[Plenty to listen to and watch here, including the Old 97’s Spotify playlist and a selection of videos!]
Take a trip down to the Wellmont Theatre on Saturday night and get yourself a double-barreled blast of American music as two long-lived practitioners of what has been called Americana or alt-country take the stage.
(Stay tuned for a chat with Patterson Hood of Drive-By Truckers, coming very soon.)
Old 97’s are fronted by Rhett Miller, who sings, plays guitar and writes most of the songs. The band's lineup is rounded out by bassist Murry Hammond, guitarist Ken Bethea and drummer Phillip Peeples.
The two bands have never toured together, but Miller thinks the pairing will work.
”I think the combination of us and Drive-By Truckers is really good. I don’t think our audiences overlap that much, but I think that our bands appeal to each other’s audiences well enough where it makes both audiences want to come out in force. It seems like a really nice pairing,” said Miller.
The band has been around long enough to do a tour celebrating the 15th anniversary of Too Far to Care, the first album that most Old 97’s fans heard.
About the album, Miller had this to say: “The records I loved most are usually the first records I discovered. Too Far to Care was our Elektra debut and received a much bigger release than we’d ever had before. It was also an inherently special record. We got to spend more time and money making a record. We got to really do it right.”
“I felt like I was perched on the moment right before I was able to really make a career out of music. It was kind of a heady time. I thought that all those factors went together to make it a record that is a defining record of our career,” recalled Miller.
“It was fun doing the Too Far to Care dates because that record is so stacked and it’s a really fun record to play. It’s nice to play for audiences that are really excited. It really didn’t feel like nostalgia,” continued Miller.
Too Far to Care was re-released in 2012 by the Omnivore Recordings label.
As much as the band likes to celebrate its past, Miller continues to write songs and looks toward the future. “I’ve actually been on a songwriting tear the last month or so. This week I’m writing a song a day! I only ever look forward,” he said.
In addition to Old 97’s, Miller has released a number of solo albums, the most recent one being last year’s The Dreamer.
“The fact that I do solo records to begin with is dictated by the fact that the 97’s would turn down a lot of my material. I was stuck with all these songs that I didn’t just want to throw away,” said Miller.
Regardless of whether Miller is working solo or on Old 97’s tunes, he acknowledges that the music business is still tough.
“It’s harder now because there’s less money in general for musicians, but I think it’s cool. It makes it so that the people who are doing it are the people who are meant to do it. It’s harder to reach more people but it's easier to reach the people you want to reach.”
He continued, “I’ve always told myself that I can’t stop. If I were to stop, there’s a chance that everybody would just forget. I’ve always made it a point to push and work hard. You have to cultivate a fan base and nurture it.”
Making new fans in a competitive musical climate may not be as difficult as it once was, considering the wave of new folk and country music reaching America’s ears.
“Look at the Grammys the last couple of years – bands with banjos! Mumford & Sons, The Lumineers, The Avett Brothers. It took a long time for the kind of music that’s in the ballpark of what we do to break through to a wider audience. It might have been great if it happened to us, although I can’t really complain about the career we’ve gotten to have. I think it’s cool that it’s happened. I think it speaks well of the way that music is going. It’s nice to not let the computers and automatons run everything,” said Miller.
Finally, Miller reiterated that he enjoys playing with the band and looks forward as Old 97’s begin work on a new record this summer.
“I’m not a nostalgist. I’m not hung up on the idea of paying homage to my past. I prefer to just make rock and roll and I’ll always play songs off of every record. We’re really good about being able to pull out all our old material and play it. I don’t like looking backward because there’s just so much fun to be had looking forward.”
“We’re not going gently into that good night, as it were,” he added.
Old 97's and Drive-By Truckers play at the Wellmont Theatre, 5 Seymour Street in Montclair. The show happens on Saturday, March 16 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $30 in advance and $35 on the day of the show.