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Fredrickson Paints Milwaukee in Music and Images

May. 17, 2011
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The recently released Souvenirs is Mike Fredrickson's 11th CD, counting the albums he made with The Mosleys as well as under his own name. But Milwaukee's master of melancholy songwriting in classic '60s-style rock is also a superior painter of local people and scenes.

Which came first, music or visual art?

Visual art. As long as I can remember, I've always been a drawer. I was encouraged to draw by my parents, but I never thought of it as a means to an end. I studied it in college and got two degrees; I taught it for a while at MIAD and UWM, but those jobs are hard to hang on to. Some people thought I quit the Spanic Boys because I couldn't get along with those guys, but it was really because I wanted to finish my MFA.

Did you come to Milwaukee to study art?

I came to play music. I came to Milwaukee to join a band with the clothes on my back and a bass in the summer of 1978. I didn't stay in that band long. My bass got stolen. I ended up washing dishes at Kalt's and was promoted to prep cook. I thought maybe I should go to school because there's no future in this. Now that I see the cachet that chefs get...

When did you start writing songs?

One of my bands in the '80s, Bohemian Club, played one or two, but it was mostly a cover band. Finally, getting The Mosleys together in the early '90s was what boosted my songwriting. I tried to write a song a day back then.

Did you have models for your songwriting?

The Beatles were at the top of the pyramid, but who can write that well? I loved Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, Mike Nesmith, Ray Davies, Paul Simon—the strong writers. And pretty much anything I heard on the AM station when I was growing up in Middleton.

Tell me about your painting.

I used to do nothing but portraits. Now I only do pictures without people, and they're starting to sell.

Many of them are of Milwaukee neighborhoods.

I've painted Bay View on Kinnickinnic looking north and south near Hi-Fi Café. I've painted Downer Avenue by Sendik's; the National Liquor Bar; Fratney Street looking south; Center Street in Riverwest. I want people to look at ordinary situations in Milwaukee as if it's New Orleans. I want people to feel that way about Milwaukee and say, "What a cool place! I want to go there!" I'm a realist trying to amplify life to make it more magical, to turn the mundane into the mythological. I'm trying to make the neighborhoods pulse with their own life.

Why is it a selling point to not have people in a picture?

It offers the viewer a way into the picture when there isn't another human already in it. A person can wander into the painting and be there themselves.

Mike Fredrickson, backed by the Riverwest Aces, will perform at Linneman's Riverwest Inn on May 20. Fredrickson also plays a solo show at Linneman's on the second Tuesday of every month.


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