December 1, 2010
Posted: 04:35 PM ET
That sound you hear creeping up the Billboard charts- the combination of The Clash’s white riotous punk with Steve Earle’s swaggering Texas stomp- is coming to a town near you.
The Old 97's – favorite sons of Dallas, TX- make music for the cowboy boot-wearing, purple-haired, coffee house patronizing, flannel-donning, soccer parent in all of us. In other words, they are the everyman’s band. And not just because they are regular, nice guys.
Their music is laden with hooks; it’s indelibly catchy, and it’s some serious rock & roll. It’s the kind of music that would sound just as good in a desolate bar as it would on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno (the latter proven just a couple of weeks ago). Their latest album The Grande Theatre, Volume One was released earlier this fall (Volume Two will be out next Spring) to critical acclaim and the band’s highest chart position to date—after 18 years as a band. Partly responsible for such accolades is a song called “Champaign, Illinois” – the rousing rave-up at the center of the new album. Old 97's singer/songwriter Rhett Miller and bassist Murry Hammond sat down with LKL and we began by asking them about the curious lyric in the aforementioned hit song.
LKL: So is it better to end up in Heaven or Champaign, Illinois?
Rhett Miller: I actually did this whole thing on twitter yesterday because we played it on Leno last night and I’ve gotten some grief about “Champaign, Illinois” from residents of the city and the story behind it is this: It was a late night drive, I was the only one awake, I had the melody to a Dylan song “Desolation Row” stuck in my head, so I rewrote lyrics for it to keep myself awake. When I was writing it I had Champaign, Illinois pictured in my head as this quintessential college town. To me- as someone who only went to college for one semester and dropped out because I thought of it more as just killing time, but I didn’t have time to kill because I wanted to go play music and be in a rock band- Champaign isn’t so much meant to be hell but more purgatory. It’s where you go when you are just waiting around for something to happen.
Murry Hammond: It’s an anthem for townies all across the nation.
Miller: We love townies and we actually love Champaign, Illinois. When people get upset about it, I’m just like “Gosh there is no hate in that song!”
Hammond: It’s a winky emoticon. To me that song is about touring. It’s about touring and no town is better or worse than anything else, but at one point towns become just days on a calendar in a way. That’s kinda how that song goes.
LKL: Rhett, the genesis for this album was in Europe, correct?
Miller: I spent a month in Scandinavia opening up for the great Steve Earle, and between being inspired by him because he is just a wealth of information and he is also just a classic Texan song writer… and also being inspired by the locals. We had never really gotten to go to Europe. We have pretty much been an American band our entire career for better or worse– I know for worse because I definitely wish we would have gone to Europe earlier…
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