The Bottle Rockets Going Acoustic and backing a hero
The Bottle Rockets, alt-country stalwarts and critically acclaimed bar band led by Brian Henneman, released their new CD Not So Loud, An Acoustic Evening with The Bottle Rockets, in August on Bloodshot records. The thirteen song set was recorded in 2007 over two nights at the historic Lucas School House in their home base of St. Louis. Magic happened those two nights as the band was captured in a surprising new light with fresh instrumentation on some of their best loved tunes along with rarities and first time performances, all done “unplugged” style. But do not be fooled, this is no mellow affair; Henneman and Co. churn out some foot stomping revelry. The intimate setting did allow Henneman’s noted wit to shine thru on the between song banter, giving each song a stronger touchstone, while showing off the groups superior songwriting skills. A remarkable recording indeed, and sure to win new fans and satisfy old ones.
Innocent Words got a chance to talk to Henneman about the new album and the band’s current tour as the opening act and backing band for Marshal Crenshaw.
IW: Great new CD! You must be doing a bunch of interviews?
BH: Thanks. Well just getting started and I haven’t reached my irritated point yet.
IW: Not So Loud was recorded in 2007, why did it take so long for it to come out.
BH: Well long story short we did not intended for it to come out at all, the house sound guy (Dave Ashauer) at the Lucas School basically recorded it for fun. There was no plan, no agenda, so it sat around for quite some time before we even listened to it. And it was recorded in an odd format that isn’t widely used so it took Roscoe (Eric Amble) who did the mixing, quite some time to find a studio where we could even play it back. It was a long, long process to weed through what was useable and sadly some of the best material was lost.
IW: So that explains the choice of songs.
BH: So what you have on the album are the only tracks that are totally clean start to finish, with digital noise or distortions. Our show was actually like thirty songs the first night, and then when we thought about it being recorded again the second night, and we could get another take of the songs, we really put a lot more into them. We basically played the same set both nights, and it was a lot of the same people at both shows so while we wanted another crack at recording them ,we felt bad about making them sit through the same songs all over again. So we played like a twenty five song encore. But so much of it was lost, it could have been a triple album like Frampton Comes Alive, but with a third album.
IW: You tell some great stories between songs, is the one about Dolly Parton true?
BH: Oh yeah, nothing’ but truth there, maybe a bit strange but all true. I just start to ramble on; it’s like second nature for me.
IW: Tell us about the Lucas School, why did it shut down after these shows?
BH: Well it was a great place and the owner put a bunch of money into it, probably too much. It was a hundred year old school house attached to an old church, a beautiful place all wood floors and high ceilings with great food and music. But it was in an odd location and had never been a venue before so it had no history; it was in a good part of town, but St Louis just didn’t support it, so he had to give up on it. It’s still there; maybe this recording will help bring it back.
IW: One of the big surprises on the album is all the banjo playing you did. Have you been playing for long?
BH: It was surprise for me too! Those shows where the apex of me and the banjo. It is so hard to play, so stressful and un-natural I sold it after the shows. But it did turn out to be some of the best stuff on the album. I‘ve got the dumbest right hand in show biz and that’s what the banjo is all about. When we do some of this stuff again I’ll probably buy one of them six string jobs so I can play it like a guitar.
IW: So a “Not So Loud” tour is in the works?
BH: Well sort of, we are touring with Marshall Crenshaw out west in August and on the east coast in September. John (Horton) and his wife are expecting their third child so he will miss several dates and we will be backing up Crenshaw as a three piece, and we will open the shows with an acoustic set. I’ll have to address this banjo thing again in the fall. Damn.
IW: You are backing Marshall Crenshaw on the current tour, did you know his stuff or was there a crash course?
BH: Both! We did four shows with him last winter. Totally out of the blue he called and asked us to play. I had no idea it was going to happen, a big surprise, and I thought we’d be the last band on earth he’d ask. So he sent us the song for the shows and we had to cram, like for taking a test. When I first heard the stuff it was “I can’t play this!” His stuff sounds simple, but is deceivingly hard. It is a whole different mentality from what we do, and took a long time to get it right. Once you unlock the way to play it, it becomes second nature. But it’s not just “Someday, Someway,” over and over. I became a huge fan of his later stuff, its not all the same. His career doesn’t end at 1985. Once we got inside the songs I dug the newer stuff.
Marshall is the master transposer. We learned all his stuff for the first shows over a couple months and we had one rehearsal and he decided to change the keys on us after we had learned them, oh man was that tough. But on this western tour we won’t let him do that again. After a month of practice we became a kick ass backup band. We’ve been away from it for a while now so it will take some time to get it all back. The first show is in Boise, it may be a bit shaky but by the time we get to Seattle we’ll be rockin! Been a long time since we’ve been out west, it’s over 1800 miles from home to the first show , so an appearance by the Bottle Rockets out there is as rare as me playing the banjo.
Rick J Bowen
Originally appeared in Innocent Word Sept 2011