Archive for the Interviews Category

Interview with Scott Miller

Posted in Interviews, Knoxville Music, Scott Miller on April 16, 2009 by AmericanaPulse

It’s been a while. As Scott Miller might say… “Are you still with me?”

My wife and I got moved into our new house last week, and I’ve been without internet access for the better part of a week now (this post is coming from the WDVX studios). It ain’t fun. It is, however, almost over… the cable guy comes on Thursday. Hopefully, things will get back to normal around here soon after that.

In my absence, I missed the official release of Scott Miller’s new album For Crying Out Loud. It was released Tuesday on Scott’s own F.A.Y. Record label. I hope to have a full review (and a preview track) of the album soon. I’ve been listening to this record since December, and I truly think it’s as strong as anything in his catalogue

More on my opinions on the album later… for now, here’s an e-mail interview I conducted with Scott last month. My questions are in itallics… his unedited answers follow.

* This album was not recorded in a traditional manner where you have the financial backing of a record label and just go into the studio to knock out a record. You made this album over a period of time stretched out over several recording sessions with money you mostly raised yourself. How did these different circumstances affect the new album? Is there more artistic freedom when you aren’t tied to a label, and what does it mean to own your own album?

There’s no difference artistically, really. I was lucky enough to be on Sugar Hill where no one told you how to make a record or what they wanted to hear. But BUSINESS wise I am now totally free. I essentially put out two records in one year: I released a thousand of the guitar/vocal demos and then used the money from that to make the full record. No label but my own would let me do something like that—-release two records of (mostly) the same songs produced differently. I couldn’t have done it without the support of the hardcore fans who bought those, and that to me is the real difference and why we don’t need record labels anymore. You can connect directly with your listeners now. And its not about making more money, its about keeping more money.

So I then released a thousand of what I called the “fan CD” which had a DVD bonus on it to raise money to pay for the radio promotion and publicity ( you still can’t get around those guys….)
It means EVERYTHING to own your own record. I mean, as an artist you live and die with your work, but now, I mean I REALLY LIVE AND DIE WITH MY WORK!

* I’ve also heard you say that you incorporated some new songwriting techniques for this project while working with Doug Lancio. What were some of the techniques (and tunings) you employed, and where can we find evidence of them on the record?

Doug produced two of the songs on For Crying Out Loud and co-wrote another two–and they are pretty obvious to me which ones. I originally started to make the whole record with him ( he got the gig with John Hiatt so that’s when Michael Webb took over..) writing to melodies he would send me. When we first started he showed me some different tunings and told me to write three pages of SOMETHING every day, no matter what. From that bulk of missives I started to see patterns of ideas and start moving them around, and songs began to form from them. The two songs ” Feel So Fair to Midland” and “Double Indemnity” are examples of those. Of course, one of them is an instrumental, which is not a great idea for a singer/songwriter but something I’ve done before with a song called “Chill, Relax, Now” which I thought would make a GREAT tune for the penalty box during hockey games. But I don’t watch hockey. I dunno, are there rules?

* Patty Griffin appears on this album on the absolutely stunning “I’m Right Here My Love.” This isn’t the first time you’ve worked with Patty, but I’ve always been curious as to how that collaboration first came about… OR… What’s a nice girl like her doing working with a guy like you?

Patty sang with me on two songs on my UPSIDE/DOWNSIDE album and last year, well, most of 2007 I guess I toured and opened for her. But mostly and firstly we hung out because she’s funny and thinks I am too….before we even considered playing together or touring. She is one talented human being on all fronts and I’ll take anything she will do to help. We just did a songwriter-in-the-round together with John Oates ( of Hall & Oates) and had a blast. She’s so talented and so gracious when she works with you–not many people in this business like that. Not even me.

* I also understand that “I’m Right Here My Love” carries a bit of a personal connection for you. Do you find it harder or easier to write a song like that with such a personal attachment?

Well, not really like you think. In my family we have unfortunately become pretty adept at hospice or end-of-life care. My mom does hospice care back in Virginia where I’m from–these are the people that either bring you to a facility or come to your house and do everything from vacuum your carpet to help you die or help your family cope with it. I’ve lost many family members and friends to cancer and those last days and minutes are important, because for those moments that’s all you have. My wife’s father had been ill for some time and we had been bringing him down to Knoxville ( they live in West Virginia) for care the last few years. He came down last spring after a stroke and died here. Anyway, back to the point, one of the things you do when someone is at the end is encourage them to fight and try to live, but when its time to give up, its very important to NOT make them feel like they failed because they are dying ( this is funny stuff, huh?). Anyway, there were my in-laws, married for over 65 years saying goodbye. My mother in law was a natural. She probably never heard of hospice care or if she did she thought it was some dark basement, but she cared for him those last weeks, days, hours and minutes like the angel she is. Sort of what its about is two people saying goodbye.

* Claire Marie… Made Up?… Real Girl?

I’ll never tell. I had a steady girlfriend in high school and she was not named “Claire Marie”…. The real trick on this song was to try and write a song using one syllable words and have it make sense; have the story come across. I don’t know if it does or not but it was really fun to write. And even more fun to play.

* One last question… I know a lot of the songs on For Crying Out Loud have been around for a while. I think I first heard “She’s Still Mine” and “Iron Gate” almost two years ago, and “Heart in Harm’s Way” dates back to the V-Roys. How have some of these songs matured since their early days, and do you prefer to work with a song a lot prior to taking it into the studio rather than taking it in raw?

I’ll take a song any way I can get it, brother. I prefer to live with them a while before I record because 99% of writing ( to me) is editing. Steve Earle used to say “you gotta use the eraser end of the pencil more than you use the pointy end!” and that’s how I’ve always done it. Some people like the moment, and when that is captured it sure is magic. But for me, as I write ‘story songs’ that time helps. It also helps when you know, as an artist on my level, that you are going to have to tour night after night and sing what you wrote in not so nice places sometimes, or circumstances where you literally might be singing for you and you alone–so you want to be able to mean it when you do sing it, and enjoy it too. That doesn’t mean songs won’t come all at once, because they sometimes do and you love it. But if it was that easy, everyone would do it and that would make it hard to find work….