Covering the Country Music scene in Scotland & N/Ireland
     
The BIG Interview with John Miller
John Millar probably ix the most talked about artist at the moment, his latest CD 'Popping Pills' is getting rave reviews upp and down the Country! We decided that we just had to find out more about this unassuming guy, so lain and Brigitte went to have a chat with him.' Thanks for your time John!

Q: I first heard you with Radio Sweethearts opening for Dale Watson in King Tuts. That must have been around 1996 when your New Memories CD was released. When did you first start performing and writing?
JM: I've always been performing. Iused to stand on the dinner table as a kid and sing Beatles songs into a dolly peg microphone, and I used to treat my friends to my Elvis impersonation at the local swing park. I suppose I first started dabbling in writing at about the age of 13 but not anything serious until I joined my first band when I was 16. I actually only played for a couple of years and left the music business at 18. Although I dabbled very infrequently after that, it was another 10 years before I really started writing and performing again, around the time we founded the Sweethearts which would be 1992

Q: How did you first get interested in Country Music?
JM: I grew up with Country, rny parents had lots of Country albums. It was the music that most appealed to me as a kid. especially Hank Williams, and that appeal has lasted right up to the present day. When I was in my teenage pop band I used to warm up at the soundcheck by singing Hank songs. I've always loved other music; The Beatles, The Clash. The Smiths, and loads more, but Country is where my heart lies.

Q: Radio Sweethearts next album Lonesome Blue came out in 2000, mostly John Miller originals (some co-written with Frank Mac-Donald ); my favourite track off this is Take Me Back To San Francisco, where did the idea for this song come from?
JM: I have been a frequent visitor to San Francisco (though not as frequent as I'd like); My wife's sister lives there. I just fell in love with the city the first lime I saw it and still think it's probably one of the most beautiful cities in America. When I wrote this song I had just come back from a visit there and I was thinking about what a great time I'd had. I was also reading about Death Row prisoners in the Amnesty International maga/ine. which I gel delivered, and it occurred to me that if I were on Death Row. given the choice, that's where I'd like to go. It's also possible that I'd been listening to the Junior Brown version of Hoagy Carmichael's "Hong Kong Blues" which contains the line "I need somebody to carry me home to San Francisco and bury my body there".

Q: Which is your favourite song off Lonesome Blue? And the story behind it?
JM: Oh! This is a difficult one. I like "Let Me Be Your Man Tonight". I just Ihink it's a little cheeky, a little naughty and it's always been a great live track, but my favourite song on the CD really has to be "Heart On The Line". Although the character in the song hasn't quite reached that stage yet this song was kind of inspired by a friend of mine who tragically killed herself by slepping in front of a train. I take a little comfort from the fact that in the song at least, 'that train just didn't come'.

Q: Now we have your solo album Popping Pills, all John Miller originals.
JM: Yes. I'd originally planned to put a couple of obscure cover versions on the CD. One was a song called "Fealin' Low" by Ernie Chaffin which is an old Sun Record and the other was, I think, a Louvin Brothers song. I then changed my mind when I realised that Ihad more than enough songs of my own to fill an album. It also saved the problem of all the legal dealings required to get permission lo release other people's songs. I suppose when you're in charge of producing your own album you get the freedom lo change your mind as often as you want wilh-out having to justify your decision to anyone.

Q: We are back on death row again with Taking The Long Walk To Freedom, great feeling in this track. Which tracks are your favourites off the CD?
JM: It changes from week to week but at the moment I'd say my favourites are "Don't Forget To Tell Him", "Old Country Songs", "This Pain Inside" and "Down Mexico Way".

Q: The production and musicians on Popping Pills are excellent, the musicians are kept subtly in the background, never overplaying their part leaving your voice to the fore, didyoupro-duce the album? And who is playing on it?
JM: I was what you might call executive producer, but the main production was a joint effort between my good friend David Scott (of The Pearlfishers) and myself. David also engineered it, and he and I play most of the music. I had the musical arrangements pretty much in place before I went into the studio, but David was there to help with the technical side and also pitch in ideas I hadn't thought about....to put the icing on the cake as it were.
The other players involved include Frank Macdonald and Malcolm McMaster from 'Radio Sweethearts' on drums and pedal steel. Banjo/ Dobro player Phil Sakerski and Mandolin player Alisdair Kennedy from bluegrass band 'The Moonshiners', and Scotland based New York country singer 'Kathy Slewart'.My good friend and number one Sweethearts fan Fraser Reid also plays guitar and The Lazy Ranch Hands do vocals on one song.

Q: Is being a UK songwriter a disadvantage, how hard is it for a British artist to get recognition in UK.
JM: You don't want to get me started on that subject. You do!! OK then. Being a UK song-writer or act isn't a disadvantage, in general, but being a UK 'COUNTRY' act is different. I could probably make a living on the club circuit.... if I wanted to go down that road, but in my experience the music I play, the music I write, is not what the clubbers want to hear. At a grass roots level it doesn't make a hell of a lot of difference, an act can still release records and tour and build up an audience for whatever they do. The difference comes in the attitude of the media, which a lot of people rely on as their only source of information. There is a lot of support for what I do, but, in general, thc media have a hard time accepting thai a British act can make an album every bit as good, and sometimes better, than the Americans. So why do the major Country shows cotlinue lo play mediocre Nashville drivel over home grown music?
I have been a good friend of Dale Watson for many years and have often discussed the fact that we both grew up listening to the same records and soaking in Ihe same influences, so why does that make my music any less valid ;
than his'.' Because he's from Texas'? The strange thing is that the people who have theleast problems with my music seem to he the Americans. I can show you numerous clippings from the US press praising my music. The big
Country shows would probably argue that they are giving ihe people what they want, but how can they know, when they don't give them a choice by Iettling them know there is other music out there.

Q: Are you getting any interest from VSA on Popping Pills CD?
JM: At the moment "Popping Pills" is not available in the USA, but we are planning on trying to secure a US release in the near future. The CD has had some airplay in America, I believe Laura Canlrell has played tracks on her "Radio Thrift Shop" show on WFMU, New York.

Q: Who do you listen to when you relax?
JM: I have varied tastes in music. Ilisten to all sons of things from Classical to The Chemical Brothers. Mostly. I confess, I listen to old Country stuff, my current favourites being Wynn Stewart and a guy called Jimmy Logsdon. If I fancy some modem stuff I find it very hard to get past the early Dale Watson albums, his first Hightone CD. "Cheating Heart Attack", is a classic album and belongs in any self respecting Country fan's collection. I also like the country side of Robbie Fulks from Chicago (the city not the band).

Q: Are you still performing with Radio Sweethearts alongside your solo career?
JM: Yes. of course! We have just been in the studio together doing overdubs on some unre-leascd Jerry Lee Lewis recordings for a company in America. We are also planning a new Sweethearts album in the near future, probably next year. Once that album is out, things might change but, for now. we don't do as much live work as we used to as we all have other commitments, though we still like to play the occasional show.

Q: I assume you have a lot of songs hidden away. How do you choose the ones you want to use for your CD and which to use for your gigs?
JM: Yes. I do have a few songs hidden away, and, believe me. there are some that are best kept hidden. As for choosing for a CD. I mostly try to write new songs, if I can, and supplement them with some of the better ones on file. I already have 14 songs for my next CD though that list will probably, no, definitely change as I write more. On the gig front. I tend to slick mostly to the songs I've already recorded, although, saying that, we are doing a new song in the set just now called "Butt Out" which is almost a certainty for the next record. If it's not a short support slot ie.. if I have time. I generally try to supplement the live act by singing a few of my personal favourites, some obscure covers and some better known ones. I don't pander to current trends. I just do songs I like to sing, mainly old ones really. 40s or 50s stuff.

Q: What's been the highlight of your career so far?
JM: What, apart from meeting you guys'.' I suppose there's been a few; In terms of what the readers would term highlights. I suppose playing to sold out houses at The Royal Concert Hall (with The Mavericks) and The Barrowland (Frankie Miller Tribute) were pretty big. Getting that first record released, that first radio and TV appearance, meeting and becoming friends with people like Dale Watson. SIaid Cleaves and Laura Cantrell. John Peel being in my house, all of these were big things for me. but I honestly have to say. on a personal level, the biggest highlight of my career was meeting Frank Macdonald (Radio Sweethearts drummer and owner of Shoeshine Records). He's not only been a
great friend, but, without his guidance and influence, I wouldn't be here three albums later, being interviewed for this, or any other, magazine.

Q: What do you think the future holds?
JM: I think the future holds major success and great riches for me (Ha! Ha!). Aye right! at my age and with the type of music I play, that's seriously not going to happen. Quite honestly, I really think my future holds more of the same. I'd like to keep making records and performing and. I suppose, at some point I'd like to he able to have enough recognition (and money) lo make it a full lime career.

Q: Where can we get more information on John Miller?
JM: The best place to look would probably be my website which is www.iohnmillermiusic.com.
© John miller music/CMDS (Scotland) 2002

This interview appeared in December 2002/January 2003 Countrv Music & Dance in Scotland (Ireland)
© 2003 Country Music & Dance Scotland