‘Messed Up’ celebrates Old 97's at 20 

click to enlarge Old 97s
  • COURTESY ERIC RYAN ANDERSON
  • The new album by Old 97's, the band’s 10th, is semi-autobiographical.
Through five diverse solo albums, Old 97's bandleader Rhett Miller, 42, has followed his muse down the veritable rabbit hole, pushing the parameters on classic American songwriting in the process. But to celebrate his outfit’s 20th anniversary, he ricocheted back to its early cowpunk roots, circa 1997’s “Too Far To Care,” for a great new 10th effort, the semi-autobiographical “Most Messed Up.” The disc kicks off with the best opening line ever: “We’ve been doing this longer than you’ve been alive / Propelled by some mysterious drive.” Then it gallops through rakish, obscenity-peppered road reflections such as “Wasted,” “Nashville,” “Intervention” and the self-explanatory “Let’s Get Drunk and Get it On.”

It’s always good to look ahead with you, then work backwards. What other irons do you have in the fire? Well, I’m almost finished making this next solo record. We were mastering our (97's) record on Jan. 7, and that day I flew into Portland to start working with Chris Funk from the Decemberists. So I’ve been using their side band, Black Prairie, on this solo record, and Funk is producing. And Peter Buck is coming in to do some guitar, maybe some mandolin. It was the other stack of songs that I took to the 97's. Half of them were the “Most Messed Up” ones, the other half was really beautiful, sweet, pretty songs, like “Wanderlust,” “Escape Velocity” and “My Little Disaster.” And I’ve been writing with Richard Edwards from Margot and the Nuclear So and Sos for a project we’re doing that’s going to be a modern-day Louvin Brothers thing — a lot of harmonies, acoustic guitar and hellfire and brimstone.

But “Most” started with the trashy anthem “Nashville”? Well, really in Memphis, I’d finished the song “Wasted,” which is a thesis statement on the record — it’s about not taking a square job and instead devoting my life to rock ’n’ roll. So the next day, I went to Nashville and wrote “Nashville” with John McElroy, and he had some great advice for me — “I think your audience would really appreciate it if you walked out onstage and said ‘f---’.” It was really liberating.

What did you learn, looking back on two decades? You know that old adage — which I only learned because it was in a Butthole Surfers song — “You should never regret the things you’ve done, only the things you haven’t done”? I really found that to be the case. I’m not such a believer in epiphanies, but I had one. And now I want to write songs that speak about the moments in a life, instead of platitudes and homilies and advice from the stage. F--- that!

IF YOU GO

Old 97's

Where: Fillmore, 1805 Geary Blvd., S.F.

When: 9 p.m. Saturday

Tickets: $25

Contact: (415) 346-6000, www.livenation.com

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Tom Lanham

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