Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Alt-country pioneers The Bottle Rockets coming to Chicago


Their honest, rootsy rock has earned praise from fellow musicians Steve Earle and Lucinda Williams.

Missouri band The Bottle Rockets is considered one of the founders of the alt-country movement. The band recently reissued its first two albums, the self-titled "Bottle Rockets" and "The Brooklyn Side," via Chicago-based Bloodshot Records, www.bloodshotrecords.com.

This is the 20th anniversary of the release of the band's debut album. The Bottle Rockets, www.bottlerocketsmusic.com, will likely perform a few songs from those albums when it plays Dec. 13 at The Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia Ave., Chicago.

Otis Gibbs is also part of the bill. The show starts at 10 p.m., and tickets are $15, available at www.ticketfly.com.

I had the chance to talk to Bottle Rockets drummer and founding member Mark Ortmann about the project.

Q - Great to talk to you. Congratulations on the reissue of your first two albums. They are regarded as two of the band's best releases. How do you think they rate compared to your other albums and why was it important for the band to reissue them?

"The Brooklyn Side" is certainly our most popular album, but it has long been out of print, along with our debut release. There are too many holes in our catalog because we have albums spread across so many record labels. 

It's satisfying to make these two records available again if for no other reason than to put our house in order and accurately present the band's history. Hopefully some fans will also want to have the albums again too.
Q - How do your think the project turned out? Did the band have a part in choosing the unreleased tracks? It seems a pretty high compliment to the band that Steve Earle, Patterson Hood, Lucinda Williams and others contributed their thoughts to the 40-page booklet accompanying the albums.

We are very pleased with the re-issue. Bloodshot was incredibly supportive and allowed us to give it proper treatment. 

Brian and I chose the bonus tracks because we best know the band's history since we're original members. I've been collecting the band's memorabilia and archives throughout the years, but I also contacted Steve Daly, who was the label manager for East Side Digital and he was able to provide tracks I didn't have. 

Yes, we're very flattered that so many people we respect wanted to contribute liner notes. While approaching them with the project, we hoped a few would have time to contribute something simple, but we didn't expect the overwhelming response that happened.
Q - Your longtime producer, Eric "Roscoe" Ambel, remastered them. Of course, he has worked with the band on several albums, including "Brooklyn Side." In working with him, what do you think he has brought to the table? How did he help shape the band's sound?

Eric is a rock 'n' roll barometer who can naturally sense when something is working in the studio. He has a good intuition for song arrangement and not only listens with the ears of a producer, but as a musician and fan of music too. 

As a guitarist he understand guitar-driven music, which is what the Bottle Rockets are about.
Q - The band is considered one of the founders of the alt-country movement. In forming The Bottle Rockets, what were the band's goals? Did you think that you would help usher in a new musical genre? Does it bother you that the band isn't better known by now?

Of course we all dream big at the start, but then adjust expectations with reality. It would be great if the band was indeed better known, and we're always striving for more success, but we're grateful for the success we do have. 

After experiencing how difficult the music business truly is, a person begins to appreciate even the small accomplishments. However, I've never considered us to be founders of any movement because bands such as Rockpile, The Blasters, Rank and File, and Jason & The Scorchers were playing "roots" music a generation before the roots-rock scare of the '90s. 

And artists like Doug Sahm, The Band, and Commander Cody were playing roots music in the generation(s) before that. So the alt-county/Americana/No Depression/alt-whatever category was just a development of things that went before.
Q - Did the band feel out of place in those days because your sound was going against what was fashionable at the time? Was it hard getting booked at clubs?

Yes, I did feel the Bottle Rockets were very out of place in those days - and still to this day. We've always rocked too hard for much of the Americana audience. 

I've never felt truly embraced by most of those fans because we're a rock band and too much of an acquired taste. Booking shows is difficult at the start of any artist's career because soft ticket sales are a risk for promoters. 

And it doesn't get easier until you start to draw an audience.
Q - I understand that you and Brian had previously been in a band together by the name of Chicken Truck. How was that experience?

That band played with the exuberance of youth, and was about the fun of songwriting and the discovery of music. Chicken Truck provided a strong back-catalog of songs that The Bottle Rockets would use over the years.
Q - It seems like roots rock has become popular again, especially if you're a band featuring a banjo. What do you think about the latest roots rock revival?

Everything goes in cycles. The current roots revival is more acoustic than the electric/amplified versions that went before it, and the banjo is the instrument considered to add "authenticity" to the current formula. 

But for my taste, some acts are trying too hard to be old-timey and present themselves as a museum period-piece.
Q - What's next for the band? Do you have any dream projects or collaborations?

We'll be touring to support the reissue, but hope to record a new album of original material sometime in 2014. We're due for a new record.