PART ONE: INTERVIEW WITH DYLAN CLARK OF THE MILWAUKEES
GOLDMINE: My fellow Goldmine writers Lee Zimmerman, Mike Greenblatt and I are all enjoying your new album The Calling. My favorite Bob Seger single is “Still the Same” from his Stranger in Town album, which made my Top 10 Albums of 1978 list. The flip side of the single, which also ends the first side of the album, is “Feel Like a Number,” with a similar sound and energy that I hear on your album’s opening song “No Way Out.”
DYLAN CLARK: I love Bob Seger. When I was growing up, my father was a big music fan, first with rock and later with opera. On heavy rotation in the house, he would play Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band’s double album Live Bullet. It was awesome. I knew “Still the Same” because it was a big hit, but I didn’t know “Feel Like a Number” until preparing for our interview, and I love it! The lyrics sound like they are coming from a Detroit auto worker’s point of view, truly working class. He is doing what you also hear from Rod Stewart and Bruce Springsteen where they want to travel from day to day life. I really enjoy this tune and I have to say that it will be part of my upcoming personal song mixes in the next couple months. With “Still the Same,” I finally paid attention to the lyrics and understand that he is singing about a gambler. This was like digging into homework that I might not have otherwise done, so thank you for turning me on to “Feel Like a Number.”
Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band
Flip side: Feel Like a Number
A side: Still the Same
Top 100 debut: May 13, 1978
Peak position: 4
GM: I am happy that you like it. You talked about Detroit, so that gets us to the Midwest. I have to ask about the band name The Milwaukees for your New Jersey quartet.
DC: It really started as a joke. I started writing the names of cities in my notebook. There were other bands with names of cities like Chicago and Boston, so I asked, “What about Milwaukee?” Probably my first memory of baseball as a kid was The Brewers with Paul Molitor and Robin Yount and that might have sparked it. We went with “Milkwaukee” for our name and put an “s” on it, because I thought I was clever at the age of nineteen. The next thing you know, it over twenty years later, and this is our name. Fortunately everybody in Milwaukee has been cool about it when we have been out there. Everybody is so nice, and my buddy married a girl from Milwaukee. People from Milwaukee take great pride in their city.
GM: That is wonderful. In fact, I am interviewing a singer from Milwaukee, Peggy James, next, as the second part of this article, weaving that connection together.
DC: Ha ha. That’s cool.
GM: After “No Way Out,” the song “Wild Heart” follows and takes me back to a 1990s Goo Goo Dolls sound.
DC: In the early 1990s there were the grunge bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam and then around the mid-1990s Goo Goo Dolls arrived on the scene and I liked their sound and they were hard to miss with all their hits. Johnny Rzeznik has a great voice. For a DIY sort of band to make it that big, I thought that was pretty cool. I have a lot of respect for those guys. Our song “Wild Heart” is one of the most personal songs on the album. There is a person in my life and my wife’s life who let us down. You think that intensions are pure, but as it happens sometimes in life, when you think that you have a friend forever, these disappointments happen.
GM: Austin Faxon really stands out on drums on “Stay Gold,” which is a catchy song with great chorus harmonies.
DC: We are lucky to have Austin, who joined us after Pat Fusco moved, who plays on half of the songs on the record. We knew Austin for years through Rutgers’ New Brunswick, New Jersey campus. Our guitar player Jeff Nordstedt had gone there. We were working on “Stay Gold” for a long time and fine tuned it over three or four years and Austin killed it.
GM: Before I started thinking about Bob Seger’s “Feel Like a Number,” “No Way Out” initially reminded me of Foo Fighters, who I definitely think of when listening to “Mother Mary.”
DC: I don’t think you can be my age, which is early 40s, and not have that music be a part of your life, where you can’t be my father’s age and not have The Beatles be a part of his life. It is so ingrained in you that it is almost impossible to get away from it. I love Foo Fighters. Dave Grohl has written some of the best songs in the last twenty years. It is an honor to be compared to that guy.
GM: Another band member to highlight is bassist Donovan Cain and his playing on the exciting “Our Blues.”
DC: Donovan is awesome and the best bass player I have played with. He does a lot of session work and always makes himself available for other musicians beyond our stuff. He was my neighbor for years in Jersey City. We can talk about a variety of music, including pop songs by Taylor Swift, Katy Perry and the songwriter Max Martin. We share a sweet tooth for all types of music.
GM: Mike Greenblatt’s Goldmine review in his Filled with Sound series proclaimed, “Jeff Nordstedt stings his six string with passion and fury, making these tunes come alive with action packed profundity.” That is so true with “Proud of Me.”
DC: Jeff can really turn up the juice when he wants to. For a lot of this record, he sat back and supported the songs, where on that one he put on his Les Paul and ripped it.
GM: Lee Zimmerman, in his Goldmine Indie Spotlight series, wrote about your album, “There is dedication to a relentless, restless and irreverent brand of rock with urgent anthems.” I can tie that comment to “Burn & Shame.” I hear a wonderful blend of Gin Blossoms and Thin Lizzy in this song, vocally, too.
DC: Definitely. You nailed it. I’m a huge Thin Lizzy fan. They were much bigger in England and Ireland, where I have made some friends. For the most part, people in the U.S. know “The Boys are Back in Town” and “Jailbreak.” I dove into their whole catalog obsessively. The way that Phil Lynott sang, with the soul in his voice and the off-kilter rhythms that he responded to in many of his songs helped me in my songwriting. So you are dead on the money with that comparison.
GM: We are planning a Thin Lizzy article for early next year. Last year, sadly, I wrote an In Memoriam article on Eddie Money, with a personal touch, as he was one of my heroes, and I was fortunate to spend time with him and his family. I read that your voice has been compared to his, and I hear that in the title tune power ballad “The Calling.” What a great finale for the ten song album.
DC: I originally wanted to open with that song. Jeff and I were texting back and forth but instead decided to go with the energy of “No Way Out,” which now I also think, because of you, captures a “Feel Like a Number” sound, and people may respond to that more than a ballad. With “The Calling” being the final song, it becomes a footnote on the album. It is one that I wrote exclusively on piano, which I have only been playing for less than a decade. I do love Eddie Money’s songs but have never tried to emulate his voice or style, but I guess we have similar voices, thank god. He is another one who I have dug into his catalog and of course my father had a couple of his albums when I was a kid, so his music has always been around. I look forward to doing more shows to share these songs when the pandemic ends. We have done tours of the U.S., Canada and Europe and look forward to getting back to it. I really appreciate your cool coverage of our music and all the Goldmine support.
PART TWO: INTERVIEW WITH PEGGY JAMES AND JIM EANNELLI
GM: Peggy, thank you for your new Paint Still Wet album, and Jim, thank you for your production and all the instruments that you played on this entertaining recording. I just concluded an interview with Dylan Clark from the New Jersey band called The Milwaukees, where we compared one of their songs to a Bob Seger flip side from the late 1970s. Continuing with that theme, your song “Lighter Than a Feather” reminds me a bit of Bob Seger’s softer and melodic 1980s songs like “Shame on the Moon,” “Fire Lake” and “Against the Wind.” The arrangement is very nice, too.
PEGGY JAMES: I like all of these comparisons, something that I haven’t thought about. I had the first line written in my old book of lyrics and hadn’t used it before, so I began with that and added on to it. It is about my dad, who I lost, and I watched him go through a degenerating health process. We were really close. I always feel that I still have a connection to him. It is about death, but he is free now, so it is uplifting. He was also a songwriter and played guitar. We sang together. It was a beautiful thing. I grew up in Milwaukee and then we moved to Arizona as a family and we ended back here in Milwaukee.
GM: In Milwaukee there is a lot of sheet music to be found at the Hal Leonard store on West Bluemound Road. My wife Donna, our daughter Brianna and I visited there in the 1990s and we found so many sheet music books for Brianna there.
JIM EANNELLI: They are a big publishing company.
GM: Absolutely. In 1973, I got Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road as a Christmas gift. What a beautiful double album with a great variety. I hear the chorus melody from his title song when I listen to your “Scarlet and Gold.”
PJ: We weren’t really thinking about “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” at the time but ever since we wrote that song, everyone says that.
JE: I had that album too, but unfortunately somebody stole it from me, so it has been a long time since I have listened to that melody. I hope Elton doesn’t mind if we borrowed something from him, ha ha.
GM: Then there is a reference to The Beatles’ “I Want to Hold Your Hand” on your song “Holdin’ Hands.” In the late 1980s I wrote a song called “Holding Hands” with the same type of sentiment, so that is what attracted me to your music immediately. When I saw that song title, I felt that finally there was a “Holdin’ Hands” song. I love the title, of course, the lyrics, and I would have never connected it with The Beatles, so that is a clever ending on the recording.
PJ: How about that! It is a fun song. My brother says that it is his favorite song on the album. It is kind of cute. I was reading an article that doctors said how healthy it was to hold hands, reducing blood pressure, for example, and not too many people do that.
GM: Even in the 1970s, I found it unusual too. I saw an older couple outside of my father’s restaurant always holding hands, and that became my inspiration years later. They were so cute.
JE: Nobody wants to touch anybody in this pandemic, so it becomes nostalgic.
GM: Also, on songwriting, I had written a song in the 1970s on mandolin called “Desperation” with the same chords that I am hearing on “Sailor Knots.” These new songs are taking me back and putting a smile on my face. Jim, are you playing mandolin on this song?
JE: Yes, I am, but it is a six string mandolin, tuned like a guitar, so it is like having a guitar with a capo at the fifth fret, with a mandolin body. So I am cheating a bit, but it is a mandolin sound. It is tuned A to A with the same intervals as a guitar, tuned in fifths like a guitar versus fourths like a mandolin.
GM: On “Wiser,” am I hearing both mandolin and guitar?
JE: What you are hearing is actually an autoharp with the push buttons. I am fingerpicking the autoharp, which not a lot of people do, as most musicians will just strum it.
GM: That one has more of an Americana sound where “Head Over Heels” is more bluesy.
JE: Yes, definitely, and if you know anything about blues harmonica players like Charlie Musselwhite, we know a player like him, Jim Liban, who we snagged for this session and he is just wonderful.
GM: My former boss was a big Charlie Musselwhite fan, so I learned some of his music because of him, when we were living in Virginia. When we lived in Texas, our favorite place to visit was the Riverwalk in San Antonio. I love the imagery and style that you brought to “San Antone.”
PJ: Thanks. I love it out west and always try to go back there when I have a chance to vacation. It always inspires me. We have good friends who live in San Antonio. I always loved Spanish and western music and Daryl Stuermer does an excellent guitar solo on that song.
GM: Another musician who stands out is violinist Anna Vafai on “Let’s Fly Away.”
JE: She is from Buffalo, New York. My nephew came in one day from Buffalo and had his girlfriend in tow and we were in the middle of a session. I learned that she plays violin and would be here for one more day. I had an old Goodwill violin in the closet that I bought for twenty bucks. We tuned it up and she played it like a genius. I set up a microphone and said, “Here’s the song. Go!” She played it like a three part harmony and everybody’s jaws hit the floor then. It was one of those beautiful moments that will never happen again.
PJ: We asked if they would move here. She is a music teacher in Buffalo and is just amazing. Not too many people can both read music professionally and then improvise like that on the spot.
GM: Buffalo is an interesting music town, too, with Canada right across the border, but the winters can be brutal.
PJ: We have that too in Wisconsin, but the other three seasons are beautiful. I just love it here where we are far from wildfires and hurricanes impacting other parts of the country. When things get back to normal, I will have concerts listed on my Facebook site. Thank you for supporting our music.
JE: Great talking to you. Thank you.