listening to it since it came out and really liked it.
OMC: It came out in Japan and Europe, too, didn't it? Did it do pretty well overseas?
BH: It really kind of surpassed all of my wildest expectations! The response from people all over the world has been awesome. I think the fact that it was released on foreign labels – Bachelor Records in Austria and Dream On in Japan – really helped us get noticed in other countries.
OMC: Is "Can't Wait" coming out overseas, too?
BH: Yep! "Can't Wait" has been released on Screaming Apple from Germany.
OMC: When we last spoke, you said you were already working on "Can't Wait." Did you work on it over a long period or did it happen pretty fast?
BH: It took a while; or at least it felt that way! We put a lot of time and energy into the recording, and we did it in chunks over the course of a few months last summer.
OMC: Tell us a bit about making it. Where was it recorded?
BH: It was recorded at Bobby Peru Studio here on the South Side of Milwaukee. We were all really excited to finally record all of the newer songs, we had a lot of ideas for each song and we wanted to make sure everything we wanted was in there.
OMC: Are the 10 songs all newer or were some that you wanted to do but couldn't fit on the debut?
BH: They are all newer, some of them we had been playing live for quite a while; since around the time the first album came out.
OMC: You were working on No. 2 when we talked about No. 1. Does that mean No. 3 is now underway? Or are you taking a break after the tour?"
BH: Definitely taking a much needed break after tour, but I've been working on new songs for a while, and hopefully we'll be able to learn them as a band soon and start the process all over again! It gets hard to find a balance sometimes between all the live shows and working on new material, for now I'm still enjoying the excitement over the new record, which I am super proud of and excited about.
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.