The Racine-based outlaw country band conjures up sounds from a bygone era

There’s no shortage of cover bands out there, but it’ll be hard to find one that borrows from southern rock and outlaw country genres like Racine’s Empty Bottle Boys and One Shot Jane.

With a foundation of bluegrass and jam bands, this group of five not only have a huge library of songs to cover, but they also create original music that sounds so real that fans think it belongs to someone else.

Ahead of their November 26th show at George’s Tavern in Racine, we caught up with guitarists / singers Adam Lantz and Colby Millea to find out the motivation behind playing old – and new – music from a bygone era.

OnMilwaukee: Tell me a little bit about the history of the band.

Adam Lantz: Colby and I played in a bluegrass band for many years and we had a country night. We sat around and I sat on a dobro and an acoustic guitar and listened to Old Country on vinyl. And we just learned the songs. One day we looked at each other like, “Dude, we know all these songs we need to put together a country band.” And that’s how it happened, man. For years only playing until five in the morning and making records to learn songs.

How did you put the line-up together?

Lantz: My friend Sarah (Sorensen), who is now almost 11 years old, is a killer bass player and she used to play in another band with Jim (McPhaul) and Tom. The drummer is a semi-professional, back then he was still in a big touring band and so he was on board straight away. And then he called Tom (Nickel), the keyboardist. He plays the piano, synthesizer and violin, but is also versed with guitar, Hammond B3 and accordion. He was on board immediately and boom, it just happened.

What kind of pivot has it been in switching from bluegrass?

Colby Millea: I’ve played in a number of other bands with all kinds of music from jam band stuff to blues to southern rock and bluegrass. And then we started and I had never really played country before. It was very nostalgic for me and Adam and I just jumped on it and had so much fun with it and the band was born. For me, it wasn’t all I set out to do, but I was really happy when it finally came together.

But it’s more than just a country, isn’t it?

Lantz: We can go from a country band to a southern rock band in a split second. It depends on the amount. I would say Outlaw Country, Southern Rock is a good representation of the band. But we can do all that old Hank William stuff in a snap. You have to read your audience.

What do the people at George’s in Racine want to hear?

Lantz: They want more from Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Allman Brothers or Marshall Tucker. I just met your audience, it varies from bar to bar.

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They have a huge music library. How do you store all of this in your head?

Lantz: It looks weird on paper, but if you don’t think about it, you can sit and play all night. I would say 95% of them are unknown. We have some new stuff cheat sheets, but that’s one song in 40. There is some structure in things that are really hard to do. So it’s good to have it there, but we just know all this music.

How are your practices?

Millea: We meet religiously once a week and discuss the songs about new ideas. Adam is a damn good songwriter and has a library full of great songs. He wrote songs that fit that genre and we will work on that too. Even during the pandemic when everything was shut down, we met again a week to go over our music and that may be one reason why it’s so tight, mostly we run like a well-oiled machine.

Tell me a little bit about the original music that you make.

Lantz: It’s funny, people always say, “Was that song Jerry Jeff Walker?” And usually I just tell them yes. Because it’s such a nice compliment to me. We have our bluegrass band with all the original music and we still play a little bit of it, but the originals harmonize so well. People don’t even know.

People don’t really write that kind of music anymore, but you guys do. Do you feel connected to another time?

Lantz: There is actually no thought process at all. It just comes out. Both myself and Colby grew up on farms, and our grandparents were both big into country music. And I think it’s just been instilled in you for years.

I’ve heard that people are reluctant to be in a band when two of them are in a relationship. Is that true?

Millea: Oh, it’s great. They are super professional, they love to play together. These guys are just fun to play with. Usually you join a band and say, “Oh, my girlfriend will be in the band.” And you think, “Nah, dude, I’m out. We’re sorry. “But these guys work so well together and she brings so much to the table with harmonies and ideas. Girlfriend or not, we all have that kind of family vibe.

How did you choose the band name?

Millea: Adam is the greatest bourbon collector in the world that I know.

Is it cool to play with such experienced musicians?

Millea: You all worked your teeth out in LA in the ’60s and’ 70s playing with big bands. Then they got real jobs and business stuff and they retired, and now they’re going back to their musical roots. We are the lucky ones. It’s really nice to have a band that can do so many harmonies.

Where are your next upcoming gigs?

Lantz: After George’s, we have one in the Union Park Tavern in Kenosha.

Would you like to expand the band beyond Racine and Kenosha?

Lantz: We’d love to go to Milwaukee, but it’s extremely difficult to get five people together and get up there, set the tone, and leave for $ 50.

Nobody likes to work for free.

Lantz: Well, I’ve been doing that for 20 years. I mean, we, the drummer and the keyboard player, have been making music for almost 50 years, man.

But what if you could make it work financially?

Lantz: We’d like to go to festivals with this band next summer. I think that’s one of our goals for next year. We’re trying to expand to the larger Milwaukee venues. I’d love to start riding the rock laps of bigger country bands that are new to join, whether it’s New Country or Old Country. We love to play, we put one hell of a show everywhere we play.

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