Milwaukee's rockabilly and vintage rock and roll kings, The Uptown Savages, host their annual Halloween bash this week at Frank's Power Plant and at the show, which also includes a performance by The Invaders, the seven-piece band will unveil its third disc, "Rock 'n' Roll With You."
We caught up with frontman Jon Ziegler to ask about the challenges of keeping a seven-piece band thriving on the Milwaukee club scene, about making the new record and more.
OnMilwaukee.com: The Uptown Savages are one of the longer-lived bands on the scene these days. How have you managed to keep it going?
Jon Ziegler: I am amazed myself that we have been able to keep this going for so long. I think part of it is due to the fact that every 3-5 years we seem to get a new member or two, which forces us to change things up a bit and evolve. It keeps it interesting and is totally a pain in the rear.
The other part is that I am just too stubborn, or foolish, to quit. Personally, I really cherish the group, and the people in it. We don't always all get along, but there is enough mutual respect amongst the band that if someone needs to take some time off for personal reasons or just needs a break, we don't get too worked up about it. The bottom line is that we love the music that we play, and if we stopped there really would not be anyone to carry the torch for the type of stuff that we do.
OMC: What about gigging here?
JZ: It comes and goes. In terms of playing live, for us it is kind of tough for us as a seven-piece band, that does not travel too much, to maintain a very robust club schedule. There are not a lot of places for us to play. Many of the clubs that we used to play have vanished. Luckily in Milwaukee, from May through September there are a lot of festivals, block parties, and other outdoor gigs for us.
OMC: Has the rockin' scene in town changed?
JZ: I think that right now the scene is the best that it has been in a long time. There are still a few venues that are bringing in national and international acts. I am always seeing new faces at our shows. So I think that it is definitely still viable.
OMC: How do you keep it fresh in terms of sound, and fun to keep the musicians excited?
JZ: It is tough and does take some work. Right now we have a few younger members in the group and their enthusiasm for the music and for performing certainly keeps it fun and interesting. I think that the band, overall, has always continued to improve and evolve.
Our setlist has undergone dozens of changes. When we started out we did a lot more rockabilly and more country-ish sounding material. I certainly still love that stuff, but with the horns and piano the sound has naturally evolved. I am always searching for new tunes and new ideas for the stage show. At least in terms of the repertoire no two shows are the same.
OMC: Was recording with Shane Hochstettler at Howl Street a different experience than making previous records?
JZ: Our first CD was all done on tape using analog gear. It was a long process and while I don't regret doing it that way, it was not cheap or easy. Our second CD, "Crazy, Crazy, Crazy," was recorded by Bill Stace. We set up, and did all the tracking in the Miramar Theater. We were going for a wall of sound type thing and that definitely came across. The material on the second CD is the most diverse of the three, so the big, lively room sound really tied the music together.
Recording at Howl Street was a great experience. It was like a hot knife cutting through butter; by far one of the easiest recording projects that I have ever done. I think that it is probably the best sounding, as well. One of the reasons is that it has been so long since we last recorded that we literally have had years to do pre-production.
The other reason is that Shane really knows his stuff and has a great ear for drum and guitar sounds. He caught on to what we wanted the end product to sound like, and with his help we nailed it. The songs sound exactly the way that I heard them in my head before we went in to record. In some ways maybe even better.
OMC: Tell us about the release party.
JZ: We are celebrating the release of our new CD at our annual Halloween party on Friday, Oct. 31. This year we will be having the party at Frank's Power Plant in Bay View. Our special guests The Invaders will be kicking things off for us. There will be a costume contest and prizes. Showtime will be 10 p.m.
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.