Rhett Miller, songwriter and vocalist of Old 97’s, thinks you can try to be a rock star, or you can try to be a musician.
“When we started out, we wanted to do this years from now, and be proud of our music and the albums we’ve put out,” Miller said.
With almost 20 years of success but no major hits, it’s easy to see the alt-country quartet has succeeded at being the latter, especially with its 1997 breakout album, the fan favorite “Too Far to Care.”
“I think we have been lucky, and we’ve been workmanlike in our approach,” he said. “We’ve never swung for the fences, so we’ve never had a hit, but we’ve never burned out in our fans’ minds, either. We are benefactors of the accrued hours spent doing what we do.”
You can catch Old 97’s on Friday in a rare outdoor Opolis show in Norman, churning out alt-country tunes that are in turns sentimental and forceful.
“We’re not going gently into that good night,” Miller said.
Their tour schedule backs up that claim: They’re touring all through summer and fall, taking a break at the end of the year, and then turning out again in spring 2012.
“We’re touring pretty hard,” he said. “The hardest part of touring now is missing the family. When you’re younger, there aren’t so many chains to make you want to go back home much.”
But he won’t be taking a break, even when he gets home from the grueling tour.
“The guys get to take time off between records. I never take time off. I have to keep swimming, like a shark, or I’ll die,” Miller said.
However, even choosing songs for his solo records — he’s cut four so far — is an Old 97’s effort.
“I tend to let them listen to the songs and pick the ones they like, and the ones they don’t like will become solo-record songs,” Miller said.
The next one is in the distance, although 25 songs already have been amassed. Right now, he’s too busy promoting “The Grande Theatre Vol. 2” with his three bandmates, and fans love it.
“It’s always nerve-wracking to play new songs, but these have been instantly accepted,” Miller said. “‘I’m a Trainwreck’ is something of a fan favorite. We’ve found our groove with this album.”
That’s an odd statement for a group with such credentials.
“We’ve already got a best-of and a live album. And the 20th anniversary will be March 2013, which is around the time the next studio album will come out. And then we’ll go on our 20th-anniversary tour,” he said.
When that happens, it won’t be a victory lap, because the fans keep pouring in. “I feel really proud of our catalog.
We’re drawing more people than ever 20 years in,” Miller said. “I would say it’s unexpected, but it’s not. It was what our plan was: to get old doing this.”