With over twenty years and ten albums to their name, Texas alt-country stalwarts Old 97’s are excited to be releasing their eleventh LP, Graveyard Whistling via ATO Records. Courtesy of Rolling Stone Country, listen + share the first track “Good with God” which features Grammy-nominated singer Brandi Carlile as the voice of God.
“It’s not bad company—her, George Burns, and Morgan Freeman,” jokes lead singer and songwriter, Rhett Miller.
The album was recorded in the same Tornillo, Texas studio as their major label debut back in 1996, Too Far To Care. The band also still contains its original four members – Miller, guitarist Ken Bethea, bassist Murry Hammond, and drummer Philip Peeples.
“The time-travel element can’t be overstated,” says the singer. “It was a beautiful feeling of completing a circle—we’re the same people, but we had grown so much as band mates and friends. It really made me believe in the power of experience and that you do get better with time.”
While there are new collaborators on Graveyard Whistling, including Nicole Atkins and Butch Walker, there aren’t more than a handful of bands in history who can claim to have an intact, unchanged line-up as they approach twenty-five years together. There is, of course, no real blueprint or rulebook for sustaining the kind of chemistry that Miller, Bethea, Hammond, and Peeples enjoy.
“I think our longevity can be attributed primarily to our friendship and ability to overcome those moments when egos want to overtake and obliterate everything in their path,” says Miller. “We experienced the hype of the old business model, with all of its excess and idiocy, and also the deconstruction of that model and the advent of the new world, and been able to maintain a fundamental love for each other.
On vinyl, Graveyard Whistling will be released with four different cover color options – red, blue, green and silver – with four matching vinyl colors in translucent red, translucent blue, translucent green, and clear. You can pre-order the album physically or digitally now, and check out Old 97’s 2017 tour dates.
Can you believe we’re at the precipice of present procurement, engrossed in the maelstrom of capitalism, and just plain old swamped in holiday prep? How could the year have careened by so quickly?
While we wait patiently for the new album, Graveyard Whistling to drop some time in February, we thought it might be fun to look back at some of the high points from this year.
January was all about the Mexican sun, sand and tacos of Todos Santos. The guys spent a weekend hanging out and performing with fellow rock legends Jeff Tweedy, Gary Louris and the ringmaster of this jam fest, Peter Buck, to name a few. It’s a toss up who had more fun, the fans witnessing these stellar collaborations or the band friends.
gathering at Todos Santos with “what’s left of Peter Buck”
February’s focus was on recording the follow up to Most Messed Up in Tornillo, Tx, the birthplace of Too Far to Care. You can read all about the sessions and new producer Vance Powell here.
April brought to fruition the first-ever Old 97’s County Fair to downtown Dallas. Thousands came out for the artists’ booths, carnival games, and big-ass Ferris wheel. The full day of music included Madison King, Nikki Lane, Deer Tick, Justin Townes Earl, Lucero, Drive By Truckers capped off by a rousing set by our favorite foursome. There was collaboration amongst band members, too. Rhett sang with Madison and Deer Tick; Robert Ellis sat in with Nikki and Old 97’s; Patterson Hood and Nikki lent their talents to the 97’s set. It was a fantastic eleven hours of music. Here’s an article to prove it.
The event was a resounding success!! The band were beaming all day long. We have it on good authority from Philip the second-annual Old 97’s County Fair will happen in April. The date and line-up are being finalized as I pen this tome. Keep an eye out for an announcement via the 97’s social media platforms. Believe me, you’re going to want to book passage to Dallas this coming spring.
With a release date set for 2017, the band played a smattering of mini tours throughout the country, introducing a new song or two at each show. Rhett toured extensively in 2016, treating fans to acoustic versions of Graveyard Whistling tracks. Depending on when you saw them/him you got a preview of She Hates Everybody (formerly Misanthrope–a terrific title I’m sorry to see dropped); the super fun Jesus Loves You; Bad Luck Charm; Irish Whiskey and Pretty Girls. Over the last couple of weeks, Rhett test drove All Who Wander and the bouncy Those Were The Days.
February is going to be so awesome!!
In the words of our incomparable tour manager, Mike Dalke, #soblessed 🙂
Rhett has a couple more solo one-offs before they all convene in DC for their second New Year’s Eve Eve and New Year’s Eve extravaganza at the Hamilton. I was lucky to ring in 2015 with these magnificent Texans, and can tell you for certain YOU WANT TO BE THERE TO KISS THIS MISERABLE YEAR GOODBYE.
In the meantime, dates are starting to trickle in for next year. Keep an eye out for specifics on Twitter and Facebook. And how about this kick-ass publicity photo.
And for those of you lucky enough to have booked passage on the Outlaw Cruise in February, enjoy your journey and please, drink responsibly. We’d like to have all of our Wrecker family members return safe and sound.
Jefe here, and just wanted to let everyone know that my charity project is close to wrapping up. Desperate Times – Songs of the Old 97’s is officially out in the wild. If you’re not familiar with the project, it’s an album of Old 97’s covers by a bunch of great artists with all proceeds going to charity: water. It’s been a very fun project, and I greatly appreciate the Old 97’s giving me the green light to make it happen. If you supported the original Pledgemusic campaign, thanks! (And I’ll get the limited edition vinyl out ASAP!) But if you’re just hearing about it, check it out, I think you’ll enjoy it. And any proceeds still go to charity: water so it’s for a good cause.
Here’s a list of all the tracks with some thoughts on each of them:
1. Let’s Get Drunk and Get It On – Hayes Carll
A complete reinvention of the song. Hayes turns it into a more plaintive request for short-term companionship, with a quiet sense of desperation. Hayes seemingly wants to claim the title of “most messed up” himself.
2. Salome – The O’s
John and Taylor are an acoustic duo with a real banjo-heavy country sound. Salome is a personal favorite of mine, in part because it’s a microcosm of the Old 97’s sound — a country beat with a desperately heartbroken protagonist and a wailing lead guitar that’s barely acknowledging either. The O’s take on it is refreshingly different.
3. Rollerskate Skinny – Kelly Willis
Kelly is one of Austin’s most beloved local artists. Her voice is such a powerful instrument, not flashy, inherently country—she just takes a song and owns it. Her version of Rollerskate Skinny makes it sound like it was written for her. It’s one of my favorite tracks on the album.
4. Question – Ben Kweller
I’ve enjoyed Ben’s music for a long time, and when he chose Question i could hear him singing it right away. He brings an earnest vulnerability to songs like this, and his piano-heavy version is very cool — there’s something in the vocals that adds a sadness to the whole affair.
5. Won’t Be Home No More – Monte Warden
Monte is royalty in the realm of alt-country. His band The Wagoneers had a vintage country sound and a reputation for blistering live shows. His treatment of fan favorite WoBeHoNoMo has a strong Buddy Holly vibe.
6. Melt Show – Slobberbone
I am HUGE Slobberbone fan. Fun bit of trivia: so is Stephen King, who’s mentioned them in at least two novels. I think Brent is an amazing songwriter and some of my favorite live shows ever have been Slobberbone/Old 97’s combos. Their version of Melt Show rocks just as hard as you’d expect.
7. Valentine – The Deathray Davies
John Dufhilo, frontman of long-time Dallas faves the Deathray Davies, typically has many projects going at once — he also leads Cantina, a more acoustic-flavored group (featuring Philip Peeples on drums); he’s the drummer for Apples in Stereo; and he just launched a new album with the Cliffs. The Deathray Davies have a fuzzy, kinetic pop sound that turns the acoustic simplicity of Valentine into something completely different.
8. The New Kid – Sarah Jaffe
I saw Sarah open for the Old 97’s a few years ago and was really impressed with her voice and presence. Her version of The New Kid is a daring, haunting track that verges on sinister.
9. Victoria – Shinyribs
After years with the Gourds, Kevin Russell could pretty much do no wrong in the Texas music scene. The fact that he followed up that era with a band as great as Shinyribs is just a gift to us all. They do some very inspired covers and here they transform Victoria into a festive jam, complete with a horn section. It’s a blast—especially live.
10. Four Leaf Clover – Jessie Zazu and Linwood Kirk of Those Darlins
Ken told me once that Those Darlins reminded him of the Old 97’s when they started out — just the right amount of swagger. Sadly we catch them here just as they disband. But Jessie and Linwood pulled out all the stops with this track, creating a sort of 70’s lounge vibe that would be right at home in a Quentin Tarantino movie. Another of my favorites on the album.
11. Color of a Lonely Heart is Blue – Will Johnson
Will Johnson can do no wrong in my book. I grieved for the end of Centro-Matic but we’re still blessed to have Will the solo artist, and this track shows you why. Will talked about “turning a song on its ear” and I think there’s no better example of someone taking someone else’s song and making it their own.
12. Streets of Where I’m From – The Polyphonic Spree
The incongruence here is striking. The Polyphonic Spree have such a lush, full sound — harmonies with a couple of dozen singers will do that. They can turn any song into an anthem, and their sound has a natural, glowing positive feel — so of course they chose a song drenched in despair and pain and remorse.
13. Wish the Worst – The Travoltas
Frontman Salim Nourallah knows the Old 97’s well — he’s produced their last four albums, ones universally praised for capturing their true sound more so than some studio efforts. Salim is quite the showman himself, and the Travoltas are a blast live. It’s a tongue-in-cheek pop/rock/lounge mix that’s pretty unique. Wish the Worst is a long-time fan favorite that Rhett sings from a bitter, drunken place, and this cover is coming from the same place — just from a more extroverted guy, I’d say.
14. Niteclub – Occasional Milkshake
Frontman Mark Bryan — founding member, songwriter and lead guitarist for Hootie & the Blowfish —is a huge fan of the Old 97’s. He was the first person to claim a song, and went with Niteclub, and tears into it for a very faithful cover.
15. Can’t Get A Line – Grey Griffin
I’m pretty sure Murry wrote this song for Grey, so it’s a lot of fun to hear her cover it — and to hear their son Tex on harmonies. I’m a huge fan of this song,
16. Dressing Room Walls – Western Star
I met Max from Western Star in the studio when the Old 97’s were recording Most Messed Up. Ken produced their new album, and he mentioned to me that they did a real “barnburner” version of Dressing Room Walls. It ended up not making their album, so I was quick to grab it. It does not disappoint.
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.
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)
I know, HOW CAN THIS BE, RIGHT??!? No New Year’s Eve show?!? No Christmas run in Dallas?!? Ken has hinted there might be a small show near Tyler, but other than that, NADA until Todos Santos, Mexico in January
Commence post-tour depression.
It’s been a fantastic run through the midwest and east coast. I can personally attest to the epic face-melting, Rock God performances in DC, Philly and Cleveland.
King of all of his World. Pre-Time Bomb jump exhuberance courtesy of Vivian Wang
Long-time fan and concert photographer extraordinaire, Vivian Wang shares her thoughts about the DC show here.
Rhett enjoying himself on the 9:30 stage. Courtesy of Vivian Want
Murry at 9:30 Club courtesy of Vivian Wang
another gravity-defying rock jump. courtesy of Vivian Wang
Not being hip-swivel deep in support of any particular album, the setlists have been a satisfying cross-catalogue assortment of old (Jagged, Valentine, Barrier) and new (Give it Time, Nashville, Guadalajara) favorites with a handful of rarities like Old Familiar Steam, Going Going Gone, and a very spirited Bel Air (YESSS!!) as a nod to their former label, Bloodshot Records’ 20th anniversary.
The unmitigated joy of being a rock star. courtesy of Kristie Gripp
Murry doing his thing. courtesy of Kristie Gripp
Whistling Boy courtesy of Kristie Gripp
The Tele Master courtesy of Kristie Gripp
He’s dressed all in… green. courtesy of Kristie Gripp
In addition to the above, the band busted out Rhett’s ode to author Raymond Carver, the rumba rocker What We Talk About on the later part of the tour. What a special treat! The song was first featured at the soundcheck in Cleveland before being included on the show’s setlist. Fantastic!!
Speaking of sound checks, Ken jumped on Periscope, Twitter’s live streaming app. Through Periscope, Ken gave followers a glimpse backstage during soundcheck. He took requests from fans, some of which made their way on to the night’s setlist like Am I Too Late. Sometimes he gave tours of the venue, the city and pulled the curtain back on bus life with a bunch of dudes. Make sure you download Periscope so you don’t miss any of the fun when touring starts again. The videos on Periscope are only available for 24 hours, so set up your alerts!
Soundcheck via Periscope
The requests poured in. Ivy won this draw.
Ken does make it look easy.
And lastly, one of the high points for all involved, especially the 97′s, was when legendary Cheap Trick dummer, Bun E. Carlos joined the guys on stage at the Majestic Theater in Madison, Wisconsin to put his personal stamp on a rowdy cover of Southern Girls. Philip may have to retire his kit now.
Bun E. Carlos on Philip’s kit!!
Philip with Bun E. Carlos
impromptu jump during Southern Girls with Bun E. Carlos on the kit! courtesy of Kristie Gripp
OTHER PRESS OF NOTE:
Before embarking on the fall tour, Rhett spoke to Jonathan Dick at Brooklyn Vegan about longevity, technology and songwriting here.
Here’s a fun, informative interview with Jessie Opoien of the Capital Times in Madison with the frontman of our favorite “big, dumb rock band”.
Review, setlist and photos from Thalia Hall in Chicago here.
Rhett performed a five-song set at for the Isthmus Sessions in Madison, Wisconsin prior to the show.
And finally, our friends at Paste Magazine took on the daunting task of choosing 12 best Old 97′s songs. With such a vast oeuvre of incredible songs, who can possibly whittle it down to a mere dozen. It’s a fine list, but no Jagged? No St. Ignatius? No BEL AIR?!? Really? Check it out and let us know which other ones are on your How-Could-He-Leave-Out-This-Song list.
That’s it for now. Keep checking the tour dates for any additional gigs before January. In the meantime, you can catch Rhett play a number of solo shows between now and the end of the year, including Live at Daryl’s House in Pawling, NY; Christmas Extravaganza Trifecta at City Winery, NY, Chicago and Nashville; and the annual CF benefit concert held this year at a new venue, Gas Monkey Bar and Grill.
Hey, and just for grins here’s a Magnet Magazine Classic of Old 97’s circa: Too Far To Care.
But wait, there’s more! Anyone who has had the pleasure to speak with Ken, knows he is a superb storyteller. Recently he was one of the featured storytellers at Oral Fixation in which he tells of his journey from office grunt to rockstar.