Goran Kralj of The Gufs
photo by Tricia Starr--Tstarr Photography
Hailing from Milwaukee, the Gufs are a staple of Milwaukee music history. The pop/rock band featuring singer Goran Kralj and his brother Dejan Kralj on bass, Morgan Dawley on guitar, and Scott Schwebel on drums, celebrated that history at a pair of New Years Eve shows at the Pabst Theater which included special guest Brian Vander Ark of The Verve Pipe.
The Gufs have just about seen it all in their 30 years from hit songs, record labels, to headlining concerts around the world. I sat down with the homegrown Wisconsin boys, and here’s what they had to tell me:
Maximum Ink: After thirty years in the music biz, what’s next for the Gufs?
Dejan: Well, what’s in store? Honestly, we don’t know really at this point. It took a lot to get back. We haven’t been playing together in seven years and for us to come back and put this together… it took a lot of love and a lot of hard work. It took a lot of time, hammering out and cleaning up things, but I’m not sure yet. We had a pretty solid career. Lot’s of ups and downs, and this is certainly an upswing for us right now.
Goran: I said this whole week leading up to the shows that there’s a good chance this could be the last time that the four of us are on stage and it has nothing to do with not wanting to be together onstage. It has everything to do with that it took seven years to get to this point. It took a lot of time away from family, we’re all now with young kids, and they’re at a point where we can leave them for an extended weekend and they’re not going to out freak out on us. They’re at that good age. But yeah, we would love to keep playing, but it might not be in the cards. Logistically, we’re in four different states. I’m in Nashville, Dan’s (Dejan) in Chicago, Scotty’s in Milwaukee and Morgan’s in Minneapolis.
So what’s next Gufs wise? That’s what I don’t know. When it feels right we’ll probably play, but it’s not an easy thing to do anymore. It’s not how were able to take care of our families. Musically, Dan (Dejan) is always writing and he’s got a solo project called Daniel Ray which is killer Americana stuff. I just put out a CD, my first CD since 2004, which was supposed to be a Gufs record that just didn’t happen. But this is a bunch of songs that I’ve been writing while I’ve been down in Nashville. I got a songwriting club deal in Nashville, so I go down there and I write. And I write songs for other artists, but at the end of the day, it still sounds like Guf songs, so I put together a CD called Under A Nashville Sky that it will be out on iTunes January 29th. If you like the Gufs, you’ll like my solo stuff. I mean, we’ll keep it going, but, in what form, I don’t know.
Dejan:We’re having fun, you know, we’re just seeing what’s out there. Because all the technology, all the streaming and stuff, and the new formats. We’re putting out some stuff that we did that we never released previously. We got a lot of demo stuff and there are older albums that kinda went MIA, and not on digital format. So we’re going to get all that stuff up and running, and you know maybe we do it like a retrospective.
Goran: We put out a new song called “You Heard It Before” that 88.9fm picked up. I wrote that song with Dan Wilson of Semisonic and Adele. He’s a pretty established songwriter. We had an Atlantic release in ‘99 when we were with EMI Publishing. They heard a song of ours that they liked, and thought Dan Wilson could take it to another level and it was still sounds current and fresh on today’s radio. Stuff like that can happen. So as far as touring, (Laughs), I don’t see that happening.
MI: What are you currently listening to?
Dejan: For me, I just saw Kurt Vile in Chicago. His new album rocks. Just over all, his stuff is killer. I used to listen to a lot more punk rock when I was younger, but now it seems like Americana and stuff like Blitzen Trappers these are definitely more into where my head is at, and how it’s reflected with the stuff that I’m writing now. What I’m doing now is pretty solid not to do that kind of stuff. I have to plug Kurt Vile’s new album.
Goran: I would say going old school, and play something from my heart. I’ll put in Toad the Wet Sprocket, Bread and Circus. When I think of the Gufs, I think of them. The last thing I’ve been listening to, that I felt was so good, that I emailed all my friends and said, “you got to listen to this” it’s a band called Elliot root out of Nashville. Man they are just like Jeff Buckley meets, I don’t know, melodic STP! It’s just crazy good. So, Elliot Root, check it out, it’s definitely a great Rock record.
MI: Let’s talk a little more about the history of the band. What started the Gufs on their upswing?
Dejan: What really made that happen in the late 80s, you know, we started out playing Club gigs for ten people, fifty people, eighty people, a hundred… and for those first couple years we were grinding it out. We slowly built up the fan base to where we were going from Unicorn to The Celebrity Club, and The Boardwalk and then once we got big enough, we went to Shank Hall. So for those two to three independent albums in the early nineties, that was a really slow build. What really took off for us was when we recorded the the album “Collide”. Two tracks on that, one was “Smile”, and the other was “Crash” that local radio was always supportive of. But then local radio switched to the modern rock format, so like post-grunge, and all the sudden it started getting recognized. Radio was like, “what’s this Guff album and why is it above Pearl Jam?” at the time. It was number one on the station in Milwaukee, which is a major market, and set things off. So this friend of ours, Brian Irwin that was a DJ at WMSE, they supported us, and he was the first guy to play us on the station. He was also the host on WLUM at the time. He got us out there.
Goran: And back in the day, yeah in 1991, we were one of the first local bands at that time to put our record out on CD. It was a way to be able to share the music. We didn’t have a way to text you or email you an MP3. I think the grassroots way, the word of mouth, I think you felt like you were part of something. So when you see the show like last night, and you are tonight, the fans are an integral part of the success. I’m in the story and the history. It’s all because of that, the grassroots and word of mouth, which I think is lost today.(523) Page Views Gufs Online:
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CD: The Gufs Record Label: Atlantic Recording Corporation
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