Biggest St. Louis Music News Stories of 2011: Part One
The Bottle Rockets' Acoustic Album Finally Sees the Light of Day
Not So Loud: An Acoustic Evening With the Bottle Rockets was a long time in coming -- four years in fact. Recorded over two nights in 2007 at the now defunct Lucas School House, the live album was one of this year's most notable local releases, partly because it showcases the band in a wholly new light and partly because an acoustic album was so unexpected for the veteran rockers.
"We went in with the idea to record the shows, but we had no plan," Henneman says over coffee on South Grand. "We never do acoustic shows, but we had no agenda. We just wanted to make an effort for the possibility. After it was finished we didn't hear it for a long time. It was recorded in some format that we couldn't even play. It just took a while before we could figure out how to listen to the damn thing."
Finally, the band went to Mike Martin, a musician and engineer in town, who was able to help with the audio conversion. After finally getting to hear the playback, the band sent it to its go-to producer, Eric "Roscoe" Ambel in New York, who was in the process of moving his studio. 2007 became 2008, then 2009, but after hearing Ambel's mixes the band was excited about what had survived from the two nights in Soulard.
"There was a lot of great material, probably enough for three albums," Henneman says, "but there was also some heartbreaking stuff. Digital distortion, electrical malfunctions. We'd have great versions but the bass wasn't turned on. Little things like that. We took what we had, which wasn't that much, and arranged it, and figured out that we could actually make a pretty good set list. We sent it to Bloodshot - and that, naturally added another year.
"But we were in good shape as a band," Henneman continues. "We had already made Zoysia, which was the first recording with the new band. Keith [Voegele] joined in '05 I think. He'd been in for a couple of years. John had been around since '03. It was a good time to do an acoustic album. It was all new to all of us. We had never recorded a fully acoustic, unplugged, put microphones on stuff kind of album."
Not So Loud spotlights the Bottle Rockets, not exactly in their element, but demonstrating what good musicians they are, how deep their catalogue is and, most importantly, how much of a connection they can make to an audience.
"We did several shows in that full acoustic format," Henneman says. "They went over great. They were some of the best shows we've ever had, just sitting on chairs, with microphones on our instruments. You can bludgeon yourself, and maybe we've been guilty of that. Suddenly people were acting different around us. 'Wow, you guys are good! I didn't know you could do that!' The funny thing about it is that we're the least proficient on the acoustic instruments. But people could hear everything, catch different moods just based on the music and the lyrics. It changed a lot of people's views on the songs."
What we gained: A new way of thinking about and listening to a St. Louis band that should never be taken for granted and never counted out.