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Bottle Rockets Learn How To Learn New Tricks

The Bottle Rockets
Cary Horton
The Bottle Rockets play the Castle Theatre on Friday, Dec. 7, with opening act Hugh Masterson.

The new album from roots-rockers The Bottle Rockets explores technology and other changes that have occurred since the band formed in 1992.Drummer and band co-founder Mark Ortmann told GLT the band also wanted to focus “Bit Logic” musically on an outlaw country sound.

Album cover for "Bit Logic" by The Bottle Rockets
Album cover for "Bit Logic" by The Bottle Rockets

“The band has always had country songs on our records. But this time we focused on it and intentionally made an ‘outlaw’ country album. Since we’ve been labeled an Americana band for so long, we thought we might as well do an Americana record,” chuckled Ortmann.

Many of the songs revolve around what it means now that band members have hit a certain age.

“There’s a certain element of old dogs learning new tricks, as Brian says about that song,” said Ortmann about fellow band co-founder Brian Henneman and the title track to“Bit Logic.”

In my Technicolor childhood We burned incandescent dreams Illuminatin' on these future things That didn't turn out like we thought they would Now we're doin' things we never dreamed we could

- Title track to “Bit Logic”

“Every generation has had its new frontiers and things to deal with,” said Ortmann. “We’re at this place now where we’re just trying to navigate this difficult time. Society is just a whole different place right now.”

“Lo Fi” from “Bit Logic” is a technology comparison between today and the early 1970s when Ortmann was navigating life as a young teenager.

Back when I was younger The way to go Was listenin' to records on my stereo I was all about the quality All about the tone Now I'm happy hearin' music on my telephone

- “Lo Fi” from “Bit Logic.”

Ortmann seemed surprised listeners are satisfied listening to music with earbuds or speakers smaller than a dime.

“Now they don’t know any different, that’s what they’re raised on and accept. But there are people out there who are (still) audiophiles and have the big home systems. Though it’s not close to downloads or streaming, the fact that they’re making really good vinyl now and reissuing that … it’s encouraging,” said Ortmann.

Looking back has The Bottle Rockets pondering their musical choices. The band was at the forefront of the early 90s roots rock/alt-country revival when they debuted in 1992 after Henneman left his job as a roadie with alt-country pioneers Uncle Tupelo. Though the band downplays acrimony toward today’s pop-oriented country music and insist they are comfortable with the musical direction they have taken, there is a sting that their music isn’t considered mainstream.

Mad at my integrity As I go in debt for HVAC It's a bad time to be an outlaw It's a bad time to be an outlaw Carrie Underwood don't make country sound But she can afford when shit breaks down

- “Bad Time To Be An Outlaw” from “Bit Logic.”

“Outlaw country,” said Ortmann. “Back in the day you had Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson … all those guys. It’s kind of a different thing than it even is right now, it’s all retro. But we grew up on Waylon Jennings and he was an influence.”

In a 2013 interview in No Depression Magazine, Brian Henneman said “There would be no Bottle Rockets without Mark Ortmann.” Since Henneman wasn’t around to expand on what he meant, Ortmann was asked what he meant.

“I know Brian has been discouraged with the band along the way,” said Ortmann, hinting at the 25-year band history and times that either one of them wanted to leave.

“But neither of us at the time ever were in that place at the same time, so the band never officially broke up. And as long as I’m willing to do it, Brian was willing to do it. And at this point we’re both still willing to do it.”

And they have been since forming near Belleville, Illinois, over 25 years ago. What were their dreams and how have Henneman and Ortmann reconciled that with how things turned out?

“To start out we wanted to be Foghat with our names on the side of the tail on the plane,” said Ortmann. “When that didn’t happen, you recognize it and learn along the way to not settle for less, but to adjust your goals with reality. And with that said, we’re very happy with where we are because we love what we’re doing. So we’re doing what we enjoy, and making a living out of it, and I couldn’t be happier.”

The Bottle Rockets play the Castle Theatre on Friday, Dec. 7, with opening act Hugh Masterson. Doors open at 7 p.m. Music starts at 8 p.m.

The entire GLT conversation with Mark Ortmann of The Bottle Rockets

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Jon Norton is the program director at WGLT and WCBU. He also is host of All Things Considered every weekday.