Archive for 2004

Ok here we go

November 8, 2004

Ok, here we go. After a two year hiatus thanks to server storage and bandwidth issues, and technical problems with RealAudio encoding software, we’ve got sound files back up. And this time, “Hit By A Train” is building a bridge to the… uhm… twentieth century, with… mp3’s! That’s right, no more RealAudio files! Now it’s rip, mix, and burn, baby.

First check out the “Audio” page of the Discography section, where for each Old 97’s studio album we now have at least two of the tracks available for downloading in mp3 format. Maybe some of you fans of the band’s more recent albums will find something you like. Or perhaps you, the jaded and veteran Old 97’s fan, just say “BFD.” In that case, scroll down to the bottom of the that page, to the listing for the band’s 1993 debut, “The Old 97’s” cassette. Yep, we’ve even got two tracks from that baby. If they sound strange, keep in mind that: 1) These were ripped from an eleven year-old cassette, and 2) Philip hadn’t joined the band yet. That’s Darin Lin Wood on drums.

But wait, there’s more! You can also click over to the Downloads page and check out five new mp3’s which fall into the outtakes, and demos variety. A couple were on old versions of Hit By A train and/or, but never before in a high quality .mp3 format. It sure was fun picking out a few of my favorite tracks to share. Thanks to the good folks at New West for making the server space available, and to the band and their management for going with the mp3’s. Hopefully, we’ll have more to come too.

Speaking of more to come, I’ve got a ton of reviews and photos and some tabs to post too, but the week is young, so check back soon. Cheers.

Hey I’m home for nine straight days, which will be my longest break in nearly two years, so stand by for some major site updates. In the meantime, check the Tour Dates page for two new Rhett solo shows and – get your party on – the Old 97’s New Years Eve show is BACK!

Also, shame if you missed the guys October 30 show in Dallas, celebrating the ten year anniversary of the release of Hitchhike To Rhome. I was sober enough for the first half of the show to rank it as one of my two favorite 97 shows ever. And though it’s a bit of a fuzzy memory I’m told the second half of the gig was pretty good two 😉 The Dallas Morning News thought so as well.

Damn, man, sorry about the long delay between posts, but the job’s been running me all over the place and running me ragged. OK, so remember I promised a big pile-o-new Old 97’s .mp3’s? Well, they’re not here yet but we’ve finally gotten all our sever and bandwidth issue addressed, so now all I have to do is upload these babies, including a nifty couple of rarities. Check back in the next few days. And I actually have a ton of news, but I’m so far behind let’s just start with this nugget, shall we? From today’s Dallas Observer:

Miller Time

Old 97’s front man talks about the past, the present and the future


On November 1, 1994, the Old 97’s released Hitchhike to Rhome. Recorded at Dallas’ Crystal Clear Sound, Hitchhike was a solid little debut, a series of melodic misadventures about being young and stupid and full of somethin’ awful, whether that be heartbreak or Old Crow. The album quickly sold out of its original pressing of 1,000 copies. As Donny Ray Ford of the Cartwrights once said, “It went plywood.”

Of course, a decade later, Hitchhike is recognized as something greater–the first recorded chapter in the history of an important and beloved local band. Unlike later 97’s albums–which tend to get bigger and poppier as their influences inch toward either coast–Hitchhike feels firmly rooted in the black dirt of the Lone Star State. There’s a dustiness, a sun-baked loopiness, a sense of being safe and stranded at the same time. [read more]

Some updates on upcoming shows: The Deathray Davies will now be joining the bill with the Old 97’s for the Indianapolis, Columbus, Louisville, and Atlanta shows (October 26, 27, 28, 29), and the October 24 show at the Rave in Milwaukee will feature a pre-show party, on a side stage, where fans who get to the venue a bit early can enjoy a beverage and catch some live music. Also before the Old 97’s October 18 show in Portland, you can catch them at an in-store performance at Music Millennium (801 NW 23rd. St.) at 6:30 pm.

Finally, I’m sure you remember the story of David Cunniff, who on July 25th took his daughters to an Old 97’s concert in the Deep Ellum disctrict of Dallas, where he was attacked and badly beaten. Today, he remains paralyzed in Baylor Hospital without medical insurance. Several fundraisers to benefit the Cunniff family have been and are in the works, and among the more pleasant is this one: An eBay auction. So far three cool, music related items have been donated, and all proceeds from the sales will go to benefit David Cunniff. Check it ’em out here, here, and here. More soon!

Hey you guys, Drag It Up is gonna be around for a good while yet, and we’d sure like to help keep up the buzz, on campus and around town, especially when the 97’s head your way for live shows, and when they release new songs to radio. One of the best ways to do that is with a street team, which is nothing more than people who love the band, and who want to help spread the word. Well, Brenda Hall is coordinating the street team for the Old 97’s, and she’d like our help. If you have suggestions or would like more information, you can contact Brenda at brenda AT newwestrecords DOT com. And on behalf of the band, thank you!

Finally, if over the next few days you get some odd-ball page loads here at Hit By A Train, not to worry, we’re just tweaking some of the site’s navigation.

So printed on the itinerary of the 97’s recent swing through NYC was this unexplained nugget:

9/23: Rhett… to Tom Wolfe book interview

Location: National Lampoon Network

***NOTE: this will be filmed for

National Lampoon Network’s AV Squad

(600 colleges – 4.5 million students).

Tom’s book
(“I Am Charlotte Simmons” – f.e.) releases 11/9. The audio part of this interview will be serviced to non-comm radio (college/NPR). Book examines college life.

Rhett Miller and Tom Wolfe? You mean the (in)famously (over)dressed Tom Wolfe of “The Right Stuff,” “The Bonfire of the Vanities,” “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test,” and a personal favorite, “From Bauhaus to Our House”? The thing is, Rhett is a sometimes contributor to the post-modern journal, McSweeney’s, while Wolfe has been on the outs with the post-moderns for years.

When asked how the meeting went, Rhett replied, “I felt underdressed to say the least. My only faux pas was to reveal my penchant for the post-moderns whom he despises. Other than that, we got along famously.” This I’d like to see.

If you use the My Yahoo news service and want to keep up with the latest Old 97’s news from Hit By A Train and, well now you can add us to your My Yahoo page!

At the top of your My Yahoo page, click on the link that reads “Get the Beta Today!” None of your settings or choices will change, but you’ll then migrate over to the new My Yahoo format, which supports site feeds via RSS and Atom. Then just click here! It it takes just fifteen seconds to make sure you have the latest Old 97’s news, each and every every time you visit My Yahoo.

So how ’bout them live shows. There was that great big photo of Murry, above the fold on the September 20 Austin American-Statesman. And did you guys catch the 97’s on McEnroe last week? In addition to “New Kid,” the guys let Johnny Mac sidle up on guitar while the boys just tore the hell out of the Ramones’ “I Wanna Be Sedated.” If you missed the show, you can check it out, courtesy of Dr. David Welsh. He’s not just a fan, a doctor, scholar, and a gentlemen, but he’s also got a server that’s about to crash. Sorry Doc.

And speaking of good things in New York, within a few hours – as soon as I can get them formatted and uploaded – you can catch a few snaps of the 97’s Irving Plaza gig, along with new photos of the band in July at Summerfest, Taste of Chicago, the Abbey Pub, and at Dallas’ Gypsy Tea Room, all on the Photo Page.

And did anyone else see this? It was reported on on the Wrecked message board that there was an out-of-the-blue plug for the guys on ESPN’s SportsCenter the morning of September 23. “During the Phillies/Marlins highlights the anchor (may have been Scott Van Pelt, not sure; I was in a rush) led in to a highlight of a Mike Liberthal home run with ‘Just like the Old 97s on their fall tour, Mike Liberthal is just plain gettin’ it done!'”

The New York Times, among many others, seems to agree. OK, gotta run to an appointment. More tonight!

After vowing never to do a tour diary – or at least not to blog on tour – Rhett gives in. For his hometown paper. But hey, we’ll take it! More tomorrow. I promise.

This is what I do

By Rhett Miller

(Original publication: September 23, 2004)

Chicago – Wednesday, Sept. 8

I land at Chicago O’Hare Airport a little after 3 p.m. Stewart Airport, my little Hudson Valley hometown airport, flies exclusively to Chicago where you can connect to any flight going anywhere, so I feel like I live in Chicago O’Hare, which makes the fact that I get lost trying to find baggage claim even weirder. I blame it on sleep deprivation. I was in Puerto Vallarta attending my baby sister’s wedding, and only got into the country at midnight last night. Then 12 hours at home (one load of laundry, repack, and change two diapers on Max, my little best friend) before schlepping off for the beginning of a two-month trip to support “Drag It Up,” the new album by my rock ‘n’ roll outfit, Old 97’s.

And boy do I feel old. Three terminals later, I collect my bags. As I’m piling them onto a luggage cart and consulting my mental checklist to make sure I’m not forgetting anything, alarm bells go off. I have forgotten something at home. Nothing important, only MY NUMBER ONE ELECTRIC GUITAR! Yes, the guitar that I play on stage the majority of the time I’m performing with my band, the Really Old 97’s. Deep breath. Call management. Find a solution. Get in taxi. Start crying.

I have been crying a lot these days. Well, not exactly crying, but becoming teary-eyed. Sometimes actually crying. Maybe it’s the aforementioned sleep deprivation. Maybe it’s the idea of missing Max’s 10th and 11th months of existence. Maybe it’s the fact that I turned 34 years old a few days ago and for the first time in my life, received not one single birthday gift – not even a card.

Maybe it’s the approach of September 11th. Erica and I were there. We lived in a building 100 yards south of the second tower. We ran in our pajamas through the rubble as the second tower collapsed. We picked smoking pieces of metal and glass out of each other’s hair once we got far enough away to stop running.

These days we don’t talk about it. It doesn’t come up. But it’s there.

I take a taxi to the Hard Rock Hotel. We’ve never stayed here before. We used to stay in a Days Inn on Diversey that gave special deals to touring bands – musicians called it the Rock ‘n’ Roll Days Inn. They had band photos on the wall of the breakfast room. Breakfast went until noon, which at 11:45 on a Sunday morning was an awesome place to run into your crazy rock ‘n’ roll friends. But the hotel’s changed hands or something and they no longer allow bus parking, so we’ve floated between random Chicago hotels for the last couple of years. And now we’re at the Hard Rock. We must have made it!

My floor is the Cheap Trick floor. Very kick-ass. A matching outfit and guitar of Rick Nielsen’s from a 1980 tour of Japan. Was he really that skinny? We all were once. The Really Old, Fat 97’s.

I’ve got to get in a better mood. I’ve got a rock tour stretching out as far as the eye can see, and if I’m not careful, we’re talking full-on nervous breakdown.

Dion the bellman asks the dreaded question. “So are you in a band?”

“Yeah. We’re called Old 97’s.” I enunciate, because our band name doesn’t make any sense to anybody and I’m sure Dion has never heard of us. It’s kind of a joke that he hasn’t. Chicago is our town. We broke big here before even in our hometown of Dallas. We’ve owned Chicago for years.

He squints and says, “Yeah. I think I’ve heard of you guys.” Kind of him to lie. Then he asks a funny question. Well, really it’s the logical next question – should I have heard of you? – but it’s worded unusually. “Have you ever won any awards?”

This makes me chuckle. I mean, what am I supposed to say? The band and I won so many Dallas Observer Music Awards between 1995 and 2002 that they eventually banned us from the ballot, but that’s not going to go very far with Dion. What else is there, a Grammy? Right. I’d have to do a children’s album, polka album or a spoken-word recording to even stand a chance of “recognition from the Academy.” Do I explain to Dion that I’d abandoned those dreams? That sometimes my wife Erica and I get excited about whatever project I’m working on and whisper in the dark safety of our bed about how cool it would be to win the Grammy for Best New Artist? About the imaginary irony of the impossible daydream? Do I tell Dion about how the corporations haven’t just taken over the political infrastructure, they’ve also taken over the kids and their record collections – and succeeded in dumbing both down to the extent that somebody like me who tries to incorporate subtext and emotional depth into his pop music might as well be singing in Japanese over a recording of a dozen jackhammers?

Instead I tell Dion, “Well, we’ve done Leno. Twice. And Letterman twice. And Conan three or four times. And Kilborn twice. And Carson Daly and Sharon Osbourne. ” This is the award people care about: Getting To Appear On Television. I’ll abandon all hope of a normal existence, neglect my health and my family, subject myself to crushing rejection and abject humiliation. Please, please, please just let my face adorn the piece of furniture that is the centerpiece of every American home and family. Dion is impressed.

Twenty minutes later, I’ve washed up, packed a satellite bag for the night’s activities, and gone down to the lobby where I’m supposed to meet Ken, our guitarist, at 4:15. Another 20 minutes go by. No Ken. I call Mike, the tour manager, who says, “Oh, Ken just showed up here at the club. Grab a taxi and come on down by yourself.” What, is it still my birthday or something?

In the cab on the way to the gig, I call my mom. I just want somebody to tell me that they love me.

Boston – Wednesday, Sept. 15

Today is Max’s 10-month birthday. He screams the whole time Erica and I talk. She tells me she thinks more teeth are coming in. She holds the phone up to his ear and I tell him the baby jokes that always make him crack up. I pretend to sneeze – ah, ah, ah, achoo. This joke kills. He laughs. And suddenly Max comes up with a milestone. I ask him, “What does a doggy say?” The answer is, of course, the quick, out-of-breath panting sound one associates with an excited puppy dog. I make this sound. Then, for the first time, Max makes the sound also. He’s laughing and doing a fantastic imitation of a panting puppy. Then he tries to kiss the phone, which involves opening his mouth as wide as it will go and sticking his tongue out and shoving the whole sloppy mess on the phone receiver while Erica laughs and laughs.

This is what it feels like to be simultaneously ecstatic and despondent.

I am in a laundromat in Boston. I carried my laundry bag six blocks from the bus, which is parked across the street from Fenway Park’s Green Monster at a club called the Avalon, where we’re gigging tonight. I needed a little alone time. The first week of the tour has had some great moments (Chicago at the Vic was something of a lovefest; Detroit was our best visit ever to that sometimes bleak city – beautiful weather, good dinner and an excited crowd; even the day off in a suburb outside Toronto was beautiful and rejuvenating), but overall it’s been a bit of a whip, as Ken likes to say.

Thank God the bus is nice. It’s a ’97 (natch) Prevost. Blue blue electric blue. Self-leveling hydraulics. Bright white interior that could really use some posters or tapestries or something. When we started touring in buses, we were in Eagles and Double Eagles. These are the old-school standard, but they generally feel pretty worn down. For instance, the curtains that enclose you in your coffin-shaped bunk have a funk that belies the years of God-knows-what. Also, the Eagles us
ually have a mural painted on the side. I remember one that depicted a busted-up dinghy on a beach in front of a glorious, pink sunset. We talked about hiring an artist to airbrush a pirate’s skeleton in the dinghy or a unicorn flying through the sky.

But our Prevost’s pretty slick. I’m in the lead-singer bunk, which is the middle (they’re stacked three high, 12 bunks in all), driver’s side front. I don’t know why this is supposed to be the lead-singer bunk, but I’ve heard it from more than one driver. There is nobody in the bunk below or above me. This is nice. Just knowing that there’s another human being (Noah, for instance, our merch guy) one foot away from you makes it tough to sleep sometimes.

It’s tough to sleep anyway. There is always something exciting going on in either the front or back lounge: a video-game football tournament, a classic tour-bus movie, a lively discussion about how terrible something is, the consumption of beer, etc. I tell people it’s like living in a submarine. Really it’s like living in a college dorm that has been shrunk to fit inside a submarine.

Last night’s gig in Buffalo was the toughest of the tour so far. We’ve never played the town before – the closest we’ve come was Albany years ago, and that still gets brought up as the worst gig ever. The nightclub is in the process of re-opening and we’re the first show. It doesn’t help that they haven’t gotten their liquor license yet. All four band members are pretty good nowadays about getting up for a rough gig, and these 250 people (a paltry figure relative to the crowds to which we’ve become accustomed) are excited to see the show. They paid good money and they probably caught a decent buzz sitting in their cars before the show started. They deserve to be rocked as much as the next town.

Even so, there is a certain amount of inner pep-talking I’ve got to do to find a way to go out there and shake my ass like I’m ostensibly being paid to do. Which makes it tough when Ken decides to push my buttons. He starts by saying we should lop a few songs off the set list, pointing out that it’s a Tuesday night and that these people would probably be grateful to go home a little earlier. I know that by “these people” he means himself. He suggests some songs that could be cut. When I protest that I spent a long time (like I do every night) making the set list and that if you take a song out, the resulting segue is likely to be clunky or boring or just not as good, he tells me, “Man, it just doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter what songs we play, or what order they’re in or any of that.”

This cuts me to the quick. Forgive me if I do a little math here. Let’s see, a conservative estimate of the time I spend each night composing a set list would be an hour (usually it’s more like two). Over the past 10 years we’ve averaged around 200 shows a year. That’s 2,000 hours I’ve spent trying to figure out what will work best given the night and the audience and the album we’re working and the crossover from nearby towns we might have just played or be about to play and all the random requests from the fans and all the random demands from my bandmates (like, “I’m sick of ‘Buick City'”; “I wanna do some Buck Owens tonight”), etc.

Two thousand hours. Eighty three days. I’ll never get those back. And he goes on, sensing that he’s touched a nerve, a masochistic gleam in his eye. I see him do this to other people. Noah, for instance, our merch guy. Noah gets a lot of grief. All pretty good-natured. And he puts up with it. He’s put up with it for 10 years. But Noah’s a good sport and he has a thick skin. Not me. I’m fragile. Frighteningly so tonight.

“Ken, why have I worked so hard then all these years putting together set lists?”

“I don’t know. I guess it’s like your hobby.”

And then we walk out on stage. I’m sure he thinks it’s funny to get my goat, but I spend the better part of the gig thinking of comebacks, rejoinders and follow-up arguments: “From now on you get to make the set lists; let’s see how you like it.” But I don’t say anything. I just roll it up into the proverbial little ball and shove it down. What choice do I have? He’s my bandmate, my brother, and I’m stuck with him.

So today I’ll spend some time by myself. I’ll talk to Erica. She’ll make me feel better, she always does. I’ll make tonight’s set list while sitting in the back lounge trying to ignore the repulsive things happening on the reality TV show Philip and Ken are watching. I’ll feel the love of the Boston crowd, of which there will be a great deal. I’ll cover a Pixies song during my solo acoustic portion of the encore. I’ll tell Ken in the dressing room after the show that he hurt my feelings in Buffalo the night before. And guess what? He’ll apologize. He’ll say that he was just having a bad night and took it out on me. Later we’ll play some video-game football. Maybe I’ll win this time. Probably not, but maybe.