Veteran band takes a tech-weary stance on new 'Bit Logic'
Brian Henneman, singer, songwriter and lead guitarist for long-running St. Louis alt-country shit-kickers the Bottle Rockets, celebrated his Fourth of July in 2017 as every American should: He deleted his Facebook account.
“I called it my Independence Day,” he said, and laughed. “I was on there for almost 10 years, and it was just like, ‘I gotta get the hell out of here.' And life has improved 80 to 90 percent since I did.”
This social media breakup forms the basis of “Doomsday Letter,” which falls near the close of the Bottle Rockets' tech-weary new album, Bit Logic. “You can laugh and point and say my head's in the sand,” Henneman sings. “Well my toes are, too/It's a seaside view/Since I turned you off I found a wonderland.”
Other songs bemoan the public's need for “instant information,” the propagation of like-driven culture and, on “Lo-Fi,” listeners streaming music on cellphones rather than spinning vinyl — a song that further hammers home the growing generational divide by quoting increasingly crusty perma-scowler Clint Eastwood. “Go ahead, punk, and make my day,” Henneman sneers.
“If you're a certain age, which I am, you remember more of life without ‘that stuff' than you remember with it,” said Henneman, who joins his bandmates in concert at Rumba Cafe on Friday, Dec. 14. “When we started the band, there was none of this stuff. We didn't have GPS. We didn't even have cellphones back then. You start thinking, ‘Well, how did we do it?' And then you start feeling like, ‘Well, shit, you know what? We used our brains, not our phones.'”
Elsewhere, technology fails the frontman on the true-life “Bad Time to Be an Outlaw,” the repair bills piling up as everything from Henneman's car to his furnace to his cellphone gives up the ghost.
“Thank god for five-years-same-as-cash financing,” he said. “2017 was the most expensive year of my life. … Even my toilet broke, but I didn't put that into the song. So, yeah, ‘Bad Time to Be an Outlaw' isn't about outlaws in general. It was about this specific outlaw.”
Henneman has long taken the autobiographical route in his songwriting — “I've never been good at fiction; it's got to be something that really happened,” he said — which means his perspective has gradually grayed along with his hair in the two-plus decades he's logged in the band. “I try to not make it old-guy, grandpa stuff, but as you get older you just get a different viewpoint,” he said.
You also gain some perspective, which has, in a way, steadily shifted Henneman's expectations for the band.
“You start out wanting to be rock stars, and then you keep dropping your standards. You know, ‘We want to be Aerosmith.' OK, that's not gonna work. ‘We want to be Steve Earle.' OK, well, maybe that's not happening,” Henneman said. “Then it turns into, ‘Well, you know, we just want to keep going,' and you do. And I guess just through perseverance and longevity, you sort of end up being something along the way.”