A few years ago, it seemed I couldn't walk down the street without hearing the words "Krautrock" or "lo-fi". Long before these terms became fashionable, Milwaukee resident Richard Franecki was recording himself at home, and he's been listening to German electronic music since his youth. While Franecki's tastes have grown more fashionable in recent years, he's remained obscure. His current band, Vocokesh, has released two records on Drag City, but they've remained two of the label's smallest sellers. I caught up with Franecki at Rockhaus, a fine Milwaukee guitar and drum store owned by Franecki's former bandmate Greg Kurzcewski.
"I'm from a musical family. My father was an amateur musician, so I kind of picked up an inter- est in music from him." He played concertina. "When I was in high school in the '70's, I was always interested in being in a rock band. I was in my first band in mid to late '70's, I was in a band called the Drag, with Greg Kurczewski here. The Drag never really did anything, we broke up after a couple of years. Then I was in a punk band called the Shemps that made a little bit of a splash here in Milwaukee. We started recording then, just very crudely, with a cassette deck, and released some recordings. But I never really got my first 4 track deck until some time after that. Going full-circle, I've always been interested in experimental music. The punk thing was fun, but to me it ran its course real fast-it got old. I found myself in the early '80's getting back into the same things I was into in the early '70's-a lot of German experimental music and electronic music." Growing up in Milwaukee, Franecki learned about these records when they were relatively new. "I discovered in the late '60's, the early FM, what was then called progressive rock radio. In town here there was a radio station called WZMF, and before that there was a station called WTOS-probably very few people even remember that one. Those were the early days of late '60's freeform radio. We had a couple of disc jockeys in town that were really into that experimental stuff, and when I was like 13 years old, I discovered it just by listening to radio. It was the coolest stuff I had ever heard." As his interest in this style of music was renewed, Franecki started the band F/i to pursue it.
The start of F/i coincided with his developing interest in recording his own music. "Initially we worked just with cassette decks and did a lot of track bouncing with them. That was a little crude. We had an old Peavey 8 track and just a regular mixing board for a PA system, which was OK, but for recording it wasn't really quiet enough. We got a lot of hiss on our recordings. It was made for something totally different. We used that for all the Shemps stuff and all the early F/i cassette releases. All of that stuff was recorded pretty much live, right on cassette, with the mixing board." As he grew serious about recording, Franecki upgraded to a Yamaha cassette 4 track.
Toward the end of Franecki's involvement with F/i, he upgraded to the cassette 4 track which he still owns, a 1985 Akai MT-44D. It "runs at twice the speed, and it has an 8 channel mixer with 2 effects sends. That's what we pretty much used to record the last 3 F/i albums and all the Vocokesh material. I've always had really good equipment. I never used some of the Fostex stuff. Some of the 4 track cassette machines that came out, especially some of the first ones, were only designed to be scratchpad recorders for songwriters. I never owned one of those really low end machines, I always had some of the higher end 4 track cassette machines. Although, if you read some of the literature on those, they are still meant to be like scratchpad recorders. Under the right conditions, and it's all on conditions if you're recording, you can get some pretty professional results on some of these machines. In fact if you listen to the latest Vocokesh CD, I think that it sounds pretty darn good. I think we've achieved, after years of trial and error, the best drum sounds I ever got, on that [machine]."
Vocokesh's music is "95% improvised. Once in awhile we'll get a basic song structure worked out in advance. Usually the way it works out is that your basic song structure will just be a springboard for an extended jam. I've always loved that kind of music so that's pretty much how I work." Franecki records these extended jams on his 4 track. "We record...
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