When alternative-country was hitting its mid-’90s stride, two of its leading lights were the Old 97s and Whiskeytown. And for a time, the bands were on very friendly terms.
“Ryan was such a sweet kid at first,” 97s frontman Rhett Miller said when I interviewed him for “Losering” last year. “I met him when he opened for the Old 97s with the Freight Whalers, and he might have been 18. We could tell he had something special. So we became friends, and they were getting signed at the same time. He’d call up and ask what I thought about different deals and offers. It was very friendly. But then we did that No Depression tour, and I think the fact that they had to play before us every night really got under his skin.”
That was the beginning of the for-the-papers “feud” between Whiskeytown and the Old 97s, which you’ll find more about in chapter seven of the book. A decade and a half later, Miller seemed to find the whole thing mystifying and amusing in equal parts.
“I’ve got no hard feelings and he’s obviously very talented,” Miller said of Ryan. “I heard a song of his on the radio, from one of those Cardinals albums, and it was so beautiful. Yeah, he’s got a lot of talent. I hope he figures out how to use it.”
Old 97s are on tour this fall marking the 15-year anniversary of their signpost album, Too Far to Care. The tour plays Saturday night at Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro.