Sunday, July 4, 2004

Old 97s waltz to new music

By C.E. Hanifin
Enquirer staff writer

What: The Old 97s with Charlie Mars
When: 8:30 p.m. Wednesday
Where: The Southgate House, 24 E. Third St., Newport
Cost: $17 advance, $20 at door
Information: (859) 431-2201;
Although the members of the Old 97s are all Texas boys, they've been known to chow down on Cincinnati chili when they ride through town.

The Dallas band usually eats Skyline chili dogs, says lead guitarist Ken Bethea, but only because the fiery down-South version isn't available.

"When I eat chili, I want to sweat," he says.

The Old 97s will get another chance to sample the sweet tang of our area's culinary specialty on Wednesday, when they play the Southgate House. Their sixth album, Drag It Up, will be released on July 27.

In more than 10 years of performing together, the Old 97s have traveled from the twangy tunes of their early releases to the tight power-pop melodies of 2001's Satellite Rides. For the new album, the musicians found themselves squarely back in country-rock territory, Bethea says. Well, with a few detours along the way, including a trip into psychedelica that results in one of the album's most striking songs, "Valium Waltz."

Here's what Bethea had to say about the new album, Ohio's other big tour stop and how the band finally figured out the best way to "Waltz."

The Old 97s went on hiatus after 'Satellite Rides.' Did taking a break change the band?

"It helped us prioritize our lives. We had to look inside and decide if we wanted to keeping doing it. Once we did that, it took a lot of heat off the album. It let us be free with our music to the point of not so jealously guarding our songs or our sound."

How is the new album different from your previous five?

"There's more emotional depth than anything else we've done. We hit some deaths and we had some births and we're not young guys anymore who think that the world can be changed by 12 high-speed fast songs."

What's the ideal locale for listening to 'Drag It Up'?

"Car is always best. You can focus on the music."

You guys had been kicking around "Valium Waltz" for years before it landed in the new album. How did you nail down the final version of the song, which originally was written as a traditional country number?

"We were in Cleveland last January running through songs, and Murry (Hammond, the band's bassist) said, 'You know what song I've been thinking about recently? "Valium Waltz." ' I started laughing and I said, 'That's so weird. I had a dream about that song last night.' We hadn't talked about that song in four years at least, maybe five.

"So we tried it, and instead of junking it up with mandolins, we just played it and it wound up kind of being like Luna or the Velvet Underground or something. That's why I like that song so much, because it's so cool and different."

Didn't a Cleveland bar inspire a song on your 1997 album, 'Too Far To Care'?

" 'Niteclub' - 'I just might get drunk tonight and burn this nightclub down' - is about this place in Cleveland called Wilbert's. It was such a downer to play there."


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