For the BoDeans, a Melancholy Album and an Uncertain Future
Today, Neumann lives in Austin
and has a recording studio in a building on his Texas property. He still plays drums and
guitar and writes songs with Llanas, with whom he penned the BoDeans’ the
popular “Closer to Free.” During the past 27 years, the band made its name
among roots-rock fans, opening for U2 on The
Joshua Tree tour, working with producers Jerry Harrison and T-Bone Burnett,
being voted 1987’s “Best New American Band” by Rolling Stone readers, and seeing “Closer to Free” chosen as the
theme song for Fox TV’s Party of Five.
One would think Neumann would be on top of his game.
But changes in the music business, the band and Neumann’s own sense of self
have mellowed the singer/songwriter’s already tenuous optimism. In fact, one
might consider the maturity and melancholia that characterize Mr. Sad Clown (429 Records), the new
album the BoDeans released in April, as a reflection of Neumann’s persona in an
age of commercial anxiety.
“When we were
younger and starting out, it was about energy and craziness and getting laid,”
Neumann says. “We’re different people today and we have a different sound
that’s more reflective of who we are.”
Then there is the album title itself, which appears
as part of a musical bridge in the album’s ballad “Today,” that’s surprisingly
“I was at a
party in Milwaukee when I was in high school, sitting next to the speakers by
myself listening to Pink Floyd or something, and a very drunk girl came up to
me and asked, ‘What’s the matter, Mr. Sad Clown?’” Neumann remembers. “She had
The phrase stuck with Neumann, characterizing the
tonality and theme of the album’s 15 tracks, as well as the songwriter’s
personal views. The rising tide of public appreciation for roots rock helped
the BoDeans early in their career, but a lack of widespread notoriety has kept
significant commercial success for the band at bay, creating a future that
Neumann says he lives just one year at a time.
thought we were one of the best American bands out there,” he says. “We always
said we wanted to keep making records. We’ve gotten to where we want to be, but
it would have been nice to have become better known worldwide.”
Issues with management and its record label slowed
the band’s progress early in the new century. Along with age, it’s also changed
the BoDeans’ current sound, which Neumann describes as “broken down”—not
necessarily acoustic, but significantly softer and more lyrical than the band’s
“Sometimes, doing something new means doing
something less,” Neumann says in reference to the band’s May 28 Marcus Center
for the Performing Arts show. “We’re playing our songs in a much quieter style
that most people haven’t heard before. I just hope people come out and see the
Changing musical styles and a declining fan base,
even in its own hometown, has caused Neumann concern about The BoDeans’ future.
“The audiences have gotten smaller and it’s getting
harder to reach people,” Neumann says. “We always said if we couldn’t keep it
going we would just pack it in. Right now we’re just taking it a year at a time
and we’ll see what happens.”
The BoDeans play the Marcus Center on Friday, May 28 at 8 p.m. with opener Paul Cebar.