An Outsider Looking In.
Middleton Times article by Matt Geiger 1/11/2007
After being part of the local music scene for two decades, Steve Schad finally found his voice: a guitar.
"Starting out, I used to sing a lot more, but I realized over time that I'm a much
better player than singer, so now the vocals really take a back seat. My music is pretty guitar-centric," he explained.
Schad, who is playing upcoming shows at Prairie Cafe and Cafe Muse in Middleton, has a sense
of humor so arid you get the impression it would crumble if jostled slightly.
"I'd like to think the music speaks for me, but you have to joke around a bit between songs too," he said.
"If I do have a persona, it's probably as a dry humor kind of guy. People say I'm funny I guess, and I'll accept
Born in Sheboygan, Schad moved to Madison 20 years ago and
recently relocated to Black Earth.
"Growing up, I was in a couple
bands, just your basic youthful garage band kind of thing, and somewhere in the late 1990's when I was down here I decided
it was a good place to go solo," he said. "I decided if I was going to be dedicated to this it was best to
go it alone, so I started playing a lot of coffee shops. I just built from there."
Schad's music is eclectic to say the least. He sounds something like the child of George Harrison and Santana - adopted
and raised by Jimmy Page and El Mariachi.
Though he started playing guitar
as a child, his style didn't develop overnight.
"I went through
a long period of just trying to get my feet wet as a solo performer and build up a reportoire and get a name going for myself
as an artist. Finally, I think I'm there: I've got six CD's out, and I'm getting more notice," Schad said.
"Every time I play now I can pretty dependably blow people away."
Though his albums are more heavily produced than his live shows, his technical proficiency on the guitar is still the centerpiece
of his latest recording, appropriately entitled "Guitar World." On the back of the CD cover it states:
"Recorded at home" - a luxury afforded by the availability of high quality recording technology today.
"The only daunting part of a solo career is all the responsibility is yours - it's
all on your shoulders and you can't blame anyone else...but the good part is you get total artistic control and total financial
control," Schad observed. "The best part is you can abandon the rest of your life and just focus on this,
and you don't have to worry about anyone else's commitment."
songs on the album vacillate from "Feeling The Force," which sounds like it was composed by an ambitious wandering
minstrel, to "Bullnose Almondine," a rockabilly Johnny Cash style tune that plunges suddenly into techno, synthesizers
"I would probably have to say my favorite song is "Mystic
Skull" - which pretty much seems to be everyone else's favorite too," Schad said. "It was an old funky
bass riff I had years ago and never knew what to do with. Then I finally started recording it last year, even though
it's not really like the kind of stuff I normally play live - it's more elaborate with screaming electric guitar and some
really interesting drum patterns."
While he enjoys the freedom of
trying new sounds on his albums, Schad is still a guitar player when he takes the stage.
"I guess the live thing is more of a demonstration of your technical ablilities. It's like, 'here is me with a
guitar, nothing else, watch what I can do,'" he commented. "Studio recording is an entirely different kind
of music and concept because you can put so many overdubs together. You can make it something that you couldn't produce
live, even with eight guys behind you. I like aspects of both, and that's why I am trying to showcase my live music
and let people hear something else on the latest CD."
In an intimate
setting like a coffee house, Schad strips down his songs and goes to work on the guitar.
"In the early days I was just flailing away on anything that I thought would work at my shows, all sorts of different
songs, all kinds of different goofy stuff I was writing," he recalled. "Nowadays I realized that people just
wanted to hear me wail away on my guitar - that seems to get the most reaction."
As for his recent move to Black Earth, he explained his life as a traveling musician never allowed him to get too attached
to the capital.
"I guess I'm an outsider looking in, though in some
ways I'm part of it," he said of the Madison music scene. "My last album was nominated for pop album of the
year at the Madison Area Music Awards, so I guess I'm fairly well known, but the difficulty comes when you are a working musician.
You are sometimes so busy playing that you don't get much of a chance to see other musicians play, and you don't get to really
become part of the scene. I'm always on my own while othere people are playing somewhere else."
He travels throughout southern Wisconsin, preferring the quiet intimacy of cafes to the
raucous atmosphere at most bars.
"When you are a musician that does
what I do, coffee houses are kind of necessary," he said. "Bars generally want some band playing throbbing
rock and roll music that's familiar so people can drink to it. I'm not really into that, but coffee houses give you
a kind of freedom that you need - you can be a little more unconventional. I play the occasional bar and even in bookstores,
but coffee houses are more of a listening environment."