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Old Dogs, New Tricks and Big Attitude – The Bottle Rockets Hit Columbus

The Bottle Rockets (L-R): John Horton, Keith Voegle, Brian Henneman, Mark Ortmann. Photo credit: Cary Horton

Many a group of young men strut into their hometown dive bars with aspirations of “making it” in the music business. Whether they parade as their idea of a “rockstar” or think they can be the next great Soundcloud rapper, most never make it halfway there.

Not only did St. Louis natives The Bottle Rockets make it, they’ve been doing it for nearly 30 years. Recently, they released their 13th album, “Bit Logic” (on Bloodshot Records), while still hitting the road to spread the gospel of their country/rock hybrid. They play Columbus tonight at Rumba Café.

Typically, as an artist ages (especially within the pantheon of rock bands) their eyes and ears close off, losing that ability to look forward. In the case of The Bottle Rockets (and evidenced by the new album “Bit Logic”), they keep themselves ever-aware of the present, along with their untold future.

“Bit Logic” album cover

I asked singer Brian Hennemen what role the past, or even nostalgia played in an album about dealing with the present…

Hennemen: I think the only “nostalgia” on this album would be some of the sounds we used. I don’t even think “Bit Logic” is nostalgic. It’s about looking forward. Lo-Fi seems nostalgic, but it ends up in a contemporary place. There’s nothing wistful about it. It just talks about things from the past more than it ever longs for them.

MIMC: Okay, so the record is more about living in the present and future. What aspects of today and tomorrow were points of inspiration?
Hennemen: “Bit Logic” is about trying to be open-minded in a technological world that you don’t fully approve of but know you’re gonna have to get used to. It’s about old dogs learning new tricks. Lo-Fi is a celebration of low-tech, and the ways it can still exist in a high-tech world. Doomsday Letter is about the negative side of social media and rising above it. Human Perfection talks about finding beauty in a world seemingly gone mad.

MIMC: How has reception been so far? Have there been new fans turned on by it? How have long time crowds reacted, and does that even matter to you?
Hennemen: It does matter, even though it didn’t when we were making it. After we finished, we hoped people would like it. We really didn’t know if they would. But, they do. That was actually a relief. To make something with complete disregard to whatever we think our fans expect from us, and have it accepted. The shows have been great. Maybe the best ever. People walk away very happy. That makes us very happy.

The Bottle Rockets (L-R): Brian Henneman, John Horton, Keith Voegle, Mark Ortmann. Photo credit: Cary Horton

MIMC: So, since this seems to be a different record for you guys, who helped you find that on the production side?
Hennemen: Eric Ambel (The Del-Lords, Steve Earle) produced it. Eric is a guy we’ve trusted with musical decisions for many years. This one was no exception. As usual, he had ideas we never would’ve thought of. And, as usual, we liked his ideas. He’s just a great producer, that’s all there is to it.

MIMC: Along with Eric Ambel, what gear played a role in shaping the sound of the record?
Hennemen: I only used two guitars on the whole album, a 1974 Gibson L6-S and a 1966 Gibson Hummingbird. The bigger thing than actual gear, was attitude. We went for clean country guitar sounds. Cleaner drum parts, less bullshit all the way around. “Clean and Tight” was our directive. Which actually made gear less important. More about the Indians than the arrows this time…

So, if you want to hear these tunes of modernity with some old cowboy sensibilities mixed in, get yourself to the Rumba Café on Friday night at 8 p.m.

The Bottle Rockets perform “Bit Logic” WXPN Free At Noon World Cafe 10/19/18


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