January 10, 2000
Scott, in response to Geoff Woolf's question about long CDs and filler (which, by the time this question comes up, will probably be half a year old)
Scott: Missed it by that much!
--it is true that most long CDs contain a bunch of crap, but finding two people who precisely agree about which songs are the crappy ones and should have been cut is nearly impossible. Although filler bugs me on a certain level, I also sort of appreciate it when a band essentially says: "Here it all is. We decided to let you make your own album out of it." (Although I appreciate it even more when a long album has no filler, like London Calling, say.)
It doesn't have filler exactly, but some of the musical material is a little on the public domain side.
So as to make this an "Ask Scott" instead of an "Opine to Scott": what with CD-R technology getting cheaper and cheaper, have you given any thought to starting your own little home record label, and bypassing the irritating music industry entirely, if no renewal contract is forthcoming from Alias? Jeff Davis, formerly of the swell Balancing Act, has started something along those lines. Seems to be going not too badly for him.
I'm really glad to hear that. For myself, though, I don't know. I've put a lot of work into a lot of records and it's a little beaten out of me at this point. I still enjoy my band, and the contact I have with lots of great people who are listeners (like yourself), but if you ask me today, I feel like minimizing any future bureaucracy for myself. I like the idea of doing little odds-and-ends types of releases in the future but I'm not in much of a mood to flog the "recording artist career" horse any more.
I don't know if Attractive Nuisance will be my last record, but it was made as if that were the case. I realized there's a difference between making a record and making your last record. It's hard to explain; for some reason I'm tempted to say I no longer feel we're trying to build an audience so I feel less ingratiating, but in a way that's almost the opposite of the truth. It's more that whatever ingratiating I'm going to do, it had better not be that kind of ingratiating that says "here's the exciting direction I propose that you and I pick music to go in"--"direction" points to future projects--but rather: whatever our boring old direction was, this is where it led; let's make it add up to what it can add up to. Settle the account rather than take out another loan.
lowest interest rates in town,
January 3, 2000
Scott, hope all is well on your end of the continent. Haven't resorted to the Ask Scott venue in awhile, but I'm eagerly anticipating your work for the Rykodisc benefit and have a few questions on that front.
Scott: That benefit release seems not to have gone forward, though I'll be up for participating if the idea gets resurrected.
First, to the best of my knowledge this song will be the first song you've ever recorded and released as a "solo artiste," per se. How is the process of recording as "Scott Miller" differ from the process of a bandleader writing and then recording with others, as you did in Game Theory and the Louds?
The most obvious difference in the process is that I play the drums and piano myself, usually in the form of tapping the keys on a sampler keyboard, with terrible results.
Second, when another of my favorite songwriters, Neil Finn, broke up Crowded House and released a solo album after two decades of band work (Split Enz and Crowded House), there was a lot of unhappy muttering among his fans that the new material was missing the intangible nuances of his band work with established collaborators. Do you worry that some of your fans may find fault somehow with your solo work outside the Loud Family?
I don't know Neil Finn at all, and I can't critique myself like that, let alone keep a straight face while discussing My Solo Process, so instead let's talk about what we'd all be more interested in: Pink Floyd. If I never have another forum after "Ask Scott," I'd hate to have squandered the opportunity to publicly complain about Roger Waters.
First, why does Roger hire Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck to play all over his records? Because that's how you Replace David Gilmour. As if anyone wanting to make an album has to Replace David Gilmour. It's easy to imagine most of Roger's recent artistic decisions being made with that kind of reactive, obstacle-surmounting logic. It's sort of like watching a person ride into the ocean on a tricycle out of sheer spite for people who don't think he'll make it across. His records paradoxically end up sounding like junior versions of the post-Roger Floyd records, with the female choir vocals, the sound effects, the arena-style blues guitar, but as if it's the work of an impresario who wouldn't budget to hire the original band. Moreover, the real desperation shouldn't be over the loss of Gilmour's guitar, but of that glorious voice. His singing was for one thing sine qua non for the hits to have happened, and for a lyricist, if you've got someone who can sing "run, rabbit, run/Dig that hole, forget the sun" and not sound like William Shatner, hold on to that resource!
Almost as valuable to Roger as Dave's voice was the presence of a crack team working tirelessly against him.
I think the chronic random feeling of being thwarted used to give Roger just enough oneness with the non-Ubermensch to keep the big problems, like imagined blood fueds with Andrew Lloyd Webber, under control. Roger knows the world is dehumanized, but while part of him knows to pursue the science of love and forgiveness, he--like most of us--lunges toward the opposite: that we should figure out whose fault it all really is (the warmongers, the televangelists, the middlebrow composers) and never, ever let them off the hook. It's sound enough logic at the level of consumer protection, but when he's giving peace sermons while dragging Gilmour, Wright and Mason out to the killing fields, we can see that Wall-management is tricky business. And kids emulate all of this in minor ways; they strive to be able to spot rotten guilty mediocre teachers, associates, mothers.
I wouldn't presume to recommend attempting more Floyd-with-Roger albums this late in life or not; frankly, as a maker of music I'm not worthy to tune their instruments, let alone counsel them. But as any idiot, I can spot Roger's need to apologize to, and forgive, the other members unreservedly. Failing that, maybe he should just ask himself if he's really doing the world a favor by withholding his expertise from these Floyd-without-Roger records.
Third, I understand that your contract with Alias may be winding down...any prospect of finding a new home amidst the green-tinted artist haven of Rykodisc?
I don't know; let's ask them. Ryko, are you playa enough for the Loud Family? Please reply to firstname.lastname@example.org!
Hoping my move to Boston is timed well for another tour,
You'll want to have the platforms and hot pants out of storage by mid-March.
hey, bassist, leave them billionaire light-musical composers alone
December 20, 1999
Scott, have you ever tried to write a totally cliched sappy pop tune? I mean the full on "moon/june" "ohh girl I just wanna be with you tonight" kinda ditty? But totally straightfaced? I have been threatening to do this for a few years now but strangely enough I lack the courage. It seems to me almost like shooting heroin or watching a sitcom all the way through, i.e. I'm scared it might be so fun and easy that I'll just wake up one morning and be Dianne Warren or whatever her name is (and I have heard that hard drugs WILL turn one into Dianne Warren).
Actually this is just a lame excuse to say hi. I'm really excited about your site. Its my first visit and I shall return.
And whenever you wanna play LA please let us know.
Scott: This has to be Stew from The Negro Problem, and I couldn't feel more honored than by a message from a member of one of my favorite bands--maybe my very favorite at this time.
What you modestly call "lack of courage" I'd call knowing too much. I like romantic songs from people who are that naively passionate, but it would be fairly dishonest for me to write in a romantic way. I try to put true love into my songs, and true love is different from romanticism, and doesn't really suffer it gladly; as you know that's by no means an original thought, but there's a lot of opinion to the contrary so I'll elaborate a little.
First of all, I'd only expend the effort of writing an entire lyric when the subject required that much work, which in this case would mean the listener needed to be seduced. Now, without intending any sort of anti-sex sentiment, I'm neither in the market for the actual conquest (being married), nor convinced that displaying my technique increases love in the world. I wouldn't likewise mistake my writing a song to a chef to try to convince him or her to cook me a great meal for a lessening of world hunger.
Second, I've grown more private about the topic. It would be humiliating to me to advertise the way I would seduce, or, by extension, to tip off on the way in which I could be seduced. And though I realize lyrics are fiction, for some reason I hesitate to disturb my relationship with the listener with the suggestion that there's coercion going on between us.
Romanticism ought to one day strike a person as chilly. I think the movie SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE did the trick for some people, but I'll approach the task a little more abstractly. Let's take the classic romantic story of the knight slaying the dragon to get the princess. Remove the dragon and you do not have a romantic story, you have--I don't know--a society notice. Romanticism is a trick; it seems to hinge on sexual devotion, but really hinges on the presence of an obstacle to the union that needs to be destroyed. When there's no obstacle, things turn unromantic and we don't know why. In real life, there's no such thing as a dragon, but the logic of romanticism needs something to be slain. In SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE, it was the man with the allergies who got dumped. Remove him, and you have no movie. The catharsis is in heaping the sins of banality, frailty, and "settling" onto his head, then running the lance through his boring little heart. Now, this is not the open intention of the filmmakers, it's simply what the rules of romanticism entail. In fact, lesser filmmakers would have simply had the dumped guy be an asshole who was holding the woman by some obligation.
"Oh girl, I just want to be with you tonight." Because tonight you're the princess and tomorrow I'll probably need you to be the dragon.
but tonight I need to be Darryl Dragon,
P.S. Please forgive my sloppy use of the words "romance" and "romanticism." To me the latter is more or less a literary glorification of the former, which is a little closer to what I'm criticizing than anything people casually refer to as "romantic."
December 1, 1999
Scott, I had an interesting experience as a member of the audience at your excellent live show a while back. While I had expected to feel a bit out of place, it astonished me how different being among the audience felt compared to being among the players.
Scott: I'll bet my nose doesn't look as big, since it's not in profile.
As a performer, routinely exposed to various crowds, have you noticed any characteristics that groups of people might display that single individuals do not? If so, how deeply does this influence reach? Do you think that group membership influences conciousness itself; i.e. that the consciousness of a crowd is an entirely different entity from that of its individual members?
My personal crowd issues are no deeper than "I'd better not screw the songs up or people won't clap for me," but as you obviously know there's been serious study of crowds in our time.
A lot of the modern attitude on the subject is a reaction to the fact that Hitler could mesmerize crowds. We inherit from Nietzsche a general contempt for people's tendency to be sheeplike, and we're more careful now to teach our children to think for themselves. That's a useful concept to a point, but when you teach individuality as a goal in itself, what you really nurture is willingness to oppose someone without qualm. And if you don't understand how "group membership influences consciousness," your attempts to teach the willingness to oppose Hitler will result in the willingness to persecute the Jews. If I'm in Berlin in 1935, I can pat myself on the back just as heartily for standing up to the Jews as for standing up to Hitler, and the invisible gravity determining what I'll stand up to is the set of eyes on me waiting to pass judgment--the eyes of the crowd. A crowd is like a laser; it can feed back on itself into intense coherence.
What's the weirdest thing you've ever seen a crowd do?
Watch Pat Robertson.
Congratulations on your continuing success.
Thanks and likewise.
remember to beat the crowds this shopping season,
Scott, I was just reading an Ask Scott letter referencing Michael Quercio, and it brought to mind a sort of trivia question that I've wondered about for a long time. Many years ago I owned a CD called Rainy Day (I think it was mainly a compilation project of David Roback's) on which Michael Quercio played. It was a really nice CD, and I could kick myself for selling it when I was in college. Anyway, my question is this: does that little bit of history have anything to do with the line from "Bad Year at UCLA:"
"And you wind up working in someone else's rainy day"
Just something I wonder about everytime I hear that song.
Scott: It's just a coincidence. Thanks for listening to their and my records!
songs for 'Brella,
November 15, 1999
Scott, you probably hate to answer questions about songs this old, and you have probably answered this question many times before, but what is the story behind "Andy in Ten Years"? The song has continued to haunt me; it is beautiful, sweet, and sad.
Scott: The advantage to asking me about old songs is that if I did explain them before, I won't remember what fibs I might have told and may now have to resort to the truth. I thank you for your kind comments, by the way.
There's no particular "Andy" in real life, but I might have been imagining Andy Warhol as a contentious young man--I really don't remember. I suppose I'm talking to the part of myself that wants to be an iconoclast, and asking: when I've created all my great cultural havoc, what will I have to show for it but a wake of needless disillusionment? If the world learns to believe in the Sex Pistols and not Pink Floyd, has a great liberation really taken place, or is it a lateral move--or worse? I think I'm beginning there to wonder if in the end it isn't really less about how you end up fitting into what seems at the time like the big picture than it is about whose feelings get hurt along the way.
Also, I am completely unfamiliar with The Loud Family. I am planning to buy as many records as I can find, but how would you compare this band to Game Theory?
The 1993 album was a little like the one with "Andy in Ten Years," only slicker. The 1994 album was a shorter, somewhat brash and grating variation. The 1996 and 1998 albums were done on more of a shoestring budget, the first having an experiments-in-home-recording feel, the latter having a live feel and a thought-out theme. The new one is something of an average of all of the above.
Finally, what do you think of the open source movement?
You mean the market trend of having to give the source code to software away? Something about it scares me--probably because I have some wannabe artist bones in my body, and open source is a little like saying "you can't sell an artistic service, art should be free to anyone." That's pretty irrational, given that I've never been able to make a living by artistic means to begin with, and I don't connect the fear at all to my programming job. Maybe I should change my model for doing music to some analog of selling customer support!
--Scott in 12 years
November 8, 1999
Scott, an English singer/songwriter named Momus desperately needed to raise a bit of quick cash to pay some legal bills, so he made an offer to his fans: Pay me $1,000, and I'll write a song about you. Along with the money, the buyers had to submit a short biographical sketch of themselves. The result was his current album, Stars Forever.
What do you think of this approach? Would you ever consider doing it? I'm sure that there are several well-heeled Loud Family fans who might consider shelling out the bucks in order to be immortalized in song by Scott Miller.
Scott: I've heard about this, and my friend Tris McCall is more of an expert, so I'll insert his (always insightful) commentary:
You know Tris really respects Momus not because he gives the record five out of five stars (he's relatively generous with his five-star reviews), but because he deigns to uppercase several letters, which I don't think I've ever seen him do before.
I haven't heard the record myself, but if it's true there's a Jeff Koons song on there, chances are we won't be 100% disappointed, at least if we're happy enough just to have something to, effectively, gawk at.
Momus's is a fairly brilliant idea. I'm far from sure I like it, and even farther from sure I'd ever do it, and infinitely far from doing it before a respectable enough period of time has elapsed for Momus to receive all due credit (if that's the word) for the gesture.
Fortunately I have only the modest legal bills of someone whose records don't make anyone very much money, and can thus afford to choose my subject matter, but maybe I can get creative in other ways. How about if I do an album about the exact set of people on Momus's album?
still waiting for my $1000 from John Delorean,
November 1, 1999
Scott, if you could choose, would you prefer to write something so startling and so profoundly true that it becomes a part of the vernacular and society loses track of the actual originator (you); or would you write a tract that is so obscure that the best minds of the few next generations spend immense amounts of time trying to figure out what you meant, and your book makes you famous?
Scott: Hey, that's a good question. To answer it, I'll want to look at a couple of assumptions: one is that something can be sufficiently startling and profoundly true that it gets assimilated, and the other is that sheer obscurity preserves the credit you'll get for being original.
As for the first, what is humanity's track record for accepting outlandish falsehoods vs. accepting outlandish truths? My impression is that the falsehoods win by a landslide. On the truth side, I can think of, maybe, in the history of mankind, relativity (this is probably hasty; just go with my point here). And it's probably only accepted today because it's in an area where scientific verification is possible in spades. How about the falsehood side? I don't know, how many people bought The Bible Code? You think that many people were lined up ready to accept that time wasn't constant across reference frames? Ideas don't spread according to verifiability; that would be way too inefficient. They spread according to what's flattering and advantageous.
Let's have an exercise in contrition here. You and I are, I'm sure, fond of deconstructing "creationism." We don't literally believe in Genesis, and we look at these poor saps who do, and we wax reflective about how they can't accept science because it upsets their little system of where people fit in the world, etc., etc. Now. When and why did I decide to believe in natural selection? Did I compare enough carbon dating data of primate skulls to decide the evidence was just too compelling to ignore? I submit to you that I knew natural selection was positively true at exactly the moment it computed to me that it would bring shame on me to believe otherwise. Printed books and teachers essentially had powerful magic on them--the way the Bible and ministers have powerful magic for creationists. I'm not saying let's throw out science here. I'm saying let's not pretend we walk around living scientifically. We walk around living religiously.
Here's what that was leading up to: revelatory truth is usually by nature an uphill battle because it isn't flattering or advantageous. It doesn't have that kind of magic on it. The worry isn't that if you lay that stuff at people's doorstep they'll take it in and not leave a tip, the worry is that they won't be happy to have it there. With varying consequences.
To the second point: in a way, obscurity does preserve one's credit for originality. That was the James Joyce paradigm, and I love Joyce. To an extent it was the Waste Land paradigm. But I think those works have truth that is being slowly verified, and that's why people stay with them. The rub is that for both Joyce and Eliot it became (speaking slightly poetically) a profitable endeavor right about the time they dropped dead.
Now here's the actual answer to your question: I'd rather speak the truth and have it be appropriated, but I don't think that's possible; I think you can only reveal surprising and profound truth obscurely (and not altogether consciously).
Still trying to figure you out,
Thanks! I'll take being worth the most occasional head scratch, believe me,
--musical head louse
October 25, 1999
Scott, I was just wondering what the current status is of your record deal with Alias. I noticed that their building is up for sale in Burbank and was just curious if they were still viable. If in the future, the one surviving record label doesn't mistake you for a four member teenage vocal harmony group and sign you up again, do you think you will continue to put out records on your own?
Scott: If I had to do it all myself, I'd probably say no; it's too much work and at some level it gets to be a case of crowding out young kids who are getting that first-time thrill of having something out so that I can be this sorry old vampire putting out his 90th record. If there were a kindly small label who wanted to release an occasional just-for-people-who-already-know-about-me vinyl 45 or something, that sounds rather appealing at the moment I'm writing this.
I know most of us would kill to have a few thousand loyal fans anxiously waiting for the next spread sheet we analyze or tax return that we process, but is that enough for you anymore?
Oh, I love it and I probably depend on it too much. But after thinking "I'm great because a few thousand people like me" again and again, and also saying "but so-and-so isn't necessarily great at all, even though a few million people like him or her," that's eventually going to ring a little bell.
Do you feel that your fan base is expanding, or do you feel that you are just entertaining the same people twice with every new release?
I wouldn't say the fan base is exactly "expanding," as if it's just a matter of time before people start preferring my group's stuff to other artists', but I put a lot of effort into making records that stand a chance of being engaging listening for both new and old audiences.
I can understand why you would continue to write and record songs on your own, but don't you think you could achieve the same effect by just handing out the tapes to a few of your close friends? It's not that I'm trying to discourage you in any way--I love the new album more than anything I've come across in a while--I'm just wondering after all of these years what's still in it for you?
To tell the truth, making a tape that three people heard in 1976 wasn't too fundamentally different an experience from doing a real release which in times of my peak trendiness I would expect to get reviewed in big music magazines.
Are you still hoping to score your very own "Seasons In The Sun" or do you just get off on the fact that somebody you don't even know (actually I met you at The Rat in Boston once) drives around in his beat-up truck and listens to your stuff all of the time?
I'm always hoping to score, baby.
Seasons not dead, Terry Jacks rules OK
Scott, I love the Loud Family and Game Theory. Is there any possible way to get Game Theory on CD? If not, who should I address a letter writing campaign to? Thanks for all the beautiful melodies.
Scott: Thank you, wonderful very flattering person. Game Theory CDs: two words: (1) used (2) bins. Alias re-released some of the material in about 1994, but I think that was a computer error that's been corrected. Maybe in two years all music will be sold as computer data and we'll take a pill instead of eating dinner.
Wars? Ho ho, we eliminated warlike people in 2139
October 18, 1999
Scott, I heard third-hand (in the bush) that you admired Stanley Kubrick's controversial film Eyes Wide Shut because it illustrates the principles put forth by philosopher Rene Girard.
Scott: Yes and no. I can typically drone on and on relating anything that I take to be great art or literature to anything else I take to be great art or literature. I don't have any reason to believe Girard and Kubrick ever thought about each other or a common "philosophy," and the word "philosophy" sells the shared reality short, I think. I would much more gladly say that a Dali painting is "surrealist," because whether Dali was in or out with the surrealists at the time of whatever painting we're talking about--that is, whether the assertion is technically right or wrong--it would at least be on the table that we're really talking about intellectual cachet and prestige, and both Girard and Kubrick are masters of taking those off the table.
I really like this question (I'm skipping some earlier ones--bad boy!), so forgive me for walking on the same eggs I remember walking on twenty years ago when someone asked me "do you like the Cars, since they're 'new wave'?"
For the benefit of us more up on Kubrick than Girard, could you elaborate on that subject to your heart's content?
My heart might never be content; where do I even start? My friend Bob Lloyd made the stunning observation that "eyes wide shut" echoes the idea of the masks worn at the men's club--the eyes on the masks have wide open eye holes, but the idea is not to be able to see anybody because faces are covered. Kubrick is obviously suggesting someone is symbolically shutting his or her eyes to something. What?
One reason Kubrick tends to be "controversial" is that he cuts off the route to a too-easy resolution of the problems he brings up. Tom Cruise isn't giving in to plain old lust when his eyes start wandering. Kubrick is at pains to show that women are so preternaturally available to him that it's a palpable inconvenience. Yet his world lights up when his friend in the band says "...and the women..." Kubrick is also at pains not to make a sex-is-of-the-flesh-and-therefore-bad statement; note the last line of the film. The levels of understanding he is after are deeper and darker.
The next darker level of understanding is this: he hungers not for sex but for privilege. But this, too, is already his. He goes to swank parties; he flashes his doctor ID all over the place, as if it were a secret society password. What dazzles him in the men's club is being in the sheer community of the men who are able to command such subservience in women. The sexual goings-on are fascinating to him insofar as they serve the atmosphere, but are mere formalities in and of themselves. His nod to the big, prominent masked figure, now his fellow of the elite, is obviously the golden moment for him. This level is darker not only in its being more sinister, but in its being unexamined. He would not, at least at the start of the film, be ready to face his need to have more prestige than someone else just to be happy.
The next darker level of understanding is that to hunger for prestige is to make it necessary for there to be victims. The game of social advantage--which we all play--doesn't work without losers, and it comes to light that the women are hardly happy participants in all of this. As Girard has articulated brilliantly, we always need expendable victims and we need a way not to see the victims being victimized. Slavery is not really victimization because Negroes' uncivilized lives in Africa weren't worth anything. Or, the military draft is not really victimization because it's expedient and at some level impartial. Or, laissez-faire capitalism isn't really victimization because it lays out beautiful rules to justify why those who are suffering in poverty are doing so. Or, it's okay to have this men's club because the women are well paid and are otherwise just gutter trash anyway.
The darkest level of understanding is that the necessity for victims is not just a byproduct but is itself a hunger in human beings. This is the sacrificial appetite, and is closely related to why--as Girard explains--every culture in the world develops a steady diet of ceremonial blood sacrifice. This is touched on in the mysterious equation by which if Tom Cruise isn't to be punished for his crime against the collective, the appetite for vengeance can be satisfied by punishing another. We tell ourselves "this is unbelievable, this is schlock moviemaking," but consider how we feel when we hear a murder has been committed somewhere: we feel a lot better if we read that they "caught the guy," and if we hear he can't be prosecuted, our gut reaction is outrage, before we know a single detail of the crime or the evidence. What is the root of that if we strip off the genteel rationalization? Kubrick is showing us to what steady state a certain gravity of desire always tries to return culture. Nicole Kidman's dream of relishing Cruise's public humiliation points to the same thing: they both hunger to be able to ecstatically redeem transgressions against themselves in demimondes of magic and revenge.
I've rarely been more riveted in a theater than in Nicole Kidman's early monologue (where she's smoking pot). It seems strangely abusive, and you get the idea she wouldn't be laying it all out if it weren't for the pot, but it rang so true: you have no idea how close the barbarians are to the gate, and neither of us knows quite what keeps them out.
Hoping the new Loud Family album will be entitled Manos, The Hands of Fate,
thanks a lot for writing,
October 4, 1999
Scott, this is usually the space reserved for all of us devoted fans to gush about how much your music means to us and how incredibly perceptive, clever, perplexing, blah blah blah... your music is. Since I've had the chance on two occasions to tell you all that in person, I'll keep it brief: thanks for always challenging our tastes as we're enjoying your CDs.
Scott: Well, thank you very much. I try to crew my records with the talents of people I work with and once in a while the old boat floats for someone.
On this very web site, Sue reports that this upcoming CD, being your last for Alias, may also very well spell certain demise for the Loud Family. If you listen closely, you can hear scattered voices across the hinterlands wailing, "Say it ain't so, Scott!" I guess my question is, what would it take for you to keep the juggernaut a-rollin'? If this is indeed the end of Scott Miller Chapter Two (all Manfred Mann references aside), what do you hope for next? The all-covers wedding band? Hopefully, that point of desperation won't be crossed in the near future.
I honestly don't know, but doing these records is un-flipping-believably hard work and it doesn't make money, and that makes it complicated to keep doing them. I'm starting to get conscious of not wanting my career output to be cluttered with so many releases that no one knows what to start with. I mean, will any of Frank Zappa's quadrillion records I grab out of the rack speak as if his soul then cared about my soul now, or am I more liable to get an earful of nineteen-somethingty-whatever cultural positioning (as if the issue were my caring about him)?
Zappa was brilliant; don't get me wrong. However, the fact that Frank Zappa is brilliant and is going to go down in musical history, and I'm not, is neither here nor there. We will have an unvarying amount of music history whether I live or I die; but whether I or anyone ever speaks to you is constantly at stake. I want the way to be clear for you to hear what of mine is the most worth hearing if you're listening. I don't want to simply keep trying to make it. It's certainly wiser for me to put out one good record in the future than ten bad ones. It could be wisest of all for me to just let what's there stand.
But there are people I still thrill to work with on musical projects; my current band, and Joe Becker for instance. I can't imagine just stopping cold either.
With a tear in my near-beer,
Thanks much for even caring!
what is this "cookie" someone might be in it for?
August 9, 1999
Scott, when we had talked on the two occasions I saw The Loud Family, I never got around to asking you about Michael Quercio. I believe I found a Three O'Clock website that said he was in another band. Maybe this year some kind of tour could be arranged between the two of you. Wishful thinking, huh?
It's definitely a Big Star, Elvis Costello world.
Scott: Thanks for writing.
Michael Quercio is in the wonderful Jupiter Affect now. Unlike huge bands we don't get to just say "we'll do a tour with the Jupiter Affect" and it comes to be--if it's a package tour, it's generally a package put together by other people. Not that I've been stuck in packages I've hated or anything but my level of fame is that of being grateful enough if we can get dates in the right clubs on the nights we need to get them. Our booking agency is Red Ryder and they do a pretty amazing job.
keep saying "it's definitely a Big Star, Elvis Costello world. it's definitely a Big Star, Elvis Costello world. It's..."
--a citizen of the Ricky Martin, Limp Bizkit world
Scott, it is a pity that your new album is difficult to get in Holland. After months of desperate telephone calls I gave up and ordered the damned thing via Internet. Even with the lyrics downloaded from your homepage it will take me days (for days) to understand them. Don't worry! It keeps me from listening to anything else, including my wife and children.
Scott: :-) I know, like, what do they want, food again?
There is really one question on my mind: when do you and the band plan to visit Europe, specially Holland? If you want to know how to get here ask Jonathan Segel. He was here some years ago in the Patronaat in Haarlem with Camper van Beethoven. I would appreciate it if you could give me a non-cryptic answer.
Ha! Am I notorious for being unclear or something? I go around fancying myself a direct person, you know. If I'm cryptic in a song lyric it's usually because I have a subject that I not only have saying something to say about, but the burden of getting people even slightly interested. Sometimes the best way to do that is to make a statement that's challengingly nonsensical, but then there's another way to look at it in which it makes perfect sense. Not to say I've ever had any success at it, but that sort of thing is done fairly masterfully in, for instance, the film Eyes Wide Shut. Kubrick is saying a lot, but he risks losing a lot of perfectly intelligent people at the level of "this is preposterous and uninteresting."
Unfortunately what it falls on my shoulders to be clear about is that eager as I might be for such a visit, the Kingdom of the Netherlands has so far expressed no interest in hosting us in an international teen combo context, though I will ask Jonathan Segel if he knows of a way to smuggle us in. Perhaps we could disguise ourselves as a large shipment of pot.
Thanx for the music!
Gert Jan Dekker
Thank you, and I really would like to get over there and play.
--Skaat van der Mueljer
July 26, 1999
Scott, it's time to ask another burning question which hopefully will go towards correcting all the wrongs in the universe.
Basically, I'm a film editor and the thing that scares me most is getting too close to a film project and not knowing if it is any good or not. As you can well imagine I see the work-in-progress again and again (about 40-50 times), and, it gets to a point where you just don't know anymore. My question is, do you find this to be a problem you have encountered when writing or recording music? And if so do you try and counteract it somehow?
Scott: In my experience it can be a matter of overcoming laziness. There's the kind of laziness where you just can't make yourself work, but there's a more insidious kind of laziness where you make yourself believe that the key to success is in obsessive rituals--eradicating every bit of hiss on a track, redoing a track again and again until there are absolutely no mistakes, etc. These can cross the line from basic professionalism to avoiding looking at the bigger picture that maybe the song as a whole really needs some redecorating. One valuable service I think of myself providing as a producer is being the grouch who says "okay, let's move on; people aren't going to care so much about this backing vocal that we can throw five percent of the budget at it."
I know it can be numbing and isolating to live with a project, and while I'm tempted to say "get lots of outside opinions," realistically the odds that you're even going to be able to present your situation and your range of options so as to get back exactly the right insight from someone are low. If it's practically a finished product and you just want to hear "great" or not, than okay, but thinking "I'll just collect opinions until it's finished" is going to be a way of collecting panic. I think it's a better policy to just remind yourself to spread your efforts around equitably to everything that needs to get done; minding what all has to wrap--and when--just to finish on time has a way of healthily circulating your perspective.
Another question which I suppose could be seen as being loosely related to my first: Music of the Loud Family is sometimes referred to as music that will "grow" on you. I'm interested to hear your opinion on why some music is thought to "grow" on you, and other music is perhaps more instant to the listener. Is it anything to do with the song structure you are using? For example, have you purposely toyed with the chorus, middle 8, etc. Would that prove temporarily baffling to a listener? Are you aware at the time that a track you are recording might prove to be something that grows on your listeners? Is it a lyric thing? Sorry if this seems a silly question but it is one that has bothered me for years.
It probably goes a lot like this: after several listens, the shock of my godawful singing voice wears off enough that the effort the band and I have put into the music and the lyrics has a reasonable payoff.
Thank for your time in considering these questions, and I thought Days For Days was stunning! Thanks!
Charlie "I still can't play drums" Watts
You're very kind--thanks much for writing.
--Scott "not the one who plays in the V-Roys or the one who writes video games or..." Miller
July 19, 1999
Scott, the song by Everlast in current rotation on radio stations and MTV constantly rekindled my childhood dream of becoming a pop star. When I first heard this composition, I realized it was possible for me to get massive exposure on a national stage despite having a singing voice that sends hysterical mobs marauding and maiming weaker dotards in quest of a lavatory to heave their wrenching bowels. If I inscribe a Aesop refrain and engulf it with 20 odd caricatures of Jerry Springer guests, will this product attract the attention of a known producer who can attract recording executives with the distribution channels to get my record playing every 15 minutes on some media outlet in every major market. How much do you earn in royalties when your song is played on the radio and MTV? When my autistic refrain germinates itself as an immutable loop in the heads of radio listeners, will I have to play live? I realize even though I play the tambourine better than most, few people will pay to listen to a solo tambourine artist. On a few occasions I have connected with the audience in an intense moment of universal harmony slamming my 'bals so hypnotically that the audience becomes 'bal junkies freakishly craving their next fix of 'bal banging. These special performances have decreased substantially since my doctor changed my medication for Grand Mal seizures. If I have to play live, how much will this cost me? How much does an average musician require per performance? Can I get by with an acoustic guitar and a congo player? Do they have Big Brother programs where I can request a kid in the band? Are there temp agencies for musicians in metropolitan areas like there are for manual laborers in case I have to tour? Do concert promoters pay for all my sound equipment? Is it now acceptable to do a Milli Vanilli type show? I perform as a one-man band playing a drum, cymbals, harp, and guitar. I realize I will be marketed as the latest innovator in music destined to define a new sound in music history. This is how I think my marketing campaign should be structured to qualify instantly as a one-hit wonder. This is all I want to achieve in this occupation. I don't want to hire a entourage that just drains the money I make off my record. If you have any suggestions on how I might best pursue this dream, I would be eternally indebted as Faust. Do you know any budget producers, promoters, or managers? Do you think this project could be successful for a European tour?
Thanks for writing,
July 12, 1999
Scott, quite a few of us were dead chuffed (sorry, that's some British slang that's wormed its way into my vocabulary) that the Family finally played in Arizona some months ago (turned out to be one of the few highlights of '98 for me), and I'm sure this gets old after a while, but thank you for creating some brilliant and sometimes quite moving tunes...and your replies in this very column have provided several buffet-table-sized portions of food for thought, as well as some larfs when needed. Anyway, I'll just toss out some questions/comments and if any of them are worth a reply (frankly, I'd be floored if you thought any of them were, but I'll try anyway), then please do so.
Scott: Thanks for writing! I don't get that much feedback from people about "Ask Scott" and this beats "please don't run them as often."
1) Not that this is a terribly likely scenario, but just suppose some soul who didn't quite "get" a song like "Slit My Wrists" wound up doing themselves in after hearing it (you may not be a master of mind control like Ozzy Osbourne or Rob Halford, but just go along with me on this one), and you were told about it. Would you feel that you should be held the least bit accountable, morally if not legally? How much responsibility is involved on behalf of the artist to be certain that people do not grab the wrong end of the stick and proceed to beat around the bush with it? (I've debated this topic with others before and I'm avoiding telling you where I stand to ensure an honest response.)
Obviously I'd be devastated. I do think the song is pretty far from anything with potential to incite, like "think how dramatic it will be, and how many people who you don't like it will make feel bad," but who knows how intentions might backfire? Do we want to say the concerns of suicidal people shouldn't ever be addressed for fear of doing more harm than good? However bad I might be at it, I think narrating feelings like that might make someone feel a tiny bit less disconnected from humanity.
While I'm aware people will consider this nonsense, the real answer to your question is that I was just as "responsible" and "accountable" for any suicide in the world before I wrote the song as after. A suicide is a real event. The cosmos will not be assuaged because the survivors divvy up the blame in a way they find satisfactory, or even because some of them knew the person and some didn't. The suicide is now a fact of spacetime.
2) Since you probably talk to Joe Becker more often than I do, how do think he would respond to a letter from me claiming to be a 9-year old boy dying of a "mysterious illness" and that my one last wish would be to have Thin White Rope play a one-off reunion show in my mom's backyard? Apparently this ploy was quite effective in TV sitcoms throughout the decades...do you think it would work now?
Unfortunately for you I am now able to steal the idea and get them to play in my backyard.
3) What's a record you dig that's currently unavailable that you'd recommend someone to buy on sight (I mean besides Lolita Nation and 2 Steps..., we all know that already)? It's hard to find many Wipers or Laughing Clowns albums around these days.
Stands For Decibels by the dB's leaps to mind. Beyond the Java Sea by Metal Flake Mother.
4) Was "Mammoth Gardens" actually commissioned for a John Hughes movie or does it just sound that way to me? (just kidding)
That must be what gave Lolita Nation its vast market appeal.
5) Any plans to round up all the Loud Family's cover tunes onto one disc (you know, like Metallica did, man)? For some reason, I can imagine you doing a swell take on Wire's "The 15th" (from 154). I've got other questions, but this is probably more than you can put up with already.
one of the many Mikes of the world
There's contractual disincentive to do covers because the record company has to pay more to use other artists' songs than for ours. I personally love doing covers. It's ironic that when I was in high school, covers were the way to make money and doing a song of my own was a vain indulgence, and now doing covers is the expensive luxury. Those tribute records--even when in your heart of hearts you're thinking there are way too many of those tribute records, it's always tempting to be on one when asked.
thanks for writing,
a singer into many of the mikes of the world
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