Texas-bred singer-songwriter Rhett Miller has been making music since the late 1980s, most famously with the alt-country group The Old 97's. But over his long career, Rhett's kept an open mind to collaboration, and on his new solo album, that spirit rings true as ever. On The Traveler (out May 12 via ATO Records), Miller worked closely with the fine-tuned backing band Black Prairie (featuring Decemberists members like Chris Funk and John Moen), in addition to college rock legends Peter Buck and Scott McCaughey. After producing a fine batch of songs, Rhett spoke to Billboard about his secrets on great collaborations (even with drummers with great harmony ideas) and finding inspiration to endure life's darker moments.
On your new album The Traveler, you collaborated with the band Black Prairie, which includes members of the Decemberists. What was it like working with them?
Chris Funk is the dobro player in the Decembrists and Black Prairie and is sort of the musical director for both bands. I don't think anybody would get mad at me for describing him this way; he was technically a producer on this record, although one of the things we kept bringing up was that everybody in Black Prairie kind of has production chops and has lots of ideas. Everybody is really respectful of each other's ideas and there's no competition about it. It was really great. John Moen is the drummer for the Decemberists and Black Prairie and is a famous Portland drummer that has played with everybody. When I saw Elliott Smith do his SNL appearance, John Moen was his drummer. He's been around a million blocks and he's just a really brilliant guy. When he comes up with an idea for a harmony, you're thinking, "Well you're the drummer dude. You don't have to be thinking about harmonies; we've got that covered." But his ideas for harmonies were great.