The Michael Miller Interview

Local troubadour, Michael Miller has just released his second album to the public. He’s been making quite a bit of noise in his backyard, but it’s high time that the entire world knows and sings along to Michael Miller. I had a chance to email him a few questions, which he answered sometime in the early hours of the morning.

Brad: State your name and occupation.

Michael: Michael Miller. Songwriter/Artist.

B: This album sounds like a lot more time was spent on production. That’s not to say the last one didn’t sound well-produced, but what were the major differences between the recording of your debut record and this one?

M: Indeed, we spent much more time mixing and mastering than the last one. But I think the biggest difference was in the amount of time spent in the recording. Partly, due to some unavoidable circumstances and partly due to my obsessive, fickle perfectionism. Something with which I had to eventually come to terms was dealing with things not always turning out just so. The engineer would constantly throw at me ‘Michael, you need to embrace the imperfection.’

B: Where did you find all of the talented players on this album? You just don’t hear a tuba on many records these days.

M: My regular bandmates have been playing with me for several years. Everybody else on the album came from my pool of friends, guys I have known for years and years. In fact, I had a tough time limiting the number of players on the record. I had so many choices and it really just came down to timing – who happened to be in town on a given day for a particular session.

The tuba first came as a suggestion from Joe Ongie (co-producer). There was an amazing bass part already on the song by Mark Harmon (the 77s) and it took a little convincing for me to take it out of the song completely. Once I bought into Joe’s idea to try it, it became a matter of finding a tuba player. Debbie (our cellist) had several friends who actually played tuba with her in the orchestra world. So it was surprisingly easy to find. A guy named Roger Keast was our first choice. He also plays a ton of other instruments and that really appeals to me – someone who is a multi-instrumentalist, rightly or wrongly, I expect them to be more “musical” in their approach to playing.

B: How long did the actual process take, from start to finish?

M: The majority of the album was recorded this past year. But a couple songs were actually completed a couple years ago. There were some problems recovering the master tapes (a real rock cliché drama) and potential legal disputes that eventually got resolved. Sometimes good things just take time, I guess.

B: I’ve noticed, going through your site, that you seem to be quite the well-traveled gentleman, not to mention a good photographer. How have your world travels impacted your music?

M: Meeting so many different people from around the world has expanded my universe, certainly, and altered my viewpoint of humanity. Just getting to have lengthy conversations with strangers or exchange opinions, biases, stereotypes in random, chance meetings has had an impact. Getting to live amongst people in their own environment/world (albeit a short time), of course colors everything you do or say or think or dream. Hearing so many different kinds of music first-hand in other cultures has definitely flavored my own sound as well (overtly and sub-consciously). I’ve gotten to imbibe the jigs and jams in the pubs of Doolin, Ireland, flamenco and tangos in Seville, Spain, fado in Portugal, opera in Vienna, sufi chants in Cairo, Egypt, folkloric music in Tunisia and the Muslim call to prayer in Morocco and Jerusalem. Having a carefree, wanderlust and HOPE of getting lost (literally getting lost) in other countries sort of extends and pervades into all areas of life…not being afraid to explore the unknown…not worried of losing track of time…

B: Speaking of being a good photographer, what are some of your other talents?

M: I love to draw. When I am not writing or playing music, I am usually doodling and drawing for my greeting card company. I have been doing it for years, but since it is seasonal – Christmas cards only – I am free to play music and travel the rest of the year. My greatest talent of all, I think, is just being a producer or director. I really enjoy having the final say in everything. I also have a real talent for assembling a great band, or “team” as they say in the business world. Putting people with MORE talent all around you is the key to success. I guess my eye for microscopic detail and design aesthetics is also a talent (or a curse). I’ve put a lot of friendships (and business relationships) to the test with that little talent.

B: What are you listening to these days?

M: Iron & Wine, Ethiopiques vol 4 (charming Ethiopian jazz from the 70’s), Astor Piazzolla, Wes Cunningham, Miles Davis (man with the horn), the latest Coldplay and Tori [Amos] albums (my guilty pop pleasures).

B: Is there a particular artist or group of artists that you listen to for inspiration? I’d venture to say you like Grant Lee Phillips a lot.

M: Yes, I like Grant Lee Phillips very much. I think it was Grant and Jeff Buckley that first let me know that singing in falsetto was really cool or okay (besides listening to the Stylistics when I was very young). The usual suspects, as trite or boring as it sounds, I’m such a sucker for anything Thom Yorke/Radiohead, Elliott Smith, the Innocence Mission. Aimee Mann. I’ve always been inspired by the guys who play almost everything themselves and still make cohesive, brilliant records: Karl Wallinger, Jason Falkner and Jon Brion, to name a few.

B: What’s a day in the life of Michael Miller?

M: Hmm…um, usually I wake up around noon or so after working the night before til 5 or 6am, get my mail, email, make phone calls, whatever, then work on the day’s chores. I have come to finally realize how easily distracted I get and I will work on several jobs at once (whether it is an art project or music project) usually on whichever one is least pressing, putting off what is really important or more urgent for “later.” I always wait until the last minute for any deadline…I think I have been like that my whole life – if there isn’t a flame under me, I won’t feel the urgency to get something done. Before the afternoon is over, as a general rule, I try to walk out on the beach at least once a day – just to get sunlight, if nothing else. Sunsets are so neglected or taken for granted these days. It’s super corny, but I really try to go watch the sunset as often as I can, like a favorite TV show or something. At night, if we are not rehearsing or recording, I am usually working again until the wee hours on songs or art stuff. My days seem so fractured, but in the end, I always feel like I didn’t get enough done or that there weren’t enough hours in the day.

B: Do you have a ritual when it comes to writing songs? Do you go someplace in particular to write or just carry around paper and write when the feeling strikes?

M: I don’t really have a scheduled “writing time” of the day or dedicated place of inspiration. I wish I did. My best songs have come while traveling, I think. Quite often without any instrument in hand. I try to carry a notepad with me or a little pocket tape recorder to grab the melodies or words that float by in my head. I have a lousy memory. If I don’t write it down or sing it into a recorder, I forget it immediately. In the middle of the night, coming out of a dream or the moment I am just about to fade out to sleep, I hear things. I have literally heard melodies or songs IN THE DREAM itself (sometimes it sounds SO amazing in the dream but I can’t recall it when I wake up. Maybe that’s why they call it a dream). I even keep a separate notebook and recorder by my bedside. If I don’t force myself to scribble an idea in the dark, or turn the light on to write something down or record it, I lose it by the next morning.

B: What’s your take on the state of the music industry?

M: There needs to be another revolution or something. I think the pressure from downloads and free music is definitely kicking it in the butt to change its ways. But rest assured, where there is money to be made, they (industry profiteers) will follow. Greed has a way of inspiring innovation. It seems to be in such a flux right now. They’re all scrambling because they don’t know what to do to hold onto their share of the pie.

B: Do you think music downloads hurt or help the industry?

M: On one hand, it is exciting to hear that the supposed “downloads” are hurting major record chains and putting them under or forcing labels to re-think how they do things. I’m just glad that something is happening to change the corporate structure and the little guys voices are collectively making a difference. I love the idea that real music is getting out without the corporate filters telling people what they are supposed to like and that the “playing field” is somehow more equal for indie artists. Downloads definitely make indie music more available to be heard.

I have many friends who really do buy albums after they hear a downloaded sample or MP3. That is the way it is supposed to work. The thrill of making tapes for friends and turning them onto new music is what it’s all about. There just needs to be a way to publicly, brutally punish the abusers.

B: You’re close enough to Los Angeles. How come you don’t play here? Do you have something against us?

M: With the new record out, I think there is now a good reason to play there. Up til now, I have been somewhat hibernating to just finish this [When We Come To] and now I really want to let it be heard. I suspect I will be playing there soon.

B:What are your plans, if any, for a tour on this album?

M: Right now, a tour is in the works for the West coast in late spring. Maybe even as far north as Vancouver. I am really excited to have people hear the whole band because they are so amazing. Seriously, I am so proud to be playing with them. It has always been important to me to have a band that sounded as good as the record and vice-a-versa. I may also be going out solo for some dates in the summer. We’ll see.

An Update

I sure have thought of a lot of things that I should have been doing during the year that I wasn’t really working. Now, I have little to no life, which is a little unfortunate. My free time, what very little of it I have, I spend with a few people and maybe venture out for a show every once in a while. Leaving work at 8pm doesn’t make it easy to get to shows on time to snap some photos and stuff that I used to do. There really is a lot that I miss. I mean, fuck, it’s 1am and I am struggling to keep my eyes open just so I can write a little bit.

I’ve taken to getting up a little more early in the morning to give me some extra time to get a few things done in the morning that I just couldn’t find time to do during the day or evening. If I go out after work, I literally come home, feed Holly, feed myself, take Holly on a walk and then I am out the door. I feel bad for Holly. She doesn’t get to see much of me anymore, but the good news is, she has someone wonderful taking care of her during the day.

I took her to the vet this weekend and the vet wasn’t very hopeful on her condition. She continues to lose weight and the atrophy has become quite dramatic, especially in her face. Watching someone you love wasting away isn’t very easy, and anyone that knows a thing about me, knows that Holly is the center of my universe. I hate to think about it, but it;s inevitable that her death is looming, but I’ll make sure she goes before the pain sets in. I asked the vet when a good time to do it would be and she just said I would know. She’s probably right. I can’t bring myself to take photos of her anymore. It;s just not how I want to remember her.

So yeah, this new job is tough, but I’m enjoying the work, even if a lot of it is some of the most mindless work I have done since alphabetizing albums in a record store when I was 16. Actually though, the majority of the work, while being somewhat mindless, is at least teaching me things I didn’t know. There’s something about it that makes me feel proud and excited. Right now though, I’m tired. There’s so much more to talk about and say, but my eyes just will not allow. I cant wait until I can just think about something and it gets put here. That’ll be the day…

I have a friend that’s going through a rough time. She is in my thoughts. Let that be known.

We Concur

Audrey, over at melodynelson.com beat us to the punch on The Stills, certainly one of the most underrated bands you have yet to hear much about. I suppose part of that is due to the fact that they don’t have a record out yet, but we’ll be there when they open for Interpol on Feb 18 @ The Henry Fonda Theater. Their manager contacted us about doing a little something with the band on the site, so we’ll be having some words with them when they get to town. In the mean time, their site has a few unreleased tracks for your downloading pleasure. We like The Stills and so should you.

A Michael Miller Release

Local favorite and troubadour extraordinaire, Michael Miller has gone and released his second record, When We Come To. You can order the CD (and other stuff) on the site. Look for an interview and review of the album to follow in the next week. He’s busy with all the magazines and stuff, but he promised us the time of day.

Hornby On Adams

As previously mentioned, Nick Hornby has released a new book of essays called Songbook (available through McSweeney’s). In celebration of the release, a series of essays are being posted on the McSweeney’s web site. Nick Hornby wrote a little something about Ryan Adams’s “Oh My Sweet Carolina.”

Some people are at their best when they’re miserable. Ryan Adams’s beautiful Heartbreaker album is, I suspect, the product of a great deal of pain, and “Oh My Sweet Carolina” is its perfect, still centre, its faint heartbeat, a song so quiet that you don’t want to breathe throughout its duration.

Day 2, Day 3 and Day 4 can all be read as well.

The Start Of Something

There’s something to be said for starting things over again. A clean slate. Change is good, or at least it has been in most cases that I can think of. Something has changed and, come to think of it, they always will. It’s something I can count on.

Over the last year and some change, I have been employed very little. I made a pact with myself when I quit my last job that the next job I took would make me happy. I may not be happy doing it all the time, but it was going to be something that I loved to do, or at the very least it would be a step in the direction in which I wanted to head.

So my life has changed. Gone are the days of going to bed at 4am and waking up at 11am, though the weekends are good for that sort of activity. Gone are the days of not caring what day of the week it was, and quite often not even knowing for sure. Gone are the days of sitting in front of the computer, endlessly reading what other people had to say…well, there will be less of that anyway. Gone are the days of…I really could make quite a list of things that have changed in the last 24 hours.

For the second time in my life, I don’t feel like I’m fucking around so much. Truth be told, ever since I moved to Los Angeles, there’s been a lot of fucking around and I got paid a lot of money to do said fucking around. That’s not to say I didn’t learn or that what I was doing wasn’t important at the time, but it all seems so far away now.

Today was a new beginning, and the timing just feels right. It all feels right. Sure, I’m nervous and a little freaked out about all of it, but I’m also exciting to be doing something steady again. There’s something to be said for a little structure. Some people can do just fine without it, and I don’t require that much, but there it is.

Tomorrow I’ll be waking up to an alarm again. I’ll get in my car, drive a few minutes to a building to which I have a passcard to get in and out, and I will work. This is the start of something.

P.S. Remember to take the passcard out of the pocket of the pants you wore today.

Sorry About The Monthly Mix

Despite us updating our hosting plan to allow for more bandwidth, we are well on our way to exceding our monthly limit. In an effort to keep the site online and operational, the Monthly Mix MP3s have been taken down. We’ll have a new mix next month. Sorry for the hassle, but we don’t want the entire site to suffer. Thanks for your understanding.

Ramones Tribute To Finally See The Light Of Day

The Ramones tribute album, We’re A Happy Family will finally see the light of day on February 11. The tracklisting reads like this:

01) Havana Affair – Red Hot Chili Peppers

02) Blitzkrieg Bop – Rob Zombie

03) I Believe In Miracles – Eddie Vedder/Zeke

04) 53rd & 3rd – Metallica

05) Beat On The Brat – U2

06) Do You Remember Rock ‘N’ Roll Radio – Kiss

07) The KKK Took My Baby Away – Marilyn Manson

08) I Just Wanna Have Something To Do – Garbage

09) Outsider – Green Day

10) Something To Believe In – The Pretenders

11) Sheena Is A Punk Rocker – Rancid

12) I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend – Pete Yorn

13) I Wanna Be Sedated – The Offspring

14) Here Today, Gone Tomorrow – Rooney

15) Return of Jackie & Judy – Tom Waits

*16) Daytime Dilemma (Dangers Of Love) – Eddie Vedder/Zeke

*Will only appear on Limited Edition version of release

Strangely absent from the tracklisting is a version of “Danny Says” by the Foo Fighters, which the band was rumored to have recorded during the first set of sessions for One By One, which were later scrapped and re-recorded. Perhaps the song will be released as a b-side on an upcoming single.