Interview & Photos by Scott Preston
Taft Theatre (Ballroom), 317 E 5th St, Cincinnati, OH
7pm doors, 8pm show, $12 adv, $15 dos, Buy Tickets
Ever since Steve Earle declared Miller a “world class” songwriter – signing him and his former band The V-Roys to his record label E-Squared and producing their two bedrock Americana albums JUST ADD ICE and ALL ABOUT TOWN with Twangtrust partner Ray Kennedy – Miller has been known as a writer’s writer. Even on the next four albums Miller recorded and releasedon Sugar Hill Records from 2001 to 2008, Miller’s songwriting remained genuinely thoughtful, for the most part regional and history based– but always cloaked in what one New York Times reviewer called an “epic vernacular.” In other words, he wrote big.
The last two years have seen big changes for the malapert Miller. “Like many with elderly parents I heard the call: Now is the time for all sons to return to the land of their raising, smother their parents with a pillow and collect their social security,” Miller deadpanned. Moving home to take over the family cattle farm and establishing a new base from which to tour in Staunton, VA – all while embracing a new life of sobriety – has been challenging and time consuming. “Most of my touring the last couple of years has been in spurts, not like I used to do. I can’t leave my cows for that long. I need their guidance.”
During this time of transition and scaled down touring Miller was often on the road as a solo performer. It was then that he happened to meet old-timefiddle maven, Rayna Gellert, and the two began performing together and incorporating Gellert’s old time fiddle style with Miller’s rock sensibilities, ultimately releasing an EP, CODEPENDENTS (F.A.Y.Recordings). Gellert’s fiddle now adds another sonic layer to BIG BIG WORLD.
BIG BIG WORLD is the third release on Miller’s record label F.A.Y. Recordings. Previous releases include FOR CRYING OUT LOUD (2009), CHRISTMAS GIFT (2011), and CO-DEPENDENTS (2012). “I really was ahead of the curve by starting my own label years ago.”
However, it seems like working and co-writing with Doug Lancio might prove to be one of Miller’s smartest moves yet. The two men have made a big, big record– a collaboration that proves Scott Miller hasn’t stopped growing in this BIG BIG WORLD. (from thescottmiller.com)
Cincy Groove: Tell me about your new record “Big, Big World”. Did the up and downs in your life the past 5 years influence the songs?
Scott Miller: Some of it, but you right what you know. Townes Van Zant said “Sometimes reality doesn’t rhyme”, so sometimes you mix whatever you can together to make a song. Some of the songs on the record you can definitely hear me circling the drain. Those bad times are easier to deal with when you put them in a song.
Cincy Groove: What kind of environment do you like to be in to write your songs?
Scott Miller: I am always taking notes on melodies and keeping them on this recorder I have. Then when it came time to make this record, I would find an empty apartment in Knoxville for a month or two. I would put a table, chair, typewriter and a guitar in the place and just go in there and work everyday for a few months. The record before this one was done in a totally different process because I was co-writing. The next one I will be working on , I will find an empty place and rent it for a while. I just don’t need any distractions, I need to be able to concentrate. It’s not quite like the good ol days when songs just seemed to pour out of me.
Cincy Groove: What do you like to do in your free time when you aren’t on the road?
Scott Miller: I thought about this the other day. I spent 20 years in Knoxville and I was thinking, “What did I do all day?”. Most people don’t realize you play a 1-2 hour set and then you have a day job to help pay the rent and bills. Now I spend a lot of time off the road working on the farm. I am getting the farm ready so when I go on tour soon everything will survive until I get back. I like to keep busy, its just how I’m wired.
Cincy Groove: Growing up on the farm what kind of music were you exposed to?
Scott Miller: My parents are older and so are my siblings. My dad used to play trumpet in big bands, so he was listening to a lot of that type of music. My siblings were listening to rock, The Beatles, Creedence. I gravitated towards songwriters like John Prine.
Cincy Groove: Was there anything else you wanted to be besides a musician?
Scott Miller: I think the desire was always there. I did end up going to college and getting two degrees. I was a Russian and Soviet Studies major, which is really a feeder program for the NSA. The Berlin Wall fell in 1989 and I graduated in 1990. So everything I was trained in, didn’t mean anything anymore. The only thing I could really do was teach. I remember my senior year of college I went in to talk with my adviser and said I need some applications for the post office. I remember reading how John Prine worked at the Post Office and would write songs all day. I said “Thats what I want to do”. She then told me to come into her office and sit down, but in that conversation with the adviser I realized that making music was what I want to do. So why fight it.
Cincy Groove: Do you have any advice for a young singer/songwriter?
Scott Miller: Yes, stay out of the music business (laughing). You really have to be prepared for just about anything. You really have to be dedicated. You will have to be able to give up all your time, give up family events, having relationships. If its really what you want to do, you won’t even realize you are doing all of this. I might spend a lot of time on the farm now, but I still love making music.
Cincy Groove: Whats one of the strangest things you have seen on the road?
Scott Miller: Well theres quite a few that come to mind that aren’t appropriate for print. But one instance is when I was in San Francisco. I was walking down one of those huge hills and coming up the hill was this really old guy with a long beard on a BMX bike. He had a boombox tied to the front of it and on top of the boombox was a chicken. The chicken was just hanging out getting a ride up the hill. No one even blinked and eye.