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Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2008

Twenty Years of Supersuckers

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  The Supersuckers are the greatest rock 'n' roll band in the world. It says so right on their Web site. And album covers. And merchandise.

  "At least 25% better than the next best band," says Rontrose, the band's one-named guitar player, tongue firmly in cheek.

  Some time around Thanksgiving, Rontrose and crew will celebrate their 20th anniversary as punk's answer to hedonistic, cowboy-hat wearing, meat-and-potatoes American rock 'n' roll. Twenty years is long enough for the band, born in Tucson, Ariz., to have moved to Seattle before the grunge movement took full steam. It's long enough for them to have released a greatest hits album-in 1999.

  It's long enough to see other early Seattle standards like Chris Cornell break up with their first bands, form second bands, and break up with them too. "The only thing the band has done right," Rontrose says, "is not breaking up." The core of the band-Rontrose, second guitarist Dan "Thunder" Bolton and singer Eddie Spaghetti-is the same today as it was in Arizona.

  But while the names are the same, the members themselves are different. As the Supersuckers have settled into rock 'n' roll middle age, their career has become less about the lifestyle and more about the artistry. It's a profound distinction for a band whose artistry is, in part, an ode to rock's excesses.

  "I'm actually much more passionate about music now than I was when I started," Rontrose says. "The show was more of the afterthought. It was about getting to the fun after the show. Now it's about putting it all into the show. When I walk off the stage, I'm toast. I'm tired. That's the way it should be.

  "You can't replicate the energy of a 20-year-old," he adds. "We're different now, for sure. Any band is going to be. I don't have the kinetic energy, but more of the energy I do have goes into the craft."

  Focusing on the music and not the after-party has cut into Rontrose's drinking, but he says he's now in the best shape of his life.

  Though he shrugs at the word "musician," becoming a better, self-taught "music-er" is a real point of pride for Rontrose. The band also places uncommon focus on independence. They started Mid-Fi Records in 2001 to gain even more freedom from Sub Pop, a label Rontrose praises for making no effort to control the band. Self-reliance, both fiscal and creative, gives the band the ultimate bragging rights for its successes.

  "We're a true independent band," Rontrose said. "A lot of bands are just 'indie.'"

  That independence provided them with an unlikely kindred spirit: Willie Nelson. The Supersuckers, who helped organize a tribute album to the country icon, have tremendous respect for the man who moved away from Nashville even when "he was told it would end his career."

  Nelson has used The Supersuckers to back him on "The Tonight Show." In turn, he did a guest stint on the title track of The Supersuckers' Must've Been High, the band's lone country record.

  "Willie Nelson is a way bigger punk rocker than anyone in Against Me!, I'll tell you that," Rontrose says.

  Nelson has been playing music for 50 years. That leaves the Supersuckers with 30 more to go. It shouldn't be a problem. After all, they are (maybe, perhaps) the greatest rock 'n' roll band in the world.

  "Someone has to proclaim it, so it might as well be us," Rontrose says.

The Supersuckers play Shank Hall on Sunday, Aug. 10, at 8 p.m. with openers The Cocksmiths.