Saturday, 9:15 - 10:30 pm
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. 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 Brandi Carlile, 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.
The Old 97′s draw inspiration from a broad range of genres, including the twangy stomp of cowpunk and the melodies of power pop. Formed in 1993 by frontman Rhett Miller and bassist Murry Hammond, the group spent the bulk of the decade posed on the brink of mainstream success, issuing albums that often drew warm reviews but never yielded a substantial hit. Old 97′s tightened their sound as the decade drew to a close, retaining their bar-band vigor while introducing a stronger pop/rock sound on albums like Too Far to Care and Satellite Rides. Miller also mounted a solo career in the early 2000s, but the band remained together nonetheless, continuing to release material with their original lineup intact into the following decade.
Rhett Miller and Murry Hammond first partnered up in 1989, when Miller enlisted the latter’s help in producing his debut solo album, Mythologies. Although six years younger than Hammond, Miller proved to be a dedicated musician as he canvassed the Dallas club circuit, playing an blend of folk and British-styled pop to local audiences. He also displayed a knack for storytelling, having previously earned a creative writing scholarship to Sarah Lawrence College. One year after Mythologies‘ release, Miller and Hammond teamed up once again, this time as part of the short-lived Sleepy Heroes.
Although the Sleepy Heroes disbanded after issuing one album, the band’s mix of pop and Texas-styled twang helped lay the foundation for Old 97′s. Continuing to build upon that sound, Miller and Hammond linked up with lead guitarist Ken Bethea and recorded a demo tape at the Cedar Creek studio in Austin. Drummer Philip Peeples climbed on board shortly thereafter, and Hammond’s childhood obsession with trains inspired the band’s new name, which paid homage to the country ballad “Wreck of the Old 97.” With their lineup intact, Old 97′s released the debut album Hitchhike to Rhome in 1994. It garnered positive reviews and began to build the group’s alt-country fan base, which they consolidated on the album’s follow-up, Wreck Your Life. Issued in 1995 by the newly formed Bloodshot Records — a label that would also launch the alt-country careers of Neko Case and Ryan Adams — Wreck Your Life presented Old 97′s as a sharp, eclectic country-rock outfit with a pinup-worthy frontman. Such positive attention led to a major-label deal with Elektra Records, who hoped to translate the band’s underground buzz into mainstream success.
Old 97′s made their Elektra debut in 1997 with Too Far to Care, a muscular album that balanced the band’s Texas traditionalism and pop leanings. Many publications placed the band among the leaders of the alt-country movement, and Old 97′s toured extensively in support, joining the Lollapalooza tour that summer and playing alongside Whiskeytown for a series of shows sponsored by No Depression magazine. Arriving two years later, 1999′s Fight Songs offered another polished, pop-friendly set of songs, allowing the band to sell out 1,500-seat venues during its return to the road.
By this time, Miller had moved to Los Angeles and shed the thick, ’50s-style glasses that had become a major part of his image. He and Hammond also began performing in an informal side project dubbed the Ranchero Brothers, although a proposed album never materialized. Instead, the musicians returned their focus to Old 97′s, releasing another pop-influenced record with 2001′s Satellite Rides. Miller took a temporary leave after its release to work on a solo power pop record, The Instigator, which was released in late 2002. A period of relative inactivity followed, as the band members found themselves in different cities, with several of them starting families.
The hiatus ended in 2004 with the release of Drag It Up, whose subsequent tour featured prominently on the double-disc live album Alive & Wired. Afterward, Miller returned to his solo career with 2006′s The Believer, which found the frontman experimenting with strings and orchestral arrangements. Old 97′s returned to the studio once again in 2008, though, this time holing up in their native Dallas to help channel the energy of their earlier records. The move worked, and the resulting album, Blame It on Gravity, delivered some of the band’s strongest songs in years. While touring the country in support, Murry Hammond launched his own solo career, packaging a wealth of old-timey gospel ballads and locomotive imagery onto the album I Don’t Know Where I’m Going But I’m on My Way. Miller also found time to release a solo album, 2009′s self-titled Rhett Miller, which appeared one year before the ninth Old 97′s record, The Grand Theatre Volume One. Originally intended as a double-album, The Grand Theatre was followed in mid-2011 by a companion record, The Grand Theater Vol. 2. Ever prolific, Miller then released The Interpreter in 2011 and The Dreamer in 2012.
Following the 2013 release of the EP Waylon Jennings, featuring songs the band recorded over a decade earlier with the man himself, the Old 97’s made their ATO debut Most Messed Up in 2014. It’s a revealing, 12-track meditation on 20 years in music that found them at their raucous, boozy best. It’s “a rock opera, a way-off Broadway musical about a musician’s life, loves and lubrication,” said music critic Bill Flanagan. Recorded in Austin and produced by Salim Nourallah, Most Messed Up also featured guest appearances by Tommy Stinson (The Replacements, Guns N’ Roses) and Jon Rauhouse (Neko Case) on lap-steel.