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Ask Scott

June 24, 2002

Scott, I heard on the news a month ago that some scientists had cloned the human embryo. Now I personally do not often watch the news, so maybe I'm completely mistaken (I often am) but to me this brought up in the back of my head a whole mess of questions I could ask you. In one way I just feel like asking something general like: talk about this. On the other hand, that might be just the way to not a question answered.

You've said yourself, as I recall, "do me a favor, forget me quick when I'm gone." Was this your real sentiment coming through in your song, or could you be referring to something else? Again I'm asking dangerously, either way you might get some attacks. Would you want to be cloned -- for real?

Give my mind some uneasy things to think about, and thank you for doing that as you have in the past.

Scott: What worries me the most about cloning is that unforeseen irregularities might be introduced into the human gene pool which hundreds of years from now turn out to lead to serious problems. Aside from the low survival to birth rate, cloned sheep have had a problem where despite the organism's youth, some of the cells somehow still reflect the cloned cells' age since pre-cloning, and the animal is prematurely geriatric. I don't see any benefit to the cloning of complete human beings which would justify the rather open-ended risk to such a precious resource as a viable gene pool. We aren't, after all, experiencing a shortage of human beings.

Do you think it's a fix for organ transplants, DNA research? Do you feel that science can ever go too far...to the point of playing God?

Dave-O (David Werking)

I know that some people envision farms of human organs for transplants. While I admit that this seems a little Frankensteinian for my tastes, I could imagnine the process becoming dependable, and saving a lot of people who'd otherwise die young.

My main worry is that it will be hard to manage a period of conservative trial use. To invent a rather science-fictiony example, organ recipients or whole cloned people might well not be as happy as would be convenient to have their reproductive rights dictated by researchers.

As far as my being cloned, I'm against that, but should someone produce a clone against my wishes, just, for the love of God, don't name the new one Scott Miller; we're really getting too many of us.

Thanks for writing, Dave-O.

turning once more to Sunday's clone,



June 17, 2002

Scott, with the upcoming release of From Ritual to Romance, the Loud Family live CD, I thought I'd get your thoughts about live albums. Do you have any favorite live records? I didn't see any on your favorite albums list, but maybe you're just following the age-old "no live albums, no compilations" rule in your rankings.

Scott: Thanks for writing in, Steve! I didn't know the rule was age-old, but I guess my lists of favorite albums per year have more to do with songs than particular recordings, a slightly different focus from the buyer's guide approach critics tend to take. In my scheme, you only get credit for the first release of a song, so I would be rating live and best-of albums on the strengths of only material that was never released before, which usually isn't much of it.

Although now that I have my own live and compilation albums in the works, I'm not sure I'd encourage other critics to adopt so rash a view!

To answer your question about my favorite live records, the one that springs right to mind is Yessongs by Yes. I've seen many musical styles go in and out of fashion in my lifetime, and that's just one of the most magnificent purely musical accomplishments to ever come to my attention. It's almost certainly the live record I've played the most.

The Who Live At Leeds is way up there. I actually like the Posies' Alive Before the Iceberg quite a bit -- I think it has the definitive versions of "Somehow Everything" and "Grant Hart," plus a version of "Surrender" that is almost as terrifying as the Game Theory Fan Club Christmas releases. The Concert For Bangladesh definitely has its moments; if someone puts on "That's the Way God Planned It" by Billy Preston, I guarantee I'm up on my feet. Nirvana Unplugged was plenty good. 801 Live with Eno and Manzanera was extremely solid. Any Neil Young live has been terrific.

During your musical career, have you found performing live to be a ritual or a romance? A promotional necessity to sell records, or an enjoyable pursuit for its own sake? Could you see yourself continuing to play shows for the sheer joy of playing, or do you feel less motivated to play out now that you don't have a bigger purpose, so to speak? As the self-appointed spokesperson for your Bay Area fanbase, I hope you'll continue to play out, if only to give us all an excuse to get together and see each other every so often!

Well, thanks -- I like playing live quite a bit. It's quite hard to come up with a single live show. You have to learn, arrange, and train for just one night. What I wish is that I had something like a weekend cover band gig that would allow me to keep sharp as a player and singer, and now and then I could torture the good people with some of my own tunes. For all I know, that sort of bar band opportunity stopped even existing years ago.

For various reasons, including the gathering-of-the-tribes aspects to both shows, I think the 1996 and 1998 Loud Family homecoming shows in San Francisco were two of the best concerts I ever attended, and I'm grateful to have a souvenir of those shows. Do you have any regrets about not being able to book a local SF show on the 2000 tour?

I pretty much regret everything about not being able to book a local SF show on the 2000 tour!

I myself was able to catch a few shows from other cities on that tour, but even two years on, it still seems unfortunate that other LF homies weren't able to see the band on their final tour.

Lastly, this is probably a loaded question, but how do you feel about people recording your shows? With all the live MP3s up on this site, I'm guessing you must at least have some level of tolerance for it.

behind you with a tape recorder,

Steve Holtebeck

Tolerance would be the word. I don't personally like random live recordings of me to be publicly circulated like that, with the great focus of my displeasure being when someone's made a board tape without asking me. Yet I'm grateful to have people who are interested, and a site that is so supportive, so I try to keep it in perspective.

does anybody remember laughter?



June 3, 2002

Scott, I don't know if this has been covered previously, but I was just wondering if you were concerned about putting a song like "Slit Your Writs" on one of your albums. It is truly a great tune, but do you worry that anyone predisposed to such thoughts might find encouragement from your lyrics? Though I'm sure you don't mean for them to serve as a call to action, that subtlety might be lost on the casual listener.

Scott: If there's one thing in life we can know for sure, it's that someone who hears a song and then goes out and kills himself is not a casual listener.

But seriously. I don't know, should I be concerned? I think of it as valuable to put across the truth of feelings of depression as I see that truth, but maybe I shouldn't perform it anymore if there's any doubt. Can you easily imagine being inspired to kill yourself by the song? I can't personally see the incentive aspect; it seems to dramatize a very isolated frame of mind without -- that I can see -- glamorizing or recommending that condition. When I've been depressed, it's helped me to know I'm not all alone in that feeling, and that is why I wrote it; part of the song tries to empathize with the alienation of feeling like the world is one big, triumphant party except for oneself.

Maybe it's me, but I don't see novelists or screenwriters getting asked things like whether if they portray a suicide, they're worried that people will actually commit suicide -- but in music we think there's some Svengali effect at work.

In general, should songwriters feel a responsibility for censoring themselves on issues such as these? I always think about kids growing up in inner-city areas like Compton, where you often find a scarcity of positive role models combined with the constant barrage of songs inciting violent behavior and the denigration of women blasting from everyone's car stereos. This can't possibly be very beneficial to one's upbringing, but where do you draw the line?

Robert B. Disner

I guess I personally draw the line at songs which encourage victimization.

thank you for writing in,

--John Lemming


May 27, 2002

Scott, I've been reading all over the website this way and that and came up with some actual original questions you haven't gotten asked yet. First off, I notice a lot of bands are letting advertisers use their songs in commercials (Giant Sand's Diet Coke, Nick Drake's Volkswagen, Devo's Target, Amon Tobin also Diet Coke [I think] etc. and what not) and I was wondering if one of your songs from either Game Theory or Loud Family had to be used, which one would it be and what would it be for? (My guesses: "Save Your Money" - Delta Airlines, or "Where they sell antique food" - MCL Cafeterias or Hometown Buffet)

Scott: Hi, David; thanks for writing.

I wasn't so sold on the idea of songs in commercials until I saw the Gap ad with the Marmalade's "I See the Rain," which I find really appealing. I don't know about commercials, but when I was writing a certain song from 1987 that I ended up calling "Choose Between Two Sons," I kept imagining it as a TV show theme.

Also... in all your life, have you ever stolen anything? And did you get away with it?

David Werking

I was just a little bit of a trouble-maker when I was about thirteen or fourteen, and I shoplifted several small items, for one of which I got caught. I was pretty chagrined when I did.

It's funny -- I'm reading Bertrand Russell's The History of Western Philosophy, which I recommend highly, and which I'm realizing is the source for the mainstream characterizations of many philosophers insomuch as they have trickled down to me in my education. I've always read that Saint Augustine had a "morbid" (to quote Russell) obsession with his childhood experience of stealing some pears from a neighbor's tree simply out of mischievousness. The story was always that Augustine produced page after page of apoplectic contrition over this "sin," text that would supposedly read to any modern as psychopathology. But having read Augustine myself, I didn't find that to be the case at all, but rather that he was simply systematically exploring the formidable enigma of it being a fairly normal human trait to take pleasure in causing trouble. And, being able to myself recollect some version of this, I have to say that I haven't seen Augustine's analysis improved upon, and certainly not by Freud.

free Winona,



May 20, 2002

Scott, I had the great fortune to see you a few times with the Loud Family -- twice at TT's in Cambridge, Mass., and most recently at the Hotel Utah in San Francisco (musta been around summertime, 2000). Fun and ballsy shows they were, and it's a shame we can't get any more of 'em!

Scott: Hi Brian! Very nice of you to write.

Before your set at the Hotel Utah, I managed to chat with you for a bit about your favorite bands. I gave you a hard time for not including Magical Mystery Tour on your 1967 favorite albums list (to which you replied something about it not being a "real album"), and then we talked about whether 1993 was the greatest year of all time for pop music. I maintain that it is!

Close, anyway. I suppose I consider the golden ages of modern pop music to have been 1966-69, 1977-78, and 1993. All of 1971-74 was better than okay, and really all of 1991-94 was decent except that 1992 was not that great (copying Nirvana was a rather unfortunate surliness-for-profit pursuit that occupied a whole lot of music careers in 1992). The albums I consider the big four for 1993, EXILE IN GUYVILLE, WHATEVER, FROSTING ON THE BEATER, and SATURATION, are just about as good a top four as you get in a year for impact + musicality + consistency. Of course, you may like 1993 for completely different albums.

Interestingly I was just rediscovering WHENEVER YOU'RE READY by Flop. Where are the Flop people these days?

Anyway, what are you listening to lately? Any chance you would update the website with your favorite albums of 2000 and 2001? You've turned me on to some great music through those lists, and I've got a Tower Records gift certificate that needs spending...

Thanks for staying in touch thru the website.

Brian Neumann

Thanks a lot for writing.

I haven't been able to be as conscientious about researching albums as I used to be, and without that luxury, I don't want to pretend to be too authoritative. The reality is that bands like Modest Mouse and Death Cab For Cutie have about six seconds of Amazon sample time to either capture my attention or be ignored forever, and that's not how I want to go about the task.

Also, I've had the good luck of becoming friends with a non-trivial subset of my favorite artists, and it's become just uncomfortable enough to be rating friends' releases relative to each other that I don't want to do it anymore.

But here's a not-too-well-researched list of albums I've liked from 2000 and 2001, in no particular order except that, for anyone's crony filtering needs, people I know are toward the beginning.


BACHELOR NO. 2 - Aimee Mann
17th CENTURY FUZZBOX BLUES - Anton Barbeau
MASS ROMANTIC - The New Pornographers
DE STIJL - The White Stripes
HOWDY! - Teenage Fanclub
RED LINE - Trans Am


TOUCHED - Ken Stringfellow
TVI - Yuji Oniki
IS THIS IT - The Strokes
THE WORLD WON'T END - Pernice Brothers
WEEZER - Weezer
I'M WAKING UP TO US e.p. - Belle and Sebastian

talk of tomorrow has spoiled the gathering,



May 6, 2002

Scott, I have been reading William Faulkner for the last couple of years now. I totally love The Sound and the Fury. I noticed it was one of your top ten novels (number 8). I was wondering what you thought of Faulkner as a literary artist, as you seem to also be a dabbler in high literature. What did you get out of The Sound and the Fury? Have you read any of his other novels? I am reading Go Down, Moses right now. Besides that, The Sound and the Fury, and Light in August, his stuff seems kind of uneven. (I have also read As I Lay Dying, Sanctuary, and am halfway through Absalom, Absalom, which is not uneven as much as it is indigestable unless read in very small (I suggest two pages every two weeks) excerpts. Anyhow, I just wanted to read your opinion on him.

Scott: It's been so long since I read The Sound and the Fury (which is the only Faulkner novel I've read) I shouldn't attempt too definitive a commentary. If I had to condense what I got out of the novel into a sentence, it's that it demonstrates, via a reasonable variety of mental perspectives, that the worldview in a social mainstream can typically be seen as destructively self-serving when viewed at any distance, and that a worldview that is not self-serving is typically the cause or result of social marginalization.

I just discovered Flannery O'Connor, and you seem to get a lot of the same effects that I have (as opposed to most of critical theory which just can't seem to get beyond the words "original" and "disturbing" with a "provocative" maybe thrown in there) and I wanted a further elucidation on what you thought of good ol' Billy the Bard of the Southern Renaissance.

In contrast with Faulkner, I've read almost everything by Flannery O'Connor. She would be my pick for Bard of the Southern Renaissance, so I will take the liberty of:

[...skipping to the second of your two emails...]

I think Flannery O'Connor's vision of the world with her transcendant Christianity, greatly influenced mine and the way I see my own Christianity.

How do you account for the difference between the apparent intentions of Jesus Christ, as seen through such transcendance, and the way that the Christian Majority works today? Christian fundamentalist are being more and more maligned these days, and are almost losing its foothold as a cultural force (well, Bush did get elected... never mind). What I'm trying to say through these ramblings is that the church seems to be very good at moral condemnation (and to some part social stigmatism) but not very good with spiritual solace. And do you think that this leads the world ripe for another, "fresher," spiritual leader?

Those are a whole lot of thoughts there -- I'm sure I can't address them all. But I do think that Christianity in the sense that Flannery O'Connor was a Christian transcends something which Christian fundamentalism doesn't transcend: the realm of cultural glorification vs. cultural condemnation. O'Connor functions in the proper biblical prophetic capacity -- revealing subtle and disguised social injustices -- whereas I see a lot of fundamentalists tending to act in anti-prophetic ways.

That is, they seem to have a personal distaste for the biblical process, which is the movement away from sacrificial and ablutionary ritual -- cleaving of the righteous from the unrighteous -- toward equality, rehabilitation of victims, and considerations which transcend the self and the social order (specifically the social order in its mob manifestation, misidentified as a vengeful God). Such a distaste must be the explanation for the fundamentalist preference for viewing the Bible as a static sacred directive, where ancient laws calling for stoning are on no worse footing than Jesus' rebuke of the mob stoning the woman caught in adultery. Which seems to me to treat the immense value of the Bible very shoddily.

The world hasn't seen fresher spiritual leaders than Jesus and Buddha, and I think if the world is ripe for anything, it's to start contemplating these two people's spiritualities more conscientiously.

One more thought: how effective would this so-called spiritual leader be if he/she did not have Hollywood answers to tough spiritual questions?

I consider Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Dalai Lama to be magnificent examples of modern spiritual leaders, and they don't really represent any trafficking in Hollywood answers.

Do you think the people, in this pop culture, have any ears for something that they may not want to hear?


As much as I like pop culture, I think it's safe to define it as that which doesn't have ears for what it doesn't want to hear.

--the displaced person


April 29, 2002

Scott, I'm in a Girardian reading group at Stanford (and Rene Girard is himself a member), and I was wondering what song or songs of yours best related to your reading of Girard's work.

John Steele
Palo Alto, CA

Scott: First of all, it's wonderful to hear from an appreciator (not to mention acquaintance) of Girard; for me, he is the greatest thinker of our time -- as important as Einstein would be if everyday life required that we all move around at close to the speed of light. I'm always excited to see evidence of more people discovering what he has to offer.

The songs of mine which relate best to Girard are actually the ones from the 1994 and 1996 albums, which are the two from before I first read his work -- this was Things Hidden -- in 1997. Probably like most Girard enthusiasts, I've wondered why his work doesn't catch on faster in the mainstream, and that becomes the same question as: what made me in particular like it right away? Part of the answer is that writing lyrics seriously for a long time caused me to chase certain social issues down into a corner, such that when Things Hidden came along, I couldn't miss its addressing in a systematic way problems which I'd been trying to address in a vaguer way.

But you have to believe there's a problem to be excited when you see a solution to it, and I think most of us don't ordinarily think of the terrible history of human strife as anything but one freak occurrence after another, all endable immediately with the mildest good intentions. Any inclination to systematize strife tends to be taken as sheer gloominess, or else a back-door attempt to dictate morals to one's own advantage per Nietzsche's typical complaint. Hostility thus enjoys a kind of de facto protection to generate what it may, as victimization has always enjoyed a peculiar set of immunities from intellectual scrutiny.

With that introduction for those who don't know Girard, I will now bite the bullet and embarrass myself by analyzing some of my own lyrics.

In "Asleep and Awake On the Man's Freeway," I say "I see ends before the starts, what it's like in prison, then the good and bad reasons for laws; the excuses, then the outcomes, then the cause." Having done this little riff on reverse causality in crime and punishment, it was not so outrageous to hear an assertion in Things Hidden along the lines that in a certain anthropological sense, punishing the despised one is more basic to the social group than the details of the law which supposedly justifies the punishment. This is no huge surprise, if only because we observe that less-evolved animals sometimes attack one of their own pack prior to their possibly reasoning about why one animal deserves to be attacked (this is not in Girard, I don't think, just my own interjection). Still, earlier in my life, this class of suggestion of dynamism in our idea of justice would have probably sounded like madness to me.

In "North San Bruno Dishonor Trip," I say "this [referring to some unpleasantness I don't feel like quoting] is how our cherished legends take shape, but from our favorite stories, can some truth escape?" I was trying to form the thought which I'd later hear Kierkegaard express as "the crowd is untruth," and which Girard systematized in the theory that myths arise from violence so as to flatter the perpetrators. Before I had been made hungry (by life in general) to have that kind of feeling corroborated, I probably would have thought Girard's assertion came out of nowhere, and was offensive to the spirit in which Joseph Campbell and many others treat mythology as always noble and edifying.

I don't have any trouble mapping the "mimetic desire" and "model/rival" discussions onto ideas I associate with my lyrics in "Still Its Own Reward" and "Baby Hard-to-Be-Around."

Okay, I've run out of grit for treating my lyrics as worthy to go on about, but I think most of my attempts at artistic expression, and most of the art and literature I have valued, point to the truth of Girard. Also, I see occasional signs in filmmaking that the "things hidden since the foundation of the world" are a little less hidden all the time (Changing Lanes strikes me as a recent example).

Thank you very much for writing.

They'll stone ya and then they'll say, "good luck."



April 22, 2002

Scott, in the January 2002 "Ask Scott" you wrote:

"I think the records of mine that are just right as is, sonically speaking, are Big Shot Chronicles, Plants and Birds, and Interbabe Concern. The others have varying degrees of little things that annoy me here and there that I could see wanting to clean up."

I agree with your selections re: sonic perfection -- especially Big Shot Chronicles -- God, it's gorgeous -- but am curious what you would "clean up" on Days for Days?


P-Bob (Photo Robert)

Scott: Hi Robert! Thanks for participating in the web forum. And thanks for your positive words.

On Days for Days, we went for a fairly expensive studio, and not too much time in it. This was the opposite of Interbabe Concern, which was medium priced studios, lots of ADAT recording at my house, and spending tons of time on everything, including mixing.

So I had to make a few hard mixing decisions on DFD that I didn't have to make on ICon:

1. Jonathan Segel played about three times as much violin and guitar on "Why We Don't Live In Mauritania" and "Sister Sleep" as actually made it into the final mix. He essentially laid a bunch of tracks down and said "use whatever you want," and it would have taken an extra day or so that I didn't have to work out a more liberal selection of combined tracks such that the arrangement still hung together. But his tracks were all great. "Sister Sleep" in general was too hard a mix to do in a half day, or whatever it was we had. It's really about four songs in one.

2. On the first three tracks, we tried to get more coherence than we attained with the false-start versions of the same song. The third one is the most perfect (the mix Tim Walters did), but the problem became how to start with the same energy, then build up from there. I didn't really nail that mixing task.

3. The guitar sounds were not as first-rate as they were on ICon. Again, it was just a matter of having an extra hour here and there just fiddling with the pedal settings vs. the amp settings vs. the pre-amp and mixer EQ settings. You can get a good enough sound by just throwing a mike in front of the amp and playing like you do live (some sessions I've done, e.g. Kickball by the Impatients, seem like there's no such thing as getting a bad guitar sound), but there's usually a golden combination of tweaks in there somewhere where you get a really satisfying range of life in the transients and whatever distortion overtones are going on. Some of the DFD guitar parts got in that pocket, and others I think just aren't really pulling their weight in the mix.

Oh, I can pick my stuff apart forever. I agree that for the most part DFD sounds terrific. All of Tim Walters's work was amazing, and when Tom Carr got to really stretch out on something like "Way Too Helpful," he could get great, expansive sounds. Listen carefully to the long-delay echo on the opening synth bleeps, or the power each of the song's three or four tambourine hits have.

Days Ex Machina,



April 15, 2002

Scott, about a year ago I sent you the only fan letter I've ever written, and you were kind enough to jot a few lines in response. At that point I was trying to consider your feelings and to support your decision to retire from the music biz. I knew I wouldn't be able to replace you -- it's only a slight exaggeration to say that you've ruined me for other music -- but I figured I wasn't young anymore (42) and it was time to move on to other things.

Since then I've had a change of heart -- not about my taste, but about my role. I've decided that it's your work to decide to do with your future and mine, as a fan, to try to convince you how important your music is and to beg you to reconsider. I could go into incredibly tedious detail about what I've loved about your music, song by song, for the last, what, 17 years: from the strains of "Stairway to Heaven" at the end of "24" to the gorgeous harmony of "Motion of Ariel." Let me know if you'd like me to do that, because I would, especially if it would help you to feel your efforts had been heard and at least partly understood and appreciated.

Scott: Bill, thank you very much.

Anyway, I've been thinking about what to do about this problem, and I remembered your writing about patronage a while ago in this forum. And I got to wondering: If a bunch of your fans got together and chipped in, how much would it take to help convince you that you should make another CD? I'm not a millionaire, and it's embarrassing to put a price tag on art, but I'd gladly chip in $500, say, toward this end. How much money would it take to make a difference?

I believe Momus was taking thousand dollar orders to produce a finished song that was actually about the patron, so I would think I could be expected to produce a song which was a ballad celebrating you and another $500 patron, maybe like "Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy." Or maybe for $100 you get a song about Momus.

But seriously. Your generosity is extremely admirable, and I doubt my worthiness as a recipient.

I'm sure I speak for countless others when I say that you've given me much, much more than I could ever repay.

Bill Belt

Thank you so much. The main problem is that lack of funds is only one of the reasons I wouldn't be recording again, and lack of desire on my part only one other. These could be overcome and there would still be release logistics, collaboration logistics, financial structuring logistics, and my own personal scheduling logistics, to name only a few. Then there's how bad I'd feel if people hated the result (which I have to admit for some reason seems all but inevitable).

Of all the gamblin' men I've known
There's one I've always felt
Had nerves the hardest steel of all
That man was William Belt...



April 8, 2002

Scott, R.E.M. released a song called "What's the Frequency Kenneth" on their album Monster in 1994. I see that credits went to the several members of R.E.M. When I first became aware of this song's release, I remember being surprised and wondering whether they had covered your aural montage track from Lolita Nation.

Of course, the answer was no, they'd just written another song referring to a concept you had tipped your hat to 7 years before, albeit from a very different perspective. Yours was of course better, IMHO: much more to the point of illustrating the savage strangeness of the whole affair. While I know it's supposedly not possible to copyright a concept, I wonder what your reaction to R.E.M.'s song was, if any. In particular, I find it interesting that Mitch Easter was involved with the only two groups I've known of that have approached this entertainingly goofy issue. Furthermore, when I imagine that the members of R.E.M. were not guilty of some small form of plagiarism, even unconsciously, my worst, if wiser self responds with a petulant "Shuh, right."

Scott: To tell the truth, I would be flattered and not even the tiniest bit irked if they somehow unconsciously got the idea from my record, but I think Michael Stipe probably wrote the lyric, and I think Pete Buck was the only R.E.M. member who knew Game Theory at all, so it probably doesn't quite add up that it was a direct influence.

I'm pretty eager to take the side of the supposed plagiarist in any case where there's an accusation of idea theft in music; not always, but almost always. Music is more a matter of imitation by its very nature than people seem generally happy to accept. Even in cases where there is a definite nick of a part of a song -- "My Sweet Lord" and "He's So Fine," or Elastica's "Connection" and whatever that Wire song was ["Three Girl Rhumba" -ed.] -- if anyone thinks the success of the later song was actually due to the similarity, I think they're crazy, and if they think that every aspect of the earlier recording was a matter of promethean originality alone, they're crazy there, too.

Ironically, one thing I thought I invented on Lolita Nation that no one has offered me credit for is the media hook sense of calling something "[blank] nation." As far as I knew, there was no precedent of the "Bobby Flay's Food Nation" sort at the time -- I got the idea from the Indian tribal government designation, which most kids my age knew about from Mark Lindsay's "they took the whole Cherokee nation/ Locked us on this a-reservation." Within a year or two there were Sonic Youth's Daydream Nation (excellent album!), then Fox TV's "Alien Nation," and then the usage quickly became part of the landscape.

In their song, the R.E.M. phrase-drop "Withdrawal in disgust is not the same as apathy" refers to Richard Linklater's Slacker. Naturally, I'm curious as to your view of this idea as well.

I haven't seen Slacker, so I'll take your word on the reference. The root sense of "apathy" (my wife Kristine knew this -- I needed a dictionary) is "without feeling," as in not far from the opposite of sympathy. So withdrawal in disgust is in fact pretty close to being the same thing as apathy, even if it isn't the same thing as slacking off. But yeah, if you're boycotting a system, that system will tend to come up with a mythology which says you're somehow soulless. Yet, neither attitude decides the value of the system; they amount to traded insults.

By the way, the frequency is 9192.63177 MHz, and I have this on good authority. It's Cesium, if you know how, and I'm not being luminiferous, ether.

So punny it Hz,

Frequency Kenneth

Thanks for writing, Ken!

--Super Freq


April 1, 2002

Scott, I'm a first time emailer, long time listener. Do you plan on doing a follow up to Attractive Nuisance anytime soon? Are you recording music? Anyway, I've always loved your records and look forward to another.

Scott: When I made Attractive Nuisance, I was thinking it was probably my last record -- at least my last regular release, that is, a full-length CD of original material, the ostensible point of which is to produce many thousands of the thing and make money in an economy-of-scale venture.

I've had a fair amount of encouragement to continue (thanks, everyone), so maybe I'm in a more softened-up state of trying to think of ways out of what I've come to hate the most about being in the music business: promoting myself where I'm not welcome. It's not obvious what can be done. I'm not so personally disposed to take the web music avenue; I'm too attached to both the physical embodiment of records and the human contact of the whole process in general. I like making a tangible thing in cooperation with musicians and recording professionals, then distributing it to people who like getting it, with the help of good-natured, nonmegalomaniacal entrepreneurs. I'm just doubtful that this many-variabled equation has a solution for not-so-terribly-popular me these days.

Also, this is out of left field, but I have an ongoing debate with some friends. What do you think of the word "class" as a self-antonym? For example, when you say "she's a classy lady" or "this is a classy place," you really haven't described what you've intended to describe. In other words, you sort of cheapen the thing you've tried to give value to. Or something like that. My friends think I'm wrong. What do you think?

Rick Ness

I might know what you mean. Usually "classy" is a legitimate compliment meaning something like "cultured enough to not act in a petty way." That's not the exact same sense as "classy place," or probably even "classy lady," but it's related. It means you should be able to expect that the place or the lady benefits from some sort of social tradition or pedigree.

But there's the rub. We're all suspicious of social traditions and pedigrees in modernity. If you come right out and say that "classy" means "appropriate to the upper class," you are dead in the water on the grounds of snobbiness. On one level, "classy place" and "classy lady" can backfire as compliments in more or less the same way they would for a pretentious hood in a Chicago gangster movie. But I think it's also reasonable simply to be vaguely uncomfortable with the fact that a classy lady is one who reflects well on her date or her associates, and there is a hint of arbitrary self-servingness in the choice of what cultural rule is being clandestinely called upon to separate the classy from the not classy.

but all is forgiven if you just need it to rhyme with "chassis"



March 18, 2002

Scott, your last column has sparked a debate within our Loudfan household. You mentioned that you are not reading for pleasure these days. My wife Celeste (favorite Scott song: "St. Therese") believes that it is impossible to read for anything but pleasure; that the brain won't allow it; that the eyes can't be dragged across a a single sentence without there being some resultantly pleasurable stimulatory sensation to the brain. The act of reading itself, she would propose, is, essentially, a pleasure. I, on the other hand (favorite Scott song this moment: "No One's Watching My Limo Ride"), being the editor of a collection of pornographic websites which accept submissions from the public, know for a fact that even texts expressly intended to pleasure can be quite unpleasant to read. Can you elaborate on what reading for pleasure means to you? And by the way, your column is a tremendous pleasure to read.

Scott: My exact quote was about not tending to read for entertainment, as opposed to not tending not to read for pleasure. To me the difference has something to do with whether or not the author intended the manner of pleasure the reader is getting, and if what shared pleasure there is in the little revelations about human nature has to do with the author and the reader sharing vindication or contrition.

For example, I got a little heat from saying that DAS KAPITAL couldn't have possibly been entertaining to anyone. That was kind of a joke, but I do stand corrected. Let me say that such entertainment as Marx seems to me to have intended -- inviting a shared disdain of "the bourgeoisie" and "misers," for instance -- would not compel me to read any 700 pages of it. But as a document of the mechanism by which a great mind of the period captured the imagination of so many people for so long, it's very interesting to me.

It seems to me that the 19th century was the great era of overcrediting for a bright idea: if a thinker could dazzle with a few insights, it could easily be taken in a leap of faith that he was qualified to do extensive social engineering. It's a form of what in supposedly less informed times was called gnostic heresy -- by knowing more than someone else, you accrue ontological transcendence. There's an idea's use-value, as it were, and then there's its disguised value to transform its owner, Joe Blow, into a lofty thinker. It's something of a disguised reshuffling of the ancient and irrepressible impulse to differentiate the sacred from the profane. The raw agendum of deciding who is a somebody and who is a nobody is fundamentally no more or less sophisticated whether the differentiating factor is ceremony, birthright, fame, academic achievement, or populist political leverage. Marx wouldn't have agreed with that impression of mine at all; he would have been sure that if you removed hierarchy imposed from without (by, say, religion), a great peace of mind and spirit of camaraderie would bloom like springtime.

This is going on in my mind as I read Marx, and it is a form of pleasure, but Marx wasn't intending it. I appreciate his insights, but I am also aware of him being up to his tricks, and by extension, I discover tricks I am sometimes up to.

Speaking of the profane, if I happen to check out any of those pornographic web sites you mention, it's strictly for sociological study, you understand.

On the subject of pleasure, I found a ten-year-old Stax records CD re-issue of Big Star's #1 Record and Radio City (contains a wonderful history of the band by Brian Hogg). I'd certainly heard of these legendary songs and heard some of them -- "September Gurls," of course, and your sparkling to-the-note rendition of "Back of a Car." I am floored by these albums like nothing since the day I got my hands on your Plants and Birds... disc (at Amoeba Records while staying with a friend in Berkeley) and played this classic album of yours from SF back to Texas to the exclusion of all other sounds. "Even You" was the song that hooked me (still one of the most heartbreaking songs I've ever heard),

It is the friggin' Brian's Song of indie rock, if I do say so myself.

then "Aerodeleria" with its home-run ball epiphany verse. All of which brings me back to Big Star. "The Ballad of El Goodo" in particular is, like so many of your songs, haunting, joyful, and devastatingly beautiful. I don't have a question or observation to make about my discovery other than "gasp" and to thank you, again, for your contribution to all that is sonically magnificent.

Mark Portier

Thanks so very much, Mark. And hi to Celeste!

waiting for Goodo,



Scott, you got the line/album title Plants and Birds and Rocks and Things from "A Horse With No Name," right?

Lisa Letostak

Scott: Yes, "he" tells me things and sometimes tells me what to do. How did you know "he" has no name?

Thank you for writing.




March 4, 2002

Scott, the following quote of yours upset me: "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 guess I can't speak for the world but I know that your stuff has always knocked me out.

Scott: Thank you very much. I don't mean to imply that I'm not grateful for the significant number of people who have bought my records, gone to my shows, booked my bands in their clubs, played my music on their radio shows, written reviews, written to this web site, on and on. People, I must say, have really in no way failed to give me a chance. There was almost never a point in my music career when I didn't get much more press and general media attention than my sales and attendance warranted. But -- artistic considerations aside -- the world just gets tired of giving you a chance, predicting your success and then not having you succeed. It had come to a point where far more people were having me shoved down their throats than were ever willing to swallow, and you'll have to take my word that it's a great relief to stop subjecting people to yourself when you feel that's the case.

I purchased the Lolita Nation LP new and scoured the used bins to find the early LP's shortly afterwards (poor college student) and every time a new release came out I snagged it. I have always felt your music was fresh, interesting and just plain sticks in your head. You say you currently don't have a label; I have 2 questions: (1) What is the possibility of your putting out your music yourself? From searching on the web, eBay and other sites, it seems the Game Theory and the Loud Family stuff definitely has an audience.

Thank you again. Maybe. Unfortunately, I'm not the kind of artist who can make an album by himself. I always need a drummer, a keyboardist, and at least some time in a pro studio. Even if I decided to put something out myself, this something has to come into existence first; you don't snap your fingers and have all the personnel and equipment you need. I don't think it's generally understood what a colossal amount of work it is to make any record that is actually going to appeal to, say, a thousand people. (And you need to appeal to about 20,000 people for the release to have any sort of cultural presence.) I'd have to solve the difficult problem of finagling the means to get a quality result without having to re-enter the world of popularity concerns.

(2) Do you have any unreleased gems in the closet and have you ever considered putting them out (something like Martin Phillips is currently working on with his Chills material)? Thanks and for what it's worth, I look forward to being knocked out in the future by some Scott Miller project.

Gregg Conover

Thanks again. I have very little unreleased material, but, hey, you stick around this business for a while and you realize that one's regular catalog tracks of today are one's obscure gems of tomorrow!

just plain sticks in my head,



February 25, 2002

Scott, I've been a great fan and admirer since the mid-80's. Anyway, part of the appeal of your music for me has been the undercurrent of pessimism in your lyrics set against the wonderful pop tunefulness of your music; from "Last Day That We're Young" to "Slit My Wrists" to "Deee-Pression" (actually, when I first heard that song, I thought you were singing "fill that depression right now"; I was relieved to find out that it was really "fit of...") I always wonder, for such a cute, talented guy like yourself, where does that angst come from?

Scott: I am sorry to inform you that there are individuals out there who lack your obvious good taste in music and people in general. What is the result of repeated exposure to such individuals? Angst.

Or is it unavoidable for someone who thinks a lot? It's funny, the writer I most associate your lyrical style and outlook with is Douglas Coupland; in fact, in my mind I sometimes can't help but merge the two of you together in a sort of satifying artistic gestalt.

Thank you -- he's very good. I hardly ever read contemporary fiction, but I've read a little of Douglas Coupland, David Foster Wallace, and Michael Chabon, in each of whom I've found quite a bit to like, but very different things in each case. Coupland has the least literary polish of the three, but maybe in the way that Emily Dickinson was comparatively unpolished -- there is a sympathy with the popular mind married to a need to pick away at its spiritual vapidity. The result is a gentleness you don't get when a truly lacerating storyteller's mind comes along, the last major one I can think of being Flannery O'Connor's.

I tend not to read for purposes of entertainment these days. Right now I'm reading Karl Marx's Das Kapital, which cannot possibly have ever entertained anyone. I just finished Herodotus' history of the Greek and Persian wars. I think you could say I'm looking into the unvarnished truth of human affairs, which may begin to answer the question of why my lyrics seem to have a pessimistic aspect. As Shakespeare, Dostoevsky, and a few other people have noticed, if you put people in a generally happy, enviable social arrangement, people's very favorite thing to do at that point is to turn it all into a despicable pit of resentment and general bad feeling. Why? You can get people not to do it, but it's forever a black art; what system works to cause people to get along? What used to be called the "civilizing" process is now a somewhat discredited concept -- full of implications of male hierarchy and other things we're lately taught, justifiably, to distrust -- leading some people to wonder if we weren't better off in our primitive state. Yet, you read a little ancient history, and you realize we weren't.

Ill-advisedly enough, people look for answers to such questions in popular entertainment, so I've been game to try to make popular entertainment which takes something of a crack at it (those who have been following along carefully will have noticed it was not popular). I don't ever mean to be pessimistic for pessimism's sake, as I think some artists do as a matter of being fashionable; but there's a fine line between trying to show the possibility of a world that is beautiful because problems are solvable, and trying to show the possibility of a world which is beautiful because problems are ignorable.

Well, I guess that's my own synapse problem. At any rate, I think it's one of the great crimes of pop music that Game Theory/Loud Family never broke bigtime in alternative rock. "Don't know what the radio wants when the radio taunts..." Me neither. All I know is that a new Loud Family album was always like a little treat from above that improved my day-to-day life in some indefinable but significant way.

Anyway, this has turned into a fan letter, so I should just shut up.

Dana Claycomb

I cannot stress this enough -- if you feel anything turning into a fan letter, do not shut up.



February 11, 2002

Scott, I entirely respect your decision to throw in the sweaty towel although it will ruin my annual(ish) anticipation of the next SM statement to a mostly uncaring (and therefore ignorant) world. Your music continues to give me eons of enjoyment and this brief communication is to state/ask (delete as appropriate):

1. What does the 'DEFMACROS' etc. track refer to? I appreciate that some are snippets (good word -- sounds like a brand of dog food) of GT lyrics but I can't follow 'NEQBMERET'

Scott: They were computer programming language elements strung together. I remember that "DEF" was "define" and a "MACRO" means a little subroutine. "NEQ" was "not equal to." That's all of what you mention I can remember as far as specific details, but I remember, for the whole song-titling exercise in that passage, intending something like parody. There was sort of an intellectual fad going on where self-reference was the answer to the mystery of consciousness, and I wanted to have a sort of mock-heroic rendition of that formula, in the way I imagined dadaists and surrealists would have gone about a task like that. I didn't expect anyone to "get it" exactly. On that record I was committed to making every effort to try to get across the feelings I had to get across, no matter how much of a failure my means of communication seemed to me at the time.

2. Lolita Nation is my very very all-time favourite -- you probably won't agree but it is the complete record (Plants... comes close but it hasn't got "The Waist and the Knees"). Feel proud, lad.

Thank you very much. I still don't quite know what to feel about that record. I wouldn't blame anyone for hating it, but I'm glad you don't.

3. You probably aren't aware of the significant fan (awful word, I know) base you have here in Good Old Blighty but the lowest comment I have heard uttered about your music when attempting to convert the unknowing and uninspired is "worthy." I bet Phil Collins couldn't match this (ha!)

I greatly appreciate the kind word. I always thought that in theory, more English people should have liked my music than actually did, since I expended so much energy trying to master British rock skills, like having lots of chord changes and lyrics that are always depressing (and I mean that with the utmost respect).

4. Good luck in wherever George Bush Jnr. takes you (war with Canada isn't out of the question).

Mick Kinsey
Wolverhampton, England

Don't worry. America will never make such unstrategical use of our nucular arsenility.

my coat is shining after switching to YUMMY SNIPPETS,



February 4, 2002

Scott, thanks for doing the inventory on my record collection. I don't have every single thing on there, but we match 96%. I was glad to see In Excelsior Dayglo on someone else's list.

Scott: Thanks for calling attention to that wonderful album. The one of Christmas's that went unreleased for a while, Vortex, is possibly even better. The songs "Superheroes" and "Almighty" are beyond stunning to me. I used to correspond with Michael Cudahy a bit back in the pre-e-mail days, but I haven't talked to him at all since the whole Combustible Edison thing. He's extremely witty, and one of those few people who are authentically eccentric in a good way.

I'll search out the Solipsistics, they are in good company.

And speaking of eccentric! I saw them once live and was really taken. I think I'd start with Whatever Makes You Happy. The first two songs are a more or less perfect introduction to their considerable merits, although Wish In One Hand is certainly remarkable in its own way -- probably a contender for the creepiest record ever made.

Anything new to recommend?


Nothing that isn't pretty big indie news, really. I wouldn't want to be without Mass Romantic by the New Pornographers. De Stijl by the White Stripes is quite nice, and White Blood Cells has its interesting points. Touched by Ken Stringfellow is superb: the songs "One Morning," "Uniforms," "Find Yourself Alone," and "Reveal Love" are all absolutely first rate (the last two were released on a single last year under the band name Saltine). I like Howdy by Teenage Fanclub. It's funny, I always think there's not enough to their songs when I first hear the record, then I always end up thinking one or two are excellent and a few others hang right in there. "How It Goes" by For Stars is kind a classic little song. Also "Working Girls" by the Pernice Brothers. I keep trying to like recent Radiohead more than I do.

--Mr. "New"-equals-less-than-three-years-old


January 28, 2002

Scott, first, following protocol, please allow me to say how much I have enjoyed your music lo, these many years.

I was just reading your August 21, 2000 Ask Scott, and I was interested to see you implying that that you don't think your audience thinks Attractive Nuisance measures up to your "good albums like Lolita Nation or Plants and Birds." Now, I think Plants and Birds is one of the best records ever, so I would be one of those heretics that would say that AN doesn't match up. But I also think that OK Computer and Loaded and Raw Power and Pet Sounds don't match up, so don't feel bad about that. I like AN very much.

Scott: Thank you!

But this brings up an interesting question, and one that must play on many artists' minds -- Alex Chilton and Tom Verlaine, for instance -- and I hasten to add not yours I hope, because you have clearly developed hugely as you have progressed through your career. But what do you do if you think you've done your best work early on, on your first album even? Stop? Surely the artistic impulse wouldn't let you do that. Stop publishing? Easier, but surely frustrating.

The artistic impulse isn't really as monolithic and mysterious as all that. You can break it down somewhat into how much benefit your audience seems to be deriving, and what you call "benefit." The artistic process is a little old and rickety in 2002. It used to be that few enough people had the sheer skill to be writers, painters, musicians, etc., that the specialness of it was a viable conduit for conveying deep feeling.

To digress, we don't like to acknowledge the truth of what I just said; we prefer to think we could experience any art directly, independent of the prestige associated with it, but in reality, without a system of prestige -- buzz, if you like -- people don't really know what to think about any art. They don't know if Norman Rockwell paintings are brilliant because they're well-crafted and they speak to the viewer, or they're awful because they traffic in bourgeois aesthetics. Hype and prestige mediate 99% of every artistic experience, and of the unmediated communication going on in the remaining 1%, 99% of that is not really the artist expressing anything, but the artist soliciting your approval -- maybe with the goal of actually expressing some second thing in a way that will catch you unawares, maybe just to profit from your approval and to leave it at that. Not that the artist probably knows this is going on (to us artists it's all one big unexamined "heigh ho, another great idea from me"), but as no one asks why ultimately we do anything anymore, there's more than enough ambient existential noise for any issue of that kind to get lost in.

So it used to be that, say, superskilled operatic tenors, or supersensitive painters of light and shade, were mythologized as conduits to a more valuable experiential reality. But that mythology has been deconstructed (sorry, that word again) relentlessly in the recent past, in some respects for good, in some respects not. The "artistic impulse" has to have a viable component of "I'll win an audience with this excellence, so I can deploy that package of human feeling," and I'm fresh out of ideas how at age 41 I can win an audience without there being many good forums for excellence around that aren't just fashion, and at which I would have any chance of distinguishing myself.

So if you feel like you're out of steam in that sense, it makes limited sense to continue with a lot of unpublished stuff, the way you did in youth when you were trying your hand, because what you're now trying your hand at is viability, in a business sense or at least a cultural sense.

Obviously thoughts of an artist stopping work is brought to mind by your announcement that you're unlikely to release anything again -- although the end of your reponse did kindle a little flame of hope. But you say you would want to be sure you aren't just doing it to do it. Why else? If you persist, as you have, in creating challenging music surely you can't expect to get paid like Puffy?

Or does this signal the start of your Goo Goo Dolls period??

I've discovered how easy it is to cheapen your past work by trying to sound good to people. People have good noses for pandering and very bad noses for true artistic worth, so there's some incentive not to rock the boat of what reputation I have as, say, a worthwhile lyricist.

Artistically speaking, a move on my part to avoid (even to continue to avoid) sounding like the Goo Goo Dolls or other successful groups would be exactly equivalent to a move on my part to attain success by appropriating successful aspects. In a way my impulse is: I don't want to even play the game until I can somehow slap some sense into the world on this point. Only a few worthy artists play that game well enough to make so many friends that the greater number of their enemies doesn't matter. Kubrick comes to mind as the master of it in our time, and surely the world was finally ready to bury him for Eyes Wide Shut.

Then there's the open question of whether I'm worthy at all, which just sounds like I'm begging for more compliments.

Looking forward to whatever comes down the Miller pike,

Grahame Davies

thanks, I do value the encouragement,

--Goo Goo Dali


Scott, I have been meaning to write this note to your site, not really expecting that you will see it, but I just read your responses to the writer who sent in the Jeff Buckley quote and it moved me to try to commit to writing what I have been thinking for some time (I haven't written a "fan letter" in a long, long time). I have only recently (within the last two years) become a listener of your music... OK, I am a huge fan but at age 39 it seems ridiculous to say that... and I have been following your announcements of retirement with great interest and also regret. Your Loud Family work is the most original, creative, captivating and sonically brilliant music I have heard in a long, long time -- and I have yet to get into your Game Theory work! So, although I would never dare to ask you to keep on going (way too selfish), I wanted to first thank you for giving all of us the incredible body of work you have composed; and remember, great art is never appreciated in its time. And yours is great art that has made a difference in my life.

Scott: I'm most grateful to you for saying so.

Now my question, it's kind of inane but I hope and think you can relate, hearing how carefully you engineer the sound of your music: I guess from your lists that you hold the Beatles in high regard, as do I. I was listening to the remixed CD "songtrack" that Capital put out last year for the Yellow Submarine movie and was struck by the great job they did in cleaning up those tracks; it made me wish that they would think about remixing the whole catalog. I expressed this to another fan and he recoiled in horror. I guess it's like when they restored the Sistine Chapel, some people thought they were revealing the brilliance by cleaning it up; others viewed it as near vandalism. I was then listening to Interbabe Concern and how great it sounded, and it made me wonder: what side do you come down on, do you like what they did in the remix process, or should it always be as the original masters intended? Even if you hate the concept, you have to admit that the remixed "Only a Northern Song" and "Nowhere Man" just sparkle.

I agree; I don't hate the concept at all, except that sometimes a lot of artistry went into the initial mixing or mastering, and the knowledge of what the people involved were striving for at the time is long gone by the time the engineers of the future get to it. I think the records of mine that are just right as is, sonically speaking, are Big Shot Chronicles, Plants and Birds, and Interbabe Concern. The others have varying degrees of little things that annoy me here and there that I could see wanting to clean up.

Scott, you're incredibly talented and I will always be a fan. Thanks again.


Tom Pierno

I am in your debt for such a flattering message.

thanks much for writing,

--Sir Fix-It-In-the-Mix-a-Lot


January 14, 2002

Scott, you know Sturgeon's Law? "90% of everything is crap" (first proposed in the late fifties by late great sci-fi author Theodore Sturgeon?) Well, there's a corollary: "If it's popular, it must be bad." Your fans are humans of great discernment, therefore not legion. Don't abandon us -- there's not enough to look forward to as it is.

I got Attractive Nuisance and thought it was OK -- maybe showing a little auto-piloting -- the thin end of the wedge that prys open the door that leads to THE DOWNWARD SPIRAL. Then I couldn't get "720 Times Happier Than the Unjust Man" out of my head. Now it's "Backward Century". It's the interface of the lyric and the "melody." Your songs aren't melodies that lyrics are set to -- the melody acquires significance from discerning the lyric. Not the usual thing, as you must know.

Along with W.B. Yeats, Reid/Brooker (of Procol Harum,) Guy Kyser (Thin White Rope), and Wallace Stevens (maybe Frank Black, too), you are one of the greatest influences and comforts in my life. As Alfred Jarry said: "Cliches are the armature of the absolute" -- you're never going to know the depth of my personality, nor I yours -- we'll be Brownian motion to aliens and insects -- but if anything matters at all, your music does -- please don't stop making it.

Bill McKinley

Scott: I'm grateful for the note. It gave me two more reasons to consider doing more music: (1) I'm at the point where I don't just want people evaluating a release of mine according to their existing aesthetics, I want the release to have some input to their aesthetics, and in turn some little input to their view of life, and your note indicates maybe I didn't finish up in a place of no ability to do that. (2) I may be in some competition with Guy Kyser for influence on your soul, and I should perhaps not sleep at the task of prevailing. I enjoy his work immensely -- it's probably quite a bit superior to my own overall -- but I perceive him as being for a somewhat nihilistic response to the world.

from the protocol harem



Scott, it's my opinion that metaphors usually don't bear close examination, and places are usually hard to write music about, except of course if you're Van Morrison, who can basically get away with anything twice or more (witness "Ancient Highway").

Here's my too-long-windedly-led-up-to-question: have you ever written a song about a place as the result of being there? "Inverness" is a work of mindblowing genius (you may blush), but for instance, was it written as the result of your personal impressions there, or was it just made up as something you thought would fit a mood you were in?

Scott: Just a mood, and the sound of "Inverness" rhyming with "loneliness." I've never been to Inverness, Scotland. I hope that's not a disappointing answer. I don't mean to downplay my own success at songwriting in the case of that song; to get a good lyric, you have to arrive at a few words that happen to paint a picture; it's not practical to start with the particular picture you want and hope to capture it using that restricted an art form.

For the same reason, it's odd to me when someone wonders which real person a song of mine is about. About the closest that gets to validity is when it's a nasty song and someone made me feel nasty toward him or her in that way. But my point is always to say "this is a human pattern" rather than try to prove how extraordinary that event was in particular. When lyricists try to indict in particular, I think they tend to fail. I'm thinking of John Lennon's "How Do You Sleep," about as giant a flop lyricwise as he ever produced in my opinion.

Second part of this question: the initial background sounds are of rain and thunder, but during most of the song it's absent. Also it occurs to me that the almost staccato sound of the clinky piano (and a mandolin?) adds a kind of restraint to the song, like someone vainly trying to be happy indoors while the weather is bad.

However, the chord progression is not one of your darker ones, and in fact it seems to lead the listener slightly higher at the end of many lines, again as if trying to put on a brave face but coming across unconvincing. I find this intriguing, like a Brian Wilson kind of vibe. If you'd care to let us have a look inside the mind of Scott, I'd appreciate it.

There's not too much like what you describe going on as a mental process, though it sounds like a good description of what I was looking for as a result. That sounds contradictory, I know, but songwriting is sort of like you wish you had some little melody and either: voila, it's suddenly there in your mind and your wish is granted, or voila, nothing, and you just have to go do the dishes or something. I used to say it's like talking: you don't say to yourself that you're going to use a noun, then a verb, then a strong adjective, you just sort of ask your brain for a sentence, and there it is in your mouth. I guess it's just training your brain to speak the language of pop songs. I mean, nothing would prevent me from thinking "the chords need to take the melody higher at the end of the line than what I have now," and sometimes I do revise somewhat along those lines, but in practicality, stuff like that goes on at the level of instantaneous, barely-conscious decision making. If someone asked you "what goes on in the mind of a sentence-speaker?" how can you answer in terms of actual control over the process? "Well, if I think of something to say, and it's really dumb, I can sometimes stop it from coming out of my mouth."

The process that's interesting to describe comes in constructing harmony, arranging for a band, and recording, only it sounds like you are well on the way to figuring out everything we did: use the weather sounds from a sound effects library, add (right again) a mandolin, add a sampled piano, and so forth.

Here's one strange thing about my mind though -- I've made the odd discovery that there's a melody playing in some corner of my consciousness virtually 24 hours a day (even when I'm sleeping; if you wake me up, I can sometimes tell you what it is), and I can either pay attention to it or not. Usually it's nothing interesting enough to make a song into, and in fact I don't usually get song ideas from that, but rather from humming randomly over guitar chords and seeing what leaps out, but sometimes I have a background melody going that isn't too bad and I write a song with that.

Wishing I were cleverer,


wishing I were kissing to be cleverer,

--Boy Georgeless


More Ask Scott:

 July-December 2001
 January-June 2001
 July-December 2000
 February-June 2000
 July 1999-January 2000
 March-June 1999
 September 1998-February 1999
 May-August 1998
 January-April 1998
 July-December 1997

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