On the upcoming second album by Country Mice, adopted Brooklynites Jason Rueger (guitar, lead vocals), Ben Bullington (guitar, vocals), Kurt Kuehn (drums), and Mike Feldman (bass) take the leap from home recording to professional studio, with producer Doug Boehm behind the board.
Country Mice have gained a respectable following in the New York area and beyond, but expect to see their name around a lot more after Hour of the Wolf is released in February. Think earnest rural Middle America rock for city folk—songs that not only sound great on your headphones, but let you know that you need to see these guys play a live rock ‘n roll show as soon as you possibly can. Where Twister was an unbridled youthful rocker, Hour of the Wolf keeps that energy while showcasing a discipline and maturity that allows for a more focused freedom.
They’ve already shared the stage with bands such as The War on Drugs and The Whigs, but they’re just getting started. We recently sat down with Jason to ask him about the past, present, and future of Country Mice. We’re also excited to premiere the band’s single “Giving Your Heart Away,” below.
AUSTIN NELSON: What do you think are the biggest differences between the new record, Hour of the Wolf, and your first one, Twister?
JASON RUEGER: I think the biggest differences are the usual suspects—growth in the band, growth in the writing—but the biggest step was actually going into a real studio and getting a producer to bolster the sound. We did the first one in our bass player’s mom’s basement on a little Tascam recording unit into ProTools and just learned along the way, and this time we got Doug Boehm, who’s done Girls, Drive-By Truckers, The Whigs, and a bunch of great stuff. It was a good fit and we wanted a good sounding rock-‘n’-roll record and I think that’s what we got.
NELSON: I know there are a lot of pros to a big studio, but what was the hardest part about being in a professional studio versus recording at home?
RUEGER: Instantly when you walk in you see all these guitars and toys you can play with, so the scope is huge, so you have to be aware of your time and not mess around with the Hammond organ all day, even though it’s right there and sounds incredible. [laughs] Doug is a great producer and kept us moving the whole time. He’s a great coordinator.
NELSON: So, what are your hopes for this album?
RUEGER: Well, really it’s that playing music for people is what we love to do more than anything in the world, and an album can help sustain that. I just want to keep playing these songs. Especially in a city like New York, with rent and everything, you have to adjust your lifestyle, and I just hope this record can keep that going. And it won’t stop, regardless, but I want to keep going and the rest of the band does, too.
NELSON: Who were your main influences growing up?
RUEGER: I was reminded very viscerally the other night as I was going through my record collection that Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti album was a huge influence on me when I was 13-14, sort of developing my style, but Hendrix, Cream, that whole late-’60s, early-’70s psychedelic rock, then I got into jazz a little bit, George Benson, and that’s sort of taken me to where I am now. As far as songwriting, Dylan, Neil Young, Jeff Tweedy. They all paint such beautiful pictures with their words. It’s abstract and you can understand it and call it your own and it’s very personal to them at the same time.
NELSON: Musically speaking, what circles do you imagine Country Mice being in? Who do you guys want to play with? What groups do you listen to the most?
RUEGER: You know, the dream would be Neil Young, Wilco. They’ve both been huge influences for such a long time. Some local acts not as big yet? I’d love to play with Purling Hiss, The Fresh & Onlys. I’m a big fan of Girls, too. Christopher Owens is an amazing songwriter that I really respect. I feel like he’s very honest in his lyrics.
NELSON: What’s the songwriting process like for you?
RUEGER: Typically it’s at night. I’ve suffered for a long time of not being able to sleep and it’s been a crutch and a curse, because when I’m up late at night, my brain is firing all these ideas out for lyrics and songs, but then I’m always wrecked the next day. But once I have that sketch done, I send that to the guys and we take it to the rehearsal space and we just form it from there.
NELSON: Do you come up with the music and the lyrics independently or do they manifest at the same time?
RUEGER: I really feel like they happen at the same time. Certain chords just draw certain words out of you and lead you down a path. It’s kind of exhilarating, because you know what you’re going to write about, but you don’t know what you’re going to say. It’s like you’re standing at the edge of a forest and you’re going to go in, but you don’t know if you’re going to make it out or if it’s going to be dark or light. Chords and notes are colors and words inside themselves. You can play a certain chord and it will just pull something out of you that you didn’t remember was inside you or maybe weren’t even aware of.
NELSON: Do you think any part of your lyrics or songwriting is different being here in New York versus being in Kansas?
RUEGER: Yeah, I think that is one of the key elements, because there is this sense of displacement, and when you pull yourself away from something you love so much, it really comes out in the lyrics. Relationships change and evolve, but my heart and mind always go back to the farm where I grew up.
HOUR OF THE WOLF IS OUT FEBRUARY 19 ON LOTION RECORDS. FOR MORE ON THE BAND, VISIT ITS WEBSITE.