Archive for July, 2003

So the 97’s will have their next album completed… this FALL??? Hmm, many thanks to sharp-eyed Wrecker Brian Sanderlin who spotted this nugget in the July 18 Chicago Tribune:

ON STAGE THEATER & MUSIC MUSIC NOTES

Miller finding a second wind

Singer poised on cusp of stardom

By Allison Stewart

Special to the Tribune

July 18, 2003

Rhett Miller, solo artist and occasional frontman of the alt-country quartet the Old 97’s, has a baby on the way, which partly explains his recent string of unorthodox, but potentially lucrative career choices. They include an opening slot on the Tori Amos tour, a gig singing “Homeward Bound” for a Mastercard commercial and, most improbably, an upcoming date playing Las Vegas with Uncle Kracker, an event Miller seems to be regarding with equal parts wonder and dread, though he’s much too polite to say so.

It’s been 10 months since the release of his amiable, impressive solo debut, “The Instigator,” and things have gone only partly as planned. Though Miller made the album with the assistance of famed Los Angeles record producer Jon Brion and seeded it with near-irresistible pop hooks, it was met with only moderate interest by radio programmers and the complaints of Old 97’s purists, of which there are many.

“I guess it’s gone well,” Miller says. “I didn’t see the American people going [crazy] over it like they did over John Mayer or something. I have heard the grumblings like I knew I would hear, but every record I’ve done has had that. Old fans come up to me and say, `I wanted to hate this record, but I love it.’ I mean, it’s still me. It’s not like I made a dance record like Jewel.”

It would have been easy to imagine that Miller, who is famously attractive and sweet and sings wistful love songs that reference Don DeLillo, would be embraced by mainstream audiences as a less irritating but equally charismatic version of Ryan Adams… Miller [also] isn’t sure what his label thinks, but it probably isn’t good: Elektra Records, to which he is signed both as a solo artist and as a member of the Old 97’s, might release him from his contract. Or, more awkwardly, drop the 97’s and keep him. The band recently regrouped to play some shows around their hometown of Dallas and to lay down some demo tracks for a new album, though any actual release date would hinge upon the resolution of their contractual issues.

Miller, who over the past few years has taken an increasing leadership role in the band, hints that his experiences recording “The Instigator” might influence the upcoming sessions. “As much as I liked recording like a garage band, I do feel like I want to experiment a little, maybe bring in some guest musicians or something.” To illustrate, Miller gave everyone in the Old 97’s, one of the most exemplary, meat-and-potatoes country-rock bands in existence, copies of Bowie’s glam rock concept album “Ziggy Stardust.” (While the band’s reaction to this is lost to history, Miller swears they were thrilled.) Miller also hopes bluegrass stars and sometime tour mates Nickel Creek will make a guest appearance, schedules permitting.

The band hopes to have the record finished in early fall; Miller’s baby is due in November, and the singer, who recently bought a house in upstate New York with his wife, is preparing to spend the winter as a full-time father.

“I’m definitely ready. After all these years on the road, I’m dying for it, actually.”

Rhett Miller

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday

Where: Park West, 322 W. Armitage Ave.

Price: $15 (all ages); 312-559-1212

Copyright © 2003, Chicago Tribune

So how in the heck have you guys been, eh? I’ve been running Hit By A Train since 1997, and this has been by far the longest break between news updates. Of course with the band on quasi-hiatus, there just ain’t been a lot of news to report. The boys did make some great appearances in Big D hereabouts back in April. Ken and Philip even popped in to turn the Ranchero Brothers show at the Barley House into a full fledged double bill, with the 97’s in effect opening for the Rancheros! The only thing missing? Hearing songs the Rancheros or 97’s might be road testing for upcoming albums. As of yet, there’s no word on when. Well, OK there was actually one new song. I believe it was the Ranchero’s “Won’t Be Home No More,” played by the 97’s and promised to be included on the next 97’s album. A must.

What else? Well, by all accounts Rhett is big in Japan, and mobbed by hoards of screaming Japanese females whenever he pops into the Land of the Rising Sun. And speaking of suns, or daughters, that reminds me, since he’s announced it at recent gigs, I guess it’s OK to mention here: Rhett’s gonna be a daddy. Personally, I think a girl would be ironic, as 16 years from now, one can imagine an older and wiser Rhett growing increasingly paranoid about the attention his daughter gets from young men like… well… the ones in Rhett Miller songs. That big Karma Wheel just keeps on turnin’, don’t it?

<fuzzy memory> I spent six of the four best years of my life at college, where for a time I DJ’d at a low power campus radio station. We used to get records from every fly-by-night company on the planet, and one day back in 1981 this two-bit company called HibTone sent us a single by some group with a ridiculous name. Then my friend and I put that 7″ on the changer, and got knocked out by “Radio Free Europe.” By R.E.M..

By 1994 I was back in north Texas, when one week, a then-guitarist for Slobberbone invited me to a ‘Bone show at a little club just a few blocks away. Opening for Slobberbone was this group, “Old 97’s”, about whom I’d vaguely heard. Midway through the first song, my jaw was on the floor. They were amazing.

In thirteen years, I’d nearly forgotten that music could be so loud, so fast, so smart, or so much fun, and I certainly hadn’t said “wow” about much new music since 1981, when that shiny happy 45 from REM hit the changer.</fuzzy memory>

So why all the misty, water-colored memories? Well dang, haven’t you heard? The Old 97’s will be joining R.E.M., among others, at the second annual Austin City Limits Music Fest, from September 19 – 21, at Zilker Park in lovely Austin, Texas. Advice? Go, go, go, go, go, go, go, go. Well, you get the idea. I’ll be there again this year, and this time to see my two favorite bands of the past 25 years. Rock freakin’ on, baby.

Can’t make it to Austin? Well, howzabout Dallas on August 9? That night we celebrate the 9th Anniversary of the very first radio program to play the Old 97s. It’s the “Adventure Club” 9th Anniversary Party, and host con most, Josh Venable has lined up a great bill at Trees. It’s the Old 97’s, with Eisley, Peter Schmidt (of Legendary Crystal Chandelier and Funland), and Cordelane. Come on kids, think about it:

Great music. Old 97’s. Dallas. August. Good friends. Hot weather. Cold beer. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. Because it doesn’t get any better.

BTW, I have Eisley’s “Laughing City” in the changer right now. Excellent! See the whole lineup, damnit. Get your money’s worth. I will. And I’ll try to post again soon. Of course Ken and Murry, and the band have the keys to this joint too. Come on fellas, what are you doin’ on your summer vacation?

Ooh, ooh, almost forgot. Better late than never, Elektra has released “Our Love” as the second single off The Instigator, and it’s started to rack some airplay. Call your favorite station and ask for it by name!