Zion native power-poppers Shoes stun with first album since '94

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All three have lived in Kenosha since the 1990s, but when Klebe moved into a new house in 2009, a historic 1948 home that sits across the street from Lake Michigan, he decided to build a recording studio in his basement. He poured thousands of dollars into a mixture of analog and digital equipment so music could be recorded with old-fashioned warmth and then mixed on state-of-the-art computer equipment.

Did he do this to record a Shoes album?

"Yes," Klebe said. "Yes."

"He surprised us," John Murphy said. "We didn't know. He didn't tell us."

In true "Field of Dreams" fashion, he built it, and they came.

"To give credit where credit is due, Mary writing this book got us thinking about this more," Klebe said. "When you're forced to talk about your past life in this business, you start to get a little bit teary-eyed about the good times and (wonder) why aren't we doing this?"

Said Jeff Murphy, who pronounced Klebe's studio superior to Short Order Recorder: "As soon as we started recording, it was like, God, that was fun," he said. "There is nothing like creating a song from nothing, from zero."

Despite the long lag between albums, the band members hadn't been stockpiling material; they wrote to order. They began recording in the fall of 2010 and had John Richardson, the crafty powerhouse drummer of the band's 1990s and 2000s live shows, come down from his Menominee, Wis., home to lay down the first drum tracks onNew Year's Day2011.

The studio is a small, windowless room, with no parallel walls (all the better for recording drums), adjacent to the control room. The smell of a nearby cat box and scratch marks on the wall treatments add to the homey vibe, and occasionally during recording the black, mellow Psycho and gray, more temperamental Buzz would check out the action.

(This day's big drama came when Psycho escaped through a partially open front door, prompting bandmates, reporter and photographer to scour the neighborhood calling, "Psycho! Psycho!" before he was located beneath a neighbor's porch. Upon his return, a ticked-off Buzz growled and hissed at him.)

There are subtle differences among the singer-songwriters' voices and approaches on "Ignition," yet the songs are all of a piece, unmistakably Shoes.

"We're really more each other's influences than anything else," Klebe said, noting that they still don't know music theory or even necessarily what chords they're playing. "It's really kind of a moat around us."

As they chatted in the control room with unplugged guitars on their laps, they were at a loss to play any of their new songs.

"We never learned them," Klebe said.

"We would have had to have weeks of rehearsal," John Murphy said with a laugh, "for an impromptu jam."

Asked to attempt "Tomorrow Night" instead, the three picked at their guitars until they found the verse chords; it all fell apart on the bridge, but they were able to rebound for the subsequent verses, Jeff Murphy singing, "What will you say?" and John Murphy and Klebe responding in tight harmony "Tomorrow night," before they nailed a clean ending.

"We haven't played together for over three years, a single song together, since Japan," Klebe said with a laugh afterward, referring to a few shows the band performed overseas in 2009. Before that they played an afternoon concert in Millennium Park in August 2007.

Yet even with their first album in 18 years, they have no plans to perform live now.

"We all have to deal with our schedules," Jeff Murphy said. "It has to be something that we want to do. We're not going to go out just because we're supposed to."

"Playing live is a losing proposition," Klebe said. "If you leave Chicago, it'll cost us money to do it."

What about Chicago, though?

"The problem is it's hard to do just one show," Klebe said. "You need more than one show." There's also an underlying fear for a band that has been inactive for so long: "We're afraid no one would come," Klebe admitted.

Yet with strong initial response and advance orders for "Ignition," the band members remain hopeful, even as they realize the rule book was long ago deleted.

"We don't know what we're doing," Klebe said. "We know as much as we did around 'Black Vinyl Shoes.'"

At least they know this: Accomplished power pop never dies, and Shoes are present-tense again.

mcaro@tribune.com

Twitter @MarkCaro

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