Bottle Rockets

3TEN ACL Live presents

Bottle Rockets

Ryan Culwell

Wed · January 30, 2019

Doors: 7:00 pm / Show: 8:00 pm

$17.50 - $20.00

This event is all ages

* There is a $3.00 fee that is added to every ticket purchased at our Box Office. This includes Day of Show pricing.

Bottle Rockets
Bottle Rockets
Formed nearly 30 years ago, the Bottle Rockets helped forge a now-popular subgenre—small-town, middle-class, Midwest American roots rock—part right-to-the-gut poetry, part rock ‘n’ roll, all truth. Bit Logic is a different sort of album for the St. Louis natives and shows them at their most self-aware, self-challenging, and socially alert.

Recorded in St. Louis at Sawhorse Studios, engineered by Mario Viele and produced by longtime studio collaborator Eric “Roscoe” Ambel (The Del-Lords, Steve Earle), the Bottle Rockets’ 13th album has them looking at their unique stylistic blend through a different lens. While one of the group's earmarks is constructing blue-collar anthems, Bit Logic has the quartet focusing outside themselves, at how change and adaptation affects the bigger picture.

“We were not planning any kinda ‘theme’ to this album, but one kinda showed up,” said lead singer and guitarist Brian Henneman. “If it's about anything at all, it's an album about existing in this modern world. Trying to dodge depression and anger. These songs are views from the moments when you're mostly succeeding at it.” Yet, to balance those times when success may seem just a breath out of reach, the album includes the infectious pop masterpiece “Maybe Tomorrow” which offers an optimistic and buoyant outlook on momentary failure.

The band returned to its more democratic songwriting approach this time, which generated four co-written songs, in contrast to their previous and critically acclaimed album, South Broadway Athletic Club, which Henneman primarily wrote. Leading up to their time in the studio, Henneman sent around some bare-bones acoustic iPhone recordings that would serve as the album’s blueprint, and the group fleshed out one song a day by means of three 4-day studio sessions.

The group went into the recording sessions with a fresh outlook—to bring out more of their Americana influences and to write a record that more accurately reflected their collective approach. What they found while doing so surprised them.

“The past provided touchstones,” said Ambel. “Times when you could hear Merle Haggard and the Grateful Dead on the same radio station. The country vibe came from the sounds that inspired us in the studio. Sounds from the more experimental times of country. Post Hank, post George.”

Other inspirations came from “off-the-beaten-path Americana” sources like Don Williams, Poco, Jackson Browne, Jerry Reed, and more, all of whom “showed up” in the music during the sessions, audibly channeling themselves through John Horton’s hot-shit, phase-shifted country-folk pickin’; Henneman’s penny philosopher, raspy drawl; or Mark Ortmann and Keith Voegele’s in-the-pocket, country-rock overdrive.

The title track and “Lo-Fi” are pointed laments of how the ever-relevant topic of modernization affects the individual—how it can be a marvelous dream, but also a dehumanizing reality. In “Bit Logic” Henneman and Ortmann team up to pen some of the band’s most clever and conscious wordplay, “In my technicolor childhood / We burned incandescent dreams / Illuminatin' on these future things / That didn't turn out like we thought they would.” But there’s always the other side of the coin, as in “Lo-Fi”: “Al Green in the kitchen/ On the AM radio/ Best bad sound that I ever did know/ Scratchy and it's muddy / But it carries me through/ Straight on down to Memphis in '72.”

It all funnels into the brilliant, poignant, quotable critique on the music industry, “Bad Time to Be an Outlaw.” In the bouncy, meta, swampy country number Henneman takes stock, rethinks his choices in life, but still ends up at the same outcome. The lyrics are pure Prine, the music wonderfully reminiscent of Waylon and Reed.

That Nashville Pop it ain't my deal
Even though that cash flow's real
But these days "What Would Waylon Do?"
Don't make much money sad but true
It's a bad time to be an outlaw

Don't get me wrong I love what I do
Couldn't even change it if I wanted to
But random selection of the universe
Is makin' me think my job's a curse
It's a bad time to be an outlaw

Through it all, the album is the simple meeting the complex, traditional meeting modern, stick-to-your-guns resoluteness meeting adaptation. It’s what Bottle Rockets have always done, but with a fresh take. Bit Logic breaks new artistic ground but remains in character.
Ryan Culwell
Ryan Culwell
When Ryan Cullwell released his critically acclaimed 2015 album ‘Flatlands,’ Rolling Stone hailed the collection as both “gorgeous and bleak,” and the intervening years of the Texas native’s life could be described in similarly contradictory terms. Culwell has touched the top and scraped the bottom, known true joy and faced pure sorrow, been blessed with luck and cursed by tough breaks. He welcomed daughters number three and four into the world, only to nearly lose his life working odd jobs just to make ends meet. It’s been a beautiful, brutal time for Culwell, one that he’s woven into the fabric of his most stunning songs yet with ‘The Last American,’ his third album and debut release for Missing Piece Records. Recorded in his adopted hometown of Nashville, the collection showcases Culwell at his finest, crafting poignant portraits of ordinary folks just trying to get by, men and women doing their best to make it through the day with dignity and self-respect in these trying times.

“When I grew up and started traveling around the country, I began seeing certain truths in people’s struggles and pains, and I realized that the America that was given to me wasn’t what I’d been told it was,” Culwell reflects. “The patriotism that my father passed down didn’t have anywhere to land because that America simply didn’t exist. I’m a father myself now, and I think part of the inspiration for these songs was to try and give my children the tools to love this country for what it is and what it can be, to provide them with an accurate picture of where they are and what it means to love and hope and have empathy.”

Love and hope and empathy have long been touchstones of Culwell’s writing, a style that NPR raved “wring[s] grace from plain and often dark details, expressing the realities of class and region in ways that many other writers barely touch.” ‘Flatlands’ was a stark meditation on the forgotten emptiness of the Texas panhandle, and its sparse arrangements and profound lyrics drew plaudits from around the world. Rolling Stone said that Culwell has “a voice as big as the Texas horizon,” while Guitar World praised the album as “masterfully crafted and artfully delivered,” and Country Weekly called it “both deeply personal and universal in its depiction of struggle.” In the UK, Mojo gushed that Culwell “shapes his characters with dirt, blood, [and] spiritual foreboding,” and The Mail On Sunday proclaimed that the album “heralds a gritty, poetic new American voice.” The music earned Culwell dates with Patty Griffin, Hayes Carll, Ashley Monroe, Billy Joe Shaver, and Amy Speace among others, and racked up more than a million streams on Spotify.

You can’t feed a family on good reviews alone, though, and as Culwell’s brood grew, he had a choice to make about the kind of father and husband he wanted to be.

“I see a lot of guys in this business forego relationships and families, and my wife and I decided we weren’t going to do that,” says Culwell. “I’ve been married almost fourteen years and I’m committed to home life, but it takes sacrifice and balance.”

Culwell put touring on a temporary hold to be there for his kids, and in order to help pay the bills, he took on a series of increasingly odd jobs: roofing salesman, landscaper, tree cutter, pedal tavern driver. Each took its toll, and while ferrying drunk bachelorettes around Nashville on an alcohol-fueled megabike was perhaps the most harrowing, it was the tree-cutting job that nearly killed him.

“I was out working by myself when I made a poor cut on a fallen tree and it started rolling at me,” he remembers. “I ripped my shoulder out of my socket and came within an inch of cutting my face in two that day.”

Around the same time, Culwell’s friends Ethan Ballinger (Lee Ann Womack, Aubrie Sellers) and Megan McCormick (Jenny Lewis, Conor Oberst) approached him about getting back into the studio. It was nothing serious, they assured him, just a few songs for fun, but he quickly realized they had grand designs on producing a full length LP for him. Culwell had been reluctant to commit to making another album, but he soon found himself deeply invested in the project and grateful that he’d been tricked into it. They worked off-hours at Zac Brown’s Southern Ground studio, recording a few songs here and a few songs there whenever Ballinger and McCormick’s touring schedules allowed. With half the album completed over the course of nearly a year, Culwell added producer and longtime collaborator Neilson Hubbard (Glen Phillips, Apache Relay) to the team, and the remaining songs were finished in a short burst of concentrated writing and recording at Hubbard’s studio.

“I knew that last batch of songs was going to be an intense sprint, and the team and environment evolved perfectly to let the album flex into full form,” says Culwell. “Having Ethan, Meghan, and Neilson all producing together in a small studio like that was the perfect setup for capturing the chaos and the intimacy of the music. Imagine having Brett Favre, Drew Brees, and Peyton Manning all calling the shots at once, but with the humility to defer to each other most of the time. It was weird and tense and glorious.”

The album opens with the dreamy “Can You Hear Me,” a reverb-soaked rocker that calls to mind the swirling soundscapes of The War on Drugs mixed with the anthemic drive of Bruce Springsteen. The album’s sound is a major leap from the stripped-down weariness of ‘Flatlands,’ but Culwell pulls it off with ease, drawing on a cast of characters who are alternately motivated by hopeful promise and bitter resentment. On the relentless, fuzzed-out “Dig A Hole,” he channels the anger and helplessness that run rampant in parts of the country looking for someone, anyone, to lash out at for their struggles, while the wistful title track presents a narrator tenaciously holding on to a past he (may or may not) be better off scrapping, and the deceptively charming “Dog’s Ass” draws on the dark memories of a family who’s livelihood was tightly hitched to the price of oil."

“My grandpa, my uncle, my dad, and his cousin all started a trucking company together in the ’80s, and they made good money working in the regional oilfield,” says Culwell. “The bulk of their money was made with a large oil company that was using my family’s little business to write off huge sums on their taxes, and when oil crashed, my folks were stuck holding the bag. They had to find a way to pay for their 18-wheelers, so they took to over-the-road driving, and my grandpa ended up having a stroke and getting into a head-on collision. There’s no chance I’ll ever believe that stroke wasn’t brought on by the greed and corruption of those oilmen.”

Despite its fascination with the dark underbelly of the American Dream, there remains an unshakable sense of promise on the album, an eternal spring of optimism that believes in better days to come. Songs like the gentle “Moon Hangs Down” and “Tie A Pillow To My Tree” began life as improvised lullabies for Culwell’s daughters, and it’s no surprise they hold the most beauty and wisdom of any tracks on the record.

“I’d write a single line one night, a few more a week later, and so on, until eventually we were singing the songs whole,” he explains. “Singing those tunes with my family is easily my greatest success in music. I hope those songs will still be useful to my girls someday when they’re old ladies and I’m gone. That’s all I’m after.”

In that sense, Culwell’s already achieved everything he could hope for with ‘The Last American.’ He’s crafted a collection that’s built to last, one that’s sturdy enough to weather the storms of today, and one that’s certain to be there for the brighter tomorrows still to come.
Venue Information:
3TEN Austin City Limits Live
310 Willie Nelson Blvd, Suite 1A
Austin, TX, 78701
http://www.3tenaustin.com/