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"Plus, there were like twenty family names that would get you a job or into school," Pope continues. "So not only would you have to deal with the kids, but you'd have to deal with their parents. Redneck kids' parents were also rednecks, so you had to watch what you were doing. But for as restrictive as an environment like that can be, you can also exist totally outside of that."
That sort of idealism was fostered by some like-minded mentors. "We found this group of older people who were into the arts," remembers Rateliff. "They were our parents' age. Really brilliant people." And soon that exposure spurred the two budding artists to look for a world outside of Hermann. Through missionary work with the homeless, which eventually brought the pair to Denver, they found kindred spirits in Fox -- who plays music for Alzheimer's patients in his spare time -- and Hall. Today, the four of them share an artistic mission that continues to evolve.
"I want to get to the point where I'm constantly reinventing myself, based on what I know and who I am," says Pope. "It's about transformation of who we are and becoming more of what we're supposed to be. The lifestyle we're trying to create together is the same I want for my daughter, and I'm not gonna be any kind of father unless I'm honest to the point of pain."
Rateliff sees Born in the Flood as a chance to reconcile with his past while also making a break from it. "I want people to know the Rateliff name and think something good about it," he says, "and not just think of us as drunks." In these words, Rateliff means no judgment or condemnation of his hard-working, hard-living relatives, but rather an acknowledgement of their struggles, and a hope that he might be able to lighten their load a bit, however transiently.
But sometimes the emotional task of taking all those private feelings and collected memories and offering them up to a crowd can be a bit much. More and more, Rateliff has found himself moved to tears on stage.
"I really let the things that I write about affect me on stage," he confesses. "I allow myself to get into some sort of emotional frenzy, and a lot of times when that happens, I just get kinda overwhelmed."
"Playing music for a lot of people," he concludes, "is like being naked in front of a lot of people. I just try to be bare up there."