April 27, 1998
Scott, when I listen to your many records (usually only one at a time, though), I always come away impressed by the attention you pay to sound. I don't mean the clarity and definition of the musical instruments, I mean your interest in sound for its own sake--tape loops, found noises, words that seem chosen as much as for their resonance as what they say, noise bursts and low hums pitched at strange and wonderful timbres, you know the drill.
Scott: Thanks, Miles. I've always had a passion for the way sound goes onto tape, ever since Joe Becker and I made recordings in high school. It's almost to the point of my being more of a sound effects buff than a record producer type, because record production is such a morass of fashion-dependent considerations. The sound-texture aesthetic is very in nowadays, and in a way that's a noble cause -- to deliver back to people's ears what's been turned into industry semiotics (heard of "the language of flowers"? I give you: "the language of effects on the drum kit").
But beyond a certain point, the happy freedom to explore the possibilities of sound can become the unhappy fear that it will cost you prestige if the dreaded middlebrow ever have an ecstatic reaction to your music. My favorite composers don't key against the mainstream; they reject freely, but aren't afraid to swipe from it what's useful.
Do you experiment endlessly to recreate the sounds you hear in your head? Or do you stumble on a great sound when you're messin' around with the amps and effect boxes, and that sound inspires you to come up with a song or a loop built around it?
An idea for a sound in your head can go pretty far wrong, as it can be an arbitrarily hard -- or expensive -- sound to make in the real world. My head had better not hear pricey session singers breaking into "Every Breath You Take," if you know what I mean. So I do a fair amount of trying to make existing equipment work in different ways by using it wrong. For instance, on "Don't Respond, She Can Tell" I got an unusual guitar sound by using the cheapest amp I could find and trying to torture it into producing a hi-fi sound using compression and a ridiculously extreme "loudness-curve" EQ. Synthesizers were put on earth to use in some way the manufacturer didn't intend.
Sometimes you do have no choice but to try to bring off an imagined sound, but an hour of that is typically a lot less productive than an hour of fairly undirected messing around.
A couple of other favorites, Wire and R. Stevie Moore, share with you a very pure interest in (and understanding of) sound that only sometimes encompasses music. However, their experimentation, as documented in the myriad Wire spinoff projects and Stevie's 230+ available cassettes, has been much more public than yours. Are you able to achieve your intended results without committing hours of pings and buzzes to tape, or are you sitting on a vast treasure trove of MILLER MACHINE MUSIC?
Nothing I'd want to release. To me, actual experimentation is completely different from what's referred to as "experimental" but which is still intended for an audience. Those artists' experimentations are "much more public" than mine, but I wonder if, percentagewise, the slew of Wire spinoffs did as much to bring their more difficult material to their audience as the more integrated approach of something like LOLITA NATION did to my audience--profoundly silly of me as it is to draw that comparison, especially considering Wire were a big influence on me.
pushing the pillow, stuffing the envelope
Scott, the debut album from the band The Wannadies sports a track three called "Friends". It's the one that I find myself hitting the repeat button for. I believe I'm doing this because the sound (to me) is pleasingly reminiscent of Game Theory. Still, I have not ruled out Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Hang on for a second while I turn the oven off.
I can do a fairly good job of spotting and understanding what accounts for influence and the appearance of influence in literature. But as a non-musician, I lack the language and technical knowledge to verbalize why one band's work should sound similar to another's.
If you've heard this song and can agree in any way that this song echoes your work in G.T., would you mind giving me an explanation (for dummies) of what they're doing to sound like you?
Scott: I haven't heard the song and I may or may not have heard the band. The name is extremely familiar.
For what it's worth, I usually don't hear it when someone says another band, or singer, or songwriter sounds like me.
Well, I've got to go turn off the oven. Thanks,
got to go make some records,
April 20, 1998
Scott, I'm in a band called In Clover from Richmond, VA (been a fan since I saw Game Theory at William & Mary in 1988 - and I must say - very glad for the rerelease of Big Shot Chronicles and Real Nighttime since my cassettes are so worn out they just screech now).
Scott: Hey, some of us call it singing.
We've been at it for around 7 years (keep losing drummers) - what's your advice to upcoming bands who are looking for a record deal? We play frats, give away our tapes, just finished a CD - but have no clue how to get people to come to our shows at clubs, and we don't just "know" somebody -- maybe it's just Virginia. I know we don't suck, because people that aren't our friends tell us all the time how great we are -- we just can't get people out on a regular basis. What should we do oh wise-one?
Yes, as you know I've never put my hand to a project that hasn't caught fire in the marketplace, so listen up.
You need to give people a reason to get out there; would you honestly call a bunch of your friends and say "you gotta see this band" if you were the band? You need to be a news item on some level, it doesn't matter what level. Really good, sensitive, insightful songwriting isn't going to help that much here, because people just don't say "you gotta see this band, they resonate with the ineffable verities of the human condition." If that's you, I'd say concentrate on mailings to national college radio and fanzines and don't even sweat the local club thing.
If your set is supposed to work on its high energy, take a good honest look at whether that's a slack area. Stop losing drummers, they're crucial! Drums and bass usually determine the energy level all by themselves. Have your drummer and bass player play a typical song from your set and stand outside the room. You are now hearing what the club's walk-up clientele hear when they're deciding if you're going to be worth it. Does it scream "hot band, get in here immediately?" If the energy isn't the thing, ask "what is the thing?" and make sure it's firing on all cylinders. Does the front person knock the audience dead with showpersonship? Or do you dress like toreadors? Or do you nail the hell out of harmonies (a hard one)? Or are you absolutely perfectly timed to ride to prominence on a trend (an extremely hard one that requires rigorous study)?
That's sort of the club scene economy. If you aren't making a proper spectacle of yourself, there's not much reason to place you in front of a mob of drunken onlookers. It doesn't hurt to make yourself a local pest by postering and trying to get articles in local rags, but if you're not fascinating in some drearily obvious way, it's going to be a miracle if you break big from your home base outward. And I hope it's clear from my tone that whatever makes your music essential is worth doing even if it doesn't happen to turn the wheels of success.
Best of luck with Loud Family - Oh - and I've always liked your voice even though you joke about it - it's different and very emotive - it sounds sincere, and I really like that. Hate these vocalists that just pretend to feel what they're singing about.
Thanks, I'm very glad to hear that, because it's proving to be practically impossible to get me to stop.
so worn out I just screech now,
Scott, my eighth grade art students are doing a unit on video storyboarding. Any Loud Family or Game Theory songs you'd like them to attempt?
Working on creating a new generation of Loud Family fans,
Scott: Gregg, hi! I still love your picture of me schlepping the packages to the post office.
For some reason "Don't Respond, She Can Tell" and "I No Longer Fear the Headless" come to mind. Boy, I don't think of myself as that sinister a writer until I get asked a question like this. I mean, certainly not "Sodium," certainly not "N. San Bruno Dishonor Trip"...
--Scott "Not At All In Favor of Slitting Wrists" Miller
April 13, 1998
Scott, since Simon Reynolds' essay in the Village Voice not too long ago, the rubric "post-rock" has been on the lips and tongues of savvy critics. I'm curious if this term means anything to you -- do you surmise a discontinuity in the writing and playing of music sufficiently radical to bid farewell to the rock epoch? (I notice that you have Gastr del Sol on your list of renown for '96 -- so you must have some familiarity and affinity towards this phenomenon, if it is such).
Scott: I haven't read the article so I may stray from your exact subject-but we can probably agree there are too many post-designations nowadays. Personally speaking, when I say "post-structuralist" or "post-modernist," I don't have much in mind, I just mean to refer as conveniently as possible to people or works commonly tagged as such.
It's a little cheap to say those terms are meaningless, but I suspect they call attention to a problem (or unwittingly reveal it, depending on who's slinging the term): we ground ourselves culturally in the very process of smashing foregoing epistemologies. How do we know anything? Well, if we're aware of any old way and new way of looking at something, we know to look at it the new way. Better that than the other way around no doubt, but when we start building intellectual world orders on lack of arbitrarily-determined fault, look out. Does this airplane fly right? Absolutely. How do you know? Because it's not identical to the previous model, which crashed.
If what was happening was that we were running out of room to say things in rock, I'd think we'd see increasingly many records which are mostly conventional rock except for one or two cuts on which the artist had to depart. In fact, what we see--I should say, what tend to be written about--are records which suddenly and ostentatiously refuse to touch certain rock trappings with a ten foot pole.
To cause us to "bid farewell to the rock epoch," post-rock would need to be not radically different enough, but radically similar enough. It would have to do what rock does structurally, but have some veneer of newness, like "psychedelia" or "new wave." And Gastr are I think genuinely different from rock. I'd place them in the academic tradition of Cage and Stockhausen, who I would say sought a music unbeholden to mediating culture. As a candidate for the new mainstream itself, it would naturally have the problem of-to paraphrase Andrew McKenna on "deconstruction"--keeping its hands so clean that it couldn't grasp anything.
Scott, I was wondering if "Not Expecting Both Contempo and Classique" was influenced by the work of designers Charles and Ray Eames. Specifically, the line "There may not seem like much creative latitude, but that's the challenge of design" reminds me of Charles Eames' statement from Design Q&A: "I don't believe in compromise, but I willingly accept constraints" (I paraphrase loosely from memory). Is there any connection here?
Scott: My God, questions from people who have worked on the albums now. What's next, Bob Ludwig asking me if I've read Deleuze and Guattari? Hey Tim.
No, I can only assume it's my pipe dream of doing office furniture consultation shining through the mundane necessities of turning out indie rock.
a statement from Ray Charles' design Q & A,
April 6, 1998
Scott, first off, please allow me to gush away by saying that I have been a big fan of your body
Scott: I try to keep in shape
of work ever since a friend loaned me his copy of Lolita Nation back in 1988 (yes, I did return it, than I bought the cassette, than I bought the CD...). Having just discovered the LF website, I am giddy at the chance to finally get the opportunity to talk to (at) you after ten years. I especially enjoyed reading your top 20 lists and finding many similar interests (although I did not find one of my guilty pleasures from the 70's -- The Sweet).
DESOLATION BOULEVARD is my number 27 of 1976. I guess I only posted them out to 20. Mind you, if the early records with "Little Willy" and what have you are brilliant, I just wouldn't know.
Made special note of the fact that you also recognized GBV's Bee Thousand as such an accomplishment. Robert Pollard is one of the few songwriters I have found whose ability approaches your own.
What lavish honor you do me! I feel like I've drunk a case of beer and been hit by a swinging microphone.
One of the things that I have always admired about you is your innate ability to drop obscure references at the drop of a hat. Be it a triple play by the 1906 Chicago Cubs (but what, no "three fingers") or squeezing five Stanley Kubrick film references into one song (?) title. Having taken a class back in my college days which examined the work of Kubrick ("Films as Literature"), I gained an appreciation of his film making technique. I've read your take on some of your favorite books, and was hoping that you might share your feelings on the films of Stanley Kubrick and/or films in general.
Kubrick is the best filmmaker, I think. Not only does he do high art, which is to say revelatory art, but he builds a ladder down from his Olympus that most of us can climb onto; he's not just for critical theorists and filmmaking aficionados. He tells good stories about how culture works and what part violence plays in culture. We see both the reality of violence in all its outrageous brutality, and the romanticizing going on in the mind of the victimizer.
This makes for a bumpy ride--true of anything revelatory. We're used to filmmaking where the brutalizer and the victim see the act as occurring in the same economy: power changes hands unfairly, but the loss for one equals the gain for the other. Kubrick shows the disparity. To the writer and his wife who are brutalized in A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, the event reads as sheer sadism; to the gang, it is a powerful generator of glamour and camaraderie.
Hal the computer and Jack in THE SHINING are protectors who adopt a sacrality which leads them to recast those being protected as the threat itself. In all these cases, I think a good lesson to take away is that systems of morality are beholden to the dynamics of violence, and not the other way around. People are not "basically good" until something like TV teaches them to be violent; what must be taught is how not to revert to our natural state of expedient and rationalized hostility.
I was curious as to whether or not you shared my feelings regarding the Star Trek television series? That is that the new series are all pale imitations of the original, lacking their flair, high drama, and social consciousness, and substituting stale, cold technology and regurgitated plot lines (or am I just stuck in the '60's).
Anything would be pale compared to the original Star Trek, wouldn't it? It was nothing if not...flushed. I'm a big fan. I thought it often had an almost Shakespearian structural genius to it, and I thought the acting was just right. The "Next Generation" had some excellent, memorable episodes, I thought, but you're right about it not quite having the same flair. None of the other spinoffs have held my interest at all.
While we're on the subject, if, for some unknown reason, William Shatner decided to cover one of your songs, would you be delighted, offended or indifferent, and which song would you want him to cover?
I had a song called "One More For Saint Michael" which actually refers to Captain Kirk directly so I'd have to pick that one. I suppose I'd be completely delighted.
Thanks for your time. I must finish with one shameless plug. Spokane, Washington lies directly on the highway between Seattle and Missoula (or vice versa, depending on which way you are traveling) and we would love to see you here sometime (or maybe I should just get off my ass and travel to one of the two aforementioned cities myself).
Do you get the feeling that we could draw a number of people in Spokane? Sometimes we'll book a show just on the strength of there being a small number of people who seem enthusiastic about setting up and helping promote a show in their town. If you're serious we could discuss it with our booking agent. In any case, I'm grateful for the interest.
Scott, my wanderful Camaro drove over a cliff near Dover and the waves could give a damn, they all just came back again. What gives?
Scott: As Hoover said hovering over Dover, "waves be dammed."
Please, they told me you would know. Was it the fire drill, or is the sun that bright now?
That "bright now" is a would-burning Firestone theoeater, and though the sun's in the driver's eyes, it's the one behind the wheels who gets tired.
March 30, 1998
Scott, thanks for communicating with your fans.
Scott: Hi! Thanks for there being fans to communicate with!
I've got a few quickies for you:
Mac or PC?
UNIX. Gnu. Java. Anything that resists being co-opted and locked into sustained mediocrity by one company's iron grip.
Rosewood or maple?
Ford or GM?
Nietzsche or Kierkegaard?
I'm not an expert on either, but they both seem to be first-class minds neither of whom would be the first place I'd send anyone for cultural information today. To paint with broad strokes, I'd say they both shared the conviction that the world marches forward via a process of the weak being defeated by the strong, and Nietzsche was in favor of that whereas Kierkegaard was against it. In short, they both operated squarely in the shadow of Hegel, Kierkegaard working mostly to refute Hegel in favor of an austere, anti-rationalist Christianity, Nietzsche to demolish Christianity so that, unhampered by overdeveloped compassion, polemos could make great men.
It's alternately exhilarating and infuriating for me to read either. You could distill either to some truly lovely stuff. Kierkegaard is in many ways the spiritual father of both Rene Girard and Jacques Derrida, who by my guess are the two big thinkers of our time, and Nietzsche is in many ways the spiritual father of...practically everyone else.
And yet, Nietzsche really did hate Jews and Christians, and when he talks about bookish ideologies creating "little dwarf men," you doubt that's any idle metaphor--a man or woman dwarf would be subhuman to him. Kierkegaard was a religious fundamentalist to the point of feverishly opposing women's rights, and arguing in favor of Abraham's intention to kill his son as a sacrifice on the grounds that God's will is a higher authority than reason.
For a modern audience, a book of Flannery O'Connor short stories leaves them both in the dust of their own subjects (not that they didn't help clear her path). Between the two, it seems to be more stylish in the 1990s to name your album with a phrase from Kierkegaard than with a phrase from Nietzsche, so I'll pick Kierkegaard.
Hex Enduction Hour or This Nation's Saving Grace?
I've never heard Hex Enduction Hour. Is that like Entroducing?
Thanks for your time. I look forward to seeing the Loud Family next time you're in Austin.
Thanks, see you in June or July!
Scott, just discovered your stuff this month for the first time. I've purchased all available LF/GT product and I'm swimming through it all with a big smile on my face.
Scott: That's so good to hear. Thank you.
Anyway, I do computer programming for a living in Princeton NJ, and I read on the web site that you program as well. If you don't mind my asking, could you talk a bit about what kinds of work have been involved in, languages, platforms, etc.? It doesn't appear that anyone's asked about it.
Mostly C++ programming on UNIX platforms. I have a Sun Ultrasparc on my desk. I used to work on Lisp and C++ compilers; now I work on an object-oriented database product.
Thanks a lot, hope to see you on tour this spring.
...my pal foot foot, foot foot, always likes to roam...
do not taunt foot foot
do not play with foot foot when drowsy
do not look directly at foot foot
March 23, 1998
Scott, thanks for all the great music. Fast & furious, now:
Scott: Fast and bulbous!
What are your time-tested heuristics for optimal set list construction?
No science there. Just don't let it get into any sort of a rut. Do things that are somewhat unexpected; don't let the middle drag with a lot of slow-to-mid-tempo numbers.
How much does the set change from show to show on a tour?
Not very much. I like to take requests for the encores but the main value of being on tour is you get really good at doing one particular set. If a lot of people are there and reacting enthusiastically, you'll never be bored with the songs, and you can concentrate on the delivery happening then and there rather than just not making mistakes. On the other hand, when there's a sparse crowd, especially if they're not enjoying it much, you tend to want to change the set around, maybe thinking "I'll give them something to cry about."
What's the perfect set length?
Usually I want to keep it short, unless it's definitely your crowd, and a big crowd. I'd say forty to 45 minutes, though the club contract usually says you have to play longer than that. Don't leave 'em wantin' less. If people want more they'll give you an encore.
How do you decide what old songs to resurrect, or what songs from the new album are live-worthy?
For new ones, you want to pick those that have some impact on first hearing, and that lets out a fair number of mine. As for old numbers, who can say? If only there were some statistical record of which ones people liked the most.
And how do you feel about the name Scott, anyway?
I don't know. I guess it's kind of like naming someone Italiann or Swedee.
Scott, my favorite Loud Family track is probably Marcia & Etrusca. This song represents quite a stylistic departure from most Loud Family songs. It's...how do you say...epic ("epic" meaning, of course, that you're only a step away from constructing huge art-rock suites in the vein of Genesis and Yes...or maybe not). Regardless, I love the song - makes for great driving music.
Scott: I love Yes. I never got into Genesis much. I don't mean to give anyone a heart attack, but besides other things Yes did really well, Jon Anderson was an excellent lyricist (I'm considering the early 70s output here). But my favorite full-on art rock band was always Pink Floyd. Everything up through THE WALL was surprisingly consistent for being so adventurous.
I have always wondered what your inspiration for the song was. Who are Marcia & Etrusca? Dino & Elijah?
The names are supposed to conjure up both modern and ancient personalities, sometimes both at once. That song was a democratic effort but for my own part I was thinking of eternal verities flickering in and out of focus with trivial, half-ignored details.
My other major curiosity is the spoken sample in the middle of the song. That's you, I assume? what are you saying?
Sorry, but I don't remember. It was a combination of pieces of singing from takes and me talking between takes but I'd have to listen to it again. If I recall, it's not that hard to make out the words.
In the hundred-year crusade,
in and around Greg Lake, Mountain come out of the sky
March 16, 1998
Scott, I have many a burning question but I will keep it short so as not to take too much time.
I live in the U.K. and reside in Portsmouth, Hampshire. News of Game Theory and the Loud Family was not always easy to come across before the Internet so I apologise if this is a frequently asked (or slightly outdated) question. Why the change of name from GT to LF?
Scott: My rule so far has been that if all the original band members have quit, it's time to change the name, unless I have a record deal at the time; then it's too much trouble to change the name.
Although a somewhat personal question (sorry) what would you cite as being your main source of motivation behind making music? For instance, is fame and success for the Loud Family important?
That's sort of an Ernest Becker DENIAL OF DEATH question. The proper reason to make music should be--duh--for the sake of the people who hear it. You should be asking the question "if I died soon, to be reincarnated as any of the people surviving me, what would I want to pass on to my new other consciousness in this music?" You want to propagate and clarify a listening aesthetic, and, in the lyrics, encapsulate what you can of hard-won insights which are to some degree peculiar to your life, that are otherwise going to be lost.
This gives you a basis for deciding when imitation is more valid than the urge toward wanting to be considered original. If you sacrifice your chance to resonate with a listener merely for the sake of your reputation as an innovator, you've probably lost the game outright--no one may ever listen to you out of genuine love. On the other hand, if you're accessible to everyone but you haven't articulated anything significant that isn't already out there and available, or won't pass quickly with fashion, it's equally pointless.
So a little fame is a good thing. If you're not famous at all you stand no chance of catching the attention of the surviving listener you care about. If fame is all you care about, though, you're just thinking of it as a way of cheating death, and it won't be.
Ever since I first heard the lead break on "Shark Pretty" I've been hooked, amazed and a devoted follower. Thanks for continuing to make great music!
Well, good ear, but I didn't play that lead. It was Earl Slick, who was probably the top session guitarist in the world at the time; he just happened to be around because he was married to the engineer's sister. He had a record deal (remember Phantom, Rocker and Slick?) so we couldn't use his name. He was called "Ernie Smith."
--Scott (no I can't sing) Miller
Scott, hi. For this assignment in my record-engineering program, I'm supposed to pick two songs by an artist, analyze the structure of a song (which I can do myself), and get detailed information about how it was recorded/engineered (everything from equipment details to "Whoa, how did you get that effect?").
The expectation is that I'll choose a deeply minor local band unused to the attention, and just in case, I did, but I'd much rather write a paper on what you did to record "Screwed Over" and "Top Dollar", and why - will you please help?
Scott: Forgive me for a moment of amusement at the word "why" there. "How--and why--were these delightful recordings made?"
I'm sorry if you're sorry that you no longer work with Mitch Easter, but INTERBABE CONCERN rates right up with the Rheostatics' INTRODUCING HAPPINESS and Julian Cope's JEHOVAHKILL as the best-recorded pop album anyone's ever done; c'mon, share the wealth of ideas. Good day!
I haven't heard those albums, but having heard a fair amount of Julian Cope, I assume that's quite a compliment, so thank you very much.
"Screwed Over" was obviously a very different recording situation from "Top Dollar." The most nonstandard thing about "Top Dollar" is that the guitar and vocals were actually recorded to a click track and then the drums and bass were put on later, and as a consequence of this the vocals have the quality that I'm singing them right after I've written the part, which for some reason caused them to have a really weird personality.
"Screwed Over" was me doing everything except the fuzz bass at the end, which was Kenny. It would take too long to tell the story of every sound on that one, but one result I was pretty happy with was recording a little sequence of notes of sampled piano, then sampling that and assigning it to the sampler keyboard instead of the sound of one note being played, so that each key stroke actually fired off the series of notes.
when I was a kid all we had was a Studer 24 track and WE LOVED IT
March 9, 1998
Scott, I am a relatively new fan of Loudmusic (just the last year or so). The front page of the Washington Post yesterday carried an article about "geek rock," i.e. music played by bands with members working in the technical/computer fields. According to this arbiter of conventional wisdom, it's just about the most happening form of music on the D.C. scene nowadays.
Would you consider the Loud Family "geek rock" in that sense (part one of a two part question)?
Scott: I'm not a geek in the sense people mean that to be a compliment, which is to say technologically "high-powered," whatever disturbing thing that might happen to mean. Really I am so NOT happening in any sense a Washington Post article might explore, it would scare you; whatever happeningness we have had better come from the other band members.
Do they mean to assert that there is some stylistic thread which links recording artists who have computer day jobs? If I had to find someone likely to have the exact opposite of my opinion on any given musical subject, I would start my search at Silicon Valley computer companies.
And is this an impending sign of information technology-driven apocalypse? (part two)
Michael J. Zwirn
Since John Lydon's appearance before Judge Judy there has been no doubt in my mind that the end is very near.
110 110 110,
Scott, I was listening to "A Child's Christmas Saving the Whales" with a friend, and he asked a question to which I said I'd try and get the answer...
Why is the boy named "Denise"? What was the significance of that particular female-sounding name, as opposed to a more male or even androgynous name? He was intensely curious about this.
Scott: Strange as it may seem to us today, the name, like a lot of that tape, was intended to be humorous. I believe it had something to do with the French for Dennis, "Denis," but to tell you more than that I'd have to go back and listen to it, and I think I'd rather be harpooned.
call me Email,
March 2, 1998
Scott, I have two questions for you concerning production on your records. While I know that you worked with Mitch Easter for many years on your albums, I noticed that he didn't produce Interbabe Concern. 1) Was this a conscious decision on your part or his part, or just the way that it worked out? Do you plan to work with him (or another producer) in the future, or simply produce yourself (I know that sounds odd)?
Scott: Through no fault of Mitch's whatsoever, TAPE OF ONLY LINDA was a bit of an exercise in how not to spend your studio dollars very wisely, and to top that off I think it was my worst-selling record ever. The label was justifiably eager to see us become a little more cost-effective and when that happens the first thing to go is the hot-shot outside producer, if someone in the band can produce serviceably.
INTERBABE has sold a lot better, but until Alias calls up needing to shelter the millions they're making off us in a high-dollar hit maker, I'll just keep showing up for work, as they say.
2) How would you assess the impact, if any, that his production had on your music?
I suspect for a long time he was the only thing saving me from sounding unlistenable to anybody.
Thanks for taking the time.
now, if we could only afford whoever did the Impatients record...
Scott, some time ago, I asked if the LF would ever do this (great) song, "The Come On," in concert. You said no, because the the bassline required chops that weren't in Rob's repertoire. Time passes, Kenny's on board, and I'm asking again. This is such a great song ....
Scott: The problem could not have been that it was too hard for Rob; it was one of our simplest bass lines. I'm sure I just meant that he wouldn't have learned it.
I just saw Michael Quercio for the first time in ages at our Poptopia show! Maybe we can play it with him as a guest vocalist some time.
rocking the Cathay de Grand,
February 23, 1998
Scott, I think we'd all like to see one of your top-whatever lists of fave albums/songs from the annum just past. So how 'bout it?
Scott: This is one of my least conscientious efforts in years but here goes:
1 EITHER/OR - Elliott Smith
EITHER/OR is the big news here. I haven't heard TONE SOUL EVOLUTION or any number of big-buzz pop records yet. I actually liked STANDING STONE by Paul McCartney a lot but I'm not including it here as the real Paul died in a car crash in 1969 and let's not encourage this sort of passing each other off as someone else when we have perfectly good cloning technology.
A longstanding (when not crouching) fan,
William (not Pete) Ham
--Scott (not Ann) Miller
Scott, THANK YOU for the way you quoted and capped the words NEATLY PUMP AIR in the latest round of "Ask Scott" (Editor's Note: The writer is referring to the 12/29/97 Ask Scott column). I saw those words and heard their cadence in my head and then thought, "Hey, wait, what song is that?" and soon had the answer ("Lady Godiva's Operation" by the Velvet Underpants). At that moment I felt that epiphany of "Oh, so THAT'S what he was saying" all these years and years. So thank you.
Scott: You're most SWEETLY welcome.
Also, didja know that at the end of that song, buried in the mix (and I mean buried), you can hear John Cale hissing, "You're a boy...you're not a boy," or something like that. Very eerie. (This has now devolved into "Tell Scott: The Forum for Know-It-All Record Collectors and Rock Nerds.")
Well, as if my input doesn't count toward the know-it-all record collector and rock nerd factor, but anyway...that's an interesting VU anecdote.
FYI, when I came out of brain surgery a few years ago and came to in the recovery ward, I got a phone call from a fellow college radio DJ, asking me if there was anything he could play for me, as if I could hear it; I said, "Yeah, how 'bout 'Lady Godiva's Operation.'"
Are you serious? Talk about your full-immersion multimedia rides. I think I speak for our entire readership when I say: your brain sounds terrific; I think they did a hell of a job.
Shoulda requested "The Girls Are Ready to Go."
Ha! Well, thank God you didn't. Serious, serious complications.
-- Scott Tissue
curly and demurely,
February 16, 1998
My question for Ask Scott...
Scott: Ask Scott is prepared to interface with Tell Steve...
While listening the Beach Boys' PET SOUNDS SESSIONS box set I received as a Christmas gift, I noticed lots of similarities between PET SOUNDS and Game Theory's LOLITA NATION. Both albums deal with the passage of time and the loss of childhood innocence, and other emotions of adulthood. Also, there are a couple of direct quotes from PET SOUNDS lyrics in LOLITA NATION songs, the "God only knows" in "One More For Saint Michael" and the "ugliest trip I've ever been on" (from "Sloop John B") in "The Waist and The Knees"?
The "God Only Knows" one wasn't conscious; the other one was, obviously.
Were the LOLITA NATION album influenced at all by Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys? Or am I way off base?
No, it was certainly influenced some. I can narrate precisely the moment PET SOUNDS hit me full force: it was in 1977 and I was watching the movie SHAMPOO for the first time. Warren Beatty plays a hairdresser who has sex with every woman in sight. It opens with "Wouldn't It Be Nice" slightly audible from a radio, and you then learn it's set in 1968. As the film climaxes you get more and more tasty "acid rock" while all Warren Beatty's relationships end up canceling each other out. With the closing credits, "Wouldn't It Be Nice" reprises at full volume, and it's glorious. The director, Hal Ashby, was great with music--he did HAROLD AND MAUDE--and I think his point was that the emotions in "Wouldn't It Be Nice" weathered the storm of things like "Plastic Fantastic Lover." The naivete was more sophisticated than the worldliness that followed.
It wasn't all as straight in my mind as it is now, but by 1986 I had a somewhat clearer sense of wanting to get into the mechanics of that sort of deadly economy of lovelessness, and PET SOUNDS is obviously one of the masterful works along those lines, so I had the little quote of "Sloop John B."
If LOLITA NATION was your PET SOUNDS (creative pinnacle), then what was your SMILE (ambitious concept never fully realized)?
Oh, I don't think there's anything too close to that in my experience. For one thing, the trouble they had making SMILE was probably due to them being a really successful, pressured band. I've never felt more pressure than on LOLITA NATION, and I was often miserable, but as you say, people who bother to consider tend to think that one was better creatively than the others, so I may just have a low Beach Boy correlation.
What surprises could be found on a LOLITA NATION SESSIONS box set in 2017?
I was thinking if I became a leisurely and powerful star while my singing is no worse than it ever was, I'd like do a kind of director's cut of that record with some different singing and little fixups like recreating some of what we took out for the tighter CD time limit, but I'm guessing that project is not right over the horizon, and of course the few interested people would probably think I ruined it.
Paul McCartney liner notes?
rest in peace Carl,
February 2, 1998
Scott, are you still compiling, or are you now a full-time musician?
Scott: I work on an object-oriented database. Want to buy one? It's a high-end quasi-infinitely scalable product, used by CERN and other high energy physics labs, big telecom companies, etc. It turns out they're good for organizing your lists of favorite songs and what albums they're on, too.
Did you take a course in "Game Theory" at Davis?
No, it was hard to get enrolled in--offered only fall of even-numbered years or something. Very likely there was no actual course; they just gave you credit for it if you ever managed to devise a class schedule that included it.
From reading the archives, I would have guessed your education was rooted in philosophy or even literature. But EE? What gives?
My intention was to major in art, but I had a vision of myself arrogantly chasing after appreciation for my artistic talent, and to counteract that I went into hard science. Where arrogance can hide easily.
Ever been compared to David Lynch? Cryptic is the operative word here.
I'm not aware of ever having been compared to David Lynch (I am flattered it occurs to you, since he is an excellent filmmaker). It's funny that we think of "cryptic" artists as people who create a coded world for us to delight in deciphering. Now that I am someone whose work is thought of as cryptic, I can testify that my effort is just the opposite: that there is already a code to the world, to the way things work, and every time I think I see one of the "answers at the back of the book," I just want to give it away to everyone, for free. To say, "the answer is five." The trouble is, you have to first get people to think you set up the right problem--to convince people that you see into their lives without knowing any of the details of their lives. How do you do that?
Favorite bands of the 90s? (Besides Loud Family, of course)
Liz Phair, Guided By Voices, the Posies, Aimee Mann, Veruca Salt, the Loud Family, Elliott Smith, Belle and Sebastian, Nirvana, Teenage Fanclub, My Bloody Valentine, Pavement, did I say the Loud Family? Oh, yeah, you said besides the Loud Family.
--Impotently Peevish Scott
January 26, 1998
Scott, first of all, I must say that I've been a doting fan of your music for a dozen years or so. Thanks for making it happen.
Scott: Thanks, it's been as much a pleasure as anything so anxiety-ridden can be.
I could ask about your preferences in hair care and underwear, but I am even more curious about the following:
Was the song "Slip" on LN in any way inspired by the Road Runner theme song?
Not consciously, but I think I see what you mean. It has the same beat, and there's that one sound on the Pro-1 synthesizer which more or less screams cartoon. I could well have been unconsciously steering it toward similarity to something like that; it would fit with the motif of juvenile references.
What significant challenges do you face in balancing music and dayjobs?
Mostly just that it all takes so much time. Every time I do an album now I'm convinced it was so exhausting I could never do another one.
These days, a lot of old bands are reforming for reunion tours/albums. Many of them we could surely do without. What artist(s) would you most like to see reformed?
In ten minutes I haven't been able to think of one. Do they ever come back after actually having grown, applied themselves in isolation, honed their craft, pondered what part of their output was just fashion and zeitgeist? The indication is that they don't give the old cow another thought till one day someone says there's more milk in the teat.
Are you a Niners fan?
Not except that I find myself rooting for the home team despite having no reason to care. Football is a little like a soap opera, isn't it? They have the same appeal, but mapped to the conventionally conceived male and female psyches respectively. If you asked each why they weren't interested in the other, they'd probably answer that the other is contrived--not a real situation.
--Scott "the Refrigerator Magnet" Miller
January 19, 1998
Scott, thanks for giving devotees of intelligent, literate pop hours of listening, not to say deconstructing, pleasure.
Scott: You are most welcome, although the idea of scrutiny makes me as nervous as it would make you. I will imagine that if Jacques Derrida were here he'd remind me that being deconstructed is nothing to worry about, that my obliviousness to certain dimensions might in fact be what leads to them being considered.
Your fondness for Joyce and dislike of Pynchon has been fodder for some interesting discussions.
Oh, how small of me to act as if I could effortlessly find fault in one of the best living writers! Much of the writing in GRAVITY'S RAINBOW is nothing short of dazzling. What's going on is that because I don't see a large structure I find meaningful, I shoot my mouth off and claim there is none.
But to compare anyone with Joyce or Eliot, oh. The reader is at first baffled by Joyce and Eliot, yet there are enough brilliant lines, single sentences that are worth a year of hard-won experience in life, to know something very important is going on. Then on revisitation, more lines are clear. Then on reading critical analyses, more, and at some point you come to the awesome suspicion that the aspects of Joyce and Eliot you didn't understand correspond exactly to the aspects of life you didn't understand. There is of course an element of having to come up to speed with references they make to other material, but I can only say that if Eliot deems it appropriate to in effect say "go read the entire Divine Comedy, then we can come back to this part," I'll jolly well go read the entire Divine Comedy.
I'm curious to know if you've read new-kid-on-the-block David Foster Wallace, and what you think if you have.
He certainly comes well-recommended, but no, I know nothing about him/it. I should probably read it soon, before absorption of "the story on it" alters the experience.
(and in case that doesn't pan out, here's the small emergency back-up question...)
"Don't Entertain Me Twice" has long been one of my favorites of the Game Theory canon.
[...Don't I remember being fired out of that one!...]
I've wondered for years whether lines like "thin film found on co-ed walls" were ripped from the headlines, a la "Day in the Life" or if there are any other insights you'd like to share about the tune.
I don't remember the "film" line referring to any real thing. Because I can't hear "share insights" and not think "convince people to like it," let's admit that the following are only my thoughts today, not a claim any of it is contained in the song. That was my being-a-grown-up album and in some of the songs I was going through and identifying what in the adult world was just a new way of being childish, and in that song it was the repetition of cheap highs from social and sexual maneuverings. Looking up the word "entertain," I see the derivation is "to hold between," as in to hold the attention, and I think if that's all that ever happens--and it never changes your life, it never transforms you--there's an element of being a prisoner of the minor dramas and chance situations of your life, of you being a sort of nonentity in the face of whatever is vying for your attention.
I don't have the words in front of me...wait, thanks to the web, I do! Ah, okay. Uh-huh. Most definitely.
An evil woman done me wrong.
a ass pocket of whimsy,
January 12, 1998
Scott, this Q&A thing is a wonderful idea! The last time I had the chance to converse with one of my musical heroes was when Elvis Costello sat down in front of me in a bar. Shocked into paralysis, I didn't say a word. I'm feeling less tongue-tied now.
Scott: I have no plans to become a big enough star to cause any apoplexy.
First, thanks for answering these questions. You obviously put a lot of work into this (I was all ready to rebut your defense of Eliot, but upon re-reading your epistle I realized you were right!)
Glad to hear it. And, the sense of his poetry aside, it's hard to believe, if he would refuse all contact with his dear friend Ezra Pound on the sole grounds that Pound wouldn't cease his Jew-baiting, that Eliot the man was unusually hostile or indifferent to Jewish people.
Second, thanks for making such great music. Thanks a lot. I've been listening since '88, and recently came to the realization that Lolita Nation is my favorite album ever. Now if I could only convince everyone else...
You're much too kind, but it being the case that these albums are an unbelievable amount of work to make, thanks for reminding me that occasionally someone considers one of them worth the trouble.
Going back to Real Nighttime, I've noticed that your albums have created a kind of pattern, alternatingly complex and simple. Real Nighttime, Lolita Nation, Plants and Birds and Rocks and Things, and Interbabe Concern are all gloriously complex, dense, recursive, and experimental. On the other hand, The Big Shot Chronicles, Two Steps from the Middle Ages, and The Tape of Only Linda hew more to the traditional "song-pause-song-pause-song" structure which we all know so well. So here are my questions:
As a quick aside, I don't see what's so complex about Real Nighttime.
Do you agree with my assessment? If so, do you do this on purpose? Will Days for Days be more satisfying to Marcia and Etrusca, or Carol and Alison?
It's more or less accidental that the level of experimentation has alternated like that, and the formula probably doesn't apply nowadays as there's not even any particular tide of pressure to behave myself after doing a more self-indulgent one. To me this new one works on a different plane of decidability of such things (I don't want to be so specific that I spoil people's first listen), though there's a nonzero chance that this is the one where even fans of the Lolita Nation type records will think I finally just had too much, as Robert Johnson used to say, ramblin' on my mind.
Where I go back to work and get depressed,
p.s. Please come to Boston in the springtime.
okay, but my #1 fan in Tennessee said it ain't my kind of town...
--"Ramblin' Boy" Miller
Scott, I know that "Chicago and Miss Jovan's Land-o-Mat" was recorded last year during the Interbabe sessions, but did you actually write the song in 1989...when you were 29?
Scott: No, the fictional person being addressed in the song is 29. I wrote most of the song in 1929, when I was 29.
I'm a boy and I'm a man, I'm 29
January 5, 1998
Scott, I notice that you haven't really written too many songs about your eating habits, so I'm having a bit of trouble reading between the lines.
When I go to restaraunts, I sometimes eat meat. Sometimes I order a veal dish, and other meat eaters at the table get all upset that I like to eat veal. Meanwhile they're eating a steak. Basically, what I'm asking is--if one is going to eat meat anyway, doesn't it see a bit hypocritical to make some sort of distinction that eating grown-up animals is OK, but eating baby animals is cruel?
Scott: I've never worked myself to a Morrisseyan level of sensitivity here. My guess is that in the wild, there's little chance that any given cow won't end up being killed and eaten by something. I doubt they die of old age much, or fling themselves off bridges because they are doomed to be attracted to those who are careless with their feelings.
On the other hand, it disturbs me greatly that to support gross overconsumption we breed races of animals that have shitty lives. I'm convinced that veal calves have so shitty a life that I shouldn't eat them. I eat some red meat, but at such a modest rate that it would take me a long time to mandate the death of one further animal (I figure that chickens and fish don't mind being killed since they don't look up at you with big sad eyes).
Not to judge anybody, but it seems to me the inescapable truth of your effect on cowdom is that whether you in your puny lifetime eat meat or not is probably negligible compared to how many children you have--whether you nudge humanity toward increasing or decreasing voraciousness. My feeling is that ranching just needs to get back to a saner planetary scale of land and animal usage.
--Scott Miller, cowpunk
Scott, your favorites list is so perfectly in synch with mine, it gave me the chills. Really fun reading, nostalgia-o-rama, and great for future shopping lists. But Scott, for 1995 and 96, where is Jack Logan?? Bulk and Mood Elevator are nothing short of amazing. You no like? Me no believe.
Scott: Jack Logan's BULK is my number 32 of 1994. Never heard Mood Elevator. As we all know, there are several million records released every week nowadays; I'm bound to miss some good ones.
And are your favorites on line somewhere?
nostalgic for nostalgia,
More Ask Scott: