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Interviews and Reviews

Scott Miller's e-mail interview with a Spanish writer

Note: This is a long email interview done for a Spanish publication in May 1994. Unfortunately, I have no other details. The spelling and grammar in the questions has been left untouched. Hopefully the interviewer was able to successfully translate phrases such as "You're just a thwarted lobster" into Spanish.

1. Please explain your musical roots, your early influences. What attracted you to music in the first place.

Certainly the Beatles more than all other influences put together. I would be surprised if they weren't ultimately considered the most important musical event ever. The just lit up the world in a way nothing else begins to compare to, and made writing songs seem like something worthy of spending a lot of time on. You know, you can become a doctor and save people's lives, but for what, so they can listen to Pat Boone?

2. What can you tell us about your forming years in bands like Lobster Quadrille or Alt. Learning?

The Lobster Quadrille was age 15-17, my first lineup that functioned more or less like a real group, though we still had a weird double-life where we'd work on and record tons of my songs at home but be too self-conscious to play more than about one per show live, the rest of the set being covers of Bowie, Syd Barrett, Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Roxy Music--mostly psychedelic through glitter. Joe Becker and I were the constants in my teen bands and we were pretty anti-metal by then.

As screamed by the name, Alternate Learning was the move to punk/new-wave, but still with Joe and I, and this other guitarist named Scott Gallawa, who were all in Lobster Quadrille. This was about age 18-21 and we pressed a 7" ep and an album ourselves, so if anyone is curious about what that lineup sounds like, there are a bunch of copies out there and it would stand to reason that the owners would be happy to part with them.

3. Besides lewis carroll and james joyce, what other writers or visual artists have inspired your work?

Lewis Carroll wasn't really an inspiration. There was some sitcom, maybe the Brady Bunch, and I forget the entire set-up but one of the kids has been given an earful of philosophizing--about having a crush on someone--that had the words "thwarted lobster" in it, and gets it wrong and blurts out "you're just a thwarted lobster" to the crushee, or something. The Thwarted Lobsters wouldn't have been a bad name, but I saw that Lobster Quadrille thing in "Alice In Wonderland" and in my youthful ignorance thought that was a cooler variation.

T.S. Eliot is the writer (well, poet) who's influenced me the most after Joyce. They both account far more for my religious world view than anything from some specific religion.

I was a big fan of dada and surrealism, which were impressive and fun and thought-provoking and all those things art is supposed to be. Abstract expressionism was an important event, but I'm still waiting for the results of the new freedom to settle in some actually engaging way--it all looks like career niche-finding and "statements" to me. Although pop art was fun.

4. As i have never heard your first album, blaze of glory, and following singles and eps, please describe them briefly.

Blaze of Glory has kind of a small, concerned yet upbeat sound. It's not that bad a record; I used to dislike it because it wasn't dark enough, or one of those dorky things people in their twenties worry about. The eps are spotty in quality but have about three songs between them that are good: "Metal and Glass Exact", which is sort of mid-tempo Elvis Costello, "Shark Pretty" and "The Red Baron" which begin what I think of as the Game Theory style.

5. Any real connections with L.A.'s paisley underground (apart from Quercio's guest spots)?

I was pals with Steve Wynn before the Dream Syndicate when we went to college together in Davis. He was the guy who played me Alex Chilton and the Sneakers/dBs records for the first time--he heard my songs and thought those guys must have been influences on me. In '83 Michael Quercio of the Three O'Clock and I did the first of a long list of projects together, him producing an e.p. of ours. The Loud Family just put out a song Michael and I co-wrote. I liked the Bangles and the Rain Parade and would chat them up when we were on the same bill or something. But fans of that L.A. scene didn't know who Game Theory was or anything, and even if they had we would have been using too much synthesizer for their tastes.

6. Real nightime was you first record to enjoy a spanish pressing. it was a pleasure discovering a band that gave back its good name of pop. How was the process of recording with mitch easter? What's the best thing youve learned from hin thru the years?

Well, a whole lot of little technical details, plus an increased ability to use my ears to hear music rather than cultural implications. I mean, it's kind of horrifying what just plain crappy and uninteresting songs people are willing to put up with in the name of projecting some kind of lame bravado.

7. What was behind that particular set of songs, the real nightime ones?

Mostly being a young adult out on my own and the various ways to get burned and disillusioned. Utterly predictable stuff any introverted 23- to 24-year-old would come up with. If the album was any kind of a breakthrough for me, it was the ability to musically push outside of verse-chorus structure in little rather than big ways that didn't cause the ominousness of the setups to outstrip the melodic payoffs. Earlier, I couldn't have pulled off something like "24" (not that the world stopped still to congratulate me, or anything).

8. The cover of -you cant have me- denotes a chilton fixation. Was big star the greatest american pop band of the 70's? why or why not?

Pretty close, anyway. The other contenders who come to mind are Iggy Pop, Stevie Wonder, Talking Heads, Todd Rundgren. Maybe Patti Smith if you don't count her bad material against her too much. It's funny that Big Star is taken so darn seriously now. I remember confidently telling people that Radio City was the best record of the seventies as early as 1980 and that seeming insane to just about everyone. But as far as any fixation goes, I think Chilton is a truly great pop artist and I happen to sound like him, but in my mind that doesn't add up to a fixation. I mean, he and I are very, very different people.

9. Im sorry but i have never heard the big shot chronicles. what identifies that record from previous ones?

It throws in more fuzzy guitar and complex harmonies. Lyrically, it's sort of me attacking various feelings of inadequacy with a combination of blunt accusations like on "Here It Is Tomorrow" and a dream-style perspective that uses some symbolism, like on "Regenisraen" and "I've Tried Subtlety".

10. Lolita nation was universally acclaimed as a tour de force. I extracted hours of aural pleasure from it. a two record set full of melodies, ideas, studio tracks, inventive arrangements, great songs. why such a big statement, a double?

It was a real knot-in-the-stomach experience for me; it does bite off a lot, and any time you get unconventional like that, just about everyone who has any opinion is going to think you're being "self indulgent" or one of those terms designed to make you feel unqualified to express yourself. I had a big beef against power structures at the time, particularly because the IRS was inventing tour income for me that never existed and making me prove it didn't exist, which if you're broke is very difficult but fortunately possible if you put the whole rest of your life on hold. That sort of paranoia resulted in a desire to throw out a lot of what I began to think of as tyrannical conventions, and I just ended up with a big, very contentious record.

11. 2 steps from... again, is unknown to me. please explain the record and the end of the group game theory.

Two Steps was a reaction to myself as a younger adult, and I was deflating my past conceptions about hipsterism, cultural stereotypes, sexual politics. It's less structurally weird than Lolita, but lyrically there's a lot of heavy art, especially on "Room For One More, Honey" and "Initiations Week". The group just drifted apart; the record label folded and people just got tired of doing it if we weren't even on a label anymore.

12. the news about forming of the loud family and finally the plants... album proved that miller was still around, hyper and more inspired that ever. What can you tell me about the forming process for that band?

Joe and I were old friends--see Lobster Quadrille. The other three guys were in a local band I liked and had worked with a little called This Very Window. We just all knew each other and gravitated together, there was no auditioning or anything. Paul is a music Ph.D.; Zach and Rob have more of a technophile '80s-like background than I did. Their strengths complement mine well, I think.

13. Game theory was a power pop band fueled by studio magic. The loud family seems to focus on the studio hardware even more. Are you the new todd rundgren?

I don't believe much in interactive music. It feels more right for me for songs to tell you something, as opposed to asking your opinion. Todd and I are both big absorbers, but what he absorbs are big music business directions, and what I absorb are nuances of delivery I find effective, usually among little alternative bands.

14. I received a sheet with words and chords from from your distributor here. its full of funny explanations and technical highlights. to what degree the studio make-up is done by trail and error? whats more important: the song, arrangement or the producer?

You only have time for so much trial and error in the studio, so you go in with what seems like a minimum amount of good production ideas, which in our case is probably a lot more than for most bands. To me a good song is like gold, it's more important than anything, but a bunch of only nearly good songs can turn into a great record if the arrangements and production are inspired enough. Led Zeppelin IV springs to mind.

15. Lyrically, you can go from the dreamlike, free association of -aerodelia- to the face to face, almost documentary -jimmy still comes around-. what feeds your imagination at the time of writing?

I do try to use those two approaches (as I mentioned earlier), and if there's an intented result, it's to bring into focus the way those two ways of looking at things get interchanged in real life; smallish problems can take on a dreamlike hugeness it's possible to get over, and (cliche alert) unremarkable daily events can be a rich source of contentment and unexplored meaning. I couldn't tell you what feeds my imagination other than I tend to get more creative when I hear new music by someone that gets me enthusiastic, which I don't think means I'm more of a plagiarist than any other pop writer, it just gets me in the mood to do it, so to speak.

16. -take me down- is my fav pop tune of 93. it was rereleased on and ep with some extra tracks. what was the idea behind this ep (he is referring to slouching

17. Slouching.. shows a musical or geographical tendency?

Thanks very much. The title is a joke referring to "Slouching Towards Bethlehem", a collection of essays by Joan Didion; it's a phrase from "The Second Coming" by W. B. Yeats to set, if I get her point, a tone of apocalyptic disconnectedness from a strong spiritual base, and I replaced "Bethlehem" with "Liverpool" because of the Beatles. I'll leave the rest open to interpretation.

18. What s your opinion of the alt. pop world of 94? any bands you like and/or dislike?

My three big favorites of last year were Liz Phair, Aimee Mann and the Posies, all three of whom seem to have a real gift for making the kind of pop record I like to hear, as well as getting at the way I feel things in general. I haven't gotten quite so excited about anything in '94 so far, except I'll say I think the songs "Cut Your Hair" by Pavement and "Kinder Murder" by Elvis Costello are both extremely good.

19. the ages ancient question: Brian Wilson or george martin? jeff lynne or todd rundgren? nile rogers or trevor horn? revolver or shotgun? (forget that, i just could help myself...Les)

I don't quite understand the question, but if it's who was my favorite Beach Boy, big time producer or lethal weapon, I would have to say "Kenny Rogers".

20. plans for future?

I think I'll burst onto the scene as a megastar so big he gets literally anything he wants, and see how that goes for awhile.

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