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An Interview with the Lead Singer of the Bottle Rockets about the Band’s New Live Album

The Bottle Rockets are one of my favorite alt-country bands. I praised the band heavily and with good reason when I interviewed the lead singer before for the studio album, Zoysia. You can hear some of their songs if you check YouTube.

I have always heard the band, formed in 1992, were great live, and this album proves that to be the case.  The album, Not So Loud: An Acoustic Evening With the Bottle Rockets, keeps the focus on the high lyrical quality, which is where it belongs. The lead singer, Brian Henneman, is a great songwriter. The band, with its current lineup, is tight and good.

The band has a list of its upcoming shows here. Let’s get to the interview.

Scott: Why did you decide to do this live album as acoustic instead of electric?
Brian: It was all about the venue, a new room in town at that time.  They REALLY wanted us to play there. Took one look at the room (which was really magnificent), and all that room said to us was “acoustic.” The electric show would not have been as cool in there, we would have had to turn the amps down, and that’s no fun. Once we decided to do a whole show acoustically, we thought it’d be wise to record it, ’cause we’d never done it before, and weren’t sure if we’d ever do it again. The venue has since gone out of business, so the unforeseen bonus is, the album is a nice way to save it for posterity.

How did you decide which songs to include, since you had so many albums worth of good songs to choose from?
Over the course of the two nights, we played almost every song we knew, but most were lost to technical difficulties. Problems with the actual recording made only a certain number of them mixable. Too bad, ’cause otherwise it could have been a triple disc. What is on the album is pretty much everything that was usable. Luckily, it made into a decent album; a pretty good setlist rose from the digital ashes!

Similarly, was it hard deciding which of your more well known songs not to include? I’m thinking about your biggest radio hit, “Radar Gun,” and one of my favorites, “Welfare Music.” Are those songs you don’t play live anymore or intentionally chose not to include? If so, why?

See Question #2.

Can you talk about the song I found most touching, “Mom & Dad,” both how the song was developed as well as the choice to end the live album on that note?

[It was the] first song I wrote, when I came back to songwriting, after the death of my parents. I don’t remember writing it, it just kinda showed up on my guitar. It’s pretty self-explanatory. Had to go last, ’cause where else would it go? Death is the end of the line, in life, and, on this album. Just keepin’ it real…

I found this comment about your band at Wikipedia: “The Bottle Rockets are featured in the PBS documentary The Mississippi River Of Song: The Grassroots of American Music. In the series. . .Brian Henneman says that he and the band are ‘reporters from the heartland’ writing stories about their friends.”  Can you say more about this idea of you being reporters? How does that affect how you write and work?
We don’t write fiction–every song we do is a documentation of an actual event. That’s just how we do it. Always have. The way we write and work, makes us into, by definition, “reporters”, not the other way around.

About Scott Butki

Scott Butki was a newspaper reporter for more than 10 years before making a career change into education... then into special education. He has been doing special education work for about five years He lives in Austin. He reads at least 50 books a year and has about 15 author interviews each year and, yes, unlike tv hosts he actually reads each one. He is an in-house media critic, a recovering Tetris addict and a proud uncle. He has written articles on practically all topics from zoos to apples and almost everything in between.