An Interview And Review with Game Theory's Founding Member, Scott Miller
BravEar, Spring 1986
By Allen Ensign
Scott Miller moved from Sacramento to the Bay Area well over a year ago. Miller was without a band when he first arrived. The Davis-based Game Theory disbanded after what Miller's soundman says was "a very painful tour." However, after having lived in Oakland for only a few months, Miller mangaged to reform a Bay Area-based Game Theory. Including Miller on lead vocals and guitar, the new Game Theory are: Donette Thayer (guitar, vocals), Shelley LaFreniere (keyboards, vocals), Gil Ray (drums) and most recently joining the band is Gui Gassuan (bass). The new troupe has already recorded an album called Big Shot Chronicles (Enigma). Regarding the title for the album, Miller states, "The LP's name commemorates the practice pad we shared with some other bands when we were working on material for the album. The place was called Big Shot Studios."
"Big" anything might be chanceful title for a work put out by Game Theory these days. In the recent past, Miller has been labeled an Alex Chilton-clone. Some critics might be tempted to call his latest release Big Star Chronicles. Concerning the criticisms Miller states, "It makes me take a hard look at life. I suppose I talked too much about Chilton, so when my last record came out some critics said I was emulating him."
Despite critics and band breakups, Miller continues to be a prodigious songwriter. On Chronicles, Miller exemplifies once again his twin passions for both the ballad and rock genres. The songs on the album alternate from aggressive electric rockers to penetrating acousfic-based numbers. For example, the opening cut, the electric "Here It Is Torwrrow," is followed by the acoustic "Where You Going Northern," in turn followed by the "not too subtle" "I've Tried Subtlety," followed by another acoustic-based song, "Erica's Word," and so on; the pattern is continued throughout the entire album.
Miller's use of successive extremes on Chronicles attests to both his capacity to pull it off in two worlds, both acoustic and electric. In addition, it attests to Miller's sensitivity to production by offering his audience a wide, but balanced, spectrum of musical influences.
Some listeners and critics might eschew Miller for being too deliberate, but I find his mastery of extremes indicative of artistic maturity, and akin to what John Lennon initially meant by the term "concept album."
Miller's guitar work on Chronicles is solid and definitive, and his voice emerges confidently and is as much of an instrument as his guitar has already become. Miller has succeeded in fashioning out a soprano that is his own. On the lovely "Regenisraen" (the title being a dream-imagined word), Miller arranges the Game Theory vocals in such a manner as to achieve both chilling and warming moods simultaneously. The vocals are rich, and in quality approach Simon and Garfunkel's "Scarborough Fair." Miller's voice has come a long ways from the days when some were calling him a "whiner."
With the arrival of Big Shot Chronicles, Scott Miller's Game Theory have become definitive. The fact that Real Nighttime, although "more angular than Chronicles," as Miller puts it, possesses a distinctiveness in sound quite similar to Chronicles, it only cements further the foundation Miller has been building through his Game Theory bands. Miller has clarified and reclarified his own sound to such an extent that he has created his own niche in the world of Pop Music. Albeit, the "world of Pop" has not fully grasped Miller, but his music is available, and his recognition continues to increase.
Miller's label, Rational Records, is handled through Enigma, and each recording he puts out receives increasing college airplay. Miller has yet to sign the big deal, though. In part, Miller's own unfledgling, no concessions attitude has attributed to the shyness of the major labels.
Perhaps Miller is stubbornly autonomous because he was writing songs before anyone was telling him how it should be. "Writing songs is something I've done all my life. When I was a kid, I'd make pretend albums, and I'd pretend they were released. Maybe that is why I never feel any pressure to write." Miller continues, "Writing is the easy part. When I write for an album I usually have a few extra songs left over anyway."
When I asked him about a songwriting methodology he might subscribe to, he said, "I think of guitar in a vocal way. The vocal-line and guitar-line sort of arrive together with me, it is a way of writing." In any case, Miller likens the process of inspiration and writing to perceiving the world in a "Lewis Carroll, Through The Looking Glass approach." Miller's method for inspiration might account for his aptness to borrow from universal themes, rather than jumping onto fads or letting himself be influenced by passing political persuasions. Perhaps Miller's own lyrics best summarize his unusual artistic stance:
"Go ahead and scare me with the end