In the second in our series of essays called “Music That’s Changed My Life: GLONO Readers’ Real-Life Experiences,” Thomas Durkin interviewed one of his heroes, Scott Miller of the Loud Family and Game Theory. If you would like to share a story of music’s effect on your world, get in touch with us…
In 2000, Scott Miller of San Francisco’s The Loud Family announced that Attractive Nuisance would be the last album that the group would release, and that the tour behind it would also be the band’s last. This sent a wave of desperation through his fanbase; there are fans who had been hooked since 1985, when Scott’s previous group Game Theory released a glittering song called “24” and an equally brilliant album called Real Nighttime. Others became fans after listening to his 1992 Loud Family debut, Plants and Birds and Rocks and Things.
Both the Loud Family and Game Theory created intelligent power pop not afraid to take true risks, philosophically similar at times to XTC, though sonically wholly their own. Knowing that this would be the last time, it wasn’t uncommon for fans like myself to catch as many shows of this “farewell” tour as possible; I caught them in Chicago and in New York.
Two weeks ago, 125 Records released Loud Family Live 2000, a generous DVD document of that tour, filmed at numerous stops along the way. The band is seen talking about how they came to the band, and just how interesting life on tour can be when you’re not riding first class. Just as The Kids Are Alright revealed many facets of the Who moreso than a straight concert could ever convey, so too does Live 2000 give a greater insight into what made the Loud Family such a vital, groundbreaking group. On the occasion of this DVD, Scott Miller took the time to spill the details about his 20+ years making music.
GLONO: How would you describe your role in the studio historically in both Game Theory and Loud Family: more hands-on, micromanage the sound vs. more laissez-faire, “here are the songs, let’s see where we can take them”?
Scott Miller: In my teen band days, I would always be the one in charge of getting the recording of the band, so I’ve always gone into doing a record with a sense that I’d better have a plan or it was all going to be chaos. And I think in general it’s been the case that the more planning there’s been for a record, the better it’s turned out.
GLONO: Where did the band name Game Theory come from? How did the band first come together?
Scott: I was going to college at U.C. Davis, which is near Sacramento. I had a band called Alternate Learning for years and several line-up changes, and we’d just reached that point of not being able to get along enough to function. Alternate Learning were kind of the biggest draw in the area at the time, so while the music quality was plummeting, I was able to actually recruit band members through clout for the first time in my life, so all new people was clearly the way to go. The name came from a branch of higher math in the area of probability, where you do things like compute the actions most likely to pay off for you in an adversarial situation, which in a way says a lot, doesn’t it? The math gets really simple if you just want to be nice to each other.
In 1982, Game Theory’s first lineup (Scott Miller/guitar & vocals, Nancy Becker/keyboards, Fred Juhos/bass, and Michael Irwin/drums) self-released a thousand copies of its first album, Blaze Of Glory, with each album wrapped in a trash bag. Whether this was for economic reasons or the artists’ self-deprecating opinion of the tunes in the grooves is a matter of conjecture; regardless, it wasn’t such a bad debut. True, the lyrics are at times naïve and awkward, but there were glimpses of things to come. Album opener “Something To Show” bubbles with enthusiasm, and “Bad Year At UCLA” still holds up as a pop song with a bend. A new drummer, Dave Gill, joined the group. Two more EP’s (Pointed Accounts of People You Know and Distortion) came out, in ’83 and ’84 respectively; each one shows the band becoming that much more sure of itself; tracks such as “Metal And Glass Exact”, “Shark Pretty”, and “The Red Baron” sound more like a band that has now learned the ropes; they deliver melody in spades. (These first three releases, originally on the band’s own Rational Records label, were anthologized by Alias Records in 1993 as Distortion of Glory.)
It came as no surprise that 1985’s Real Nighttime album found them firing on all cylinders; a perfect alchemy of power pop with intriguingly experimental sounds and arrangements. There isn’t a weak cut on this album; “24” is an exuberant soaring melody and a lyric that nails the age perfectly: “And everyone asks if I’m leaving, no sir/I get around but I don’t get closer/Is it because I’m 23, not 24?” “Rayon Drive” and “Curse of the Frontierland” meld angular chord structures with oblique lyrics. The album was blessed with two new elements: assured production by Mitch Easter (who already had produced the two R.E.M. records at that point) and an association with the up-and-coming indie Enigma Records, home to not only the Smithereens and Poison but also Mojo Nixon, Don Dixon, and the Dead Milkmen.
GLONO: How did Game Theory get signed to Enigma Records?
Scott: We had this manager named Scott Vanderbilt. Kind of the archetypal biz wunderkind. He was even a couple of years younger than I was, I think, so 21 or so. Anyway, first he licensed a record to them, and then they hired him as their business manager, believe it or not. Enigma hired him. We never actually did a deal directly with Enigma, we were just farmed out.
GLONO: How significant of a factor was this on the success of the band?
Scott: Pretty significant. Although we were pretty close to top twenty on college radio with the second E.P., now that I recall. They had the greatest radio promo person. I forget her name after all these years. I want to say Lisa Shively, but she was our independent press person, who was also really good.
GLONO: How did Mitch Easter come to produce Real Nighttime?
Scott: I think we more or less wore him down with begging. Steve Wynn from the Dream Syndicate had introduced me to the Sneakers a couple of years before that, and I was nuts about Stamey and Easter. I didn’t even know Mitch produced records until Scott Vanderbilt played me [R.E.M.’s 1982] Chronic Town, but after that we thought it just had to be him. I think we paid him not huge but okay money for a little record.
Mitch Easter went on to have a long association with the group, producing not only the rest of Game Theory’s catalog but also the first two Loud Family albums.
GLONO: What do you think he added to Game Theory/Loud Family’s albums?
Scott: Mostly competency. A big, pro sound. We never had conversations like “you guys have got to do such-and-such because that’s the new sound.” I don’t know if people imagine that kind of thing goes on or not. I don’t think he and I ever clashed at all. There was never any Andy Partridge and Todd Rundgren stuff, just suddenly we had someone who knew a lot more than I did and we were all grateful.
Game Theory found itself starting over in 1986 with a completely new line up; this time Scott joined forces with Shelley LaFreniere on keyboards, Gil Ray on drums, and Suzi Ziegler on bass. 1986 also saw the release of the third Game Theory long player, The Big Shot Chronicles. Again, the power pop had classic hooks; the tunes were even more assured. “Like A Girl Jesus” melds a quietly building song with another cryptic lyric about a girl with grandiose notions; “Crash Into June” is both urgent and gorgeous. Game Theory even scored a radio hit with “Erica’s Word”, marking the first time a video was made for a Game Theory song. However, the more experimental edges were softened in favor of more direct song structures. This isn’t to say that the songs were any less original or wonderful; they were just… safer. Pay attention; this is one area where history ended up repeating itself for a time.
All caution was thrown to the wind with 1987’s Lolita Nation, which ranks alongside Real Nighttime as their masterpiece. The album marked the debut of Guillaume Gassuan replacing Suzi Ziegler on bass, and more significantly, the addition of Donnette Thayer on guitar and second lead vocal. She and Scott Miller would eventually become romantically involved… more on that later. Lolita Nation is an incredibly ambitious double LP which covers the sonic safety of Big Shot Chronicles (“We Love You Carol and Allison”, “Chardonnay”), thrilling power pop gems which exceeded their previous efforts (“Not Because You Can”, “Nothing New”, “Mammoth Gardens”), and deliriously quirky experimental tracks; the album’s opener, “Kenneth, What’s The Frequency?” is a collection of sounds and spoken samples whose title references the same beating Dan Rather received, except a full nine years prior to R.E.M. “The Waist and The Knees” takes aggressively experimental arrangements to an ominous lyric; the effect is stunning. Generous doses of glorious pop and edgy experimentation co-existed against the odds to form a wonderful album.
GLONO: How do you personally look back at Lolita Nation, in terms of a sense of pride or critique?
Scott: There’s a lot I like about it. I like the pacing and the way that the unexpected song structures create a dramatic mood. Some days I think the lead vocals are bad, and other days I think they’re fine. I can’t help but have a lot of anxiety when I think about what comes across in my records, and that one is one of the worst for that.
GLONO: Was the intention with Lolita Nation to have a unifying theme or concept binding the songs together as parts of a greater whole, or simply a gloriously sprawling grab-bag of amazing moments?
Scott: Well, I’ll certainly take “glorious” and “amazing” if those are an option. Is it unified? In a way it was more deliberately diverse, because I was distrustful of thematizing clichés as a kind of coercive force. I used to observe when I was young that religions had a sort of viral survival logic, and successful ones more or less did whatever worked to sustain them, and what effect it all had on humanity was an accidental side effect. But by that record it was dawning on me that it wasn’t just religions, it was culture as I knew it. I had just been mentally picking on religion because that was the social commentary comfort zone for my world.
GLONO: Which albums in your catalog, if any, were deliberately fashioned to be “concept” albums?
Scott: I guess Lolita Nation, [the Loud Family’s] Interbabe Concern, Days For Days, and Attractive Nuisance were concept albums to varying degrees.
The Lolita Nation album also provided a treat to fans of the band’s prior albums; many points of reference from each of the releases preceding it are scattered throughout it. While you don’t need to know the band’s history to enjoy the album, hearing both the same weird guitar sound which began Real Nighttime and the opening synth sound of Big Shot Chronicles incorporated into the first track of Lolita Nation is an element of fun for the dedicated fan.
GLONO: For each of your albums from Real Nighttime to Tape Of Only Linda, each album references the ones that have come before; what, if any, was your artistic intention of doing this? Why did you stop it with Interbabe Concern?
Scott: Is that true? I don’t know what the answer would be. Part of it was I was probably in a surlier mood by then. Like, who really knows or cares that I’m doing this stuff? A hundred people? You can keep a certain class of self-important stuff up when you think you have an audience of tens of thousands, and growing.
Almost seemingly in reaction to going off the deep end with Lolita Nation, Game Theory released the safer-by-comparison Two Steps From The Middle Ages album in 1988. It would prove to be Game Theory’s final album, and while it still has its moments of glory (“Room For One More, Honey”, “You Drive”), the adventurousness of the prior album was sorely missed. Granted, Lolita Nation was a hard act to follow; while Two Steps is by no means a crap album, it did take Two Steps back. Seeing this pattern repeating itself, it almost would seem that a conspiracy is at work here, or at least outside influences such as the record company or the desire for success at any cost.
GLONO: From Real Nighttime to [the Loud Family’s] Tape Of Only Linda, you seem to have followed a pattern of an every-other-album alternation between some edgy, almost avant-garde content vs. relatively straightforward. How much of this was intentional?
Scott: You know, people ask that question all the time, and my stock answer is I must have tended to overcorrect for the previous album’s direction. It wasn’t intentional.
Donnette and Scott broke off their relationship during the tour for that album (around this time, she became romantically involved with Steve Kilbey of the Church. They had a short-lived side project called Hex); Shelley LaFreniere and Gui Gassuan left the group. Gil Ray injured his back, leaving him unable to play drums; he switched to guitar. Scott teamed up with Michael Quercio (formerly of The Three O’Clock) and Jozef Becker (formerly drummer for the excellent avant-rock group Thin White Rope) for Game Theory’s final lineup. The only recorded output of this aggregation were some rerecorded versions of Blaze Of Glory tracks for the 1990 Game Theory “hits” compilation, Tinker To Evers To Chance. The liner notes find Scott’s critique humorously self-deprecating. For example, about the song “24”:
“The first record (Real Nighttime) produced by the godlike genius of Mitch Easter, and our first record to reach national obscurity as opposed to regional obscurity.”
On “The Red Baron”:
“[This song] crystallized the style of a class of my songs I’ve called young-adult-hurt-feeling-athons. Also features my usual obnoxious vocals, which we will abbreviate U.O.V.”
However, the bankruptcy of Enigma Records in 1990 seemed to nail it on the head for the group, and so endeth Game Theory.
GLONO: What factors ultimately ended Game Theory?
Scott: Donnette and me breaking up and Enigma Records declining were big factors. But now that I think of it, we never did break up. Technically, Michael Quercio, Joe Becker, and I are still Game Theory. Maybe we should do a record.
GLONO: What point do you look at as Game Theory’s most creative, finest era?
Scott: Embarrassingly enough, there’s almost no such thing as me not to be under the impression that I’m being fabulously creative, no matter how much evidence there is to the contrary. So that whole time I promise you I thought I was being terribly creative.
GLONO: What did you do for the years between Game Theory and Loud Family?
Scott: I was probably close to being clinically depressed, although not getting any sort of treatment. I worked as a programmer, and wrote all the Plants and Birds songs over four or five years.
GLONO: In the Live 2000 DVD, you gave the impression that there really wasn’t much “down time” between when Game Theory ended and Loud Family started, almost like they overlapped. Is this the case?
Scott: Not really. I never played in something called the Loud Family and then later played in something called Game Theory.
After a period of incubation, Scott Miller re-emerged with the Loud Family. Along with Jozef Becker, Scott essentially joined forces with an existing group called This Very Window. That band counted among its members Paul Wieneke on keyboards, Rob Poor on bass, and a dazzling guitarist named Zachary Smith. The band’s name refers to the actual Louds, a family chronicled in the early ’70s in a famous PBS documentary called The First Family.
GLONO: How long had This Very Window been a group before you came along?
Scott: I’m going to say they were together about two years. I don’t really remember. I produced a single for them. They never toured.
GLONO: What was the circumstance that you ended up joining forces with them? How similar was it to, let’s use for show of example, Neil Young saying to the Rockets, “You boys are working with me; I’m renaming you Crazy Horse”?
Scott: It was a funny situation. I had worked with Rob a lot, and Zach a little, and I was pretty close friends with them all. In a way it was a little unstable because they all had some auteur-ship status going and they had to become aligned to my songwriting trajectory.
GLONO: From my armchair critic point of view, the main differences between Game Theory and the Loud Family seem to be both a tougher, meatier sound and an almost world-weary “We’ll show you” attitude.
Scott: A meatier sound is probably a good description, for better and worse. I wouldn’t say I had a we’ll show you attitude.
GLONO: What did you deliberately try to do differently from Game Theory when the Loud Family started?
Scott: Speaking for myself, I was still just interested in feelings and pretty harmonies and interesting sounds as always, you know? I’ve probably never had a career strategy in my life, musically speaking.
GLONO: As far as initial public acceptance for the Loud Family, did your history with Game Theory make starting all over again easier to get recognition?
Scott: It made it harder, since the name recognition was gone, and people who did like Game Theory were starting to think of it as passé, I think. But all my life I’ve had a feeling that my music sounds vaguely out of date to people, and over the years I’ve come to realize that the elements I find most compelling, most people often consider annoying, and what anyone likes in large number, I consider incidental. Game Theory’s popularity had an aspect that felt to me like I’ve designed an automobile, and they manufacture it and it gets painted yellow because that’s the only color they have, and then I hear that people are saying “Wow! We love yellow cars!”
The Loud Family was signed to Alias Records (the same folks who brought us Archers Of Loaf), and in 1993 unleashed Plants and Birds and Rocks and Things (its title is a line in the song “A Horse With No Name” by America. Yeah, that song.). While I don’t want to give the impression that any of their other albums are weak, Plants… is a spectacular album, truly my favorite album of all time. On it, the boundaries of the genre “power pop” are exploded to create an amazing soundtrack to life’s movie; the album is truly cinematic in its scope. The songs are fully-formed and direct; the experimentation that made Lolita Nation such a glorious sprawl is back, except this time, the found sounds and amazing production tricks all weave together naturally. The Mitch Easter production is Technicolor amazing; you can actually hear the colors. Musical elements that logically shouldn’t make sense together blend to make naturally cohesive arrangements; guitar heroics from Zachary Smith somehow make perfect sense in the context of Scott’s brainy power pop. Best of all: Plants… rocks harder than Game Theory ever did.
GLONO: At what point during the making of Plants… did you realize that you were making a masterpiece?
Scott: Well, gee, thank you. To give you a really moronic but truthful answer, Robert Toren was taking some pictures of the sessions, and they came back and there were these shots of Paul and me deliberating at a grand piano that really reminded me of something like Brian doing Pet Sounds or John and Paul, and I thought, well, at least we have a picture or two that really look like people making a good album!
GLONO: Related to that, how cognizant are you while you are in the process of creating music of the relative level of quality in each work?
Scott: I’m typically panicking that it’s not coming together until very late in the process.
GLONO: Whose idea was it to meld Eddie Van Halen guitar solos with thunderous power-pop songs?
Scott: You might say it was Joe Becker’s idea. He was wanting a more conventionally competent guitarist in the band at that point. I was a little torn about Zach’s style. The indie world was so unanimous and certain in its dislike of that kind of playing that it wasn’t rational, it was mob mentality at least as mindless as the mentality that once put Van Halen on top of the charts. So I was trying to chart a course of greater reality to my ears than the grunge fascism of the day. But looking back, what I was doing wasn’t very well suited to a money-making endeavor, which is what a label deal is. I should have been more business-savvy. But I’m optimistic it will age better than people would have predicted.
Sure enough, critical reception at the time of its release was rapturous; public reception must not have matched the outpouring of love from the critics, because Plants…‘ follow up, 1994’s The Tape Of Only Linda found the Loud Family treading slightly safer ground. By no means is Tape Of Only Linda a disappointment on par with Game Theory’s Two Steps; the songs here are still wonderful. “Soul Drain” and “My Superior” establish a great one-two punch combo, leading off strong; “Baby Hard-To-Be-Around” has to be the wittiest obituary for a relationship quickly going south: “She goes as deep as Jacques Cousteau/It’s you who’s getting phony/She doesn’t crawl or say hello/She’s not your little pony”. It even boasts the Posies’ Ken Stringfellow as a collaborator. However, despite the fact that it is still a very strong album, one can’t help feel a sense of missed opportunities. Tape Of Only Linda marked the last time that Mitch Easter took production duties. After this tour, the Loud Family lost three of its members: Jozef Becker, Rob Poor, and Zachary Smith.
GLONO: What factors played into the major shift of personnel between Tape Of Only Linda and Interbabe? Was the group’s future ever in doubt at that point?
Scott: No group of mine has ever had anything like a certain future. The main factor was we just didn’t have a system for making money. We worked very inefficiently in the studio at that point, and we didn’t interest either the mainstream or the in crowd.
Incidentally, the real “Tape Of Only Linda” is a notorious bootleg created by roadies on one of Paul and Linda McCartney’s world tours in which only Linda’s backing vocals can be heard. In a sense, the tape is cruel, since Linda warbles enthusiastically out of tune. This somewhat nefarious tape caused many to question Scott’s motives for naming the second Loud Family album what he did; for Glorious Noise, he finally comes clean.
GLONO: What was the inspiration of the title The Tape Of Only Linda? To what degree does it refer to the Linda McCartney bootleg?
Scott: It did refer to that, but I was trying not to mention that in anything official in case it could hurt Linda’s feelings, which I know sounds a little retarded. I’m sure I never threatened to come to the attention of the McCartneys. On the surface it was yet another joke about my supposedly bad vocals, but on a more sinister level it had to do with the mechanics of designating people unacceptable, in a more focused study than the more general paranoia of Lolita Nation.
All of these circumstances could’ve killed a lesser man, or at least drummed him into submission… not Scott. He commenced recording the Loud Family’s third album, Interbabe Concern. Kenny Kessel had been a part of LoudFans, the online fan mailing list, where he found out that Rob Poor was leaving the band. Long story short, he got the job. Kenny brings a classy, impressive style of playing to Scott’s songs, and fit in wonderfully. Dawn Richardson, formerly of 4 Non Blondes, became the group’s new drummer. Ken Stringfellow returned to contribute, as did Veruca Salt’s Nina Gordon. Slowly, it appeared that the train was picking up speed again.
GLONO: How did Kenny Kessel come into the Loud Family?
Scott: God just had mercy on me, is all I can think. Both the Paul-Kenny-Joe line-up and the Alison-Kenny-Gil line-up were great, in very different ways. Kenny just knew about my stuff and heard about Rob leaving. I wish I’d been able to provide a more lucrative few years for him.
The resultant album, 1995’s Interbabe Concern, again found the Louds squarely in the camp of experimental. With Scott Miller producing the band this time around, the sound veered off into new, at times jagged sonic textures and unique sounds. On the Interbabe Concern tour, I witnessed Scott get the gnarliest, distorted electrified sound out of a 12-string acoustic guitar, something I’d never seen before. The songs skewed more towards the Lolita/Plants mode of experimentation; Scott seemed unconcerned with playing it safe. The album is all the richer for it.
GLONO: The albums produced with Mitch Easter have a certain sonic style to them; did you find producing yourself for Interbabe liberating or scary as hell?
Scott: The most positive thing for me about Interbabe was that I finally got to have my guitar audible in the mix, and have some attention paid to the sonics of it. But other than that, the production was probably inferior to Mitch’s in most ways. Well, actually, the drum sounds were pretty decent. It’s hard to answer that question, because I really produce with the intention of it turning out like a souped-up home recording, not a contender in the marketplace. You’re supposed to like the neat little sound ideas, not go “wow, this is what the kids will want to hear.” Yet a part of me desired that Mitch provide that.
GLONO: How much of the production of that album was a deliberate departure from Mitch’s production style, vs. “just the way it turned out”?
Scott: The circumstances were so utterly different that there was no comparison. Probably nine tenths of Interbabe was just me and some second person, Kenny, Paul, Ken Stringfellow, Nina Gordon, hanging out in my living room around this little mound of gear and just completely winging it. And then me spending hours cleaning things up and fixing tempos by flying samples around and doing hundreds of punch-ins.
GLONO: Was making that album any easier or harder than the usual process, assuming that there is a “usual” process?
Scott: I guess you could say it was one of the hardest, or at least the most laborious. It was so inorganic a process that its extreme unwieldiness became a sort of organic identity itself. It ended up having this really pleasant feel, I thought, almost by magic. Well, magic plus mastering by Bob Ludwig, for which I’ll be eternally grateful.
Then, as soon as the album had been released, notice got out that Dawn Richardson had abruptly quit the band. Dogged but by no means beaten, the word again went out on LoudFans that a drummer was needed for the tour. Salvation via cyberspace came in the form of one Ohioan named Mike Tittel, who was more than capable of making sure the beat went on. His drumming was aggressive enough to suit the angrier moments of the album, yet conveyed subtlety on the quieter cuts. During that tour, he seemed just as thrilled to be a part of the Loud Family as they were to have him there.
GLONO: What exactly happened with the whole “Dawn Richardson is out, Mike Tittel is in” situation?
Scott: What happened was she just up and quit between the album and the tour. I didn’t see it coming at all. Maybe we were just seeming so painfully less successful than 4 Non-Blondes she just smelled disaster, although we’d just come off opening a bunch of Aimee Mann shows at big venues, so it wasn’t like our career was at death’s door in any super-obvious way. She must have been not liking the music that much but just being polite about it. I was hoping Mike would join us permanently, but he ended up having too many ties to his home in Ohio to move to California.
Seemingly proving the truism that change is constant, the Loud Family again found itself changing personnel. Along with Mike Tittel returning home to Ohio, Paul Wieneke left the group amicably, desiring to be able to spend more time with his family. Once again, LoudFans to the rescue (sort of). Alison Faith-Levy at the time was a solo artist in the Bay Area, writing ethereal, arty pop songs. Some time before, she had deliberately found ways to introduce herself to Scott Miller. When she asked Scott about his vacancy for a keyboard player, the job was all but hers.
GLONO: How did Alison Faith-Levy come into the Loud Family? What did she bring to the band?
Scott: To me she brought in that classic 1967 to ’74 way of doing piano pop–rock that I’m all in favor of but can’t accomplish because I don’t play piano. She had the most sheer musicianly keyboard chops of anyone I’ve played with. And her vocals are pretty distinctive. More toward the soul end of things than other female singers I’ve had in the band. So that line-up had more of a Todd Rundgren, Cat Stevens, Rod Argent, Carole King approach, although with all of my usual peculiarities and ineptitudes of course.
Then came a very happy surprise for Game Theory fans; Gil Ray joined the Loud Family as its new drummer. The band seemed to come full circle. With Gil back on the drumstool AND a talented woman both playing keyboards and singing for the group, a lot of the classic Game Theory dynamic (as filtered through the tougher Loud Family filter) was re-introduced to the band.
GLONO: What circumstances brought Gil Ray into the Loud Family, and “back into” the band?
Scott: His back was too bad to play drums for a number of years, but he was able to play one track on Interbabe, “I’m Not Really a Spring,” and after that I think he got encouraged to start work his strength back to the point where he could play a set, which eventually he did. But tragically for him, I had to carry his drums most of the time.
Armed with a solid lineup that would carry the group to its end, the Loud Family went into the studio to record 1998’s Days For Days. Some longtime watchers of Scott Miller’s musical roads were a bit concerned that if history were to be accepted, the music would take a safer road than the jagged sounds and unshackled ambition present within the grooves of Interbabe Concern. We needn’t have worried; the Loud Family happily remained at the intersection of Powerpop Parkway and Ambitious Avenue. The classic, intelligent pop songs were, of course, still present; who else but the Loud Family can write a catchy-as-a-headcold-in-a-toolshed song named “Businessmen Are Okay”? Unique to this album were clever, untitled in-between song tracks which found ways to link disparate songs together while keeping things interesting. Yet again, the Loud Family delivered a winner.
GLONO: What was the meaning/motivation behind the untitled entr’acte tracks between the titled songs on Days For Days?
Scott: The untitled ones were all based on some kind of variation on the previous titled one. I wanted people to relate to an album as both simultaneously experimental and not experimental. In other words, not as a pose or a gesture, but like you’d relate to the whole personality of someone you’d known for a while, not just “this person is the schoolteacher,” “this person is the punk rocker.”
The tour behind Days For Days found them resurrecting classic Game Theory tracks like “Not Because You Can” and “Like A Girl Jesus”, as well as featuring a wonderful Alison Faith-Levy original that pre-existed her membership called “The Apprentice”; it later was performed by the Loud Family themselves on the next album. Gil Ray was in fine form, and the band’s sounds cohered wonderfully.
However, after taking stock of the fact that the band was nearing the end of its contract with Alias Records, the Loud Family decided to wrap it all up with 2000’s Attractive Nuisance. Yet again, experimentation ran throughout the album’s twelve tracks, yet the occasional lyrical note of finality could be found, as in these lines from “Motion of Ariel”: “I don’t know what the radio wants when the radio taunts/Won’t say where it’s going/Just that it’s our last chance not to be left behind…I don’t know what songs keep time/My little one/So I will sing to the motion of Ariel”. Yet at the same time, the album doesn’t make any grand goodbye statements; it simply delivers at the same high standards as the albums before it.
GLONO: At what point was it decided to wrap it all up and end the Loud Family?
Scott: It was the last album of our Alias deal. Alias had been pretty supportive to pick up all the options, but I don’t think there was ever any expectation they or anyone else would sign us to a new deal, because we were just getting more and more marginal
GLONO: How much of Attractive Nuisance was created with the knowledge that this would be the last? Knowing that it would be the last, what was done differently, if anything?
Scott: I was thinking of that as my last album as I wrote and recorded it, and I figured it was most likely the end of the band, although I’ve since done a couple of smaller scale shows with both Kenny and Alison.
Which brings us back to this DVD. Directed by Danny Plotnick, Live 2000 captures the band in multiple locations both onstage and off. The footage is low-fi, but expertly assembled. The performances are strong, and the camera instinctively knows who to follow; Gil Ray’s amazing drum turn in “Nice When I Want Something” is captured on film. The humor of the band is never forced; the fact that they genuinely seem to like each other comes through.
And that was that… sort of. Scott has performed the occasional solo show, and contributed co-writing and production to artists such as Belle Da Gama and Tris McCall. He also still regularly contributes a regular “Ask Scott” column on the band’s website. 125 Records has kept the Loud Family’s music alive by releasing both this DVD and the live album From Ritual To Romance, which was culled from the 1996 and 1998 tours. But Alias Records seems to be slipping off the radar; Loud Family records seem to be getting harder to procure. Get them while you can at Alias Records‘ website.
GLONO: Is Alias Records still in business? Are the Loud Family studio albums officially in print or out of print?
Scott: I think Alias might actually still be being run as a one or two person operation. I’m honestly not sure if our records are considered in or out of print.
GLONO: Looking back on your career, what are you proudest of? What, if anything, would you have changed, if you’d had the power to?
Scott: I have a pretty uniform reaction of my recordings being good for the most part, but with some maddening room for improvement that’s always different each time. Maybe I know the feeling I was trying to get across, and I blame the failure to do that on something irrational.
GLONO: Is this permanent? Are you officially “retired” from making new albums, forming new groups, touring outside the Bay Area and/or California? Any chance of future Scott Miller aggregations/albums/tours? What would it take for “more to come”?
Scott: I just don’t know. I still write a fair amount and I still like to play and sing. I do a solo show now and again. I just don’t see an obvious way of falling into a situation where I command the resources to do an album that would meet expectations. I was doing an album with Aimee Mann, but at this point I think that might be on permanent hold.
GLONO: What are Gil Ray, Kenny Kessel, Joe Becker, and Alison Faith-Levy doing these days? (I’ve located the whereabouts of Rob Poor and Zachary Smith, who are both senior members of a computer firm in Massachusetts.)
Scott: Gil doesn’t play drums actively anymore, but I understand he makes home tapes, which I haven’t heard any recent examples of. Kenny, Joe, and Alison all play music. Alison released a record shortly after Attractive Nuisance. I thought it was a great record. I would guess I’ll probably play with each of them again under some circumstances or other, if they’re not particularly clever about avoiding it.
GLONO: Finally, my wife wants me to ask you this question: if you were a color, which would you be, and why?
Scott: I take it you mean what color do I feel a mystical affinity to. I picked a wall paint color recently. It was a fairly bright red called “rhubarb.” Either this was my soul expressing its spiritual color, or it probably doesn’t have one, since my life is strangely low on color commitments.
Special thanks to Robert Toren for the use of the archival photos, to Sue Trowbridge of 125 Records and loudfamily.com, and to Scott Miller for answering all questions. All photos live in NYC were taken by the author; all other archival photos are courtesy of Robert Toren. You can download a bunch of mp3s from the Loud Family site.
6 thoughts on “Interview with Scott Miller of the Loud Family”
Congrats on interviewing your hero! Sounds like a wonderful experience. Thanks for sharing it with us.
Scott Miller is a musical genius; but sadly, a prophet without profits. Thanks for such a great interview. And Scott, if you happen to read this, THANK YOU for all the great records and hey, maybe a new one someday? Hell, I’d release it! I’d go into debt for you! :)
Thanx to glorious noise for keeping THE GREAT Scott Miller alive. Keep saying its an Elvis Costello-Big Star world… thanx again Scott…
I enjoyed the interview–Scott’s predictably intelligent responses balanced by Thomas’well-informed questions. I keep wondering, given the increasingly hard-to-find LF cd’s and the o-o-p GT ones, why SM doesn’t obtain the rights to re-issue them himself on-line? or through 125 Records?
They’d have a welcome audience and broaden the fan-base to those who, unlike me, haven’t been lucky enough to follow the band since I read a review in BAM about a Game Theory ep–in the same column where, further down, “Chronic Town” was critiqued.
To Scott who sparked the flame that has withstood much precipitation and still burns brightly. Thank you for years of creative inspiration.
And for what it’s worth, lo these many years later, my opinion of Big Shot Chronicles and Two Steps From The Middle Ages is much higher than it might have been!