Impromptu magic: Rhett Miller and Old 97's celebrate 30 years with 'American Primitive'

Mar. 30—When he's not on the road, Rhett Miller has a long list of chores to complete.

Today, he's taking his car into the shop.

Then cleaning the house before a Rolling Stone writer comes over for an interview.

"He comes tonight, so I have some time," he says. "Time keeps going and going, and I try to keep up."

Miller is the driving force behind rock band Old 97's, which is marking its 30th year recording in the music industry.

The band — which includes Murry Hammond, Ken Bethea, Philip Peeples and Miller — announced its 13th studio album, "American Primitive."

The album was produced by Tucker Martine and features guest musicians like Peter Buck of R.E.M. and Scott McCaughey of The Young Fresh Fellows and The Minus 5.

Old 97's will make a stop on Wednesday, April 3, at Tumbleroot Brewery & Distillery in Santa Fe.

Miller says the album was recorded fast and furious over just a couple weeks in Portland, Oregon, with zero preproduction, relying solely on the instincts of playing together for over three decades.

As the songwriter, Miller spent the process grappling with complex questions of love and mental illness and the routinely daunting state of the world.

The first single is called "Where the Road Goes."

"(The song) revisits some of the darkest moments of my life, including a suicide attempt at age 14 that by all rights I shouldn't have lived through and yet somehow did," Miller says. "In a way it's like a spiritual travelogue that rolls back through all the places that shaped me for better or worse, and ends up in this beautiful place that I felt so thankful to experience."

Miller says many of the songs on the album he's lived with for a while before showing them to the other members.

He brought in 40 songs into the recording studio.

"There were so many songs and I put them out there and saw where the band members were willing to go," he says. "I think the album benefits from the impromptu way of the album. It's not perfect. The way everyone in the band responded shows how we interact as human beings. The flaws are what make it so."

Miller spends a lot of his time writing on his own.

When he's not along, he's leading songwriting retreats.

"I love the craft of songwriting and as I get older, it fits more," he says. "I'm always hustling and there are different outlets for my creativity. Songwriting is still the first thing I reach for when I'm trying to make sense of the world. It's the tool in my kit I reach for when I'm trying to process things."

Getting into the studio went quickly with very little obstacles, though there was one day that was tough for the band.

"We were recording 'Western Stars' and it was tricky," Miller says. "We had a photographer in the studio and it wasn't natural for us to be performing and then thinking that we had to make a great photo."

Miller is looking forward to returning to New Mexico.

"When I was in high school and shortly thereafter, I was in New Mexico a lot," he says. "Then Murray lived out there and we'd go visit and go camping and hiking. It's a wonderful place to get centered."