Early on in the 34 years the Bodeans have been alive, it became evident that singer-guitarist Kurt Neumann wrote the catchier songs. Sam Llanas, the band’s former co-frontman, contributed the angsty, 3:00 am songs; Neumann’s tended to be accessible and bright.
“I wrote in a fashion that was more geared toward radio,” Neumann says in a phone interview, “so a lot more of my songs were the singles. I think you can build up some friction that way.”
There’s a noticeable arc to the Bodeans’ story: Hot young band devolves into struggling label mid-listers, with two leaders who battle each other and an army of executives who don’t hear a single. There’s an eighth inning hit (“Closer to Free”), a near-death experience (Llanas left in 2011), and what Neumann hopes is a happy ending (the Bodeans have toured and recorded steadily since his departure).
In honor of the group’s just-released 13th studio album, 13, Neumann sifted through his band’s catalog, selecting a song from (almost) each one in an effort to tell the band’s story.
“Fadeaway” (Love & Hope & Sex & Dreams, 1986)
Sam and (former manager Mark McCraw), there were a lot of my songs they didn’t think were good record songs, so they didn’t get included. We were in pre-production, and (producer T Bone Burnett) was sitting in the room with us, and he asked us if we had any more songs, and I was like, “Sure we do!” We played it for him and he said, “That’s your first single.” It was just such a great moment, the acknowledgment of something like that because you believe your songs are good, and sometimes the people around you say you’re not.
“Only Love” (Outside Looking In, 1987)
The record company loved our band, but they wanted us to get on radio. That song got us on the radio and led to U2 hiring us for the “Joshua Tree” tour when they were looking for openers. They wanted bands that were doing something.
“Good Work” (Home, 1989)
“We had been hired to do ‘Letterman’ for the second record, but instead of playing “Only Love,” we played a new song I had just written, which was “Good Work,” and it was this crazy rocking thing that happened. It introduced us to the world.
“Good Things” (Black and White, 1991)
“Everybody was shocked (by the album’s atypically glossy production), which is too bad because all of the people’s favorites are from that record. I think the production kind of got in the way of it all. There are certain songs that flow out of you as if you’re breathing, as if you can’t write the words down fast enough, because they’re already there. It’s one of those things to make you believe music comes through you, instead of from you. When I play it, and everyone’s singing along, it doesn’t seem like it’s me, it just seems like the song is supposed to be here.
“Idaho” (Go Slow Down, 1993)
We had just come off our fourth record with (producer) David Z, who produced very beautiful studio things that everybody felt didn’t really sound like us. So by the fifth record, they wanted us to sound like a roots-rock band. When I hear “Idaho,” it’s me playing all the drums and all the guitars and singing and doing everything on it. Of course, Sam was doing harmonies with me, but it was so much of my musicality that was on that record. I just felt like that record was so much part of me.
“Hurt By Love” (Blend, 1996)
I was singing about my dad, his struggle with alcoholism. He was on the path to dying. That song had a lot of meaning, but when it came out, we had just gotten over all this trouble with our manager, and though the song blasted into the Top 40, it never made its way up the charts. It never got pushed much, but if I had to pick a meaningful song from that record, that would be it.
“If It Makes You” (Resolution, 2004)
I thought Bodeans might be done in that eight-year (hiatus), absolutely. I had written that song years before and submitted it, and everybody had pooh-poohed it and said, “That’s not really a good song.” It was very gratifying for me that it (became a radio hit).
“‘Round Here Somewhere” (Still, 2008)
I was really searching for where I was, in music, in the band, in life. You’re looking for these connections and reasons in your life, (for) why we were still doing stuff. I was doing so much of the music myself in the studio at this point, and we started to wonder, what are we doing? Are we still a band? Are we not a band? Why am I here alone, doing this music all the time? You were looking for something that you used to have.
“Stay” (Mr. Sad Clown, 2010)
It was about my daughters. I hadn’t had kids before in my life, and I wrote a song about the importance of your children and wishing you could always stay in that magical place when they’re young, and everything they do and say is so magic. (These days), they tell me I’m an irritant.
No selection (Indigo Dreams, 2011)
I couldn’t pick a song off that. That record got torpedoed by Sam’s (sudden departure). That whole record for me represents darkness, and the end of something. It was an extremely hard time, and that’s all that record represents to me now, is the difficulty of getting through that time.
“American” (American Made, 2012)
For me, it was about getting back to that youthful energy of where we started, and the idea of roots-rock, and all those things coming together to form an American sound. It was all about American music and values, and the energy of it all.
“I Can’t Stop” (I Can’t Stop, 2015)
It was about where I was after Sam left. My feeling was, I would do a record at a time, and see where people were, how much they wanted Bodeans to keep going. It was kind of a personal statement for me, that I need to keep doing this, and I hoped everybody can enjoy it and still be a part of it, because I need to keep playing that music.
“My Hometown” (13, 2017)
We’re at a later stage in our career. We’re not the new hot thing, and it’s really hard to make something be special to people again. (“13” has) probably some of the best songwriting and performing I’ve ever done, but I don’t have a million dollars to push a single, so it’s probably not going to do what I wish it would do. (Writing for Netflix show) “The Ranch” gave me a huge opportunity to write a lot of music and get it out somewhere. I’ve put 30 or 40 songs into their shows, and (wrote) probably 25 or 30 new songs. “My Hometown” was one I was writing for them specifically. It’s given me a whole new avenue to get music out, and a whole new reason to keep playing and recording.