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Milwaukee, Wisconsin, United States | INDIE

Milwaukee, Wisconsin, United States | INDIE
Band Americana Adult Contemporary




"The Alternate Root's Top 50 Bands RightNow!"

#28 Semi-Twang - Semi-Twang reunited in 2009 to play the 20th anniversary of Shank Hall, the premier showcase club in their home-town of Milwaukee. The band were playing to help celebrate a venue they played on the night it first opened its doors and nothing else was being discussed. The response was immediate and overwhelming. Semi-Twang did not survive their major label debut and 23 years later, they are recoding on their own terms, with the music being the star. Semi-Twang released Wages of Sin in March of 2011, their first album in 23 years. In 2013 Semi-Twang is back with a new release, "The Why and the What For," slated for March 26, 2013. According to the band's Press Release the album " the stakes as it traverses through the musical geography of Memphis, Muscle Shoals and New Orleans with passion and conviction. It's topical and personal with a bit more soul influence..." - The Alternate Root

"Semi-Twang finds new inspirations, returns to comfort zones on new album"

Inspiration can be found in the most unexpected places, even for a veteran band like Semi-Twang. As the group wrote and recorded its latest album, The Why And The What For, the members found themselves rehearsing in a variety of places, including a friend’s terrace, an atrium, and the more typical house studios. But it was The Beehive Salon & Boutique in Milwaukee that may have been the most memorable.

Thanks to drummer Bob Schneider’s wife being the owner of The Beehive, the band found it easy to secure playing time there. Setting up their gear at the salon one Sunday afternoon, they quickly became aware of the strangeness of the mirror-laden location. But that strangeness quickly turned into an epiphany for singer John Sieger, guitarist/producer Mike Hoffmann, and the rest of the band.

“There’s a moment when you’re wearing headphones that it turns super glorious, and it lifts you,” Sieger says. “I had the phones on and couldn’t get over how great it sounded. It’s great to hear your songs come to life, because they’ve been in your head or [have existed as] scrappy little demos, and all of a sudden they sound lush and filled out.”

“It’s slightly out of body. It’s like you’re listening to a record but happen to be playing it at the same time,” Hoffmann adds. “You’re not aware that you’re wearing a pair of headphones.”

Since reforming in 2009 to play the 20th anniversary celebration of Shank Hall, the members of Semi-Twang have found it easy to slide back into the band they started in the late ’80s. Some of that ease is due to top-notch musicianship and a prolific writer in Sieger. Thanks to his writing, the band was able to release its second album, Wages Of Sin, in 2011. On March 23 at Shank Hall, Semi-Twang will celebrate the release of its third album, The Why And The What For.

“Everyone’s desire was to start cutting and sawing, and that’s the way the band initiated originally,” Hoffmann says. “It was a natural process for all of us. Everyone always reacted favorably to John’s compositions. And we were fairly quick about it. We slid back into all these comfort zones that we had established long before.”

Sieger says the group provided him with his first chance to be the songwriter of a band. “It was the first time of everyone being into my songs and being able to play them,” he says. “It was really a luxury. And it made it so that it was something I had to do, and it was hard to give it up. I had that feeling when we got back together. The band really knows how to play my stuff. And not everybody gets that, so I’m pretty lucky. It’s like having your own personal symphony orchestra.”

That “personal symphony orchestra” certainly knows what it’s like to record on both the big and small scale. In 1988, Semi-Twang released its debut, Salty Tears, on Warner Bros., a label that more or less signed the band to see what it could bring to the table.

“That was a big machine that we were put into. We were put into the meat grinder,” Hoffmann says. “In retrospect, we found we were more of a crapshoot for them. If it sticks, cool, but if not, they cut their losses. And that’s what they did. It took a while to bounce back, but it was a great experience to have.”

Sieger adds that Salty Tears would probably fit better now with the uptick in Americana, as it’s basically “Americana with ’80s reverb.” These days, while the band might not have an enormous big-label budget, it’s smarter with how it spends money. “My only regret is having the budget we had even for a video back then. I could make 10 records on what we spent on a silly and stupid video that did no good,” Sieger says.

The band is currently enjoying a more DIY and independent process. Unlike the year-and-a-half it took for the production of Salty Tears, Sieger says Wages Of Sin was pretty automatic and the “closest you can come to sleepwalking and making a record at the same time.” “We’re trying to do one per year. We’re never going to run out of material, but it’s just that hard to finish these things.”

The same was true for the making of The Why And The What For, with many of the songs first or second takes. The band recorded about 16 to 18 songs and selected the best 12. “It was very spontaneous that way, and we like the returns and the way it sounded. It’s kind of the way we’ve always been,” Hoffmann says. “That’s the one big difference between how we operate and what it was like to be a Warner Bros. big machine.”

This time around, the band was a bit more ambitious, letting out more of its influences. Bob Jennings, who normally plays keyboards, adds saxophone this time around, tilting some of the songs towards soul and R&B. Sieger says he enjoys playing and listening to both the Americana side of The Band/Dylan, and the soul side of things with Otis Redding and Al Greene, so it was natural to “bring those two worlds together.”

Sieger’s songs for The Why And The What For revolve around “the world leaking in,” and are more u - The Onion AV Club

"With the Pressure off, Semi-Twang Having Fun Again"

In 1988, Semi-Twang had a major-label deal, a critically acclaimed debut album ("Salty Tears") and a sense of being on the cusp of big things.

Within a year, Semi-Twang had lost its record deal and its way, not so much breaking up as dissipating. Yet when Shank Hall's Peter Jest asked the band to do a reunion gig in 2009 for his venue's 20th anniversary (which Semi-Twang had played on its opening night), the band members discovered they still enjoyed playing together.

Last March, Semi-Twang finally released its sophomore effort, "Wages of Sin," and began the second chapter of its career. Everyone involved is definitely older, almost certainly wiser and indisputably game for more music, including another album currently being recorded under the working title "Au Contraire."

Who's who: John Sieger (vocals, guitar, songwriter); Mike Sieger (bass, vocals); Mike Hoffmann (guitar, vocals); Jason Klagstad (guitar, vocals); Bob Jennings (keyboards, sax, vocals); Bob Schneider (drums). John Sieger spoke for the band.

They say they sound like: The Band and Creedence Clearwater Revival would be two touchstones for us.

We say they sound like: A rollickingly mature combination of pop, rock and country that shows the value of age and experience.

Day jobs: I'm now, as of this year, doing all music. I teach, I produce songwriting clinics, and I also produce a couple of other songwriters. Mike (Hoffmann) is also a producer and occasionally does a gig with the Delta Routine. Jason works in the marketing world. Bob Jennings plays with Paul Cebar & the Milwaukeeans. Mike (Sieger) until recently ran the 3-D lab on MIAD; he's quite the shop rat as a woodworker. Bob Schneider has his own construction company and is also a world-champion lawn bowler and an accomplished mountain-climber.

The high hopes for "Salty Tears": We had our shot at the big time, and it was fun. At one point there was a real buzz about us, and in the end, it didn't really work out the way we thought it would. The record didn't sell well, and that threw me into a tailspin and destroyed my love of music for a while. When I managed to regain that, I became protective of it, because it's the only thing you can guarantee.

The aftermath: It was a mixed bag for me. In 1988, the CD came out; a month after that, my sister died, and about six months after that I got married, so it was just an up and down year. I then had gone down to Nashville; Dwight Yoakam had recorded one of my songs. Everybody else stayed in music one way or the other.

The return: When we got back together, something really clicked. It doesn't feel like everything is hanging by a thread now, where you have to make it big or forget it.

The latest album: We worked on "Wages of Sin" through 2010, and if there was ever an easier recording to make, I'd like to know what it was. The music just flowed out.

Best gig? All we have to do is get in front of people. We haven't had a bad show. It's like a mini-orchestra having three guitarists, and I can just sit back and enjoy it. It's also more twisted than a bunch of older guys should be. There's a lot of rock 'n' roll in it.

The future: I'm like Brett Favre: What else am I gonna do? The only difference is there's no reason that you can't get better at music, because experience counts. Six people who are solidly into this; don't expect us to go away any time soon. We're gonna get a lot of music out there.

Upcoming gigs: 8 p.m. Friday as part of WMSE-FM's "Cover Milwaukee" multiband concert, MSOE Todd Wehr Auditorium, 1047 N. Broadway ($15); also, 8 p.m. April 21 with Sam Llanas and Nineteen Thirteen at Shank Hall, 1434 N. Farwell Ave. ($15 advance, $20 door). - Journal-Sentinel Online

"Semi-Twang & The Del Fuegos: Reunited"

By Bobby Tanzilo - Managing Editor

Published Feb. 29, 2012 at 5:02 a.m.
There are reunion gigs and there are reunion gigs. It's certainly no secret anymore that Milwaukee's great Semi-Twang has reunited for some gigs and even a new record in recent years.

But when the band – featuring some of the city's top musical talent, including John and Mike Sieger, Bob Jennings, Bob Schneider and guitarists Mike Hoffmann and Jason Klagstad – takes the stage at Turner Hall on Wednesday, Feb. 29, it mark a reunion of another kind.

The group, which released its sole Warner Brothers disc, "Salty Tears," in 1988 will reunite backstage with former labelmates The Del Fuegos, a Boston-area garage rock outfit that issued its final WB release, "Stand Up," in '87.

"The Del Fuegos and Semi-Twang were not only both in the Warner Brothers family at the same time," says Hofmann, "but were both produced by Mitchell Froom.

"Mitchell's stock could not have been higher at that point in time," he recalls. "We did dates and shared a few A&R and promotion teams (with the Del Fuegos)."

The Del Fuegos recently reunited with its original lineup after a 20-year hiatus.

While the New England quartet gets itself back up and running, Semi-Twang has been chugging along like it never missed a beat.

"We recently recorded 10 new songs for the upcoming follow-up to the 'Wages of Sin' CD," says Klagstad. "We'll record up to 30 and cull back to 11."

He anticipates the as-yet untitled record will be ready for release by the middle of the year and expects that there will be a record a year in the near future.

"John Sieger has a catalog of over 300 great songs," he says.

At the same time Semi-Twang has inked a management deal, further suggesting that "Wages of Sin" wasn't simply a one-off reunion project. No, this all-star country-infused rock and roll band is here to stay.

Before his recent move to Milwaukee, Rob Kos managed the likes of Lucinda Williams, John Hyatt, Rusted Root, Rick Springfield and Mexican star Thalia.

"He'll manage a small roster of complementary artists," says Klagstad, "and Semi-Twang is proud to be on the roster."

As for the gig, Semi-Twang expects it will be a memorable affair, with two great bands back on stage. And with their common history and re-claimed friendship, the good vibes will likely emanate through the room.

The band has hired Milwaukee- and Nashville-based photographer Deone Jahnke to capture the magic of the evening, before, during and after the show.

"We think Deone has a fine-tuned understanding of the band, our music and the venue," says Klagstad. "We are excited to be bringing all of this together and capturing it with a great visual artist."

It might be a stretch to call the gig historic, but it will be an interesting intersection of three entities – two bands and a venue – that were dormant for too long, but are now back in the game.

"Semi-Twang, Del Fuegos and Turner Hall all went away and came back stronger after 20 years' hiatus," says Klagstad.

Tags: semi-twang, the del fuegos, warner brothers records, salty tears, turner hall, deone jahnke, rob kos -

"Thankfully Semi-Twang is not Fully Twang"

Tuesday, June 21, 2011
Thankfully Semi-Twang is not Fully Twang
More than twenty years ago - seriously? can it really have been that long ago? - I picked up the debut release by a band called Semi-Twang. I don't recall exactly how I learned about Salty Tears. It was likely a review in Rolling Stone or Pulse, the Tower Records magazine.

I had already latched onto my share of twang by getting into artists and bands such as R.E.M., Blue Rodeo, Joe Ely, E.I.E.I.O., The Rainmakers, Lone Justice, The Silos, etc. No question the band's name caught my attention. If twang was involved, I was convinced it would align nicely with these other artists I'd really begun to enjoy.
It turns out the first half of their band name was the part I underestimated. The band was only kind of ... that is, semi ... twangy. But that was OK. I really enjoyed the CD - and still do to this day. I enjoyed it enough that I kept my eyes open in the store bins and in magazines for info about a follow-up release. But it never came.

Over the years, I've pulled Salty Tears off the shelf and listened to it many times over - not something I can say about everything in my collection. (Click here and scroll down about half-way to listen to a couple of band-provided tracks from their debut.) In the pre-web days though, it was weird not knowing how this talented band could end up as a one-and-done.

Then the e-mail arrived several weeks ago. I'm not sure if the publicity folks found me through this blog, tracked me down through my monthly contributions to Feel Bad For You, or what other sources they used. Either way, the news was so surprising I had to read it a couple of times. After a 23-year absence, sure 'nuff Semi-Twang was back with their second release, Wages of Sin.
As was the case 20+ years ago, my attention was snagged. One, because after a 23-year absence, I was floored to realize a second album was actually here. Two, Wages Of Sin was also a song title by The Rainmakers - so the hook was set.

You might think after a two-decade pause between recordings, a second release might move Semi-Twang to Fully-Twang. Listen to a few of their tracks, however, and I think you'll find Semi is the part they continue to embrace best. Some bluesy riffs, a nice dose of organ without going overboard, and generally a mature sound and vocals - to be expected from performers who have added a good bit of gray to their look. Yet, there is enough distortion, fuzz, and nasally tone to qualify for the twang portion. Musically, the band is very tight as a unit while still playing a bit loose for their style.

Song listing:
Sonny Liston (MP3)
Do Right - Organ starts > guitar with slight distortion > drum fade-in > 2nd guitar > vox - all seamless with great groove
The Wages of Sin (MP3)
Just A Train - conjures a bit of Little Village (John Hiatt, Nick Lowe, Ry Cooder, Jim Keltner) from ... guess what ... yep, 20 years ago
I Can't Read Your Mind - hints of Marshall Crenshaw or Elvis Costello
When the Wind Kicks Up
Its That Time Again - first of the back-to-back, most enjoyable tracks for me
Nervous Energy - has a Todd Snider'esque vibe to it for me
Your Name Was In It (MP3)
Move It Or Lose It
Doubting Thomas - Guilty as charged. Never thought I'd see another release by these guys - maybe they didn't either!
When My Angel Smiles - the longest track of the album at 4 minutes even with somewhat of a haunting-sound.
As is common with many folks, I generally learn the names of band members whose albums I listen to over the years. With Semi-Twang's single release, however, I never really took the time to learn about the individual members. I just listened to the CD, shelved the jewel case, and didn't think much more about it.

This time, though, I tried to dig around a bit more about the band. Lo and behold, Mike Hoffman who was and still is in Semi-Twang was in E.I.E.I.O. back in the day - one of the bands that helped cement my interest in twang. Tonight, I pulled their 1988 CD Land of Opportunity off the shelf, opened the liner notes, and ta-daaa there he was.
Furthermore, Hoffman has contributed recently to Florizona, the latest album by The Silos. Walter Salas-Humara has been known to change the members of the The Silos over the years about as often as I change socks. But it was cool to learn yet another connection between multiple bands I enjoy.

My suggestion? Go ahead and get both Semi-Twang so you can be fully twanged. Besides, I'm not sure any of us can wait another 20 years for release number 3. - Too Much Country - Because Whit Happens

"Bentley's Bandstand: My Favorite Albums of 2011, Part II By Bill Bentley, Columnist"

December 2, 2011
In June, twelve albums were featured on Bentley's Bandstand as my favorite releases of the first half of 2011. It was a highly subjective collection, as it should be, and included Gregg Allman, Low Country Blues; Charles Bradley, No Time for Dreaming; Mamadou Diabate, Courage; Exene, The Excitement of Maybe; Mark "Pocket" Goldberg, Off the Alleyway; Larry Goldings, In My Room; Garland Jeffreys, The King of In Between; k.d. lang and the Siss Boom Band, Sing It Loud; Jessica Lea Mayfield, Tell Me; Middle Brother; Tracy Nelson, Victim of the Blues; and Semi-Twang, Wages of Sin.

- The Morton Report

"The Essential Milwaukee Albums of 2011 By Evan Rytlewski"

Milwaukee's music scene has never been known for a single sound, but in 2011 the scene was more gloriously fragmented than ever. What follows is by no means a comprehensive list of the best local records of the year—it only scratches the surface of all the memorable Milwaukee music released in 2011—but these albums give a sense of how vital and eclectic the local music scene is right now.

Wages of Sin

A reunion show for Shank Hall's 20th anniversary resulted in Semi-Twang's first new recordings since the alt-country band's 1988 Warner Bros. debut, Salty Tears. A hard-edged roots-rock record, Wages of Sin shows that the band has lost none of its vitality over the years. In fact, the only indication that any time has passed is the album's production, which is much crisper and more natural than the muffled, over-glossed late-'80s production of the group's debut. Wages of Sin is Semi-Twang as they were always meant to sound.
- Express

"The Essential Milwaukee Albums of 2011 By Evan Rytlewski"

Milwaukee's music scene has never been known for a single sound, but in 2011 the scene was more gloriously fragmented than ever. What follows is by no means a comprehensive list of the best local records of the year—it only scratches the surface of all the memorable Milwaukee music released in 2011—but these albums give a sense of how vital and eclectic the local music scene is right now.

Wages of Sin

A reunion show for Shank Hall's 20th anniversary resulted in Semi-Twang's first new recordings since the alt-country band's 1988 Warner Bros. debut, Salty Tears. A hard-edged roots-rock record, Wages of Sin shows that the band has lost none of its vitality over the years. In fact, the only indication that any time has passed is the album's production, which is much crisper and more natural than the muffled, over-glossed late-'80s production of the group's debut. Wages of Sin is Semi-Twang as they were always meant to sound.
- Express

"I'm With The Band: Exclusive interview with Semi Twang By Paddy Fineran"

I want to give this the prominence it deserves. Recently I wrote a preview of the 4th Anniversary Party at McAuliffe's On The Square. wrote that Pub owners Steve Hawkins and Drew Hansen opened the Pub four plus years ago. I neglected to include a co-owner, and pub's namesake, JJ McAuliffe. My apologies to JJ, his family, friends, coworkers and patrons for the slight. It was not intended.

This week's article is a little different from the usual rundown of shows. That's because one of Milwaukee's most buzzed about bands ever is reunited and performing in Racine on Saturday, Dec. 17. Semi Twang boasted some of the best players in Milwaukee – John Sieger, Mike Sieger, Mike Hoffmann, Jason Klagstad, Bob Jennings and Bob Schneider – and they quickly caught the eye and ear of Warner Brothers Records head Lenny Waronker who signed them to a seven-record major label deal. Alas, as things so often go with major labels, the roots rock/Americana band was ignored by the label and withered on the vine. Cut to 20 years later and some reunion shows that go very well. The band still sounds great. Why not cut a follow-up to their major label debut "Salty Tears"? Last year, "Wages of Sin" finally came out and it is exceptional as are the shows by possibly Milwaukee's best band ever (sorry Femmes and BoDeans fans). I caught up with the guys in Semi Twang last weekend and captured their thoughts on songwriting, the new record and how a bunch of super players can get along in a group.

Thank you for taking the time with this. How is the response to the new recording "Wages of Sin"?

ST: Response has been overwhelmingly positive from everyone. We were thrilled to just learn that our album has been chosen as one of the top 24 recordings of 2011 in The Morton Report by writer Bill Bentley. Earlier this year, we received some great local and an unabashedly rave review in the national music blog We've also received a lot of airplay on three Milwaukee stations and on a few radio-shows around the country.

After the first go-round of the group and all the years in between gigging and recording together again, how is this incarnation of Semi Twang different?

ST: No different at all, crazy right? It's just as focused on the music and songs, the chemistry is even stronger than it used to be. The static created by our rapid rise back then is not possible now. This makes us a single musical organism ... We. Are. A. Band.

You've each gone on to various levels of success since taking the break after Warner Brothers so massively screwed up. Was it difficult to get everyone back into their "roles" as group members?

ST: No. We have a surplus of trusted, incredible interpreters; John and Mike Sieger of course, Mike Hoffmann, Jason Klagstad, Bob Jennings, and Bob Schneider. Enough said.

John, you are rightfully regarded as a songwriter's songwriter. Is there a song of yours that someone else recorded that made you sit and ponder, "Well, I sure didn't see it that way"? What's the most successful of your songs done by another artist?

JS: Thanks for saying that, and how much do I owe you by the way? The first cut I had on a national level was with a group called Tony Trishka and Skyline. They did a very interesting, progressive bluegrass version of "River Of Steel." I certainly would never have thought of doing it the way they did. The biggest check ever was the first one I got when Dwight Yoakam cut "I Don't Need It Done." I wouldn't mind selling him a few more!

This band has one of the best song writers anywhere, a guy called the "Guitar Shaman" playing rhythm, members and former members from Paul Cebar's band, R&B Cadets, the Subcontinentals, Jerry Harrison and Peter Buffett, and a mixing and producing whiz who has performed on five different major labels. Is this as good as it gets?

ST: If our collective paths lead us to this place then they were the right paths.

It should be said here though, that the most important things we learned are (1) how incredibly lucky we are to be playing this music together with the same guys. (2) we still have over 300 more Sieger compositions yet to record. (3) Semi-Twang plans on taking it around the world. We intend to have a long musical road ahead of us.

Any closing thoughts, things we should know?

ST: We'd like to ask you to come out and see for yourselves at McAuliffe's on Dec. 17 - to make you all a part of it.

Semi Twang performs at 9:30-ish (not sure if there's an opening act) Saturday, Dec. 17 at McAuliffe's Pub, 3700 Meachem Road.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * - Scene

"Semi-Twang/Wages of Sin/Released March 2011"

Jan 2012 - Vol 9, No 1

Tulsa, Okla -    Once in a while, without even looking for it, really great music just falls in your lap. Through a serendipitous chain of events, this recently happened to me. A copy of  Semi-Twang’s Wages of Sin arrived in my mailbox via Mike Fredrickson (bass player for Robbie Fulks’ band and an amazing visual artist). “I’m going to send you my friends’ CD,” Mike had said. “I think they’d go over well in Tulsa,” he added somewhat cryptically. From the first play, I knew he was right.
            Wages of Sin is Semi-Twang’s second release. Their first album, Salty Tears, debuted over 20 years ago on the Warner Bros label to much critical acclaim, but unfortunately, not a lot of label support. The second act is well worth the almost quarter-century intermission. These twelve tracks of soulful, rootsy, R&B-roadhouse-rock, with their smart lyrics and impressive musicianship, will have you shaking your tail while you sing along. Yes, there’s some “twang” here, but there’s also plenty of funk, a little punk, and some straight ahead rock n’ roll. 
              Splitting from Warner after that initial release, band members went their separate musical ways, reuniting in their original line up in 2009 for a 20-year reunion of Shank Hall, a venerable music venue in their hometown of Milwaukee. Inspired by the gig, the band decided to record a second album that includes ten songs (a mix of older, unrecorded and new) written by band front man John Sieger. Two additional songs were written by Sieger’s friend and occasional collaborator, Michael Feldman (fellow Wisconsinite and host/creator of public radio’s Whad’ya Know?)
From the opening bell clang of “Sonny Liston”, with its driving beat and clever lyrics, to the haunting dirge of “When my Angel Smiles”, this CD showcases Sieger’s exceptional song writing and the versatility of this top notch band. The spark that ignited Semi-Twang’s freshman release is still burning bright in this follow up a generation later.
With their witty lyrics and swagger, several of the cuts are reminiscent of Austin’s fabulous band The Gourds, and when Sieger’s vocals aren’t bringing to mind the rough, lovely ache you hear in Tom Petty or John Hiatt, they could be channeling Jimmy Smith. This talented band keeps it interesting with plenty of great guitar licks, some horns, dobro and banjo, too. Keeping it all moving with a steady groove is Bob Schneider’s drum work. An unexpected, but awesome, musical surprise is Sieger’s judicious use of the Celeste, a “music box”-like instrument you might recognize from the opening of Tchaikovsky’s “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy”.
The title track strikes a contemplative, wistful note. “I’m trying to hear myself above the din; I’m paying taxes on the wages of sin,” Sieger sings from the perspective of someone older, and perhaps wiser. The appropriately named “Nervous Energy” jumps and jitters you to the dance floor. The Feldman penned “I Can’t Read Your Mind”, cleverly and humorously twists a few simple phrases into catchy hooks reflecting what must surely be a universal relationship gripe. Similarly, “Your Name Was In It” wittily suggests one person’s efforts to obliterate any mention of another after a failed romance. “I threw away the phone book, but I’m glad I did it. Though I lost my head, your name was in it.”
If Salty Tears was before its time, Wages of Sin is right on time to celebrate what is truly great about the hard-to-define, but catchall genre we call “Americana”. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait another 20 years for this band’s next release.
- The Current - By Julie Wenger Watson

"Bentley’s Bandstand: Semi-Twang, Wages of Sin"

Bentley’s Bandstand: Semi-Twang, Wages of Sin

May 11, 2011


Semi-Twang, Wages Of Sin, ST Records

In Milwaukee it’s often said that there’s a bar on every corner. And in those bars, most likely, a band will end up playing sooner or later. That’s a lot of bands, so the city was known for a brisk music scene, from the Violent Femmes to the BoDeans at the very minimum. But add to Milwaukee’s musical roll-call Semi-Twang, an easy nominee for a group that should have been big but somehow eluded the intrusive glare of fame and fortune.

Their first album in 1988 was called Salty Tears, and for a brief moment Warner Bros. Records seemed to have it slotted in the number one starting position. Whoops. It didn’t quite blast out of the gate and by the time 1989 rolled around things changed and the Replacements had been picked to be the Last Best Band of the ’80s. That didn’t work out as planned either, which is a whole other enchilada.

Semi-Twang was a wonder: a mix of stripped-down rock, backroom soul and just enough country to keep the snuff dippers happy. Naturally, everything was well-oiled with beer and backbeats so it was impossible to sit still at the handful of shows outside the band’s home turf. Singer-songwriter John Seiger was a reluctant star, but brother did he know how to hit the monkey nerve. Those songs on their debut album still stand as highlights of the era right before alternative music’s tsunami drowned out deserving bands from the heartland like so many unlucky ducks. Semi-Twang was all dressed up with nowhere to go, and before long they disappeared back into the grandstands at Brewers games.

Flash forward twenty-odd years and guess what? Semi-Twang is back and better than ever. Wages Of Sin is like some long-lost gem from the golden era of rock. Even better is it doesn’t sound remotely retro. Instead, these six Wisconsonites have knocked out a dozen songs that faithfully capture the freedom of what a three-minute song is supposed to do: free the heart from its harness and let it run slipshod over open fields and empty freeways. There is heartbreak, hope, happiness and even a touch of haunting despair pulsing through these gems, whether it’s the opening knock-out “Sonny Liston” or the ending near-weeper “When My Angel Smiles.”

It’s an amazing feat the Milwaukee mellow fellows have accomplished: they have maintained greatness against all odds. Played back to back, Salty Tears and Wages Of Sin are a seamless peak at everything American rock has always promised: freedom. What made Milwaukee famous has made a winner of these men. In the land of last call, it’s time to order up another one–on the house. - My Daily Find

"Semi-Twang @ Shank Hall"

Semi-Twang @ Shank Hall
By Blaine Schultz March 19, 2011
Perhaps Semi-Twang was guilty of being ahead of its time. In 1988 the Milwaukee band released its debut album, Salty Tears, on Warner Bros. at the height of MTV, big hair and synthesizers. In hindsight John Sieger’s Nashville-by-way-of-Memphis songs didn’t stand a chance. Today, in the wake of Americana, alt-country, No Depression or whatever else you care to name the genre, Semi-Twang no longer seems quite so alone.

Opening with the rollicking “Sonny Liston,” then diving into the swamp of “Do Right” and rolling right on through their new album, Wages of Sin, in its running order, the sextet took over Shank Hall for an evening of rootsy rock ’n’ roll.

Semi-Twang’s genius lies in the playing of a trio of guitarists that appears as coordinated as a three-man weave on a basketball court. Over the course of a handful of solo albums, John Sieger has demonstrated that his songs can go toe-to-toe with nearly anyone. His spare guitar playing this night left plenty of room for Mike Hoffmann’s textured fills and Jason Klagstad’s lead work. Throughout the evening all three traded roles at will.

The foundation for all this was bassist Mike Sieger, who contributed incomparable brotherly vocal harmonies, and drummer Bob Schneider, who still may be the most underrated drummer in town. Bob Jennings added accordion, sax and keyboards, most prominently on “It Ain’t Gonna Happen Again.” This band is a powerhouse, but its true talent lies in the restraint employed by all the musicians.

Following the performance of Wages of Sin, the band dove into its back catalog. Sieger’s wordplay on “Disappearing Ink” recalled Chuck Berry and Nick Lowe. Near the end of the night they played “After Hours,” a sublime and aptly named tune that perfectly bookended the evening.
- Shepherd Express Milwaukee


The Why and The What For 2013

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Semi-Twang reunited in 2009 to play the twentieth anniversary of Shank Hall, the premier showcase club in their home-town of Milwaukee. Expectations beyond fun and basic camaraderie among these seasoned roots rockers were held in check. They were there to help celebrate a venue they played on the night it first opened its doors and nothing else was being discussed.

The band had gone their separate ways shortly after that first Shank gig. They had taken their best shot on Salty Tears,their Warner Brothers debut, and that record generated critical acclaim but little sales. The friendship survived, but other things soon beckoned.

For John Sieger, the songwriter and main vocalist, Nashville seemed like a good idea. Dwight Yoakam was one of many artists who found Sieger’s songs and producers like Pete Anderson were finding slots for his tunes. Mike Hoffmann was already busy producing other artists as the other fellows in the band, who knew their way around their instruments, were soon scooped up by other groups around town.

Fast forward to the first rehearsal for the reunion. The band was sitting in Sieger’s basement studio and they were all thinking pretty much the same thing and that was that it felt like it had been weeks, rather than years and years since they had played together. The chemistry was still in place and that was underscored by a very successful Shank gig. There was nothing to do but make a recording.

And that’s what they did.

Unlike their debut, a major label project with a budget just this side of a NASA launch, the band did it on the sly, mostly at Hoffmann’s House Studio and Sieger’s Room w/a VU — both Pro Tools equipped, comfy and cozy. The pace was relaxed, with sessions every few weeks for most of 2010 and the atmosphere was loose, with a feeling that whole process was more or less a formality. Get in, make a record— what’s so hard about that?

In March of 2011, their first album in 23 years, Wages Of Sin, was released.

The response has been overwhelmingly positive. Glowing reviews, fans over the top in their praise and lots of local airplay. The CD, a mix of old and new has a timeless feel, which makes sense. The band had never bought into the ‘80s in any of the faddish ways. They had always harkened back to classic artists like Dylan, The Beatles and The
Band. This approach paid off on Wages, a CD that dares you to to put a time stamp on it.

Songs like the title cut and When The Wind Kicks Up border on something like the kind of country music Nashville might be making if producers and record companies weren’t trying to own the middle of the road. Nervous Energy and Move It Or Lose It recall iconoclasts like Dave Edmonds and Nick Lowe in full-tilt mode. Then there are songs likeJust A Train and It’s That Time Again, that are distinctly Semi- Twang — somewhere down the road, some young band may be trying for that unique feel.

As of April 2012, the band is back in the studio to record another album, with 18 songs tracked, new and old, waiting for a few finishing touches, the hardest part will be picking which songs to leave out. Barring an act of god, the follow up to Wages should be available this September. The band is also looking at a possible two week USO tour of Italy, Turkey and Eastern Europe.

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