Written by Samuel Barker
Jun 27, 2006 at 12:00 PM
It’s been over 4 years since I first sat down to talk to the Bottle Rockets. It was June 1, 2002 and the band was promoting Songs of Sahm while showing off a couple tracks from their upcoming album Blue Sky. The band had just come off a long hiatus and were just getting their road legs back. Well, since then, the band had Blue Sky come out, have released a live album and their new release, Zoysia. Robert Kearnes left to do platoon work throughout the Austin music scene and the band has solidified into their strongest lineup to date. See what Brian Henneman has to say about the Bottle Rockets of today…

Q: We’ll start by discussing the dynamic of making this new album. You basically went from a 4-piece band with Brand New Year, a 3-piece band with Blue Sky after Tom Parr left and now a 4-piece with a new guitarist and bassist. How did approaching this album differ from the past with all the personnel changes?

A: This is the first album we ever made, where everyone in the band had the same agenda. We wanted to make an ALBUM, not just “record some songs”. It’s also the first album we ever made, where we had the caliber of musicians, playing ALL positions, to actually HAVE a goal, and, be able to achieve the goal. Not one single lack of capability, musically, or, psychologically.

Q: I know Tom Parr left under less than ideal circumstances and Robert Kearnes eventually got absorbed into Austin’s scene, and both had pretty big roles in the band, with Parr being a founding member/songwriter and Kearnes taking his step into tossing some songs and vocals in, how have their departures affected your desires to keep this band moving forward?

A: Those guys were steps along the way, needed to get to this version of the band. Having those guys in the band, really makes me appreciate the guys we have now, which, has given me a whole new outlook.
Tom Parr was very limited, musically, and was a band morale terrorist. A total antagonist. His longevity in the band, was a monument to the total dysfunction of the band. He DID have great moments. “Things You Didn’t Know”
is one of my favorite songs in the whole world. It could be his epitaph, actually.
When he left, we started to climb up out of the dark, fucked up hole we’d been in, for such a long time. It was like a black cloud went away.
Robert was a scheduling terrorist. Never a quitter, but, a perpetual “joiner”. He’d join any band that would have him, and we were always held hostage by his other “opportunities”. More band dysfunction on display.
Robert was a killer musician, not a very good drunk, but, a great guy, with a heart of gold. He really gave us the best he had to offer, but, what he had to offer was not enough.
His desire to play in every band on earth, at the same time, was killin’ us.
Both guys were mentally draining, in entirely different ways.
Having them gone, and, replaced with responsible, adult, fully dedicated, top-notch musicians (John and Keith), has inspired me to continue on indefinitely.
John and Keith really feel like some kinda reward, for sticking thru the hard times.
The gold at the end of a VERY fucked up rainbow.
They’ve proven to me, that things don’t have to be difficult, which has made me look forward to the band’s future, for the very first time, really.

Q: All the early press is giving Zoysia an amazing amount of positive wordings. I’ve yet to hear the album in its entirety, but what I have heard brings something a bit new to the table, but maintains the band’s same vibe.
After over a decade as musician, has it been hard to stay focused on the expected genre of music? Is there a burning desire to one day do a progressive metal album or anything deep in the Henneman psyche?

A: I’m doing exactly what I want to do. My bandwidth is pretty narrow. No secret desires to do anything else but this. There’s nothing I’ll ever do that won’t fit this “genre”.

Q: Is there any significance to the official release date of Bottle Rocket’s Zoysia being on 6-6-6; The Number of the BEAST!!!! Just sayin’. Have you sold your soul to the Devil to boost record sales?

A: Nope. Just happened to come out on June 6th, 2006, that’s all. I take numerology seriously though. Especially when it comes to “The Beast”. I’d be more worried if this was the year 6. I’m thinkin’ the contraction of 2006 is gonna keep Satan outta this.

Q: In regards to the song “I Quit,” was there something in particular that made you quit drinking, i.e. an instance that made him say “this isn’t working for me anymore?” What caused you to write the song (to whom was the message being sent)? How has the change in lifestyle affected your perception of performing / songwriting?

A: The lyrics were written by Scott Taylor, not me. He was watchin’ in the early days of my sobriety, at how people kept sendin’ shots to the stage, and they couldn’t comprehend how I could pass them up.
I was too drunk, for too long. Nobody believed I’d quit. Nobody was supportive of it. It pissed some people off.
I didn’t have any desire to sing about it, but, Scott Taylor wrote the story so accurately, I couldn’t deny it.
Every bad thing that ever happened in my life, drinking had some involvement with it. I got so good, and, consistent, at fucking up everything in my life, it became really boring.
Thought I’d try something new.
Booze was so predictable. Did the same thing every time. Every day’s a new adventure when you’re sober. Notice how all the band dysfunction went away, as soon as I sobered up, and finally could see how fucked up it was…
Sobriety makes EVERYTHING easier. Performing, songwriting, travelling, you name it. I’ve done it all, both ways, for extended periods of time, and like the sober way infinitely better.
Q: Regarding the title track Zoysia from the new record: there are is a definite message there about transcending political boundaries to be “neighborly”, a very appropriate sentiment given the way the nation is currently polarized. Using the metaphor of Zoysia grass as a way to illustrate the shared problems we all face was genius. Given the political strife in the nation, is it a flaw in the system, or do you just chalk it up to the necessary pains that comes with Democracy? Do you feel the trend will continue or do you believe this is just a passing trend given the current state of the nation?

A: America’s a fucking wreck. It’s in shambles. It’s not in anyone’s best interest to rebel, ’cause then they’d have to actually DO somethin’, things would get really inconvenient if there was a revolution, so they just let it all go down.
All you can really do, is try to get along these days. I have no faith that the younger generation has been taught anything that would repulse them about the change of world order we’re allowing to happen, so, at my age, all I can do, is try to be a good neighbor. I’m a Patriot. I’m sad about America. Being an old fogey, I’m totally outnumbered, as far as my beliefs go, so, I’ll just ride what’s left of my life out as pleasantly as I can. No sense in screaming out my “outdated” beliefs, I’ll just make myself look foolish and even OLDER.
America makes me sad, but, I’ve never been happier in my life.
I’m sad enough to be angry, but, I’m too happy to fight.
I just deal with it, like I deal with zoysia grass.
The wisdom of age is a fucking awesome thing. It’s totally worth getting old for…
Q: I know you recently got married, has that put the band, music and touring in a new perspective or is it just business as usual? (outside of coming home being better)

A: Business as usual. I’m lucky to have a wife who understands. She used to go on the road with us, but, she likes to actually sleep at night, so she prefers to stay home.

Q: With this album, the band has really grasped the whole internet thing.
Songs have been available via Myspace, you’re streaming the album on the website, and the pre-sale has apparently gone well. After all the potential royalties you’ve lost via downloading, is it nice to have a payoff come from the internet?

A: It’s always a thrill to get money from your music. The mistake is to EXPECT it. I couldn’t be happier. The internet is just about the most effective way to communicate these days. I don’t like it, but, I can’t deny it. Might as well utilize its power. Things seem to finally be kinda working out for us. I’ll take what I can get, when it comes to money. I’m very used to doing it for free, or, damn near free.

Q: I’m guessing things with Roadrunner weren’t exactly bad and there would have been a major label available to release this album, but you returned to Bloodshot. What brought this about?

A: I don’t know what Roadrunner is. We were last on Sanctuary Records.
Bloodshot is our home. They know what we do, we know what they do. They don’t lie, they don’t blow smoke up your ass, they’re the best label on earth, as far as I’m concerned. Their low-level longevity in the business, is a testament to their honesty and integrity. Honesty and integrity…two words that are never associated with the music business. They are, what we are. Same boat. Nice guys finish last, but…the meek shall inherit the earth… *Editor’s Note: Sorry, wrong metal label. My mistake*

Q: After all these albums, all the tours, all the band mates, what do you feel you have left to accomplish with the Bottle Rockets?

A: I wanna make up for lost time. Right the wrongs. Show the world what I MEANT to do, before getting hijacked by alcohol abuse and dysfunctional relationships. If you liked the wild, drunken, Bottle Rockets, well… be prepared to be disappointed. Might as well bail out now.
The band is perfect now. If any of these guys quit, I’m gonna have to kill ’em…