December 18, 2000
Scott, "opera" is the plural of "opus," but I think the adjective has to match, which would make it "magna opera". (Editor's Note: Aaron is referring to the March 20, 2000 Ask Scott.)
Scott: Hi, Aaron! That is outstanding. When one sees "Harvard" in the email address, the mood is set for Latin adjective agreement, and here is no disappointment.
That's not my question, though. What I want to know is, where were the side breaks going to be in the vinyl Interbabe Concern? It always seemed to me like the feedback squall at the end of "Top Dollar Survivalist Hardware" belonged at the beginning of a song (or perhaps a side) rather than at the end, but, well, you tell me.
You are right. Side two was supposed to start with the same synthesizer sound (not feedback, actually) as side one. Side? Sequencing seems to have less meaning all the time, doesn't it? Soon we will press a button that causes us to instantly know a piece of music in its entirety, and we'll be able to just hold the button down until we want to stop thinking about it. After that, music knowledge cancellation software! A market for which is not farfetched even now.
I do wish I. Con. had come out on vinyl -- the packaging was nice, and the LP had that cool groove-cramming just like Get Happy. Then again, I've had two of my records mastered by Bob Ludwig in one lifetime, which is definitely more media karma than one little person deserves.
November 23, 2000
Scott, it's not so much an Ask Scott as a Tell Scott, but man, I've been searching high and low throughout New York City, supposedly teeming with decent record stores, in search of LF's latest. And I'm having a rotten time of it. I don't know what's worse, not finding it, or the stares of record-store employees, blank and pitiless as the sun.
Scott: I am sorry you couldn't find that CD. The Loud Family message was always anti-blank-pitilessness.
I know I can buy it online, but it is goddamned distressing to not be able to get my very real hands on your very real latest release without involving ones and zeroes. This is New York! It's not like I'm in Hale Eddy (that's upstate, and i'm sure if you were an East Coaster, you'd have used it in a song by now).
Something is just wrong with this picture.
Thanks for listening,
Thank you for writing. So many things didn't quite click in my music career that no particular one irritates me anymore. What I do is somewhat inherently uncommercial (both my content and my not overly obvious vocal merit), and when I look back I'm a little astounded that so many people supported me. It's weird to reflect that there was a time when I would walk into a record store in London and actually be recognized -- a memory that seems oddly parallel to going into the same store as a teenager and being in awe of anyone who had a record on sale there.
So I'm thinking of everyone who bothers to read this on Thanksgiving.
come on pilgrim,
November 13, 2000
Scott, Any chance you'll ever play in the UK again ?
Scott: Thanks for asking! I just don't know. Believe me, I'd love to. If I were on vacation there one day I could always pick up an acoustic, except that being label-less, I no longer have business ties to people who could set up a club date. "Hello, operator, this is Scott Miller. I need the number for playing my guitar somewhere in the country."
Reminds me of a Derek and Clive skit where Peter Cook is talking about addressing a letter to the BBC: "I just wrote 'C***s, London'; I knew it would get to them."
keeping that American boogie steamin' hot for ya
Scott, I never heard of you before but it seems like Aimee Mann likes you so I'm gonna check out your stuff.
Plus I thought you seemed pretty cool by your high estimations of early Kinks and Who albums but I knew for sure when I noticed you dug the dB's.
Scott: Glad to hear it! I hope for new listeners' sake that history keeps scrupulous track of the dB's; I just consider their stuff rewarding as anything.
Hope you either liked our material or were able to avoid it without monetary loss.
--seemingly liked by Aimee Mann
September 11, 2000
Scott, I found this at a Jeff Buckley web site, and I was wondering what your take on it was, in lieu of the recent dissolve of the Loud Family (sorry that it is so long).
Scott: ...I'd better cut a lot of this out so we don't infringe anyone's copyright...
"You're constantly trying to make sure that your sense of self-worth doesn't depend on the writings or opinions of other people. You have to wean yourself off acclaim as the object of your work, by learning to depend on your own judgment and knowing what it is that you enjoy. You have to realize what the difference is between being adored and being loved and understood. Big difference."
I know exactly what he means. Fame is probably the strongest de facto experience of the sacred that most people will ever get. What constitutes the sacred is a hairy topic, but if you've had close contact with a very famous person, and were left groping for a way to express how he or she was simply more radiant than an ordinary person, that is the sacred. Not a developed experience of the sacred, but the real thing.
The same general mechanism compels people to want to accrue fame. I'm a sufferer of this disease, and I know Jeff Buckley's need to separate the work from the acclaim. There are times and places when working ambitiously toward fame works cleanly, but it's usually it's a pretty polluting burn. Having to fascinate people is usually a bad business for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that if you're in the process of soliciting fame, you're by definition unqualified to relate to anyone as an artist. An artist's job is to relate the truth of experience, and if in fact what you're doing is selecting for which simulated experiential truth will fly, you will acquire the habit of replacing truth with schlock when schlock flies. It's not an absolute rule, but it is a real and insidious tendency.
One of my favorite social commentators, Gil Bailie, said that people will look back on our time and think it very odd that people desired fame. The unalloyed reaction to fame is not very close to good will. There's a strong element of currying favor, maybe. If a famous person walks into the room, we often suddenly want him or her to like us, and are ready to credit ourselves with being unusually friendly people, but if you break it down, we don't really worry much about the famous person's happiness. We think famous people already have what we want, and if we behave right, we'll get some of that. If a famous person makes some sort of public misstep, there's a feeding frenzy. Any cold and unimaginative put-down will be gold for comedians for a year; that is just life. The magic we take for good will toward the famous turns into the magic of shared contempt in a way that should make anyone wonder what happened to our inflexible dedication, our certainty that the famous person radiated something of which we were compelled to partake.
I quote all this partly because it might have some bearing on the state of your music career right now, and also to ask you a question (or rather a series of questions). The questions are this: did you stop enjoying making music? Did it become too much work with not enough reward?
It stopped making sense as a business that takes a lot of time and money and doesn't earn money back. I may have to look to something like feudal patronage if I ever hope to do another serious project.
Or do you just feel creatively depleted at the moment, and feel like calling it off for now?
I have a project in mind which I think I'm going to get excited about, but there's just not the slightest doubt that people need a rest from me. I feel like I'm putting stuff down that should be knocking people out, and it's not. Like a lot of middle-aged rock people, I probably need to get smarter about what current music I try to resonate with, and what current music I refuse to do business with, because that's a huge part of how people relate to music whether I like it or not.
From some of your responses to this question, it sounds like you might be ready to hang your guitar up forever, with maybe occasionally playing for fun. Not that my opinion matters in this situation (or should matter as it is your decision to make), but I will definitely be sad to not hear any more Scott Miller recordings in the future, and I feel that I speak for many out there by saying this. I am just hoping that these words of Jeff Buckley (a talent who died before he could even peak musically) might help convince you (a talent whose career has been a series of musical high points with no signs of the inevitable descent) to reconsider. After all, you still have breath in your body, so please let us keep hearing it.
Michael, thanks for writing. Believe me that I take this as encouraging and inspiring. I'm grateful for all the messages I've received lately, and I can assure everyone that I'm not bitterly rejecting music or anything. If my life goes such a way that there's a respectable opportunity to do a serious project, my heart will be in it! But I'm honestly not talking nonsense when I lay out reasons for not doing records under the present circumstances. I have to be conscientious about how a release will be received. I can't expend a thousand hours on something that doesn't have a pretty good deployment system -- meaning not that it's going to sell in malls, but just that it gets a reasonable number of people excited.
fifteen minutes of flame,
August 21, 2000
Scott, this goes without saying, but I'm eternally grateful for the robust Loud Family/Game Theory catalog you've give us over the past two decades. Also, I love the new album and I've really enjoyed reading your Ask Scott responses and your ruminations on everything from Nietzsche to Girard to Roger Waters.
Scott: Thanks very much. I'm glad you like Attractive Nuisance, and emboldened by this I'll share with you what a weird job it is trying to make a record that people will think is good. I remember when just coming up with a melody I liked and words that I liked was this satisfying and successful act, and lately that just seems more and more beside the point of what anyone's interested in. Maybe I just used to be good at it and now I'm not, but I feel like I work the ol' magic like always, and listeners are standing there blinking and saying "why are you writing these depressing things?" "Why aren't there more experiments?" "Why do you still sound like the '80s?" Jesus, I don't know -- I was standing there ready to make one of my good albums like Lolita Nation or Plants and Birds, when I just impetuously decided to be tedious and out of date.
A couple quick questions: one thing I've never had the privelege to experience is a live LF show. Are there any plans in the works to release a live retrospective? I'm equally interested in hearing shows from the original '93 lineup as well as the great current ensemble.
I'm not sure any recording exists of that lineup. I think there a couple of decent 8-track recordings from 1995 and 1996, but I'm probably forgetting some. I'm a little afraid of live recording because my voice is so terrible sometimes, but you could probably selectively string a few tracks into something not totally devoid of merit. I know some people out there have some Game Theory tapes they're fond of, but generally I don't hear much I can listen to vocalwise.
Also, now that it's more or less a sure thing that the Loud Family chapter of your musical career will soon be coming to an end, what direction do you see yourself going in next? More specifically, I've always wondered if you've considered experimenting with more left-of-center forms like ambient and electronic music. Pop geniuses such as Peter Gabriel and Brian Eno have proven themselves quite adept at creating less commercial and more adventurous music. Ever considered it?
I sure can't think of much that Peter Gabriel has done that tempts me to use the word "genius." Maybe the song "D.I.Y."
As far as pop songcraft goes, I definitely consider you in their league, and more sonically adventurous tunes on the new release like "Controlled Burn" indicate you're capable of such departures...
Well, the "ambient" direction is practically an Eno trademark, for one thing. And thanks for the compliment, but the concept of my taking a less commercial direction is rather metaphysical even as a topic of conversation.
I'm sure I'd like to do another record one day, assuming I have reasonable support in that task, but I want to be careful not to do it just to be doing it, which is part of that sort of "addressing possibilities" attitude which I consider something of the down side of some of the music by people like Eno. I want to have more of a game plan for pleasing people than that, as unfashionable as that sounds.
Whatever the case, thanks for the many years/albums of excellent music. I hope I can catch the band on the upcoming tour.
Thank you very much for writing.
--the paw paw caucasian blowtorch
August 7, 2000
Scott, I've admired your music since 1985 when I bought The Big Shot Chronicles simply because the song titles sounded so intriguing. A grad student ca. '87-'89, I saw you twice in Iowa City and to this day make my wife's eyes glaze over every time I fail to convey your ferocious solo performance of "Erica's Word." I recently snagged a CD of Lolita Nation which, absent any foresight, I bought on LP in the '80's, and think your Loud Family work, including Attractive Nuisance, among the very best rock of the past ten years.
Scott: Thanks very much. Sometimes I wonder what it could be that someone likes about my music, when most labels would never think it's something they'd like to put out. I don't often guess right about what listeners whom I care about will consider a stylistic error, yet sometimes along comes someone like you thinking I didn't mess things up at all. Musical tastes are mysterious, and I respect recording artists who are masters of that business!
I infer from last week's "Ask Scott" that your Alias Records contact is almost up; can you be more specific about your plans? In response to the writer's P.S., I printed up the lyrics to Attractive Nuisance and thought that, among others, "One Will Be the Highway" and "Motion of Ariel" directly address your lack of career success. (Both beautiful songs, by the way). Have you framed Attractive Nuisance as your last album, or last Loud Family project?
Yes, then and now I think of it as my last album. Doing additional work damages the ability of future listeners to hear what I've already done. For example, almost all reviews of my albums now talk about how I've been slugging it out so long with little success, and the only way to cure that misunderstanding is to stop doing anything that has the structure of slugging it out.
I wasn't thinking about lack of career success when writing "One Will Be the Highway" or "Motion of Ariel" -- which is not to say it's beside the point. Lack of success makes for a clear understanding that I can't speak with authority to my listeners -- but that's progress, not cause for redoubling efforts. In the system of fame, if I earn authority, those giving it to me think "he is a great one, and by listening to him, we will learn what is good." But I am thinking "without their granting me authority, I am nothing, so I must carefully learn what they want me to say is good, and say that." On the surface (and for the young), this is not a problem. "Of course! That's called wanting you not to suck!" But there is unseen machinery working out what sucks and what doesn't, to which one is liable to object if one studies it carefully.
I hope not. A few years back, I was delighted when, waxing nostalgic over Game Theory to an ex-student, she told me about the Loud Family and I could once again look forward to your music. Whatever the form of future projects or any possible sabbatical, will you continue to write and record?
At the moment I don't think so. It would just be disappointing a few people around me rather than a lot of people, or later rather than sooner. But maybe I will one day come up with a new and better tactic for being both communicative and entertaining. You never know.
Good luck with the new CD and congratulations on your marriage. Will you play in New York or Baltimore this year?
Thank you! (NY si, Baltimore, no)
Note: Ned Balbo is the author of a really terrific (Towson University 1998 prize for literature!) book of poetry entitled Galileo's Banquet.
July 17, 2000
Scott, it's an unavoidable frustration, I suppose, that as my interest in music continues to both deepen and broaden, I have less time/attention to devote to any particular album or artist. I've been thinking a lot about my listening habits lately, and since you are an important member of my sonic pantheon (and the only one likely to answer my e-mail), I thought I would ask you about yours (if it's not too personal).
When, where, how, and how often do you typically listen to music? Do you tend to spend a lot of time listening closely? Do you like to have it on in the background when you're paying attention to something else?
Scott: I should start by saying that music is necessarily a background concern, necessarily glorifying and contextualizing other aspects of life. That's why many religions fussily regulate music, and something to do with why Plato wanted to curb the lyric arts in the Republic.
It used to irk me that music by my native people the Californians was too often about something else, like surfing, skateboarding, dancing, dressing up, or whatever. Now I consider that a naive complaint.
Why do you listen to music? That may seem like a silly question, but I think people have a number of reasons: relaxation, stimulation, nostalgia, the desire to make a fashion statement, sociability, inspiration, mood alteration, etc. I'm sure you have multiple motivations, and different ones at different times, but I would be interested to hear your thoughts.
When I was young I was consumed by music, and when I wasn't making it I was listening to it, always interested in what made good music good. My favorite way to listen to music was while playing solitaire. I learned the habit from Nancy Becker. For me it ideally occupies the aspects of the mind that might otherwise rebel against focusing passively on sound.
These days I don't have that kind of spare time, and I'm not compelled by the possibility of music being my livelihood, so I listen more casually, usually while driving, paying bills, etc. I no longer listen responsibly enough to make lists of favorite music in the 2000s, for instance. Strangely, I don't listen to music any less passionately for any of that; sometimes I'll want to stand in front of the stereo and marvel at a great track. Maybe I can say that the spells I fell under are no less wonderful on reflection, but I don't fall under the same spells anew as if nothing of youth were special.
Do you tend to listen to an album repeatedly, or are you more of a variety/spice/life kind of guy? Do you listen mostly to new music, or frequently go back to past favorites? Do you listen to much music outside the pop/rock genre?
I'm one of those people who can listen to a song I like a hundred times and not get tired of it; old music is hardly ever less okay with me because it's old. Current pop/rock is also not as right for me as sixties-based pop/rock, though. I feel a boring speech coming on, but I'll limit it to saying pop/rock's charter used to be something like allowing the young and excluded to feel okay and have fun, and now it's far more focused on the retribution due the excluders, where the "fun" is at best ironic and at worst vengeful. The error is that no exclusion goes on consciously, or at least the exclusion getting a reaction is less brazenly self-serving than the reaction itself. An overused but clear illustration is the rioting at Woodstock III.
I listen to a little classical and jazz, but as nothing but a novice, and jazz is in some ways deliberately unhelpful to novices.
Finally, I'm interested in the way that listening interacts with the creative process. Since I got my first 4-track, I've been spending more time listening to and working on my own songs, at the expense of time devoted to others'. Since much of the process takes place in my head, I have gotten away from the habit of playing my stereo every waking minute I'm at home. Does songwriting have a similar effect on your listening habits? Do you ever listen to particular music with the conscious intent of allowing it to influence a particular project? Do you ever listen to your own CDs after they've come out?
Before making every album I've forced myself to buy a batch of currently popular college radio CDs just to avoid getting too isolated. I listen to my finished CDs now with less anguish than in the old days. It's liberating not to think they stand a chance of competing successfully against other CDs for national attention.
I hope this barrage isn't too overwhelming. Feel free to pick and choose. And thanks for making the noise you make. The new album is much more "attractive" than "nuisance" in my book. I only wish there were some way the band could play closer to the center of the country. It's a doughnut of a tour and I'm stuck in the hole.
Only about 699 times happier than the unjust man,
Thanks very much for writing, and I hope I've been able to turn the untidy mystery and wonder of music into useful, clinical analysis.
writing about music is like dancing about music
July 10, 2000
Scott, I feel a little embarassed that my only question to you ever on this page is so prosaic, but : I have heard that you are thinking of not continuing with Loud Family after Attractive Nuisance, but that you will be doing a tour in support of it. We would so much like you to play in England again (missed you in 93) -- is there even the remotest chance?
Scott: I definitely appreciate your being interested. It hasn't been officially pronounced, but my gout is flaring up in a way that tells me we probably won't be continuing the Loud Family. I hope I get a chance to play in England some time again under some circumstances; maybe if I'm ever on vacation there someone could set up a show ("right, we'll just ask the bands that draw to wait outside, so this fucking tosser who no one gives a fuck about can play his nice little songs"). If nothing else I must shop at least once more at Minus Zero. There has to be a copy of "Oh No, Won't Do" by Cud with my name on it out there somewhere.
mind the gap,
Scott, I'm a Joyce enthusiast also. You are the only person I've met (several times at the Hotel Utah, and at a DuNord gig Alison did) who has also read the Wake. In your 1998 interview with ana m., you said, "I recently put Finnegans Wake at the top of my favorite novels' list and then thought dear God, what if people go out and buy it?" Why, exactly, do you think that would be a problem? It has to be among the funniest novels ever written.
Scott: Yes, but if someone picks up Finnegans Wake and just starts laughing hysterically, I'll be wanting to leave them to enjoy it by themselves. Let's say that if you thought John Lennon In His Own Write and Ulysses were both drop dead knee slappers, there's at least some chance Finnegans Wake is for you. For sheer (dark) humor that's as intellectually advanced and a whole lot easier, I'd probably go to Flannery O'Connor's short stories first.
To me the big Finnegans Wake payoff is in linguistics and the anthropology of consciousness. There's a critical work called Joyce's Book of the Dark which I thought made that case very well.
Having read Joyce, have you ever read the work of William Gaddis? I think he's everything literary critics claim Pynchon is supposed to be, but funnier and more interesting. I highly recommend The Recognitions and JR. As with Joyce, the books appreciate with multiple readings.
Tris McCall likes him, too, so I'll probably check him out. I'm still of a mind to give priority the classics (currently in Aquinas's Summa Theologica).
OK, here's the big question. I have a book of poetry coming out. Some of the poems have references to your lyrics. Will you bring in a big law firm or a small one to have it quashed?
Well, you know, poetry law is such a high-stakes arena, I can't make any promises. Congratulations on having a book of poetry coming out.
BTW, Alison & I used to work together at Green Apple Books, so you can find out from her what a tough litigant I am. Maybe we could duke it out at your Feb. 18 gig (just to generate publicity). I'll miss with my punches if you miss with yours. Deal? I think I'm coordinated enough to consistently miss. After all, I used to be a bass player.
As I remember I held up my end of that bargain.
Finally, I hope Attractive Nuisance makes Alias tons of money, and they re-sign you or someone nice out-bids them. I need new music from you in my life on a regular basis.
Thank you very much! I believe that album made over a hundred dollars.
mind, the gap
July 3, 2000
Scott, this is kind of an Ask Scott and kind a plea to come down South. I love Loud Family and Game Theory, and people are always surprised to find out about such good music that they previously were totally unaware of. There is a community space/venue in Sarasota, FL that I would give my right arm to have you play at, if you can ever make it all the way out here.
Scott: I'd love to come play there some time.
My "Ask Scott" portion of this is: what do you think about the newer manifestations of indie/alternative music?
I don't know; do the Magnetic Fields and the Flaming Lips count as "newer?" Things at the college radio level feel a little low on inspiration to me. Electronica was sort of a cultural non-event for my money, though maybe the "rave" concept has real power if you're young enough.
Nothing could possibly be more depressing than MTV programming in 2000. I can say to myself "if I flip to the premier current music channel in America, I will see a white rap/metal guy doing hand-jive at a fisheye lens at ground-level" and usually be right. Aimee Mann is right that the average adult listener is strangely neglected by the music industry. If you're not a teenager and it just doesn't interest you to fantasize about being a messed-up tough guy, it will probably be deduced by the industry that what you want is to watch Human League videos.
Where did the name Loud Family come from?
In 1974 (I believe that was the year), there was a PBS show called "An American Family," which made somewhat reluctant cultural icons of a Santa Barbara family whose surname was Loud. A film crew documented their daily lives over nine months, and when anything occurred that families in 1974 normally didn't publicize more than they had to (divorce, homosexuality), it became a scandal. I remember the press being decidedly unkind, tending to accuse PBS of deliberately selecting a troubled family, as if it were important to stigmatize the Louds lest it be accepted that any family selected at random can be made the subject of scandal. No doubt if the press wishes to scandalize a family, it wants credit for a special and valuable discovery.
see also the Mumps' CD
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