Milwaukee’s Best

Rob Ebert

Behind the Gufs

In the early 1990s, the Gufs started as a college rock band that brought together the most talented and ambitious musicians from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Marquette. Lead singer Goran Kralj and drummer Scott Schwebel met on UWM's soccer team and added lead guitarist Morgan Dawley from Marquette. Later, Goran asked his brother Dejan to play bass to round out the quartet.

Having a distinctive pop-rock sound, the Gufs fit neatly in with the exploding '90s rock scene.Atlantic Records took notice and the band released 1996's Collide and its 1999 follow-up Holiday from You on the label.

Various reasons caused the band to go on an extended break following the Holiday from You tour. Now, almost a decade later, the Gufs are back with its first new release, A Different Sea, since the break.

MU grad makes good

You probably know somebody just like him. The guy down the hall always walking around with his guitar, claiming he's going to join a band and tour the country some day.

Except in this case, that's just what Morgan Dawley has done.

For Dawley, who graduated in 1992 with a civil engineering degree, Marquette was also the place where his musical career started to play out.

"There were always a bunch of guys in Schroeder (playing music)," he said during a phone interview with the Tribune. Dawley found a competent keyboardist down the hall, and his first college band was formed.

It was time to play a few gigs at the parties and bars around campus.

"It wasn't anything fancy, you just set up in the corner and let 'er rip," Dawley noted.

But playing frat parties and college bars would only take him so far. By this time, Dawley had taken notice of a talented UWM band called the Gufs.

"When I heard the early Gufs I was impressed," Dawley said. "(Goran) and I were kind of mutually impressed with each other. We did a jam session at UWM and he had seen me play at MU."

Once the Gufs' original guitarist left the band, it was a natural move to put Dawley in that spot.

"Goran called me out of the blue and said, 'We got a show in two weeks, wanna play in our band?' "

Dawley wondered if he could learn all the Gufs songs in so little time.

"I missed quite a few classes those weeks," he admitted.

They entered Marquette's "Battle of the Bands" in 1991 and took second place to Big Sky, a band they knew well from the bar and party scene.

"Our music is way more sophisticated now," Dawley said with a good-natured laugh.

Although it's been awhile since the band has been in heavy rotation on the radio, and even longer since they've left Marquette, Dawley feels like they still belong here.

"There's not that many people that know of us (at Marquette) anymore, but maybe there's younger sisters and brothers that know us because of their siblings," Dawley said. "We haven't been gone that long."

'A Different Sea' and a

different sound

It becomes evident where the newfound sound and energy heard on the Gufs' A Different Sea comes from after speaking with Goran Kralj for a few seconds following the band's recent Fox 6 morning show performance.

"Oh, it f——ing rocked," Kralj breathlessly said of the gig minutes after leaving the station's studios last Wednesday.

Time for a breather?

"Hey I gotta do some mastering for the album," he said. "Can I call you back in 20 minutes?"

Whereas Holiday from You was a reflection on some of the more difficult relationships the band members had been through, A Different Sea is just that — a new look at life.

"Holiday from You was the dark break-up album," Kralj said. "And as a writer you have to write what you know about. This (album) is about second chances and forgiveness. I think we're all happier now."

Outside of the more upbeat tone, listeners can also expect to hear strings, courtesy of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, to freshen up the sound.

"We're using things we haven't done in the past — it's a little bit of a departure," Kralj said.

Although it was like asking to choose between his children, Kralj was up to the task of picking his favorite track.

"It's 'Stars.' I love the lyric 'Every line of every song I hear reminds me about you.' It's a very different-sounding song for us, it has a much quicker (tempo)," he said.

Even with no new material in nearly a decade, the Gufs have received plenty of support from long-time fans who refused to forget the group. Why the loyalty?

"I think because a lot of them relate to the songs," Kralj said. "When they think of the Gufs music it puts them at a happy place in time — a 'remember that' feeling. 'Remember what an awesome time that was?' "

Followers of the Gufs take a certain pride in knowing they were there from the beginning. Along the way, those fans made the Gufs their own.

"We were a local band that got popular," Kralj said. "When we were signed to a major record deal a lot of fans took ownership, like 'we made that happen.' "

"Now we're trying to take Milwaukee back by storm. It's like starting all over again, except we have all these fans already."

One final question: How does the UWM grad feel about those hailing from the rival school?

"I love 'em 'cuz we got our lead guitarist from Marquette. So I have a place close in my heart for MU people. How's that for an answer?"

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