If you search the band The Bottle Rockets on Google the first headline that comes up is a website titled of ‘The Bottle Rockets - The Best Band on the Planet!’. That headline isn’t just a matter of opinion, it’s the band’s official website.
“You’ve got to laugh to keep from crying.” joked Brian Henneman, the band’s founder; lyricist; and lead vocalist. “[Being humorous] is just the nature of our personalities. It’s nothing we study or think about really hard about, it just happens that way.”
The Bottle Rockets, a rock-country band that has been around for two decades, are a four piece that really believe laughter and music are the best medicine. I recently got the chance to talk to Henneman ahead of their stop at the Memorial Opera House in Valparaiso to talk about the band’s history, the Midwest, and why they’re not currently working at Walmart.
The Bottle Rockets first formed in 1992 in Missouri. Henneman, who was set on starting a band at that time, brought together three other friends to join him to create The Bottle Rockets. Over time the band has lost two members and gained two different ones, but has still kept intact its guitar-picking sound, lyrically imposed wit, and genuine music coming from men who made their career making music.
At first, listening to the band’s various albums, they seem to fit the bill of what you would expect to hear from a group that came from America’s Heartland, but the band isn’t always so keen on what people think they sound like. Though the band is from and lives in the Midwest, writes songs about blue collar workers and the every-day man’s problems, Henneman was apprehensive to call their sound “Midwestern”. He did agree, though, on how one critic described them - "Always too punk for country audiences, too genuine for the smug irony of the hipster scene".
“We were pretty much what that description described.” Henneman stated. “We were writing songs about our friends, our lives at the time, and of course we were in the Midwest. I lived in a town that was working class all of the way, and even in St. Louis where I’m living now it’s pretty much a working class town, so that’s where the blue collar comes from. Every song is more or less about someone I actually know. It was just about writing about our surroundings. That’s how we are, that’s who we know, and that’s how it sounds.”
From the very start, it seemed that even though the Midwest had connected with their music, they did strike a chord with the rest of the country. The band has been credited for being on the forefront of the ‘90s ‘root-rock’ scene that heavily incorporated country into a classic rock structure. The Bottle Rockets brought attention to a less popular genre of the time, but Hennenman explained that wasn’t something they were conscious of while making their music.
“In the early days we were basically doing what we had the best capabilities to do.” Henneman stated. “Back in the early days,I was really stuck into country - after being into that hair scene of the 80s and real guitar music since I was a kid. I didn’t travel far down the ‘grunge road’ or any of the stuff that was starting to pick up around then. I was really into my own thing - trying to piece together what came before and make it into something that we do. Now as we get older we kind of go back in and incorporate all of the things we once liked and wanted to work with, but then it was just working on our abilities.”
Since their start in the 90s with their first album The Brooklyn Side they have released eight albums, a live album, a re-release of Brooklyn Side, and they have even recently wrapped up their next forthcoming album within the past few weeks. With over twenty years of music and experiences behind them, Henneman credits their longevity to consistency, determination, and really being the thing they know how to do best.
“We’ve basically being making records steadily from 1993 until now. It really too late for us to be doing anything else. It’s either making music or we’ll all end up being greeters at Walmart. It’s too late to quit and we still enjoy it. We’ve rolled with the industry changes and still have come out being a band.”
On June 6th The Bottle Rockets will be making a stop in Valparaiso at the Memorial Opera House to be a part of Imagine Music’s 2015 concert series, which will be a first for them to play in Northwest Indiana. Due to their experience of starting out with non-stop touring and continuously playing shows since then, touring to support their music is an old hat now. Henneman said that playing in front of large or small crowds varies at every place, but playing their music is a familiar feeling they know all too well.
“We’re all old dudes now. If we’re not yet over 50 we’re getting dang close to it.” Henneman joked. “So, getting up there and playing a gig is a really comfortable feeling. You know how the process goes, you know what to spend your time on and what not to. Like don’t take that gig across the country because it’s over 600 miles away and you’ll be just as fine if you don’t play that gig. And you especially know that there’s always going to be a hotel room to stay in, so don’t keep crashing at other people’s houses. It’s way too exhausting now.”
Though playing the show will be a comfortable experience for the band, Henneman stated that the reception is something that keeps them on their toes. He has no forecast for how the show at the Opera House will go because he likes to keep it that way.
“I really have no clue what’s going to happen when we get up to Indiana. We’ve never played in that area, but we’ve heard it’s a beautiful place and we’re just really looking forward to playing in that theatre. We play the same show either way - whether it be a large crowd or a smaller one. We don’t put our expectations up too high for any show we play.”
But even if they don’t have expectations on our end, what should we expect out of them? The answer is simple: it’s a good ol’ rock show.
“Just expect it to be a straight up, old fashioned freakin' concert. The closest thing I could compare it to is a Tom Petty show, but maybe a little bit looser than that. Someone could, you know in the most perfectly timed moment, holler something out from the crowd and we’ll just play that song on the spot. If things are going really good there’s literally no telling what is going to happen.”
You can buy tickets now and find more information about The Bottle Rockets ahead of their June 6th show on Imagine Music’s website: http://www.imaginemusicvalpo.com/