Brian Henneman is as astonished as anyone over the longevity of The Bottle Rockets. The Americana and country savvy rock troupe has been touring and recording for over 25 years, half of which has been the same lineup.
The band’s music remains a dependable, rock solid blend of everyman themes and melodies. Its performances are still consistently strong, offering a Midwestern variation of Heartland rock ‘n’ roll with a Southern twist that shifts from jovial in its drive to reflectively plain speaking in its lyrics. And along the way, the band has made its share of high profile friends, like John Fogerty, Lucinda Williams and James McMurtry, all of whom have enlisted the Bottle Rockets as an opening act through the years.
But what keeps the Bottle Rockets going in 2018 is some curiously vintage inspiration. For its new “Bit Logic” album, Henneman and company — drummer/co-founder Mark Ortmann, guitarist John Horton and bassist Keith Voegele — asserted the country side of its musical attitude.
“We made a plan and implemented it,” Henneman said. “We were like, ‘Let’s stick closer to our country music influences on this one and not spread things too far out from that.’ And we did and it worked. There was an effort to make the songs more suited to our age. We’re not spring chickens any more. There are some things you don’t feel right doing at a certain age, so we just stuck to the country side. We have put country songs on every album. But this one, we just stuck to them closer than usual.”
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Henneman acknowledges that country music can mean different things to continually fractured audience demographics. What he references isn’t the pop-infused music preferred by modern country radio, but rather songs that stress a blue collar familiarity in their narratives — like the traffic tie up chronicled in “Highway 70 Blues,” a faithfulness to great artists (Al Green being specifically referenced) in an iPhone age on “Lo Fi” and perhaps the most telling tune, “Hard Time to be an Outlaw,” which laments how bankable country stars like Carrie Underwood and Thomas Rhett don’t have the same budgetary concerns as performers like Henneman do.
“That song was more like a story about a specific incident in my life,” he said. “It was a bad time, personally, for this outlaw. The year 2017 was the most expensive year of my adult life, where every major appliance and vehicle all broke down. That’s when you start questioning everything in your life. It’s cool being able to stick to your guns — you know, ‘I’m going to be true to the music.’ Then things break down and you wonder, ‘What if I could have written that pop-country song and made enough money to not have to worry about this stuff.’
Such old school country philosophy reaches beyond the boundaries of the Bottle Rockets’ songs and into the very nature of its band structure, performance make-up and even the continued faith the band has in music.
“One of the perks of old age is you don’t really care what anybody thinks anymore. It reached the point where I wear my guitar high and wear comfortable shoes because I just don’t care. I find it easier to play with the guitar up high and I like my feet to be comfortable. That’s the kind of thing you do.
“But we came from an era when the music was more important just to the world in general. We still work with that idea against all odds even though music has become a casual thing for most people. Back in the old days, music was a big deal. Back then, the Beatles and the Stones held as much importance as an iPhone or whatever its competition is. We still make albums trying to adhere to those standards. Whether anybody notices or cares, that doesn’t matter. The gauntlet was thrown many years ago, so that’s how we still do it.
“Besides that, we like making music. It beats roofing. It’s like we’ve been doing it so long that it’s too late to do anything else at this point, so we’re going to have to ride it all the way now. We’ve somehow managed to survive the onslaught of the internet and music turning into a free thing instead of something you buy. Don’t ask me how, but we figured it out.”
If you go: The Bottle Rockets/Hugh Masterson
When: 8 p.m. Dec. 12
Where: The Burl, 375 Thompson St.
Tickets: $12, $15