Old 97's' Miller Readies Second Solo Set
While the Old 97's might not have flanked Rhett Miller on his forthcoming solo album, "The Believer," the singer got some help from some pretty notable names -- even if in spirit alone. The set is dueWhile the Old 97's might not have flanked Rhett Miller on his forthcoming solo album, "The Believer," the singer got some help from some pretty notable names -- even if in spirit alone. The set is due Feb. 18 via Verve Forecast.
Lauded pianist/singer Rachael Yamagata lent a whole new spin to the track "Fireflies," Miller tells Billboard.com. "I thought it was kind of a whiny song about the guy wishing the girl hadn't left him all those years ago, and wanting some sort of answer, apology," he says. "And it didn't have a lot more than that. [But] then she came in and made it a real sensual sounding take for the female part of it, and it sounded like suddenly there was going to be an act two, like they may disappear together at the end of the final verse."
The late Elliott Smith inspired the title track, which Miller started writing the day that the news of Smith's apparent suicide broke in 2003. Miller (who attempted suicide as a 14-year-old in Texas) became friendly with Smith after falling in with the noted cast of singer/songwriters who've frequented the popular Los Angeles nightclub Largo since the late '90s.
Miller says that when putting together "The Believer," he was looking to rock in a way that the pop-leaning, alt-country faves Old 97's do not. "With the 97's, it rocks, but it's always this one sort of thing: They won't do anything that doesn't swing, or isn't sort of a train beat. It's just real specific," he says. "With this record, originally I thought I was gonna make 'Ziggy Stardust,' this punk-rock version of the British music that I love so much from the late '70s. But it evolved as I hired different people, and got bigger in scope."
He continues: "I thought the whole record was gonna sound like 'Delicate,' sped up, melodic, but real, just driving rock guitars. And as it went I knew I needed some more scope -- slower stuff, and a little bit of swing. My favorite song on the record, 'Brand New Way,' ended up being the furthest thing from 'Delicate,' sort of 3/4 time, and more musical. I kind of studied theory for it."
One of those people he hired was respected producer George Drakoulias (Black Crowes, Jayhawks). "It goes back to driving to high school, chain-smoking Marlboro Reds in my friend Tim's Volkswagen Beatle listening to the Cult's 'Electric.' You can't deny it," Miller says. :I mean, that is one of the most rocking albums. Then I love the Jayhawks stuff. Even the Tift [Merritt] record he did was really soulful, beautiful. He's not like a one-trick pony. It's not all about rock with him, but he's able to get that.
While Miller will soon be hitting the road with a group of New York-based musicians in support of "The Believer," the Old 97's make a cameo in the forthcoming Jennifer Aniston/Vince Vaughn film "The Breakup." In the movie, Aniston, in an effort to win back Vaughn, buys a pair of tickets for an Old 97's gig, and is pictured at the show.