Old 97’s with Telegraph Canyon
8 p.m. Friday
Wormy Dog Saloon
311 E. Sheridan
Rhett Miller still dreams about his band.
Since forming in Dallas in 1993, Old 97’s have recorded seven full-length studio albums in addition to a handful of other releases, including split EPs, compilations and live recordings. The band ” singer/guitarist Miller, bassist Murry Hammond, guitarist Ken Bethea and drummer Philip Peeples ” had enough material to book four back-to-back nights at Dallas’ storied Sons of Hermann Hall in December. The Old 97’s played more than 100 songs at the concert series without repeats, spare one: the quartet’s signature “Timebomb,” which closed out each of the shows.
These days, the musicians are spread between Texas and both coasts, but despite distance, family life and a successful solo career, Miller said Old 97’s remain omnipresent and all-consuming.
“There I am, onstage with the band, and Philip won’t play because he’s reading a newspaper,” Miller said, recalling a recent dream about his bandmates. “With the hours I’ve logged in real life and the hours I’ve logged in my dream life with the Old 97’s, we don’t need to rehearse.”
And rehearse the Old 97’s don’t.
The group is in Oklahoma this week for a three-day concert run that starts Thursday at the WinStar World Casino in Thackerville and ends at the Cain’s Ballroom in Tulsa. Old 97’s perform Friday night at the Wormy Dog Saloon.
They’ll meet up at Sons of Hermann Hall again in late March, this time to start pre-production for their eighth studio album. Built in 1911, the venue has become a landmark that’s staged an impressive list of performers, including Old 97’s, who have a long history with the club’s charm and quirks.
“It’s kind of amazing ” haunted and everything,” Miller said, “such a cool, famous, weird, old room.”
Texas-based singer/songwriter Salim Nourallah ” who produced both Old 97’s most recent studio album, 2008’s “Blame It on Gravity,” and Miller’s latest solo effort, 2009’s self-titled release ” helped the group record the four-night December show and is producing both a forthcoming Hermann Hall live project and the new studio album, the Miller said.
He has already banked 20 to 25 songs for the new album, a frenetic deluge of creativity the front man said was inspired by a solo stint last fall, a month-long European tour opening for legendary singer/songwriter Steve Earle.
“It was so new and different, a humbling experience. I’ve never really laid the groundwork over there and people don’t really know who I am,” Miller said, lamenting that his band hasn’t yet toured Europe ” a managerial “oversight” he’s determined to correct. “It was a fish-out-of-water thing. It took me back to those early days of the Old 97’s where I was trying to win over new audiences and really trying to prove myself. I like that.”
Miller plans to track his fifth solo album some time after Old 97’s recording sessions this spring. There’s no real routine when it comes to his writing, he said. Some songs are immediately identified as destined for a solo release, while others are obvious band tracks. He starts the process on his own by writing and recording demos, which he sends to his bandmates and Nourallah.
“The band always gets first crack at the song,” Miller said. “If it doesn’t seem to work, then I’ll hold onto it for myself.”
Miller is “weighing options” concerning the details of his solo album and has yet to commit to any concrete release plans. He and the band have worked with both major imprints such as Elektra and independent labels like New West, Bloodshot and Idol, and Miller fondly recalls “getting to ride the last wave of the major-label system” and the deep, corporate pockets that financed big-name producers and well-known studios.
“We had a company that would spend literally billions trying to get people to know who you were, and that’s awesome. You don’t get that any more,” he said, recalling having the means in 1999 to block out a month at the iconic Kingsway studio in New Orleans to record “Fight Songs” with Old 97’s, and getting to spend four months with Jon Brion (Rufus Wainwright, Fiona Apple, Kanye West), who produced his 2002 solo album, “Instigator.”
“It was crazy. I will probably never make another record like that. It was kind of opulent, but it was a good experience,” Miller said, noting that these days, he’s “kinda over the whole major-label thing.”
“It really seems like the only power they have is the power to tell you that your record is dead,” he said.