Now this is a collaboration that both C-Squad fans and Barbz have been waiting for…
- Posted on May 6th 2011 2:00PM by Lonny Knapp
Tim Mosenfelder, Getty Images
The name stuck, with lazy music scribes affixing that label to any group that infused rock with a country twang.
Like a kid that gets a new haircut, and suddenly finds himself hanging with the cool crowd, old-school country music was born anew simply by adding a prefix. While Old 97's benefited from the exposure, singer Rhett Miller tells Spinner there was a downside to the tag.
"It became a bit of an albatross," he says.
Old 97's came out of Texas in 1993. Mixing their love of Hank Williams-style two-step rhythms with the volume and intensity of groups like the Clash and Cramps, the band offered an alternative to the new country and alt-rock that dominated the airwaves at the time.
"When we started in Dallas, nobody was doing what we did, except the real two-step bands. But we weren't anything like that. We were a weird amalgam of roots and punk," Miller says.
The band's first few independent releases, including the classic 'Wreck Your Life,' captured the spirit of the newly formed alt-country genre. Sensing that the scene was about to explode, perpetually late-to-the-party major labels started signing up any band that could throw three chords behind a train beat.
"There was talk that alt-country could be the next big thing, you know the 'new grunge,' but I knew that there was no way that Middle America would embrace that level of inherent 'hickishness,'" Miller says.
Of course, alt-country never became the new grunge. And by the time Old 97's inked a deal with major label Elecktra Records, the term alt-country started to irritate Miller. In 1997, he went so far as to tell the Austin Chronicle's Andy Langer that, "We never really wanted to be in that genre, we just kind of got stuck there."
"At first I thought it was fine. If anything, the label was reductive," he says. "Then I started to feel that people were using it in a derogatory way, and I was defensive about it. I remember it was so boring discussing alt-country."
While their alt-country contemporaries, Whiskey Town, Uncle Tupelo, and the Jay Hawks, have broken up, splintered into multiple acts (Wilco, Son Volt), or reformed for greatest hit tours, Old 97's keep on trucking.
Nearly two decades since alt-country's brief heyday, the label no longer bothers Rhett Miller. Over the past 18 years, his band has released 14 albums, the most recent, 'The Grand Theater: Volume One,' garnering some of the best reviews of the band's career. The line-up remains unchanged, and Old 97's have come to represent perseverance in the fickle music industry.
Call them alt-country, rock, or roots, Miller says he no longer gives much thought to the genre applied to his band.
"There used to be a lot of discussion about being true to who we are. Now we don't even think about it. We know who we are." Old 97s will release their next record 'The Grand Theater: Volume 2,' on July 5 via New West Records.