Can you feel it?
The unmistakable charge in the air that can mean only one thing: another Old 97’s work of rock is being conceived a stone’s throw from the border.
That’s right fellow Wreckers, our favorite foursome is hard at work siring lucky number eleven in the creative confines of Sonic Ranch Recording Studios in Tornillo, Texas. The very same studios in which 20 years prior, four talented young men, fresh off a label bidding war, full of swagger and promise, settled in to beget their seminal musical effort, Too Far To Care.
We all know 2014’s phenomenal Most Messed Up is a tough act to follow, but jangling around amongst the ghost of TFTC past seems a damn good omen. Even Rhett felt the whispered hush of his twenty-something self upon his return to the scene of their tipping point.
The @old97s are in Tornillo, TX for day one of recording our new album. Not only are we tracking in the same room where we cut Too Far To Care twenty years ago, we are all sleeping in the same bedrooms we did back in 1996. I got goosebumps when I opened the drawer of my bedside table to discover these two notes I’d left here two decades ago. The phone number on the right is in the handwriting of my younger self. Good omen? I think so.
Before heading to Tornillo, the band spent a number of preproduction days on a ranch in Tyler working through their nascent collection of songs.
So who’s driving the 97’s train?
Four-time Grammy winner, Vance Powell has his hand on the throttle this eleventh time around the track. He’s pulling off the trifecta: producing, engineering and mixing. And who is Vance Powell?
Hailing from Missouri, Vance moved to Nashville in the 90s to work as a monitor engineer for the legendary Tammy Wynette. In 2002, he helped build Blackbird Studios, and later became co-owner of Sputnik Sound. Vance has worked extensively with Jack White, as well as Big and Rich, Willie Nelson, Jars of Clay, Buddy Guy, Danger Mouse, The Whigs, Black Prairie, Elle King and Chris Stapleton who recently won three CMAs, including Album of the Year for his most recent album, Traveller.
Murry speaks highly of their collaboration. “Our producer Vance is great. I really like him. He comes from more humble beginnings as a crew person on tours, into the engineering world, to his grammy that he just got for the Chris Stapleton record. He’s one of us, and we always do better around someone who feels more like a distant family member.”
Sounds like a nice fit.
Murry was kind enough to offer up some thoughts about heading back in this studio after so many years. Here’s what he had to say.
“This is day five for us, and I’ve settled into my routine. Wake up, think some version of the phrase “I get to do it again!”, get some very strong coffee from the kitchen, go pet one or more of the four kitties that live around the hacienda we’re living in, and head down the the studio where there is good internet, the Christmas lights inside are powered up, and where, except for a couple of meals, I’ll be parked til 10pm tonight.”
“I know it’s been 20 years since we’ve been at this studio, and since Too Far, but honestly, it just doesn’t seem like it. The only sign that it’s been “a long time ago” is my inability to recall the layout and details about the buildings that make up Sonic Ranch studio. I guess I remember what I want to remember — the pecan trees (there were 1500 acres of them then, and 2200 acres now), the big sky and stars (desert style, zero light pollution) and the homieness of my room and the place where we get to eat Mexican food 24-7. Those haven’t changed one bit. The place is much busier these days — Sublime are here, as is David from Bauhaus, so for me it’s been great fun talking 80’s California hardcore with one guy and 1977 British punk with another, all over fantastic homemade breakfast burritos.”
“The recordings are making me happy. I won’t say too much about the songs, except that there are some real ear-worms, it’s thick and big and raw enough for my garage/punk leanings. Rhett sounds great, and I hope to also sound great when I’m on the hot-seat tomorrow. Everyone is firing on all cylinders. For my part, I have a punky Smokers/Book of Poems type song called “Nobody”, and a 60s-garage/Animals-ish one called Off My Mynd. The “Y” is in there to freak you out and expand your mynd.”
“I’m not going to go on about this being our 11th studio album — it is, but — I don’t care. Every one of our records has happily been the most current and most important one, and we usually have only a general sense of where a new record will live in what is becoming a healthy fat catalog.”
“I will say we wanted somewhat to do something “different” from Most Messed Up, but… it’s never really *that* different, is it? Same life, same (great) people, same process of cracking open the human heart and conveying it where other human hearts will understand. Nostalgia is something we don’t dabble too much in, except for fun over drinks or food with good friends, where nostalgia can be a great sport. But for now, it’s 10:45am and I’m about to go for 11 hours, where I couldn’t be happier.”
(photos courtesy of Jason Garner, Ken Bethea and Philip Peeples)