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Interview: The Bottle Babies

The Bottle Babies-slide0
Beth Austin

If you go to shows in Norfolk, it would be hard to imagine that you haven’t heard of The Bottle Babies. Those guys have been killing it around here for over ten years, and show no signs of slowing down. They’ve released two new EPs in under a year (with a third in the works), and are about to hit the road to New York later this month. Safe to say, they’re busier than ever.

The Bottle Babies
Beth Austin

Recently, I was able to catch up with the guys and ask them about their latest release, the New York trip and, of course, The Quick Six.

And hey, don’t just skip down to The Quick Six or you won’t find out who’s a The Bay City Rollers fan. Yeah, I know, right?

Beth Austin: So for people who aren’t familiar with you, who’s who and what do you do?

Eric Thornton: Todd Owens (vocals), Billy England (guitar), Mike Rustad (bass and vocals), Jaime McGuffey (drums), and I’m on guitar and vocals.

Beth: I know a couple of you guys have known each other for what — decades? When did you look at each other and say, “Hey, lets do this?”

Eric: The idea for The Bottle Babies came about as a side project, while Darbe Warner and I were in Thee Apostles and Billy was in The Strap-Ons. Todd, who’s been my friend since 1982, was almost a fourth member of Thee Apostles. Eventually, Billy left The Strap-Ons and Darbe moved out of state, thus bringing Thee Apostles to an end. The next logical progression was for Todd, Billy and I to move forward as The Bottle Babies. We met Mike, at Colley Cantina, shortly there after. We played a couple of shows with Greg Wise (The Unabombers) on drums, but the real sound finally gelled when Jaime joined the band. And the rest is history.

Beth: And how did you come up with the name?

Eric: Darbe came up with it.

Todd Owens: It’s pre-prohibition era slang for a drunk. We came to find out later, that it was used frequently in downtown Norfolk when referring to young sailors out on the town carrying liquor bottles. The bars didn’t sell liquor, but you could bring your own and pay to have it served. Or something like that. So all the young drunk sailors staggering down Granby Street, carrying half empty liquor bottles, were called Bottle Babies.

Beth: Cool, I had no idea. Okay so, you’ve been together for what, ten plus years now? That’s pretty damned impressive—congrats! Basically, I would imagine a band is like a marriage, but with lots of spouses. So what’s your secret to a happy band marriage?

Eric: Yep, ten years! I think we‘ve stayed together because we’ve been on the same page with what we want to do. And we pretty much know the good, the bad and the ugly about each other. These four dudes are like my brothers, they’re not just some guys I’m in a band with.

Jamie McGuffey: Respect, when it comes down to it. I know these are the best players I can make music with and they have my back.

Todd: It’s never really been too tough keeping it together. Eric and I have been friends since junior high, and all of us get along great. We got lucky. It’s hard to imagine doing it without any of them. We’ve played a show or two when one of us wasn’t there, and it just wasn’t the same. We have our “spats,” but they’re always minor and over with quickly. If I knew the secret, I’m not sure I’d tell ya…

Billy England: I think it’s the admiration and love of music between us. Plus, we get along and have become good friends—brothers from different mothers.

Mike Rustad: And I think not taking things too seriously also helps, along with copious amount of beer.

Beth: Most, if not all of you, have played in The Bottle Babies and other bands at the same time. How do you switch gears when, say, you’ve got two band practices or two different shows in a short span of time?

Billy: As a musician, I can’t marry myself with one type of music. It’s not just punk ’n’ roll, garage rock, rock ’n’ roll, or whatever you wanna label The Bottle Babies’ music. I love most styles of music, so switching gears is easy for me. I grew up playing a mixture of bluegrass, gospel and country. Later, I got turned on to punk rock. Then I incorporated everything with the rock and new wave that I was listening to at the time. So, going from one genre to another is easy. It comes naturally. As a musician you’ve gotta be versatile, being a one trick pony doesn’t cut it.

On our new EP, we have a song called “Ain’t No Punk” that’s played in the early hardcore punk style of the 80’s. If you listen to the lyrics, Todd states that he/we “ain’t no punk.” We listen to, and are inspired by, all types of music.

Beth: Speaking of “Ain’t No Punk,” tell me about the new Norfolk’s Finest CD. Didn’t you also release another one not too long ago? Back in November, right? Why did you release two EPs instead of a full length album?

Jamie: It’s a better dynamic now for a band to do small, quick releases. The idea was to do three EPs with five songs to keep the energy up, and I think it’s working. Ultimately, I’d like to see a full length vinyl album compiled from these three EPs.

Beth: Me too!

Todd: If we wait to release a full length album, it could be up to, or over a year, before the project is ready. So we figured we’d release five song EPs, every five to six months, to keep our songwriting momentum going.

Eric: Besides, no one wants to sit down and listen to ten plus songs, by one band, anymore.

Beth: Well, I have to say, there are times I do. Sometimes I wish a disc was longer just because I’m enjoying it so much. But that does make perfect sense—leave them wanting more. So yeah, Jamie, it IS working! How many CDs have you released over the years?

Todd: We’ve had five. The two song demo, Two Drink Minimum, then Born on A Bender, The Amazing Disgrace (both LPs), The Bottle Babies EP, and now the new one, Norfolk’s Finest, also an EP.

Eric: And we’ve also got a track on the soon to be released compilation, Wild American Radio 2014.

Beth: Where can people get Norfolk’s Finest and all the others?

Todd: You can get everything by contacting the band on our Facebook page. They can also be picked up at shows. We’ll also be putting them on Bandcamp soon. Right now, you can get some of our earlier stuff on Bandcamp for free.

Beth: About the songs, who are the primary song writers and what’s the process?

Todd: Eric and I write most of the songs initially. Then we bring them to the band and arrange them together. Lately, we’ve been starting the songs off by text and voicemail. I’ll think of some lyrics, send them to him, and he writes some music for it. Then we get together and kick it around. It’s a lot of fun writing with Eric, especially since I don’t play an instrument.

Eric: Once we bring it to the other guys, they put their spin on it. That’s when it can really go into a different direction. Although I love performing, I really love the song writing process and seeing the idea turn into a recorded song.

Jamie: We asked Eric the other day,” How different is this song from when you wrote it?” The collaboration is key, but yeah, Todd and Eric are the primary writers.

Beth: Who are your musical heroes or influences?

Jamie: I grew up musically listening to eight-tracks of Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard while riding around northern Alabama in my grandpa’s Buick. Sometime around middle school, I got into poor man’s punk, meaning whatever was available. I can’t say I have heroes from that. I just felt lucky to hear something new.

Mike: I grew up listening to all varieties of music — rock, punk, fusion, jazz, really anything. I always seemed to lock in on the bass lines.

Billy: My musical influences are all over the map depending on which instrument I’m playing. When I picked up guitar in my early teens, I fell in love with The Edge’s (U2) style of guitar as well as Gregg Ginn (Black Flag), Bob Forrest, (Thelonious Monster), Steve Wynn (Dream Syndicate), Billy Duffy (The Cult), Robert Smith (The Cure), Bill Taft (The Jody Grind), Steve Stevens (Billy Idol), and Buddy Guy, the legendary bluesman.

All of those guitarists had a profound effect on helping create the monster that stands before you today.

Todd: That’s a toughie. I think my biggest influence, performance wise, is David Yow from Jesus Lizard, but I think Scott Weiland is one hell of a performer too. It’s somewhere between the two. I just want the audience to have as much fun as I’m having up there, so I’ll do whatever it takes.

Eric: Johnny Ramone, Dee Dee Ramone, Keith Richards and Johnny Thunders. I like it simple, catchy and to the point.

Beth: What was the last thing you listened to?

Todd: Arctic Monkeys, AM, and I’ve been digging on the new Morrissey record. I listen to a TON of A Perfect Circle, TOOL and The Cure while I paint.

Mike: The Rolling Stones, Goats Head Soup.

Billy: I’ve been jamming to The Connells, Manchester Orchestra, Tiger Love and the new Wilco album.

Eric: The Bay City Rollers, Greatest Hits.

Jamie: Rachmaninoff, Piano Concerto No. 2 Op.18, performed by Anna Fedorova. Beth, look it up on YouTube, you will understand!

Beth: Thanks, Jamie! I think it’s cool you’re listening to classical. I enjoy it as well. Nothing can chill me out faster. So, is there anything you guys can’t stop listening to?

Todd: (Laughs) The voices in my head and that Arctic Monkeys, AM album.

Billy: Almost every day, I listen to a few songs from the band, LOUIS XIV. I wish they were still together.

Eric: The Bay City Rollers, Greatest Hits.

Beth: Eric, I thought you were kidding! Wow, okay. So do you have a favorite Bay City Roller? Mine was Eric. He had the best spiky hair, and these great cut off jean shorts that said,“Spank Me,”on the back of them. The first time I heard “Rebel Rebel,” was when Eric sung it on the It’s A Game album. I was in junior high and was unaware it was a Bowie song. (hangs head)

Eric: Yep, Eric Faulkner is my favorite too! We also have the same birthday, October 21!

Beth: Get outta town—you know his last name! I can’t believe it…

Eric: It’s true! Even on their Saturday morning TV show, I thought he was the coolest.

Beth: He was, but damn that show was terrible. Aw, I think we just had a moment…

Okay. So Todd, I think you’re one hell of a frontman. I absolutely love shooting you. Over the years, I’ve seen you do some pretty wild stuff, including full on somersaults off of raised stages. Have you ever gotten hurt?

Todd: Thanks Beth, I just have so much fun up there doing what I do. None of it is choreographed or planned. So yes, I have injured myself on numerous occasions. My wife has carried me to the car more times than she’s cared to. (laughs) I have numerous scars, knots and other “trophies” from our shows. I was a rough and tumble kinda kid, so I guess in that way, I’m still a rough and tumble “kid”.

Jamie: I should add that Todd is one of the best frontmen AND singers ever!

Beth: Eric, my Bottle Babies T-shirt has your trademark sunglasses on it. So what’s with the glasses?

Eric: One time we decided to wear mirrored shades and cop mustaches (don’t ask) for a show. I liked the look, sans the cop stache, so I kept them. It may be hard to believe, but I’m kind of a shy person. The shades sort of help me hide.

Beth: The camera does the same for me, Eric. So tell me about the upcoming trip. You guys are about to hit the road to New York, right?

Todd: Yes indeed! Aug 23 in Brooklyn at Don Pedro with The Jacked Bennies and some other bands. It’s been awhile since we’ve traveled past Richmond to play, so we’re really excited to be back on the road.

Beth: On that note, where are you favorite places to play and why?

Mike: Any place out of town. I love road trips with the band. Locally, the Norva has a pretty great sound system and stage. Belmont House Of Smoke is a great venue, too. Patrick is a real pro. I can’t count the number of times we have played at The Taphouse—it’s always a rocking time.

Jamie: Things are changing here. I’m looking forward to The Parlor on Granby. This town is full of music and I hope the bands will support all of the venues.

Todd: I like all the venues that we play at in Norfolk. I know that sounds like a cop out answer, but in every place, there are friends that work there or own it. We get treated fairly and always have a good time. If I HAD to pick one, it would be Belmont House Of Smoke, because of the stage and the soundman, Patrick Walsh.

Billy: Yep, I agree with Todd, Belmont, although I’m partial to The Taphouse and 80/20 too.

Beth: What if you could get a gig anywhere in the world? Where would it be?

Mike: I think we’d go over great in Barcelona, Spain. It’s a fun city with a lot of people who like to party. A trip to Europe with the band is high on my to-do list.

Todd: The Cavern Club, in Germany, CBGB and First Avenue, in Minnesota, just because.

Billy: Prince Albert Hall, in London, because the acoustics are crazy awesome. And The Trash Bar, in Brooklyn, New York because it’s a world famous dive bar with a legacy of hosting bands in our genre. We’d fit right in.

Jamie: Any place where people would just enjoy the sh*t out of it. People make the show, not the place.

Beth: Story time. Tell me about your craziest show.

Mike: I’m told it was Halloween nine years ago at the New Belmont. I really don’t remember.

Todd: I would say the “final” night at the original Colley Cantina. I was covered in broken glass, blood,“bar floor funk,” and I spray-painted “BYE” on the wall at the end of the set.

Beth: I was there. It was nuts, sad and beautifully messy. Hey, this has been great, thanks you guys. Now one last question before we get to The Quick Six. What’s in the future for The Bottle Babies?

Todd: To keep writing, recording and playing shows. We’ll be starting on the new EP in the next month or two. And we hope to have another five song EP out before the end of the year.

Eric: To try to get out of town a little more, keep playing shows with our friends, never take ourselves too seriously and to just keep on keeping on!

Jamie: I’m not sure how much any of us has thought about the “future.” I think we’re all very proud of right now!

Beth: As you should be, very zen of you, Jamie.

Okay guys, its time for The Quick Six! Here we go…


Beth: Ramones or Stooges?
Mike: R-A-M-O-N-E-S, Ramones.
Todd: R.A.M.O.N.E.S.
Eric: Ramones.
Jamie: Stooges. Oooooh!

Beth: Krispy Kreme or Dunkin’?
Mike: Krispy Kreme. I’m from Winston-Salem, after all.
Billy: Krispy Kreme.
Todd: Krispy Kreme.
Jamie: Krispy Kreme.
Eric: Krispy Kreme.

Beth: Clowns or the dark?
Jamie: Ha, ha, that’s f*cked up!. Clowns.
Eric: Clowns.
Mike: I have a low opinion of clowns, and they’re far scarier than the dark.
Todd: Clowns.
Billy: The dark…Unless we’re talking about “John Wayne Gacy” type of clowns, then clowns.

Beth: Betty or Veronica?
Mike: Veronica.
Todd: Betty.
Eric: Betty.
Jamie: Which one was the brunette? Oh, Veronica!

Beth: Sixteen Candles or Breakfast Club?
Mike: Breakfast Club.
Eric: Sixteen Candles.
Todd: Breakfast Club.
Billy: Breakfast Club.
Jamie: Sixteen Candles.

Beth: George Jefferson or Fred Sanford?
Billy: Fred Sanford, “You big dummy…Oh Lawd, I’m comin’ Elizabeth!”
Jamie: Fred Sanford.
Todd: George Jefferson.
Eric: Fred Sanford.
Mike: Veronica.

To keep up with The Bottle Babies, check them out on Facebook, Twitter and Bandcamp.

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