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The BoDeans : Older and Wiser

story by tim mcmahan



Lazy-i: Sept. 15, 2004

The BoDeans
w/ Anonymous American
Friday, Sept. 17
8 p.m.
Sokol Auditorium
13th & Martha

It may have been eight years since their last studio album, but The BoDeans haven't gone anywhere. They certainly didn't break up, says Sam Llanas, half of the classic Americana duo whose soaring harmonies and earthy, roots-rock melodies made them the modern-day Everly Brothers.

"We never stopped playing together," Llanas said. "That's how we've made our living. We continued to play clusters of shows here and there. It wasn't as if we broke up."

Llanas, however, sounded a little skittish discussing their absence from the studio, talking from his Milwaukee home where he spends his off-tour time "just lying around, catching up on sleep." These days the duo's other voice, Kurt Neumann, lives down in Austin, putting a crimp on any collaborative songwriting when they're not on the road.




But their geographic separation had nothing to do with their lack of record productivity. The band's heyday began in the mid-'80s with a string of critically lauded records starting with their 1986 debut Love & Hope & Sex & Dreams, produced by twang legend T Bone Burnett. That was followed a year later by Outside Looking In, produced by Talking Heads member and fellow Wisconsonian Jerry Harrison. The BoDeans were quickly touted as the "Best New American Band" by Rolling Stone magazine as they headed out on tour with the likes of U2. Record collectors who organized their albums by genre placed their BoDeans discs right next to stuff by other roots hitmakers of the day like The Long Ryders, The Del Fuegos, Los Lobos and Spanic Boys.

The duo kept the ball rolling in the '90s, releasing four albums on Slash/Reprise, concluding with 1996's Blend. "After that, Reprise didn't renew our contract," Llanas said. "It was a good time to do our solo records. By '99 we had recorded the demos that would become Resolution. That's when we had trouble with our management. They didn't like our idea of recording the CD ourselves and shopping it around to labels. That's when we split with them."

Though they had been with Reprise since their debut, Llanas said shopping the CD around was a painless process. They sent it to 30 or 40 labels. Rounder/Zoe had a track record that the duo were looking for, Llanas said, and ended up releasing Resolution in June.

"When you're on a major label, there's a lot of pressure to have a big hit and make a slick record," he said. "We tried that a couple times and it didn't work for us. We said, 'Let's do what we do, and people who like it will like it; and those who don't, never will.'"

Produced at Neumann's Slamshack studio near Austin, Resolution continues in the same, homespun BoDeans' style characterized by its tight harmonies on songs that combine a hint of country with a large helping of rock. It's warm, easy-going music, with themes that rarely stray from the topics of love and dreams.

"We've always stuck to very simple music," Llanas said. "Real music about real people. It's not trendy. We're just a bunch of guys playing instruments, not virtuosos. But we really like what we do and that's the contagious part of our sound."







"We really like what we do and that's the contagious part of our sound."







"We're very private and don't want to be asked too many personal questions. A lot of people are turned off by that, but that's who we are."



He said the aging of their core audience is one of biggest changes he's seen over the past 20 years. "Everyone's older now. They're not kids anymore, they're in their 40s and it's not easy for them to come to shows," he said. "It's not the same as when we were younger and everyone wanted to party all night."

Another big change is the sheer volume of bands releasing music these days. "With the advent of home recording, everyone you know has a CD," Llanas said. "And most of them suck. There are so many choices out there and only a finite amount of money that people can spend on entertainment. Even big names like Eric Clapton are having a hard time selling tickets this year."

Llanas said that The BoDeans are comfortable with the small but loyal following they've managed to gather over their careers, which is a good considering how neither member has ever really enjoyed the limelight.

"I don't think we were cut out to be huge stars," Llanas said. "We don't like to talk to a lot of people. We're very private and don't want to be asked too many personal questions. A lot of people are turned off by that, but that's who we are."

Despite that, Llanas says he couldn't have found a career that would have made him happier. "Springsteen said if you're not having fun up there, you're doing something wrong. We've always really loved what we do and are grateful for the chance to do it. When I'm up on stage and look out and see people smiling and dancing, I realize what a gift this is."

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Published in The Omaha Reader Sept. 15, 2004. Copyright 2004 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.