That may be the reason that the Bottle Rockets' latest, "South Broadway Athletic Club," comes as something of a surprise, as it represents the first studio album of new, original material since 2009's "Lean Forward,"` performed by the first line-up of the rootsy, garage-tinged rock/folk band that's enjoyed any kind of lengthy stability. That uncharacteristic reliability has paid dividends for Henneman as the Bottle Rockets' front man and creative spark plug for nearly a quarter century.
"I never really thought about it, but this is the longest running version of the band," says Henneman from his St. Louis home. "I know what the machine can do. I don't have to worry about telling people anything, we work as one big unit. I intentionally don't finish songs all the way because I'm counting on these guys to fill in the blanks, and it works every time. It takes you out of the leader situation. We're a happy family, like the Waltons."
Henneman admits that at least a part of the success of this latest (and perhaps best) version of the Bottle Rockets - Henneman, Ortmann, bassist Keith Voegele and guitarist John Horton - is because of the age and familiarity of the current personnel, particularly Henneman and his forever drummer Ortmann.
|Bottle Rockets - Monday (Everytime I Turn Around)|
"Me and Mark have been playing together since 1982," says Henneman. "I personally don't know anyone who's been married that long. We can tell jokes to each other without saying a word. It really is like a Keith Richards/Charlie Watts thing at this point. I don't even have to signal endings, we just do it at the same time. It's pretty incredible."
Although it's been six years since "Lean Forward," the quartet not been idle. In addition to a fairly consistent touring ethic on their own, the Bottle Rockets have often served as Marshall Crenshaw's backing band and opening act on the road, and Henneman oversaw the reissue of the band's landmark 1994 album, "The Brooklyn Side," as well as a long awaited live DVD slated for imminent release.
"Everything in the music business is like dog years," says Henneman. "Time flies, and you don't even realize it. Like everything else in the last 20 years of my life, it's like, 'Oh my God, it's been that long.'"
One of the unique aspects of "South Broadway Athletic Club" is that the album is comprised of almost all new songs, composed by Henneman after a period of writer's block that he overcame by setting aside the very idea that he was creating an album.
"I was going through this huge dry spell four or five years ago, maybe because I was really trying to come up with songs," says Henneman. "We were really trying to follow up ‘Lean Forward,' and the more I tried, the less I could do. So I got into the reissue stuff and as I got to thinking of things other than my performance anxiety as a songwriter, things started popping out. That's the other thing about this album; this is the first album where I wrote just about every song on it. It's not like it used to be, we don't get together to write songs anymore. Some of us don't even live in the same city."
Another defining characteristic of "South Broadway Athletic Club" is that Henneman wasn't actually considering the material he was writing as an album, but, rather, individual songs that would find their way out one way or another. Given that fact, it's amazing that the album sounds as cohesive and sonically connected as it does.
"It wasn't like I was thinking about working on an album," says Henneman. "CDs are damn near creeping up on eight-tracks as far as how much people buy and use them. People buy them at shows like souvenirs. That's how the song selection came about. For awhile, we considered releasing everything as a single. The way the songs had been written, there was never any forethought of this having any concept as an album. The album concept is pretty much dead because people purchase songs individually, so I was thinking of the songs I was coming up with as singles."
Although the majority of the CD was written in the past few years, the absolute-scorch-and-twang of "Building Chryslers" has a much longer pedigree. Originally written for "The Brooklyn Side," Henneman rediscovered the song's acoustic demo when he was searching through the archives for reissue bonus material.
"We started to perform it live because it was like this frozen caveman," says Henneman. "Then we thought, 'Hell, we should record this.' We went through two different versions of the band without ever working it up. I was trying to remember why we never did, and I had some vague memory of the Lee Iaccoca/Chrysler-going-down years, and our manager at the time thought it wouldn't be a good idea to release it."