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Sweet melaniejane

Listening to melaniejane's album, "flower," is nothing like hanging out with the 20-something singer, songwriter and musician. On the record, she bounces between bluesy-and-ballsy and folky-and-fiery, but in person, she is quiet and shy, a self-described "homebody" and so unassuming you want to whisper all of your secrets into her delicate ear.

She's been on the local music scene for only a few years, but the classically-trained cellist -- who still gives cello lessons today -- has decades of performance experience, both in orchestras and in a wedding band that she and her two sisters formed during grade school. (The young trio performed at a number of Milwaukee weddings.)

Later, melaniejane -- whose real name is Melanie Hoffmann -- taught herself to play piano and guitar. "It was really weird at first. I had to hold the guitar like a cello for a long time, but now I can hold my own," she says, smiling in a shy-but-sly sort of way.

Although melaniejane sometimes sounds like Margo Timmons from Cowboy Junkies and sometimes a little like Aimee Mann, she cites Janis Joplin, Chrissie Hynde, Lucinda Williams and Sheryl Crow as a few of her mentors. "And Sinead O'Connor woke me up when I was younger. She's such a powerful woman," she says.

melaniejane's evolution from classical cellist to indie-Americana rocker started almost a decade ago when she joined the band, Ward and his Troubles. It was while recording a track for Ward that she met Mike Hoffmann, a guitarist, songwriter and producer who later became her husband.

"We were married on April Fool's Day in 1996," she says, grinning sweetly into her coffee cup. "Mike had been a bachelor for so long that when we started calling people the day before our wedding and inviting them to the small service they of course thought it was an April Fool's joke."

Hoffmann was a member of the '80s post-punk band E.I.E.I.O and produced many artists, including The Verve Pipe, Willy Porter and Victor DeLorenzo. He also produced -- and played a plethora of instruments on -- melaniejane's "flower."

The album, which was released in March, has received great reviews and a fair share of radio play, especially in Europe where Mike and melaniejane hope to tour this fall. The first single from the record, "Caroline," is popular in France, Belgium and Germany.

Although melaniejane feels recording the album was a joyful experience, and that "everything just fell into place," there was one hitch: Sound Sound, the studio where they were recording, caught fire and the control room was destroyed. Fortunately, Mike had put the tapes in a metal container, and their work was saved.

"It was terrifying," says melanie, "but it inspired us to create a studio in our home."

melaniejane, Mike and their cat, Curtis, live in Bay View. Their modest abode is also home to Alice Records (named for melaniejane's mom) and Long Haul Productions. She admits that having the office in their living space sometimes results in too much work and not enough play, but melaniejane makes a conscious effort to integrate other interests into her life, like gardening, yoga and spending time away from music with Mike.

"We're business partners and we're life partners," says melaniejane while walking out of the coffee shop and into the sunshine. "We have the same priorities: we both live and breathe music everyday."

melaniejane performs Fri., Aug. 2 at Linnemann's River West Inn with The Katie Todd Band and Heidi Spencer.


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