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Wednesday, September 17, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 62.0° F  Mostly Cloudy
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Hanging in there
The Bottle Rockets persist as the music biz crumbles.
The Bottle Rockets persist as the music biz crumbles.

Bottle Rockets
Thursday, May 17, High Noon Saloon, 9 pm

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

The old adage rings true for Bottle Rockets frontman Brian Henneman. When he formed the alt-country band in 1992, CD sales were booming and major labels controlled the destiny of popular music.

"The Internet came along and destroyed the industry," Henneman said in a recent phone interview. "The record companies aren't the gatekeepers anymore. There are a trillion bands now you can hear online."

How has all of that affected the Bottle Rockets?

"We've somehow managed to get along without it really changing us," said Henneman, 45. "We were never that big back then. Now nobody's really big, but it feels the same to us."

Technology isn't the only thing that has evolved during the Bottle Rockets' eight-album career. Band members have come and gone. Kurt Voegele replaced Robert Kearns on bass last year. John Horton was added as a second guitarist. That's not a problem for Henneman, who has worked with the same drummer for 26 years.

"Mark [Ortmann] and I are both from Festus, Missouri. We were in a band called Chicken Truck that got kind of famous in St. Louis."

Labels have come and gone, too.

"Atlantic Records signed us in the '90s," Henneman recalled. "But that was right after Uncle Tupelo hit, and every label was trying to pick up a band like that."

The band is now signed to the indie label Bloodshot.

One thing really has changed Henneman's life, but it's not about music. He quit drinking six years ago.

"That made things 100% better for me personally and for everyone else in the band," he said. "Suddenly we weren't like the Replacements anymore - there was no more drunken debauchery."

The band titled their 2006 album Zoysia. That's also the name for a slow-growing variety of grass with a deep root system. Zoysia may be the ideal symbol of the Bottle Rockets' stable serenity in a turbulent music biz.

Where other bands talk URLs and MP3s, Henneman still talks about the old-fashioned rock 'n' roll road life. He's lived it for more than 20 years.

"I don't just know every gas station out there," he said. "I know every bathroom in every gas station."

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