Billy Rose: It’s nice to meet you guys. I’d like to start out with a couple questions about the Songs of Sahm CD.
First, who is the big Doug Sahm fan and how did you come to do a whole album of his songs?
Bottle Rockets: We all are
Brian Henneman: I think we all are. But I am a huge Doug-head. We came about doing it ’cause he had passed away in ’99…and from misguided…whatever…I thought that he was a superstar. I mean I didn’t know any better. I didn’t know he was an obscure kind of guy. And so I was shocked that nobody did a tribute to him after he passed away. I kept waiting and waiting and waiting and wow it’s not gonna happen. We have to do something to acknowledge the death of this great superstar. So we took it upon ourselves to go ahead and do it. So we did it and were kinda surprised that more people didn’t make a big stink out of it. Ya know obscure when he was alive, obscure in death.
Mark Ortmann: Unfortunately!
Billy Rose: I really like that disc. It’s great stuff.
Mark Ortmann: It was fun to do. It was a great creative tribute.
Billy Rose: You also worked with Lou Whitney on that.
Brian Henneman: Oh yeah!
Billy Rose: What was it like working with Lou Whitney in Springfield Missouri.
Bottle Rockets: (laughs) Great!
Billy Rose: Lou is one of my all time favorites.
Mark Ortmann: He was like a master of ceremonies (laughter).
Brian Henneman: He was like…the crusty old dude that has his control room. He knows how it sounds…his way and his room. So don’t question it ’cause he’s got it covered.
Mark Ortmann: Which he does…
Brian Henneman: Yeah! He did. It was like well…that sounds kinda funny to me…he says it’s just that speaker, don’t worry about it (laughter). But he was really good because he is from an earlier era…so he was the guy that knew the tricks. Like if you want that guitar to sound this way, you don’t turn it up you turn it down because nobody turned up back in those days…they turned ’em down because the engineers were yellin’ at ’em to turn ’em down (laughter). So when they mixed ’em they turned ’em up…ya don’t turm ’em up when you’re recording! We came in blasting our usual way and sure enough everything sounded completely wrong. Ya know, and it sounded like some kind of heavy metal band trying to do that stuff. But he knows the tricks.
At this point the bands food arrived. After figuring out who had ordered what, Mark asked if he was able to get change for a twenty. The waitress with her hands full and turned around pushed her rear end in his direction, and the change was in her back pocket, and instructed Mark to take it out. He said you want me to do that (laughter)! Brian said hey this is the most action that ever took place in a Bottle Rockets dressing room (laughter).
Brian Henneman: Another good thing about Lou, his motto was do as little as you can for as long as possible then go eat (laughter).
Billy Rose: I’ve never met Lou, but I’ve always admired his work, with The Morells and The Skeletons.
Brian Henneman: Oh yeah! We had to call on him on that album. Like old guy acoustic guitar. He was the only one who knew how to do it. From that era…chang, chang, chang. I think we labeled it on the album old guy acoustic (laughter) or something like that.
Billy Rose: Some of the people who claim to be fans of The Bottle Rockets, are themselves very talented people…like Lucinda Williams, Steve Earle and Stephen King among others. How does it feel to hear that praise coming from such talented people?
Brian Henneman: It would feel better, if we hadn’t paid them to say that (laughter). No…it’s great…I mean what can ya say…
John Horton: It’s one of the things that keeps us going…
Brian Henneman: Yeah it’s not the mansions back home (laughter)…it’s great.
Like wow, I don’t know what to say…thank you…
Mark Ortmann: Recognition counts for somethin’
Brian Henneman: Especially recognition from people you want to be recognized by.
Mark Ortmann: Right!
Brian Henneman: I don’t know if I’d feel the same if the guys from Styx said it (laughter). It would still feel good, but it wouldn’t be the same.
Billy Rose: The Bottle Rockets have been compared to Wilco and Neil Young and Crazy Horse among others…who are your main influences.
Brian Henneman: Well I know Neil Young is one of ’em…that’s for sure. That’s hard to answer…it’s too far ranging.
Mark Ortmann: It covers a lot of ground. We all of have different influences as well as overlapping influences. I think over the course of the bands history…Neil Young and Crazy Horse have a big influence on us. It can’t be denied…it’s obvious. But the band is a folky, singer songwriter, acoustic sort of mutt.
Brian Henneman: I know my personal infuence as far as songwriting is John Prine. He’s one of my favorites…and there are so many things…Lynyrd Skynyrd…it goes so many different directions…which explains why nobody know where to put our records (laughter).
John Horton: It boils down to everything guitar driven. From The Ramones to Buck Owens and all in between.
Brian Henneman: Yep very true.
Mark Ortmann: It’s a guitar band for sure…and all points in between.
Billy Rose: So what do you consider yourself to be. I hear rock, country, punk and a little bit of everything. You are usually labeled Alt Country…
Brian Henneman: That’s the best name for it…
Billy Rose: How do you feel about that label and what would you label yourself as.
Brian Henneman: Well I’ve said this before…if this was 1974 we would just be a rock band. Plain and simple. But because they’ve divided everything up. What else ya gonna call us. It’s the perfect name for what it is. Even though the name ghettoizes everything you do. Put that on your label and it’s guaranteed…it’s not gonna go on the radio.
Billy Rose: That’s were Midwest Revue is different. I play everything. If it’s good. I play it.
Bottle Rockets: Thank you!
Brian Henneman: Alternative Country, why not. It’s certainly an alternative to Kenny Chesney (laughter).
Mark Ortmann: He doesn’t rock near as much as we do (laughter).
Billy Rose: I don’t like all the labels either. That’s why on Midwest Revue you hear it all.
Brian Henneman: Radio like that is hard to find. In St Louis HDBX when it first came on the air years ago…I heard it and I thought what is that. I thought the guy I heard it on his radio and thought he was playing a mix cassette. And he said no this is the radio…I thought this is fantastic. Well over the years as professionalism creeped in they divided everything into little shows. Ya know you have the Folk Show, the Irish Show. But at first it went from Elvis Costello to the Stanley Brothers to ya know like jazz or whatever. And that’s the stuff that keeps you fascinated and tuned in. But for some reason they have categorized everything and that doesn’t do it for me. I might not want to listen to the Salsa Show today.
Billy Rose: I really like the sound of the current lineup.
John Horton on guitar, Keith Voegele on bass.
Who have you guys played with before hooking up with Brian and Mark?
John Horton: Well probably nobody you’d know. I did play with Mike Ireland for awhile…from Kansas City. He’s a great singer, really powerful singer. Does this kinda hony tonk stuff. He loves George Jones and big fan of countrypolitan stuff. We kinda did stuff like that, it was a lot of fun. He’s got two records on Sub Pop. I think the last one was out in 2002. That’s about it and playing around St Louis.
Brian Henneman: Don’t forget your bass time with Jay Bennett.
John Horton: Oh yeah, I did a couple weeks playing with Jay Bennett…or was it three weeks, no four weeks (laughter). Actually it was a lot of fun. I played bass with Jay Bennett.
Billy Rose: I used to play Jay Bennett when he had a band called Titanic Love Affair.
Bottle Rockets: Oh yeah! They were cool.
Billy Rose: How about you Keith?
Keith Voegele: Nobody, just struggling bands in St Louis. Rock bands, Metal bands. Ya know it’s a bass player thing (laughter).
Billy Rose: I’ve heard if you quit this band your life may be in danger.
Bottle Rockets: (laughter)
Brian Henneman: You will die! You will be killed! He fits too good. He also writes songs. He has one on Zoysia.
Billy Rose: Zoysia is a fabulous album. It was recorded at the famous Ardent Studios in Memphis, produce by Jeff Powell. Did you guys have as much fun making the record as it is listening to it?
Bottle Rockets: Yeah! absolutely!
Brian Henneman: The best studio recording experience I ever had. The band was great. We were focused and getting things done really quickly and successfully and…it was good, good, good. Couldn’t wait to get back in the studio. You’d go to bed at night and couldn’t wait to get back.
Mark Ortmann: The work went by so fast. It was so enjoyable.
Billy Rose: I’ve heard everything was done in two or three takes.
Brian Henneman: It really was! That’s not some smoke and mirrors game that’s a fact. Heck, we bought a case of guitar strings to change them when we needed but we didn’t even use any because they never really went dead. Everything got recorded so quickly. Happy Anniversary was the first thing we did and that was like one take.
Mark Ortmann: Yeah it was. One take.
Brian Henneman: One two three four there you go it’s on the record.
Billy Rose: That’s one of my favorite songs on the CD. Is there a story behind that one?
Brian Henneman: Actually there is. And it probably has nothing to do with what everybody thinks (laughter). I think I’ll keep it that way. I’ll just keep it secret.
Keith Voegele: It’s not what you think.
Billy Rose: Another of my favorites is Blind. Several of the songs are kind of political. Is that something you are trying to do when you write? Did it just come out like that?
Brian Henneman: Just happens, ya know it’s just part of…part of our deal I guess. Just kind of pops out now and then. Sometime more that others. I wrote that song at jury duty. I was so bored waiting to be called, I made it all up sitting in the waiting room.
Mark Ortmann: That’s pretty cool actually (laughter).
Billy Rose: I love Bloodshot Records. How has it been being part of the Bloodshot family?
Brian Henneman: Terrible! Hoorible! They’re the worst (laughter). They beat us! They chain us up!
Mark Ortmann: Rat bastards!
Brian Henneman: They take the money out of our wallets…and spend it themselves (laughter). No, they’re great! If you’re gonna have a record label in 2007, which entirely optional these days, that is a good one to have. No lies. No promises they can’t keep. They do what they say they can do and they don’t do what they can’t do.
Mark Ortmann: They don’t tell you they’ll do something they can’t do.
Brian Henneman: Right! In the music business that is about the rarest thing you can get. Honesty!
Keith Voegele: They care about the music. They’re not thinking in terms of money.
Brian Henneman: They don’t spend money they don’t have. That’s why they’re still in business.
Billy Rose: Sounds like how I try to run my life.
Brian Henneman: Yeah. They’re good people.
Billy Rose: So are you working on the next CD?
Brian Henneman: Yeah, that’s the plan…the goal. Hopefully before the end of the year we’ll make one. So it comes out next year…’cause if we don’t get it done before the end of the year it might not come out ’til the next year (laughter). And that’s our fifteenth anniversary (laughter).
Billy Rose: Well guys I appreciate your time. We’re gonna check out your live show. I’ve heard nothing but good things about your live performance so I can’t wait to see it.
John Horton: You can’t believe everything ya hear (laughter).
Brian Henneman: The beast will rear it’s ugly head (laughter). All our pre-recorded CD’s we left at home…so now we have to actually play.
Mark Ortmann: It aint’ pretty (laughter).