Every race deserves its own soundtrack. The 50 free commands an epic rock-and-roll guitar riff. The mile requires a bit of electronica–a song with a smooth, calming beginning and a high energy finale. And any IM needs the spontaneity and improvisation of jazz to reflect shifting frenetically between four distinct strokes in one single race. A foursome of former University of Wisconsin swimmers have taken these truths to heart, starting their own ska-punk-reggae rock band in the attic of their Milwaukee apartment. “Hot By Ziggy” is comprised of Eric Johnson (lead vocals, rhythm guitar), Greg Zupek (lead guitar, vocals), Phil Davies (bass), and Adam Mania (drums and backup vocals).
“Eric, Phil and I swam together at Wisconsin, often competing together on the same medley relay team,” says Mania, a 2004 Olympian for Poland and a former US National Team member. “I met Greg after I graduated from college. I started coaching and training at the Walter Schroeder Aquatic Club. Greg was a senior in high school and he was also swimming at Schroeder. He went on to swim at Wisconsin, too. After Eric and Phil graduated from college they moved to Milwaukee from Madison to pursue coaching and teaching careers. Eventually Eric and Phil moved in with me and we all decided to start the band.”
Each band member can boast of many accomplishments in the pool. As Badgers, the rock and rollers owned numerous school records–Davies in the 100 free and 200 free relay, Johnson in the 100 breast, and Mania in the 100 and 200 back, 200 IM, and 200 breast. Zupek was a YMCA National Champion in 2007 as a member of Schroeder’s 400 free relay team. At Wisconsin, he was part of the Badgers’ 200 and 400 free relay teams.
“Hot By Ziggy” developed out of many attic jam sessions in the guys’ house on Milwaukee’s East Side.
“About six months ago Eric and Greg started writing a lot of songs,” Mania says. “We realized we had a lot of neat influences.”
Greg comes from a reggae/dub influence, bands like Fortunate Youth, old Sublime, Passafire, The Movement, Slightly Stoopid. Eric is kind of the same, but also has more of a punk/ska influence–Pepper, Originalites, Midtown, NOFX, Streetlight Manifesto. Phil is a total hard rock and metal fan whose influences include Iron Maiden, Slayer, Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, Motörhead , Metallica, Ghoul, Municipal Waste, and Thin Lizzy. Adam was very into punk and ska while playing the trombone in high school and going to old ska and punk shows like Catch 22, NOFX, and anything at the Warped Tour. Lately he has fallen in love with European gypsy music; Mania’s Polish father has been teaching him to play the accordion. And due to his love of Gogol Bordello, RUPA and the April Fishes, and ZAZ, Mania and Johnson are working on some gypsy/flamenco songs together.
Simply, the four guys contribute a spicy mix of musical influences and talents. They could also be a pretty good medley relay (an opinion shared by Dave Anderson, the Schroeder head coach). It’s fitting, then, that the band’s name originates from a jar of scorching salsa. Mania’s parents, Zbigniew, or Ziggy, and Nina make their own homemade salsa from various vegetables in their garden in Hickman, Nebraska and they always give their son a jar or two to share with his friends.
“And on one of the labels my dad wrote ‘Hot by Ziggy’,” Mania says. “The name just stuck out. I drew up a sweet logo that looks like a chili pepper and now we use it for the band.”
Davies, Johnson, and Mania are all currently coaching the 11 – 14 year olds at Schroeder. They share the same coaching philosophy: lots of sprinting, technique implementation, and finding joy in working hard.
“We tell the kids frequently that there are plenty of things that aren’t fun about training, but that sense of accomplishment that you feel after practice is what you should strive for and that achieving tough goals is what makes it fun,” Mania says.
Hot By Ziggy’s first live gig was only a couple of weeks ago, but there are sure to be many more. They’ve recorded several of their creations in their attic studio/practice space, songs that are now available on SoundCloud. These tunes are catchy and fun and even insightful. And they make you want to dance. After a couple of listens, you’ll be sure to have a few Hot By Ziggy jams playing in your head while churning through your next morning practice.
If you’re in the Milwaukee area, you can catch them live on Saturday, May 24 at 10 p.m. at Bremen Cafe.