Old 97's

"Rock and roll's been very very good to me," Rhett Miller sings on "Longer Than You've Been Alive," an epic six-minute stream-of-consciousness meditation on his life in music. It's a rare moment of pulling back the curtain, on both the excesses and tedium of the world of a touring musician, and it's the perfect way to open the Old 97's new album, 'Most Messed Up.'

"I wrote that song very quickly and didn’t rewrite one word of it," Miller explains. "It's sort of a thesis statement not just for this record, but for my life's work."

To say that rock and roll has been good to the Old 97's (guitarist/vocalist Miller, bassist/vocalist Murry Hammond, guitarist Ken Bethea, and drummer Philip Peeples) would be an understatement. The band emerged from Dallas twenty years ago at the forefront of a musical movement blending rootsy, country-influenced songwriting with punk rock energy and delivery. The New York Times has described their major label debut, 'Too Far To Care,' as "a cornerstone of the 'alternative country' movement…[that] leaned more toward the Clash than the Carter Family." They've released a slew of records since then, garnering praise from NPR and Billboard to SPIN and Rolling Stone, who hailed the band as "four Texans raised on the Beatles and Johnny Cash in equal measures, whose shiny melodies, and fatalistic character studies, do their forefathers proud." The band performed on television from Letterman to Austin City Limits and had their music appear in countless film and TV soundtracks (they appeared as themselves in the Vince Vaughn/Jennifer Aniston movie 'The Break Up'). Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan told The Hollywood Reporter that he put the band on a continuous loop on his iPod while writing the show's final scene.

'Most Messed Up' finds the Old 97's at their raucous, boozy best, all swagger and heart. Titles like "Wasted," "Intervention," "Wheels Off," "Let's Get Drunk And Get It On," and "Most Messed Up" hint at the kind of narrators Miller likes to inhabit, men who possess an appetite for indulgence and won't let a few bad decisions get in the way of a good story.

"A few people in my life said, 'You can't sing 'Let's get drunk and get it on,'" Miller remembers. "I said, 'What do you mean? I've been singing that sentiment for 20 years! I was just never so straightforward about it.'"

It was a trip to Music City that inspired Miller to throw away his inhibitions as songwriter and cut right to the heart of things.

"For me, this record really started in Nashville on a co-write session with John McElroy," he says. "I really admired his wheels off approach to songwriting, And I liked the idea he had for how he thought I should interact with my audience. He said, 'I think your fans want you to walk up to the mic and say fuck.' It was liberating." It reminded me that I don’t have to be too serious or too sincere or heartfelt. I just have to have fun and be honest. I felt like I kind of had free reign to go ahead and write these songs that were bawdier and more adult-themed."

The magic in Miller's songwriting lies in the depth that he lends his characters. Upon closer inspection, the hard partying and endless pursuit of a good time often reveals itself to be a band-aid covering up deeper wounds and emotional scars.

"There's a lot of darkness hidden in this record," he explains. "One of the big Old 97's tricks is when we write about something kind of dark and depressing, it works best when it's a fun sounding song. So it's not until the third or fourth listen that you realize the narrator of this song is a complete disaster."

If that description calls to mind The Replacements, it's no coincidence. Miller is a fan of the Minneapolis cult heroes, and now counts Tommy Stinson among his own friends and fans. Best known as bassist for the Mats and more recently Guns 'n' Roses, Stinson joined the Old 97's in the studio in Austin, Texas, to lay down electric guitar on ## tracks, elevating the sense of reckless musical abandon to new heights and lending the album an air of the Rolling Stones' double-guitar attack. It's a collaboration Miller never would have even imagined in 1994 when the band released their debut.

"We didn’t think we'd last until the year 1997," Miller laughs. "We thought the name would get a little weird when it became 1997, but we decided none of our bands had ever lasted that long, so let's not even worry about it. But as it all started to unfold, we realized we could maybe make a living doing this, and we were all really conscious of wanting to be a career band. It was way more important to us to maintain a really high level of quality, at the expense, perhaps, of having hit singles or fitting in with the trends of the time, and I'm glad we did that."

Twenty years on, it's safe to say rock and roll has indeed been very, very good to the Old 97's.

Trapper Schoepp & The Shades

Milwaukee’s Reigning Roots Rockers Trapper Schoepp & The Shades Release Run, Engine, Run on SideOneDummy Records on Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Trapper Schoepp has the ear of a troubadour, the eye of a journalist and the heart of a young poet. He began writing songs at a tender age with startling facility, distilling rock, folk and country traditions into tunes that are at turns spirited and melancholy. Themes ranging from pride of place, love and adventure shine with surprisingly sophisticated metaphors for a songwriter so young. Run, Engine, Run won’t be out of place filed next to other artists distinguished for their early talent like Justin Townes Earle, Ha Ha Tonka and Lucero. Trapper, his brother Tanner, and the rest of their band the Shades offer this album as a love letter to their beloved home state of Wisconsin, and SideOneDummy will release it internationally on September 25, 2012.

Like his namesake M*A*S*H surgeon Trapper John, the 22-year-old Wisconsin songwriter found himself prepping for surgery a month before recording his band’s third and latest album, Run, Engine, Run, the result of a gnarly BMX bike crash 6 years earlier. Fortunately, in the interest of him having a safer hobby, his mother gave him a guitar after the accident. Trapper was then able to turn his experiences on the operating table at the Mayo Clinic (for spinal decompression surgery) into songs like the Stones-flavored rocker, “Pins and Needles.”

The title track refers to a red Mercedes Benz the Schoepps inherited from their grandfather. “We knew our grandfather wouldn’t see another Christmas on his South Dakota farm. The chores were over for the day, but our grandpa said he could use a quick hand in the shed,” Trapper explained. That’s when he unveiled this ruby red 1964 Mercedes Benz, idling in a kind of out of place majesty alongside archaic farm equipment and rusted tools. The brothers jokingly asked their grandpa if they could drive it home to Wisconsin. They were soon scrambling around the nearest town looking for roadworthy tires. Schoepp sings:

“He won her at an auction just a couple months before
It seemed he gave away everything he saved up to afford
He wore a cowboy hat, a pearl snap shirt
Got up real early for his daily work
He was tied to a tradition from a long time ago”

“’Run Engine Run’ has a lot of meanings for me. My grandfather’s way of life was tied to timeless farming traditions passed down from generation to generation, the same way a songwriter is tied to and nourished by traditional songs. Musicians need to keep the engine running, to keep moving forward. The song is not only an ode to the car our grandpa gave us, but a nod to the perseverance of farmers in the Badlands and to preserving traditions.” Tanner agrees: “It’s about inheriting something of value from the past in a way that is not nostalgic, but vital and never-ending. The album title is a request for resiliency, a way of honoring the past, without getting stuck in it.”

Trapper Schoepp & The Shades is comprised of Trapper on lead vocals and guitar, brother Tanner on bass and vocals, drummer Jon Phillip (Tommy Stinson, Limbeck), and lead guitarist Graham Hunt. Daniel McMahon (Cory Chisel and the Wandering Sons, Cameron McGill) produced Run, Engine, Run and contributed keyboard during the sessions. Grammy-award winning engineer Geoff Sanoff (Fountains Of Wayne, Green Day, Nada Surf) mixed the album. “As a rock n’ roll band, we play music that has absorbed a whole range of stylistic overtones,” Trapper says of the musicality he’s after with the help of his band, The Shades. “In a sound bite world, it’s crucial to regard certain music not as a static art, but one that transcends tidy categorization. A radio station once said our music is ‘as much Pavement as Parsons.’ I thought that was telling, because this album has a little bit of everything – rock, country, power-pop, even some punk.”

Trapper and Tanner grew up harmonizing with each other in the small rural town of Ellsworth, WI, which is known as the Cheese Curd Capital of the World. Although there’s little trace of a music scene in Ellsworth, the brothers became immersed in the folk, blues, and rock soundscape of American music thanks to the classic rock CDs they discovered in their father’s Suburban. The beginnings of the band came together while the Schoepps were still in high school, playing covers and Trapper’s earliest original songs. When Trapper and Tanner moved to Milwaukee for college, the band adopted the moniker the Shades and began a steady schedule of club and festival dates, somewhat hampered by the fact that they still weren’t of legal drinking age. The group cemented their spot as a band-to-watch with the release of 2007’s A Change in the Weather, a collection the band financed, produced and released on their own. Critics commended Trapper’s heartfelt songwriting and the band’s hard-hitting arrangements.

Shortly thereafter, Trapper discovered Gram Parsons and added a bit of cosmic cowboy music to the mix. “When I was a freshman, we had our first raucous party in our apartment, and were concerned that our older neighbor upstairs was going to be upset. The next morning there was a 30 pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer and a stack of Gram Parsons CDs by our back door. That’s when we knew we’d found the right house to live in.”

The band recorded 2009’s Lived and Moved and solidified a new lineup by adding Jon Phillip and Graham Hunt. Original guitarist David Boigenzahn and violinist Gina Romantini sit in as often as their schedules permit, allowing the group to experiment with their sound and surprise fans with unexpected shifts of tone and live dynamics.

While it’s difficult to capture the band’s live charisma on record, Run, Engine, Run comes close with 12 well-crafted tunes that describe the everyday triumphs and tragedies of Midwestern life. As soon as the album hits the streets, The Shades will take to the road, bringing their heartland rock to the masses. “There’s a blues song by the Rolling Stones called ‘No Expectations’ that hits on a person moving forward and not looking back,” Trapper says. “I hear the song as the story of a young, lonely rambler or musician who’s lost wealth and love, but accepts the fact that there’s a whole world ahead of him. I’m young, so I look at this as an opportunity to press on and share songs. Right now I have no expectations other than to keep on keepin’ on.”

Tickets Available at the Door

$15 at the door. Cash Only.

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Brooklyn Bowl


Old 97's with Performing "Hitchhike to Rhome" and more, Trapper Schoepp & The Shades

Thursday, June 27 · Doors 6:00 PM / Show 8:00 PM at Brooklyn Bowl

Tickets Available at the Door