Scott Miller Interview
SLUG (Salt Lake Underground), May 1998
By Dan Nash
The San Francisco-based Loud Family are releasing their fourth full length album, Days for Days, with Alias Records on May 19. Check it out at your favorite CD supplier.
The Loud Family, led by Scott Miller, are back again with another batch of fresh, imaginative yet quirky pop. Days for Days is a virtual sonic garden of catchy hooks and thought-provoking lyrics. Slickly produced by Miller as well, this album proves to be a keeper.
Try to keep seated during the chorus of the poppy "Crypto-Sicko." You cannot avoid being mesmerized by the gorgeous "Way Too Helpful." The pulsing rhythms of "Deee-Pression" are among the best on the album. But what should get the attention of Loud Family followers are songs like "Good, There Are No Lions In The Street" and the epic "Sister Sleep." These songs show the versatility of the Loud Family by throwing the listener a couple of great "change-ups."
This time around the band emerges with a different lineup other than what was heard on the 1996 Alias release Interbabe Concern. With the addition of Alison Faith Levy on keyboards and backing vocals, and drummer Gil Ray providing the backbeat, fans of the Loud Family will fondly recall Miller's eighties band Game Theory, whom Gil Ray drummed for as well. Kenny Kessel continues to anchor the band on bass.
Levy gives the band a fresh yet familiar texture with her keyboards and voice. Miller and Levy mix their voices very nicely, almost elegantly, throughout the disc, especially evident in the opening track "Cortex the Killer."
Days for Days is a fine fit in the Loud Family's progression of music. Although the band changes musicians frequently, the music and genius of Scott Miller continues to evolve and impress. This one hallmark sets his music apart from the mainstream which continues to copy and reciprocate itself. This disc is a breath of fresh air in an otherwise smoky room.
I had the extreme pleasure in talking with Scott Miller over the phone and asking him about his latest ventures. Here is what we discussed:
Slug: After Interbabe Concern I was wondering how you guys would follow up such a great album. But as usual you've done it again.
Scott: Ha ha, that's very nice of you.
Slug: Tell me about the latest evolvement of the band. You've got some new faces and old friends now.
Scott: Yeah, well, the new old face is Gil Ray who I've played with in Game Theory for a long time. He actually had a back injury for pretty much the years after Game Theory. He was picking up a box of records and turned the wrong way and wrenched his back. Also around the same time he got this really bad eye injury. He was actually attacked on the street.
Slug: By what?
Scott: They think it was like a gang initiation or something like that. Basically gouged him in the eye with a broken bottle. Just about blinded him, but they were able to reconstruct the main damage to the eye. But now he can see, at least sort of normally.
Slug: So he was down.
Scott: He was physically down for awhile. Yeah, we had a man down. One day when Joe (Becker) announced he was leaving primarily to be a more full-time dad and art student, Gil said, "Well, I'm ready to do it again."
Also on keyboards we have this woman named Alison Faith Levy, who is a fairly well known solo artist in her own right in San Francisco. I've heard her stuff and liked it for quite some time. It's really pleasant to be able to work with her.
Slug: I think the addition of Alison gives you guys a fresh yet familiar sound. Your voices mesh nicely.
Scott: Yeah, she has more of a piano playerly approach than Paul (Wieneke) did. Paul was more into what you would have to call the avant-garde basis of keyboards. He actually had a Ph.D in music from Stanford. He was in their CCRMA, their computer and experimental music thing. So he knew all about twentieth century modes of experimentation in music. He was very knowledgeable about how to use a synthesizer to get the technical side of things.
Slug: Was that where the synthesizers and effects came from on Interbabe Concern?
Scott: Definitely. A lot of that was Paul and me sitting around and pouring dangerous chemicals and seeing what frothed up.
Slug: The results were amazing though, I must say.
Scott: Thanks, I liked that a lot.
Slug: Let's talk about Days for Days. I think it has a real "rootsy" flavor to it if you compare it to The Tape Of Only Linda and Plants and Birds and Rocks and Things.
Scott: Yeah, you mean it sounds more like a band playing real instruments in a room.
Slug: You mentioned the piano playing and Gil's drumming as well. Songs like "Good, There Are No Lions In The Street," "Way Too Helpful," and "Sister Sleep" come off very nicely. It's definitely a different feel from the previous albums.
Scott: Thanks. Actually Interbabe Concern was recorded in a real non-standard way. Mostly I did it as demos played to a click track on the ADAT as the first thing that was recorded. And after that, took it into the studio and put drums and bass onto that. I totally like the way it came out but it's a very difficult way to record the drummer and bassist because typically those are a more time-accurate way of starting the proceedings than the guitar player. I think I'm playing perfectly but in fact when you go to play on top of it, you notice that I'm not 100% accurate. There was a patching-things-up stage after that where I would have to go and either play the guitar again outright or do some crazy things like sample little pieces of the guitar and shift it later in time.
Slug: It sounds quite laborious.
Scott: Right. You just try that ten times until I happen to get it perfect for what it had to be. And then punch that in from an adjacent track. This last time we thought, "Oh well, that was nice but how refreshing it would be if we just all play this stuff in a room together." So that's the way we did this last one.
Slug: The results on Days for Days sounds like some great music. Another thing I wanted to say is that a constant with Game Theory and Loud Family records is always the impeccable production. Whether it being produced by Mitch Easter or yourself, how do you like producing?
Scott: Thanks. Well, I like it quite a bit. It's a job where you have more mixed feelings as you get into it. Sometimes you just got to say, "This is going to sound really stupid but I'm going to do it because five years from now they'll thank me." All of which is to say that production isn't as strictly joyous as it might be. You do have to deal with this crap, that has nothing to do with artistry.
Slug: But you enjoy both sides of it though.
Scott: Yeah, I do. I really am a "sound going on to tape junkie." I've always loved that process. In junior high and high school, I just taped things just because it got me off all the time.
Slug: So that's where all the quirky interludes, tape loops and snippets came from?
Scott: Yeah, I just love that stuff and I love albums that do that kind of stuff. And I assumed that other people will too. You don't really hear this on "hit radio" but if anyone were ever to crack the door a little bit, suddenly people would have this big appetite for that kind of stuff. It's a little bit different from, "I know this is going to be tough for people to listen to but I'm going to do it anyway because I'm an originator." It's more like, "This is stuff that when I was a stupid kid, I thought this was the greatest." If people can get on the same plane of being able to appreciate the entertainment value of this stuff, that would be a good thing to do.
Slug: Is there any differences on how you approach writing music for the Loud Family as opposed to writing music for Game Theory?
Scott: Well, I sort of go in cycles of writing songs in pretty different ways. But in general, the Loud Family has been composed of people who write their own parts a lot more actively. It seems like there were a lot of situations where I'd just write the bass part note for note, or the keyboard part note for note in Game Theory and that's almost unheard of now. I'm much more a team player who is aware of his niche.
Slug: I've noticed on the credits on the discs that the lyrics would be by you, but the music would be by every member in the band.
Scott: Right. And that just acknowledges the fact I write the guitar chords and the vocal melody. But that's not everything to a song, you know. You also get a whole set of energies coming from the rhythm section. And the synthesizer has become considered a really important instrument again. People really listen to keyboards, all bands have keyboards now. It's really funny to observe the way these things flip-flop in a four or five year period. I've been watching these things come and go for a very long time. It's almost scary sometimes how the whole, especially the indie scene can turn on a dime. So can the commercial scene sometimes.
Slug: Will you guys be hitting the road this summer?
Scott: Yeah, were going out, roughly speaking in the month of July. We're going to do the whole country.
Slug: How do you like the Loud Family website and the internet discussion list?
Scott: I think they're both great. I visit the website now and then. Sue Trowbridge is a good friend of mine and we interact on that a little bit but I think she does a terrific job (with the website.)
Slug: It's a great place for people to get information and just talk about the music.
Scott: Exactly, this whole internet thing is the greatest. There's this one feature of the website which is called "Ask Scott" where people get to ask me any question they'd like and I do my best to answer it.
Slug: It must be flattering to be asked questions and be talked about.
Scott: It's definitely an honor. Yes.