El Oso is Back in the Form of a Free Download…

Photo by Christine Taylor, 2005

Free music is a veritable Pavlov’s Bell to many a hungry music consumer, eager to digest the next new thing to come along. Free music isn’t necessarily hard to come by, but when it’s not only free, but wrapped up nicely and given away with permission from the band, itself, is a rarity. This gifting of songs could only make a hungry music fan even more so by it’s sheer ease of acquirement.

Former Milwaukee band El Oso have rung the bell via a handful of songs that they had recorded, but never released, right before their disbandment in 2006, putting them up for free download, along with recent information on the bands’ whereabouts. Since 2006 is in the not-so-distant past, this tribute seems almost ridiculous, as it was nearly yesterday El Oso was sharing their earnest and intelligent music with us, and sharing the stages of Milwaukee with The Response and Decibully, but the sentiment is appreciated for the shared songs and the news of exciting directions each member of El Oso is now taking just over two years later. Jim Hanke, guitarist and vocalist, explains it all to us.

Fan-belt Erin: So for those of our readers who may not be familiar with El Oso (you played together from 2003-2006), can you give us a bit of background…who have you played with, where did you practice, what was it like to play music in Milwaukee at that time, etc.?

Jim Hanke: We had one full-length on a label (Whichever Chapter Covers Now, 2005, Contraphonic Music Ltd.), a few CDRs here and there and a WMSE compilation. We didn’t tour extensively, but made quick friends in places like DeKalb, Rockford and in town, for sure. I look back on what we did and we had some great opportunities to play with acts we admired, like Anathallo or Travis Morrison of The Dismemberment Plan or, on a local level, Decibully, who we did quite a few shows with in Chicago, Milwaukee and Oshkosh. I think to be lucky enough to play with people we looked up to and then getting to keep that comraderie alive is something special and a success in its own right. Plus having a great support system locally, with friends like The Meteah Strike guys or The Response or Alex Hall and Eric Uecke at Cactus Club or Marc Solheim, who was doing Mad Planet then. We appreciated everything. My mom emailed me the other day saying that 88.9 FM in Milwaukee has been playing us lately, which I still find really odd, but flattering of course. As for practice, that was at Andy’s parents house out in Brookfield. We weren’t cool enough to have a space downtown or anything, but his folks were always very supportive. I still can’t fathom how they put up with that kind of noise every Monday and Wednesday night, plus probably getting woken up by us bringing our gear back at 3 a.m. after shows. We all really felt adopted by them during that time period.

Fan-belt Erin: Since El Oso shook hands and called it a day, what have you guys been up to, separately?

Jim: The important thing is that we’ve stayed in touch and support each others work. Many of our bands have played together, etc. Going down the list, bare with me: Mark Mendygral played guitar for us for the first two years. He’s been doing a lot of painting and he currently has a small recording studio in Milwaukee under the name Tiny Bird. Jeff Grabowski did keyboard and computer and had moved to Chicago for a time. He played in Picture Books down there with some mutual friends of ours, but recently moved back to Milwaukee to reprise his role on bass in Those Royals. Jasen Kinart, who played guitar after Mark, is also in Those Royals. He’s married with a beautiful daughter, Cedella. Lee Gianou was our bass player and he’s played in a few bands since El Oso, trying to find a good match. He’s in the midst of moving to Florida right now to permanently join a band called Transmit Now. Lee’s heart lives and dies on playing music, so we are always excited for him whenever he finds something that makes him happy. Andy Hartzell was on the drums and he currently can be seen in both Sleep Tight Co. and John The Savage, two bands that are absolutely fantastic and completely opposite of each other, as well. Watching Andy play drums is one of the biggest joys I get out of life, seriously. He also has made some instrumental laptop music which you can hear on his MySpace page. Then there’s me. I sang and played guitar. Two years ago, I joined up with some friends in Illinois for a band called Kid, You’ll Move Mountains and for a while I was commuting for shows and practice between Milwaukee and Elburn, about an hour west of Chicago. I chose to move down to that area last summer. We’re currently mixing our first album. I also co-host a radio show that airs in suburban Chicago called Liner Notes, which is on Sunday nights. It’s available as a live stream anywhere, too. I’ll become the main host around September when my partner departs for California.

Fan-belt Erin: When, where and with whom were your last recordings completed?

Jim: They were done during the first half of 2006. Our last show was in February of that year but at the time, we didn’t know it would be the last one. During the recording of the EP, we just all got wrapped up in other things so we just slowly ground to a halt pretty much, which was an unfortunate way to go out. The songs were recorded at Transit, a small studio on the East Side with our good friend Alexander Boyes, who people may know from the band Clementine. Al was very instrumental in making sure that these last seven songs got heard, so it was really surprising that he cared so much to keep tweaking and experimenting with them between then and now. I really think this EP is as much Al’s project as it is ours. He’s got a rad job at Discovery World doing something with sound, too. Someday he’ll be doing stuff for Prince. You heard it here first.

Fan-belt Erin: And whose idea was it to put ’em out via a tidy little tribute web site? Especially, the whole generous idea of making the songs free to download?

Jim: I think once Al started to physically complete everything, Andy and I started discussing doing something like this. Since we’re all busy with other things now, and considering how much touring we didn’t do, we obviously realized that getting actual discs made would just be a waste. Al genuinely insisted that the songs just needed to be out there in some way, so I think he played a role in Andy and I choosing to use this method. The site is also set up not to be self-reverential. You want to make it informative, because it’s the last thing we’ll ever put to tape, but also concise. The site itself is more just for this EP instead of a lame shrine. What’s kind of amazing is that I’m talking to you on Wednesday, the site went live with the EP late Monday night and we’ve already received over 200 downloads, which is pretty ridiculous. Unless I’m shown otherwise, I’m just going to assume that my Mom has downloaded them all.

Fan-belt Erin: Previously, you’d only played these songs live, and one song, ‘Deer Teeth’, was written by Heligoats, and meant for a split EP…how does it feel to finally have these songs in ‘3D’…written, recorded and listen-able?

Jim: It feels great. I think Al and my girlfriend and certain friends of mine have slowly convinced me that people do care about the songs and us, as people. The more folks that write us after they get the download, like “This made my day” or even just “Thanks for doing this,” the more I know that doing this for free was the only way. And if people spread the word and check out our new bands or even people who’d never heard of El Oso get into it, that’s nice, too. This isn’t a revival of any sort. Just a nice final wrap-up to things.

Fan-belt Erin: Will there be a reunion show for El Oso, or would that be asking for too much with everyone’s different projects, and your living out of state?

Jim: About a week ago, when we were tying up lose ends with the site, we discussed shows through email and I think we’d all be up for doing it, but with Lee going to Florida this month, it’s just not possible. At least not now. I’ll never say never, though. But this has definitely opened my eyes to how hard it is to go back. When bands I used to love would break up, I’d read interviews with them and they’d say “A reunion would be impossible; I don’t even remember how to play those songs anymore,” I’d always think that was crap. Just as a fan, I couldn’t imagine how someone could play something again and again and then just forget it a year later and now I completely know what they mean. Listening to Making Love…, I can honestly say that I remember how to play exactly one song and that’s because it’s a whopping two notes for me.

Find the EP Making Love Making Beds from El Oso right *here*. Check out Andy’s band Sleep Tight Co. They play this Saturday, June 14th at The Cactus Club with Juniper Tar and Broken Letters. Show starts at 10 p.m.

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One Response to “El Oso is Back in the Form of a Free Download…”

  1. ecstatic spastic Says:

    erin wolf is my favorite fanbelter everrrrrrrrrrrr

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