Old 97's Unearth a 'Holy Cross' - Premiere

Singer Rhett Miller talks about the previously unreleased track and his band's upcoming milestone

Song Premiere: Old 97's, 'Holy Cross'
Danny Clinch
Old 97's
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Click to listen to Old 97's 'Holy Cross'

Tomorrow, the alt-country standard-bearers Old 97's celebrate the 15th anniversary of their signature third album, Too Far to Care, with the release of a double-disc, double-LP reissue. The edition is stocked with studio demos and a trio of previously unreleased tracks culled from the cutting room floor. Here, you can check out "Holy Cross," the one unearthed track that singer Rhett Miller believes could have made it onto the original LP.

"I love it; it's my mom's favorite song," Miller tells Rolling Stone of the twangy Texas shuffle. However, the track got the ax because it was too similar in key and tempo to Too Far's "House That Used to Be." "['House'] is maybe a more fully realized song, and maybe a slightly less maudlin story," he explains. "It's a little more subtle than 'Holy Cross,' which is a straight-up old story of a truck driver who dies on the road and how he has regrets and all that stuff. It's all right that it didn't make the record. 'Leave 'em wanting more' was our thought at the time."

Too Far, the group's 1997 major-label debut (on Elektra), captured the Texas outlaw-rock troubadours at the height of many next-big-thing expectations bestowed on them by fans, critics and the music industry. Miller recalls how that hype had to be blocked during the recording process. "We just went into it with a lot of confidence and a full head of steam and I think, most importantly, a real naïve unawareness of the pressures or the commercial aspect of the whole thing," Miller says. "We knew that we had our opportunity to make our great record and we weren't gonna blow it."

Though the band's late-Nineties labelmates like the Prodigy and Third Eye Blind achieved the kind of chart success that Elektra may have desired for the Old 97's, Miller maintains that the group didn't aim for the same mainstream stardom. "I think we all had an idea that us being one of those big pop bands was a total long shot," he recalls, "but I don't think we realized just how anachronistic and how out of place we were gonna sound on the radio." Not that he minds, necessarily. "Would I trade places with [Third Eye Blind singer] Stephan Jenkins right now?" he ponders. "Fuck no!"

Perennial road dogs that they are, Old 97's are pairing the Too Far to Care's plentiful goodies – including a bonus disc that will also be available as a stand-alone release, They Made a Monster: The Too Far to Care Demos – with a nationwide tour. Fittingly, the road played heavily into creating the album in the first place.

"I remember when I was writing the record, so much of my experience was trying to find pay phones on the side of the highway to call my girlfriend," he remembers, noting one lyric in particular: "Telephones make strangers out of lovers" from "Niteclub."

The next leg of the Old 97's tour kicks off October 14th with a performance at Austin City Limits Festival and wraps up October 29th at Nashville's Cannery Ballroom. On it, the Old 97's will play Too Far to Care in its entirety, along with a separate set of fan favorites, and Miller will open the shows with a solo set of songs from his latest effort, The Dreamer. The band is also holding a Willy Wonka-style contest for their fans: one LP copy of the reissue available in stores, and another copy ordered online directly from Omnivore Records, will contain a golden ticket granting the holder lifetime admission to all Old 97's shows.

Despite all these celebratory efforts, Miller isn't too keen to look back on the band’s breakthrough record. "I don't get nostalgic. I was the one that most had to be talked into doing this sort of retrospective," he says. " However, he acknowledges the importance of marking the milestone. "This record has always been something of a touchstone to our fans and even to the band. We sort of hold it up as the record where everything came together."

Old 97's Tour Dates:
10/14 Austin, TX – Austin City Limits Festival
10/16 St. Louis, MO – The Pageant
10/17 Madison, WI – Capitol Theater

10/18 Minneapolis, MN – First Avenue

10/19 Chicago, IL – Vic Theatre
10/20 Columbus, OH – Newport Music Hall
10/22 Boston, MA – Royale Night Club
10/23 New York, NY – Webster Hall
10/24 Brooklyn, NT – Music Hall of Williamsburg

10/25 Philadelphia, PA – Union Transfer

10/26 Washington, DC – 9:30 Club

10/27 Carrboro, NC – Cat's Cradle

10/29 Nashville, TN – Cannery Ballroom