By Drew Olson Special to Published Apr 28, 2010 at 5:06 AM

Jim Hoehn has done it again.

The Brookfield-based singer-songwriter, whose "day" job is producing news for the Journal Sentinel's Web site, has released "Thongs in the Key of Life, Volume IV," a collection of 17 "trop-rock" songs from a variety of artists (including a 2010 Grammy nominee) that conjures images of palm trees, gentle breezes and umbrella drinks.

We caught up with Hoehn this week to talk about the project. This is the fourth volume of "Thongs in the Key of Life." When you undertook the original and then Volume 2, did you ever think it would become a cottage industry?

Jim Hoehn: No. My biggest goal was to stay out of divorce court over another hare-brained music scheme. The sole intent of Volume I was to give some regional songwriters and artists a bit more exposure. The first volume did really well, at least by local record standards. MTV picked up a song for use in a video project and Disneyland called and got two dozen copies for use at the park. There was never a plan for a second volume, much less three and four. As I kept listening to more music by independent songwriters and bands, I finally thought there was enough for Volume II. I still never actually plan on doing another one, but there seems to be audience interest and I keep finding new artists, new songs that I like.

OMC: How is this CD different than the previous three?

JH: It's got some different writers/performers who were not on any of the previous three, including a 2010 Grammy nominee as a songwriter (I'll let readers Google to find the answer). Another one of the first-timers is a former member of Gaelic Storm. I think the song with most "rock" edge to it is the only woman songwriter on the disc, Lauren Adams from L.A., whom I met several years ago when we both did a songwriters night at the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville. I've always liked her writing and always kept in touch with her.

In addition to different artists, I try and find songs that have different rhythms, different instrumentation, different tempos and a different overall "feel." Nobody, including me, wants to listen to 17 songs that all sound the same. I'm sure I'm biased, but I like the lineup on this one a lot. Two of the artists -- including my friend Kevin Mulvenna -- were kind enough to let me use songs that have not even been released yet on their own CDs. Overall, I think it's a good listen.

OMC: It seems like a lot of fans who love "trop rock" were passing along cassettes and CDs long before the Internet made it easy to track down music. Now that you've had even more time in this circle, what do you think it is about these fans that makes them so loyal and, for lack of a better word, voracious about finding new music?

JH: The "trop rock" genre pretty much owes its existence to Jimmy Buffett. Not all of the people who like trop rock are Parrotheads or vice versa, but the music sort of caters to the escapist mentality out of which Buffett has built a career, not to mention a financial empire.

There are now trop rock events all over the country that attract several hundred people for a couple days of live music. There even is an organization, the Margarita Mafia, that promotes the music and hosts an annual awards show, usually at the national Parrothead convention, known as Meeting of the Minds, in Key West. The nice thing is that the audience is not limited to Buffett sound-a-likes. They're very open-minded and basically are extremely supportive of independent music and songwriters.

OMC: How does word of a project like this get out? Internet radio? Message boards? Old-school word of mouth? Have you learned any new methods to marketing them? Have you reached a point where artists are reaching out to you for this?

JH: The Internet certainly has made it easier to market independent releases, not only trop rock, but all genres. I use message boards, Facebook, my Web site and whatever else will help. About a dozen of my first promo mailings were to Internet radio stations, including Radio Margaritaville, which feature trop rock music.

The artists themselves also do a nice job of promoting the project because they're included -- same with the artist who did the cover art. I also stuff a lot of envelopes and send out a lot of e-mails. As for artists reaching out, I tend to keep the music projects pretty much under wraps until it's a go -- I think it's left over from my press box days, the "Don't talk about a no-hitter in progress" theory.

Since Volume IV came out in mid-March, however, I've had several artists ask why they weren't included. Most of them had really good songs, but they just didn't fit the project. In fact, one of them that I did not choose, by a band out of St. Louis, I think is catchy enough and good enough to be a huge country hit for somebody.

OMC: When you did Volume 3, you said that you and your kids listened to CDs to pick the artists. Was the selection process the same this time. How many artists were there that did not make the cut?

JH: Nothing happens in our house without family input. Our kids all play instruments and they've met a lot of the artists. After I narrowed it down a bit, each of them had a listening session, or were asked which of two songs they preferred. The same with my wife, Karen. She listened to a lot of them, as well as helped with the song order. As for who didn't make the cut, there were dozens, including some I like a lot. I had a pretty good idea going in as I'd heard a lot these songs live, but even then I listened to well over a hundred songs before I narrowed it down.

OMC: I imagine each new volume creates new interest in the previous volumes. The first two are out of print, aren't they? Does that mean a box set or anthology is coming?

JH: Surprisingly, I've had several dozen inquiries in the last month of so for the previous volumes, especially Volume I. I don't know if they're worth reprinting or not. I'm guessing I should probably see how well "Thongs IV" does. That goes back to that family input thing.

OMC: Speaking of interest, have you heard from artists on this CD or past editions that have seen a spike in their sales as a result of the exposure they received.

JH: Yes. Several of the artists have said that inclusion on any of the volumes has exposed them to a much wider audience, not just in sales, but also leading to live gigs. I've also had a lot of people complain that after they buy one of the Thongs CDs, the next thing they know they're spending a couple hundred dollars to track down the CDs from the original artists. That's nice to hear. I don't think any of the Thongs CDs have hurt any of the songwriters in any way, shape or form.

OMC: How is your own career going? Is "Callin' In Gone" still getting airplay? Any feelers from networks about a TV series?

JH: Several of the songs off "Royalty Check Hotel" are still getting airplay, including "Callin' In Gone." There's a pretty funny forum thread on the Tijuana Brass web site about the song, "I Still Like Herb Alpert." WMIL, the biggest country station in Milwaukee, has been kind enough to play several songs on the homemade jams show. Basically, it all adds up to being a legend in my own shower.


Drew Olson Special to

Host of “The Drew Olson Show,” which airs 1-3 p.m. weekdays on The Big 902. Sidekick on “The Mike Heller Show,” airing weekdays on The Big 920 and a statewide network including stations in Madison, Appleton and Wausau. Co-author of Bill Schroeder’s “If These Walls Could Talk: Milwaukee Brewers” on Triumph Books. Co-host of “Big 12 Sports Saturday,” which airs Saturdays during football season on WISN-12. Former senior editor at Former reporter at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.