BROOKLYN, N.Y. – It may sound like a paradox: a country boy from Kansas inspired by a dark, moody film by Ingmar Bergman, which leads to success with psychedelic rock songs of the kind that bands like the Byrds used to play.
It’s a pretty interesting story altogether, Jason Rueger said.
“I think we’ve gained a reputation for our live shows,” said Rueger, guitarist for the Brooklyn-based rockers Country Mice.
“The majority of people who have been talking about us have been talking about our live show,” he said. “Some people get a misconception that we’re a folk band, but we’re much more in the psych-rock flavor. I’ve been really into the Byrds for some reason, and they’ve really been hitting me a lot lately.”
Country Mice is doing so well connecting with audiences, in fact, that the band is gearing up for a nationwide tour that could bring them to Orlando this spring, and in the meantime they’re set to release their second LP, “Hour of the Wolf,” on Feb. 19.
The LP’s title, Rueger said, was inspired by the 1967 movie by Swedish director Bergman, about the eerie and ghostly things that can happen in the pitch dark moments before sunrise.
“It definitely comes directly from that,” he said. “A really good friend and roommate is a big Ingmar Bergman fan, and I really gravitated to that one.”
The LP’s songs, Rueger added, were actually written in the dark hours in the middle of the night, a result of both the guitarist’s ongoing problem with insomnia – and the fact that night has proven to be a very inspiring time for him creatively.
“It’s based on the hours I can’t sleep, and I have suffered from that for a while,” he said. “I would say probably 95 percent of the time I write songs, it’s past midnight for some reason. Something clicks around that hour, and my creative juices start flowing. It’s the time when I’m most productive.”
If it sounds like a moody time of the day to feel creative, Rueger said that’s definitely the case with his songs as well.
“For some reason, I’m not in the process to write happy songs yet,” he said. “I grew up on a farm in Kansas, and my family is there, and there’s a lot of thinking in my songs about my move to New York and being away from the people you love. It’s this sense of displacement. I think a lot of my lyrics have derived from that.”
Even growing up in a rural area, Rueger said he always loved rock music, particularly hits from the 1960s and 1970s.
“Music has been such a part of my life since I was really little,” he said. “It was basically classic rock albums from the 1960s and 1970s. That’s my earliest memories, getting together with friends to listen to the Who and the Doors and Led Zeppelin.”
He began playing guitar at age 14, and never looked back, performing in local bands while still in high school, finding venues wherever their auto would take them along the dusty plains of rural Kansas.
“It was a completely different monster there,” Rueger said. “The shows you get are much fewer and far between. You’d drive next to an hour and still call it a pseudo-local show. But in Kansas, you have room and time to get together with a band and really play together. I think about the freedoms I had in Kansas and really miss it.”
But he knew that bigger cities offered better opportunities, and four years ago, Rueger decided to leave Kansas and his family and relocate to New York City, where he would eventually meet fellow guitarist Ben Bullington, bassist Mike Feldman and drummer Kurt Kuehn, and formed Country Mice.
“I just wanted to pick a city and see what a bigger city would do for me, and I decided I would either go to Chicago or New York,” he said, adding that he met Bullington through a mutal friend and “We’ve been best buds since. It was very odd for me how quickly it happened, finding people who wanted to do this.”
Finding audiences was no problem, either, he added.
“That’s one thing I really love about this city,” he said. “There’s a lot of hard things about living here, but people who want to find venues to play, it’s really great for that, and it’s not like you’re stepping on anybody’s toes.”
The band released its debut album, “Twister,” in 2011, winning rave reviews in publications like Spin Magazine, and drawing comparisons to the likes of Wilco, Neil Young, and Sonic Youth. After spending the last few years touring across the U.S., they wrapped up recording their new album with producer Doug Boehm, which Lotion Records is releasing on Feb. 19 as “Hour of the Wolf.” Then the band will be heading on tour – including likely stops in Florida, Rueger said.
“In March or April we’re definitely coming back down to Orlando as part of our tour,” Rueger said. “It seems like for the past three years, we’ve always come down to Florida. We’ve played in Orlando before and have friends in Melbourne. We’ve done Tampa a number of times, and Jacksonville. That’s what I really love about Florida, there are so many cities away from one another that you can build a whole tour around them. Melbourne and Tampa audiences have been awesome.”
And that has become a passion for the band, he said: connecting with audiences while they’re on stage.
“First and foremost, it’s not about me talking to the audience, it’s just making the songs sound good – no sloppy parts in playing them,” he said. “We’ll extend some jams out and make it interesting so it doesn’t sound just like it does on the album.”
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