After graduating from Waunakee High School in 2002, John Statz found himself in a dorm at UW-Oshkosh surrounded by musicians. So he did what friends do. He played with them.
His guitar strumming turned into songwriting during his sophomore year. He started booking gigs in Appleton and Oshkosh. By the time he graduated in 2006, he'd recorded an album of 16 original songs. He called it Dusk Came Slow.
Since returning to the Madison area in 2006, Statz has built one of the most rigorous tour schedules of any Madison musician. This year, he'll be on the road at out-of-state destinations for more than four months. Later this summer, he'll embark on a four-week tour of Canada and the northeastern United States.
A double major in music and history at UW-Oshkosh, Statz frequently uses historical themes in his songwriting. With song titles like "Best Girl of '16" and "Letters from Southeast Asia," Statz sometimes takes on the persona of a war soldier in his compositions.
Statz has been playing with a full band more often this year at local shows. His sound has migrated from acoustic singer-songwriter to up-tempo country rock. On Friday, July 10, John Statz & the Cheap Shots will record their latest batch of songs in a live setting at Brink Lounge.
When I met up with Statz last week, he was preparing for a two-gig Thursday night. He was scheduled to play at a West Towne Mall restaurant at 7 p.m. and to be back downtown at the Argus by 9 p.m.
We talked about the direction of his songwriting, the thrill of "couch surfing" and his forthcoming CD.
What inspired you to start writing songs at UW-Oshkosh?
I lived on this really awesome floor called STAR - Students, Artists and Residents. Everybody was an artist or a musician. And a lot of them became my best friends. Some of them still are.
The first songs I wrote were more pop-influenced than the songs I write now. I like to think I'm getting better. Back then I was influenced by songwriters like Jack Johnson and Ben Harper. Now I'm more influenced by Bob Dylan and Townes Van Zandt. I don't play much of my older stuff anymore.
Do you arrange the logistics of your tours yourself?
Yes, I try to arrange it all about four months before I leave. I usually develop a route. Then I look at the cities along the route and decide which nights would be best for what city. You can play smaller college towns on a weekend night. A place like Chicago you'd want to play on a Monday or Tuesday.
When I first started, I stayed in hotels, but I realized pretty quickly that was going to be way too expensive, even if you stay at the cheap ones. So I started camping a lot, and I slept in the car a few times.
Then the thing I discovered in the last year and a half that's been amazing is couchsurfing.com. You find people that have a couch to sleep on. You send a message saying, "I'm going to be in Columbia, do you have a couch and can I sleep on it?" It's totally free. You meet someone local, and they want to show you around town.
When I was in Europe in January and February, I was in Prague and I didn't have any real gig set up. But I couch-surfed a 67-year-old Swedish man named Ralph who worked in the Swedish embassy in Prague. So I was couch-surfing in the Swedish embassy. My room had a balcony that overlooked the whole city of Prague. It was free, and he hosted a house concert for me. I played for 20 people there.
How does your interest in history weave its way into your music?
My first couple of albums had a lot of World War I songs, and I have a Vietnam song. I think my interest in history really started when I began to travel. When you travel, you want to know something about where you're going - not just the geography, but the history of what happened there.
What's significant about this weekend's show?
It's with the full band. We're recording an original album at the show. With the band, I really want to just capture us as we sound live. The new songs are country rock - I love Southern rock - and I think people will really connect with them.