Chris DeMay
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Chris DeMay

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"DeMay Strikes Out On His Own"

By Bobby Tanzilo
Managing Editor
Published April 17, 2007 at 5:26 a.m.

Chris DeMay is known in the Milwaukee music scene as being the pointman in the stalwart alt.country band West of Rome, as well as for his work with Michelle Anthony.

Now, DeMay steps out on his own with a somewhat misleadingly-titled EP called "I Won't Be Me," on Madison's Slothtrop Records. The disc has six original tunes along with covers of Brian Wilson's "Love and Mercy" and Warren Zevon's "Gorilla, You're a Desperado," which should give you an idea of where DeMay is coming from.

As he gears up to launch the disc publicly with a release gig on Friday, April 27, we asked him about striking out on his own.

OMC: Can you tell me what led you to do the solo disc?

CD: Way back in '03 during the mixing of (West of Rome's) "Drunk Tank Decoy," one night (producer) Jay (Bennett) and I were in his studio, and I recorded some new songs very quickly on acoustic guitar. Weeks later, Jay told me how much he liked the recordings and that I should think about making a "Nebraska"-type solo record. That was the seed, and perhaps the first time I ever considered doing something outside the band.

Over the next two years, I demo'd several more new songs at Scott and Michelle Anthony's home studio. And I went through a really productive time where I was writing a lot of new songs, and starting to write on the piano. So then it became a question of what to do with all this material. I decided I'd record two songs with Wendy Schneider at her studio, Coney Island, in Madison. Those first two songs, "Something Desperate" and "Bruno Kirby," turned out well and had a unique sound and feeling that I really wanted to pursue with some of the other new songs.

The bulk of the record was recorded with Wendy between September and December of last year.

OMC: Do you have plans to keep doing the solo recordings or was this more of a one-off kind of thing for now?

CD: I do plan to record more solo stuff, but I'd like to try a different approach next time. Whereas this EP was mostly me playing the instruments and layering some overdubs, the next one I'd like to record with a band and play mostly live with very few, if any, overdubs.

OMC: Tell us about some of the guests on the record. You've got a lot of familiar names alongside you.

CD: The biggest guest contribution to the record was made by Wendy. I really came to count on her advice and direction with regard to how each song should be treated. I cannot imagine this EP ever happening without her help.

The legendary Jack Rice (The Blow Pops, The Carolinas, The Lackloves) came and played bass on two songs and added vocals, too. His bandmates in The Pugilists, Don Moore and Nick Verban, along with Rice, were the backing band on "Kitchen Table Blues," which was recorded in late January at The Tannery. Also, playing horns on "WorkingClass Woman" is Dave Cusma, who plays in the local cabaret act Eat The Mystery.

And the EP was mastered by Trevor Sadler, who I've always wanted to work with.

OMC: Is West of Rome still writing, recording and performing?

CD: Yes, WOR is still performing. Last year was a tough one on a personal level for the band -- it seemed like all of us went through some kind of life-changing event or situation. So the timing seemed right for me to use the bulk of this year to put out my record and tour. However, we are playing a few shows this summer and I hope to record again with WOR late this year or early next.

OMC: Tell us a bit about the show at Deone's. Will you play solo or will you have guests?

CD: I wanted to do something different for my release show and when Deone Jahnke asked if I'd like have the show at her loft studio -- and knowing how great her loft shows are -- I jumped at the chance. So in addition to my set, Dan DuChaine from Rush-Mor Records and Tom Crawford from WMSE 91.7FM will spin records both before and after the live music, and performing an opening live set are my friends, Juniper Tar.

St. Louis artist Mark Dethrow will be showing his recent series of paintings depicting legendary blues and rock performers. Should be a hoot. I'll be performing that night with a full band backing me; Jack Rice, Don Moore and Jack Rodee from The Pugilists, with Kirk Farber (Spill) on drums and Anjl Rodee on vocals and accordion.


- OnMilwaukee.com


"DeMay Strikes Out On His Own"

By Bobby Tanzilo
Managing Editor
Published April 17, 2007 at 5:26 a.m.

Chris DeMay is known in the Milwaukee music scene as being the pointman in the stalwart alt.country band West of Rome, as well as for his work with Michelle Anthony.

Now, DeMay steps out on his own with a somewhat misleadingly-titled EP called "I Won't Be Me," on Madison's Slothtrop Records. The disc has six original tunes along with covers of Brian Wilson's "Love and Mercy" and Warren Zevon's "Gorilla, You're a Desperado," which should give you an idea of where DeMay is coming from.

As he gears up to launch the disc publicly with a release gig on Friday, April 27, we asked him about striking out on his own.

OMC: Can you tell me what led you to do the solo disc?

CD: Way back in '03 during the mixing of (West of Rome's) "Drunk Tank Decoy," one night (producer) Jay (Bennett) and I were in his studio, and I recorded some new songs very quickly on acoustic guitar. Weeks later, Jay told me how much he liked the recordings and that I should think about making a "Nebraska"-type solo record. That was the seed, and perhaps the first time I ever considered doing something outside the band.

Over the next two years, I demo'd several more new songs at Scott and Michelle Anthony's home studio. And I went through a really productive time where I was writing a lot of new songs, and starting to write on the piano. So then it became a question of what to do with all this material. I decided I'd record two songs with Wendy Schneider at her studio, Coney Island, in Madison. Those first two songs, "Something Desperate" and "Bruno Kirby," turned out well and had a unique sound and feeling that I really wanted to pursue with some of the other new songs.

The bulk of the record was recorded with Wendy between September and December of last year.

OMC: Do you have plans to keep doing the solo recordings or was this more of a one-off kind of thing for now?

CD: I do plan to record more solo stuff, but I'd like to try a different approach next time. Whereas this EP was mostly me playing the instruments and layering some overdubs, the next one I'd like to record with a band and play mostly live with very few, if any, overdubs.

OMC: Tell us about some of the guests on the record. You've got a lot of familiar names alongside you.

CD: The biggest guest contribution to the record was made by Wendy. I really came to count on her advice and direction with regard to how each song should be treated. I cannot imagine this EP ever happening without her help.

The legendary Jack Rice (The Blow Pops, The Carolinas, The Lackloves) came and played bass on two songs and added vocals, too. His bandmates in The Pugilists, Don Moore and Nick Verban, along with Rice, were the backing band on "Kitchen Table Blues," which was recorded in late January at The Tannery. Also, playing horns on "WorkingClass Woman" is Dave Cusma, who plays in the local cabaret act Eat The Mystery.

And the EP was mastered by Trevor Sadler, who I've always wanted to work with.

OMC: Is West of Rome still writing, recording and performing?

CD: Yes, WOR is still performing. Last year was a tough one on a personal level for the band -- it seemed like all of us went through some kind of life-changing event or situation. So the timing seemed right for me to use the bulk of this year to put out my record and tour. However, we are playing a few shows this summer and I hope to record again with WOR late this year or early next.

OMC: Tell us a bit about the show at Deone's. Will you play solo or will you have guests?

CD: I wanted to do something different for my release show and when Deone Jahnke asked if I'd like have the show at her loft studio -- and knowing how great her loft shows are -- I jumped at the chance. So in addition to my set, Dan DuChaine from Rush-Mor Records and Tom Crawford from WMSE 91.7FM will spin records both before and after the live music, and performing an opening live set are my friends, Juniper Tar.

St. Louis artist Mark Dethrow will be showing his recent series of paintings depicting legendary blues and rock performers. Should be a hoot. I'll be performing that night with a full band backing me; Jack Rice, Don Moore and Jack Rodee from The Pugilists, with Kirk Farber (Spill) on drums and Anjl Rodee on vocals and accordion.


- OnMilwaukee.com


Discography

"I Won't Be Me" - 2007 Slothtrop Records
"School and Books and Trains and Leaving" - 2006 Slothtrop Records
Magnet Magazine Compilation - 2005
"Drunk Tank Decoy" - 2005 Slothtrop Records
MSG Compilation - 2005
"December Demos"- 2002 Whack-A-Doo Records
"Cranberry Sauce"- 2001 Whack-A-Doo Records
"Flat Iron Road"--EP 1999 Whack-A-Doo Records

Photos

Bio

Seven years after beginning West of Rome with his Midwestern collaborators, Chris DeMay, is now on his own. DeMay releases his first solo record I Won't Be Me in May 2007.

The landscape of songwriters like Neil Young, Steve Earle, Bruce Springsteen and Patti Smith come to mind when listening to DeMay’s I Won’t Be Me. However, ironically and intentionally, and despite the album’s title, the majority of I Won’t Be Me is DeMay. Chris sings and plays most of the instruments on seven of the eight songs – guitar, bass, drums, Wurlitzer and piano.

“About half the songs were written on the piano and half on guitar so style was somewhat dictated by the instrument and the mood it created, rather than my mood to create,” says DeMay. Throughout I Won’t Be Me, DeMay allows love, loss and the emotional cost of love to serve as the guide between the songs. He also credits Springsteen’s Born to Run as inspiration for some parts of the album. DeMay says, “I thought about the characters in that record who were late teens and early 20s – dying to get out on their own – out of town – and I imagined them older – in their late 30s with kids, jobs, histories and experience. I imagined what those people are going through and struggling with in their lives.”

The songs had a short shelf life before joining I Won’t Be Me. The album is led off by the first piano ballad, “Bruno Kirby,” which was written mere minutes after the news of the actor’s passing in 2006. DeMay’s voice is nothing if not heartfelt and soul searching throughout this song. “Kitchen Table Blues” is a gritty rock anthem that lauds Motherhood in the chorus. Recorded in analog in 2007 at one of Milwaukee’s newest studios, The Tannery, “Kitchen Table Blues” features Milwaukee’s rock and punk-rock veterans, The Pugilists (Nick Verban, Don Moore and Jack Rice) as the backing band. The two covers on the album – Brian Wilson’s “Love and Mercy” and Warren Zevon’s “Gorilla, You’re a Desperado” share the same sentiment of love and loss and fit well with the DeMay originals.

All of the songs were written in 2006 except “Working Class Woman,” which was written in 2004. “Working Class Woman” compliments the sort of woman who “won’t be had.” DeMay doesn’t patronize, but knows how to get a laugh in the same verse when he sings, “Don’t be confused by her sweet talk, working class woman – don’t piss her off.” Later, in between sweet simple melodies and horns, he sings, “working class woman hates her job, she’d rather be a stay-at-home mom.” A gifted lyricist, DeMay mixes love and loss without forgetting the real life companion, humor.

DeMay recorded the bulk of I Won’t Be Me to one-inch analog tape at Coney Island studio in Madison, with veteran musician and engineer Wendy Schneider. Working mostly alone, with Schneider and few guests, DeMay shaped seven of the EP’s eight songs by the last days of 2006.

This album doesn’t pretend to prove a point and like the author, the songs are not pretentious. DeMay’s hope for the listener? “I just want them to listen, and hopefully the more closely they listen the more they'll get out of the songs.”