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Screamin’ Cheetah Wheelies rolls with the punches

This just isn’t Mike Farris’ day.

His band, the Nashville-based Screamin’ Cheetah Wheelies, has arrived late in Seattle and their hotel has jumbled up their reservations. He is forced to use a streetside phone booth to talk about his favorite subject, the Wheelies’ second Atlantic album, “Magnolia.”

He nearly chokes up recalling a fan who came to a show and delivered him a poem.

“He had written it telling us how our first album helped him through some hard times, that he had lost his wife,” Farris said. “I just wanted to sit him down and let him know me as a friend and not feel weird about talking to a singer in a rock ‘n’ roll band.”

Farris’ tender moment is interrupted by a woman who demands to use the phone. She calls him several derogatory names and even takes a swing at him. Her boyfriend considers stepping in, but by then, Farris has already left and says he will call back.

Minutes later, Farris sneaks into a Moose Lodge nearby to use the phone. With his long, stringy hair, he stands out like a sore thumb. Unfazed by all that has happened in the past 20 minutes, he reveals the inspiration behind the album’s first single, “Hello From Venus.”

“I went home and found out they were going to build a car plant on farmland I was raised on,” Farris said. “All my friends kept saying, ‘Things are changing around here.’ But people were strung out on crank, nothing had changed. I’m thinking, ‘It’s only going to get worse.’

“I was upset they were doing this to my old neighborhood. A whole flood of emotions came out. When something like that happens, it’s like some part of you is dying. It makes you wonder, ‘What are we doing? We’re destroying everything.’ ”

Farris felt isolated, uneasy that his friends were treating him differently ever since the Screamin’ Cheetah Wheelies’ 1993 self-titled debut album.

“I wrote (‘Hello From Venus’) partly through the eyes of a person praying to God like a friend, an intimate conversation,” he said. “It just breaks my heart to see what’s happened in my hometown.”

The gutsy rock quintet has learned a lot since its first album, Farris said, mainly to be patient.

“We didn’t know what was going on the first time around,” he said. “We just wanted to do our songs, and the label said we’d be stars. I learned not to take it too seriously. That doesn’t feed me; I don’t thrive off being successful. We’re just out doing what we do best.”

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