Rhett Miller

Rhett Miller The Independent
Terça 19 de junho de 2012

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Com Rhett Miller & The Serial Lady Killers, The Wallflowers e The Spring Standards

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Terça 19 de junho de 2012

The Independent

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(from The Independent website)
For almost ten years now, Rhett Miller has balanced a solo career with a band career, as both the leader of the rock band Old 97’s and as an acclaimed singer-songwriter in his own right. Last year, the Old 97’s released their seventh album, Blame It On Gravity. Now, just a year later, Miller returns with his fourth solo record, the self-titled Rhett Miller. Like every record that Miller is involved in, it’s tuneful, memorable, and smart. Unlike the other records, though, this one cuts deep — sometimes to the bone. As the title suggests, this album represents Miller’s most personal statement in a career that has spanned more than a decade. And that’s exactly the way he wants it.

“The reason I have to make solo records is because the nature of the band; when I bring ideas, they get voted down frequently,” Miller says. “That’s always been the case. The band is a democracy. But I have always told the guys that I want to make solo records.”

Those solo records have always complemented the band’s output, both sonically and thematically. “You can tell what the band doesn’t like by listening to my solo records,” Miller says. “Generally the consensus is that the band likes things that swing, things with a train beat that are rootsy and Texan. The things they don’t get as much collectively are the songs that are poppier, as well as the stuff that’s quiet and personal.”

Earlier solo projects like The Instigator (2002) and The Believer (2006) found Miller exploring, respectively, the power-pop dimension of his work and the moodier ballad work. Rhett Miller continues in the latter direction, though it contains plenty of Miller’s scalpel-sharp wordplay.

“There’s a fine line on this record,” Miller says. “Lyrically it has moments of real darkness, though sonically it’s a fun rock-and-roll record. Basically, I want people to be able to put it on at a party and enjoy listening to it. It’s not a record that has to be listened to at night with a loaded gun.”

Typical of this tension is the album’s opener, “Nobody Says I Love You Anymore,” a dark moody song about a relationship-either personal or creative-gone wrong. “That song seemed like a perfect way to start the record because it exactly walks that fine line between the lightness of pop music and a dark introspection,” Miller says. “There’s a waltz beat with John Bonham drums and a lyric that is just obtuse enough that I don’t understand what it’s about. When I was done with the song and looked back, I wondered what I was thinking about that was so bleak and broken. It didn’t seem like it was about my marriage; that wasn’t in such a shambles. Was it about the band? About my own writing? At one point, it even occurred to me that it was about David Foster Wallace’s suicide. He’s someone who has always been a literary hero of mine, but if the song is about him, it’s certainly not in a straightforward, obvious way.”

Throughout the record, in fact, Miller says that he was informed by the complexities of literary fiction. “The things I love to read are about conflicted people in conflicted relationships, about people who mean to do the right thing but don’t always do it. That’s always been the appeal of an author like David Foster Wallace or Ben Greenman. The art that I’m attracted to deals head on with our intentions and our shortcomings as people.”

Despite Miller’s interest in covering more sophisticated ground, plenty of the record goes straight for the pop-music jugular. “There’s a song on there called ‘Another Girlfriend’ that could have been a band song,” Miller says. “In fact, it’s been rejected by the 97’s for every single record since Too Far to Care, back in 1997, and in a sense I can see why. Played by the band it might veer into the territory of the kind of cheesy alt-country where you might see bales of hay onstage. You know, where it’s just a punchline. If I do it myself, it’s a more personal statement, though it still has some of that band energy.”

While some of the songs delve into the recent past, others look toward the distant future. “Happy Birthday Don’t Die,” the record’s most ambitious song, is written to Miller’s young daughter on the occasion of her hundredth birthday. “‘Happy Birthday Don’t Die” came to me in a fevered rush the morning before I headed to Texas to make the record. The whole story was there in my head when I woke up. This weird sci-fi portrait of a little old lady buried in the catacombs of some colony planet celebrating her one-hundreth birthday by dying. Writing that song was like speaking in tongues, very strange.”

Not all the songs on the album are so far-flung, “Sometimes’ came out of hearing my two-year-old daughter singing to herself in her crib one morning. I took her little tune and fleshed it out into first a chorus and then a whole song.” Elsewhere on the album, one finds the quirky details that are a hallmark of Miller’s songwriting. The “comedy club” in “I Need To Know Where I Stand” sounds suspiciously similar to LA’s famed Cafe Largo where Miller has played regularly over the years. In the same song, we find “the Hamlet of Wallkill,” a town in the Hudson Valley near where the song’s author resides. But it’s the simple statements of grand truths that set this album apart from Miller’s earlier work. Take, for instance, the following line from “Like Love.” “We are all alone in this world/from cradle to grave/and maybe after that.” A bitter little sentiment, but dropped into the middle of a fun, foot-stomper of a song, it’s a testament to the years Rhett Miller has spent honing his craft.

The twelve songs on Rhett Miller were produced by Salim Nourallah, who also produced Blame It On Gravity. While the record was originally conceived as a spartan acoustic set, the list of contributing musicians soon blossomed: The Apples In Stereo’s John Dufilho played drums, Billy Harvey contributed guitar, and the multi-instrumentalist Jon Brion also pitched in. “My first solo record back in 2002 was produced by Jon, so my collaborators were Jon and whomever he decided to bring in,” Miller says. “This time around I wanted Salim to be my foil and he came up with this very short list of very talented people anchored by John and Billy. Jon Brion joined us long-distance from LA via the internet. It was an awesome band and since all of those guys are producers, too, it was like hiring four producers for the price of one.”

After a series of special summer dates with the Old 97s — the shows, billed as “An Evening With…,” will open with a solo set by Miller featuring songs from the new record and his solo catalog — Miller is looking toward a fall tour. “After that I’m looking forward to playing these songs with a rock band to do justice to their scope and their energy.”
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