The Loud Family’s Scott Miller: Better than Grease II

Scott MillerBack in 2000, the Loud Family released what appeared to be their final album, Attractive Nuisance. Even though the group’s leader, Scott Miller, told Glorious Noise that he was leaving the door open to further activity, years went by when it seemed that Scott was more than happy to start a family and focus on his other career as a database programmer in the Bay Area.

Then in 2004, it was announced that he was collaborating with Sacramento pop eccentric Anton Barbeau. The result of that odd heritage, What If It Works?, was just released by 125 Records in mid-July. The record contains sounds and songs which long-time Loud fans will be able to recognize, yet somehow, against the odds, different (MP3s: “Rocks Off,” “Flow Thee Water”). You could always tell that each prior Loud Family record was planned to the nth degree; this one, even though it is still thorough in its soundcraft, also gives the impression that the sessions for it could have been more relaxed, less fussed-over. Scott graciously answered my questions on what got him to break his sabbatical, and what the future holds for Scott, Anton, and the Loud Family.

Glorious Noise: During your hiatus from music, was there ever the possibility in your mind that you would never make music again? If so, what was the ratio of “relief-that-it’s-over” to “regret-that-it’s-over”?

Scott Miller: Oh, the needle was pegging hard into relief-that-it’s-over. Everything depressing about the music business was fresh in my mind—fussing over legal stuff all the time, having to promote yourself to people who aren’t interested. It could no longer be pretended that this was a business venture. I thought that last Loud Family album was very good, and I didn’t have much company in that opinion.

GLONO: What was the catalyst for What If It Works?

SM: Anton reminded me recently that it was his idea, which it was. He and Sue and Joe of 125 Records got it going. It was initially supposed to be an almost zero effort e.p., and it grew into a full effort album that took a couple of years. Another catalyst was I got and learned ProTools, which changed the whole picture of the resources I had access to. In 2006 I’m no longer begging someone for five hours of studio time somewhere for one shot at doing a mix on unfamiliar equipment.

GLONO: How long have you known Anton Barbeau?

SM: My one night playing the Fillmore was with Game Theory as the middle act before Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians in 1988, and my memory is that Anton was there and had Joe Becker give me a tape, which was called “Back to Balmain,” and when I listened to it I knew right away he had this spark. By which I guess I mean the ability to write hooks I like, which is a talent God knows how marginal.

GLONO: How long had you two been hankering for a larger collaboration of this level? (I’m aware that he guested on “Don’t Respond, She Can Tell”.)

SM: You know, I distinctly remember wanting to get him in Game Theory after we tried having Gil play keyboards, then Gil burned out on that. But I figured Anton wouldn’t want to not be the front person in a band.

GLONO: What do you feel that Anton brings to a Loud Family song, and conversely, what does Scott Miller bring to an Anton Barbeau song?

SM: What I bring is probably experience producing, including playing guitar in a production sort of way. Anton can do everything I can do, I’ve just done some things a hundred times that he’s only done a few times. He brings keyboard ability for sure, and vocal ability, and left-field ideas like crazy synthesizer parts. And it’s funny, I was the fussy editor when it came to anything to do with songs or recording, and he was the real stickler for any graphic or photo theme.

GLONO: Initially, this project during its pre-release stages was billed as an Anton & Scott album; at what point was the decision made to christen it with the Loud Family moniker?

SM: That was the label—Sue and Joe. There’s this other artist named Scott Miller, and they didn’t want the confusion of ending up in the wrong bins and maybe getting accounting mixed up, I don’t know. I think it was mildly irritating to all the actual Loud Family members including me, but everyone’s very friendly with Sue and Joe, and supportive of the project, so we went along. I decided to look at it as an excuse to get some old friends in the studio with me for cameos.

GLONO: The lyrics in “Total Mass Destruction” suggest that you seem a bit dubious at the chances of relative wealth by being in a band at the indie level.

SM: Honestly, I wasn’t mentally applying those lines to my own rock band or bands, just the fact of these vastly greater numbers of people looking to be entertainers than there could ever be an actual market for. I’m thinking about human nature, not calling attention to my own biographical details.

GLONO: Lyrically, there seems to be at least one instance where the lyrics to Anton’s “What If It Works?” seem to be almost a direct answer to the guardedly realistic approach towards fame and fortune via music which you take in “Total Mass Destruction”. It almost seems like two kids passing notes in study hall; is that a true impression, or just a happy side effect?

SM: You know, in my mind I was arranging the order of the songs and working my own portion of the lyrics so that they told that kind of a story, working out issues, but I can pretty much guarantee that Anton didn’t intentionally play along at all. We had a lot of concept discussions, and he kept saying things like, “Oh, is that the theme?” But then Anton has this sort of John Lennon In His Own Write communication style, and it’s not always crystal clear to me when he’s kidding.

GLONO: Finally, what are your intentions with music beyond this album? Do you ever see resurrecting a touring version of the Loud Family as a possibility?

SM: Anton and I might do a week back east later this year, and maybe some west coast shows. I don’t know who else will be involved. As for future music, I have some songs for a solo album, none of them actually finished, but I don’t know if it’s in the cards to do that. That would be more work than a collaboration. I might do something with this guy Stephane I’ve been working with in France. I’d love to finish the thing with Aimee Mann, maybe in altered form. We still talk about it when we get together. The solo album may depend on how this one with Anton sells. It seems like it’s showing signs of doing sort of okay, but the visibility of the Amazon charts is pretty terrifying. You think you’re in a good selling range, then you look and find out that your new, current release is doing almost as well as Grease II.

So again, Scott leaves the door open for further music. And that can’t be bad at all now, can it? It’s great to have the Loud Family back, and a lot of Loud fans will more than likely want to find more Anton Barbeau music. Here’s hoping the experience encourages the creation of more Loud Family records sooner than six years apart!

Sadly, at press time the Grease II soundtrack had an Amazon Sales Rank of #1,483 in Music, while What If It Works? lagged behind at #54,433. Hopefully, this disturbing discrepancy will not hinder the completion of Scott’s solo album and other projects.

Glorious Noise previously featured an exhaustive, career-spanning interview with Scott Miller. You can download tons of mp3s from the Loud Family site.

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