|Pictured above: Drew Miller is an international playboy with loads of sax appeal.|
Never Nervous: Tell us how you got into music. Were you always interested or was there some inciting incident at some point?
Drew Miller: I first became interested in music via my parents record collection and their listening habits. Through them I was introduced to bands/artists like Hendrix, Rolling Stones, The Doors, The BOSS, Steely Dan, Sade, Led Zeppelin, Aretha, Marvin Gaye, Allman Brothers…the list could go on. I was presented with the opportunity to play an instrument in the 4th grade. I chose the saxophone and started taking lessons and practicing.
NN: How have you evolved as a musician from when you began?
DM: For a long time it was a really casual sort of activity. A solitary activity. Many hours playing etudes, scales and exercises designed to foster a technical proficiency. It takes a long time to even be able to get good sound on a saxophone. So much of it depends on your biology and how much you can control it. It's not like playing guitar or keyboard, where you can immediately get TONE. I started to get serious in high school. I had a great teacher named Curtis Essig who helped me find things I was passionate about. So from then on I really started to explore what it meant to be something other than an orchestral musician. I started buying jazz and what would become post-rock records and going to all ages shows. This was 96', so it was the Cherokee,Twice Told, Mercury Paw, Legion Halls and VA posts. I loved the energy of what was going on, but as a saxophonist I didn't really see where I could fit into it on the creative side. I ended pursuing a music degree in college and through a myriad of experiences, both good and bad I discovered what I really wanted to do, and the path that I wanted to travel as a musician.
"It takes a long time to even be able to get good sound on a saxophone. So much of it depends on your biology and how much you can control it. It's not like playing guitar or keyboard, where you can immediately get TONE."
NN: You play saxophone, right? I know it’s a horn, but I confuse a few of them (pardon my ignorance… seriously I feel dumb asking). Was it always a non-traditional instrument, or did it evolve into that? (editor's note: I meant to ask, "Did you always intend to play a non-traditional instrument?" As you can see, I beefed that question royally, but Miller's response was so awesome that it just had to stay.)
DM: The saxophone was created in 1840 by Adolphe Sax who sought to make a powerful, more vocal woodwind instrument. What he ended up with is really a cross between a woodwind and brass instrument. Early on it was used a lot in military bands and was treated as the bastard child in classical music settings. In the early 1900's new orleans musicians used the saxophone in what would become jazz and dixieland music. Over the years, visionaries continue to redefine what we should expect from such a versatile instrument. It is a monophonic instrument in most applications..and it is very difficult to accompany yourself. So for the most part the saxophone has remained an accompanying instrument.
NN: What is your musical resume? What was your first band, and what have you done since then?
DM: When I was in college I got to study with and play with some amazing musicians. I learned so much hanging with the older teaching assistants. A lot of my gigs in those days were pick up gigs, playing songs from the standard repertoire of jazz songs and such. It was mostly restaurant gigs… wallpaper music, or private events. I even got to tour Brazil for three weeks playing big band music.
When I got out of school I got recommended to play with the (in)famous Jerry Green who was and still is a soul singer, bandleader and club owner. I was pretty green myself…wet behind the ears. It was a huge learning experience for me. A lot of crazy shit happened the 9 months I managed to survive playing 9-330 on fri/sat nights! And I only got arrested once!
The first "REAL" band that I played in, one where we played original music, practiced a bunch, played shows, toured and actually tried to do something was Lucky Pineapple. I was brought in right as they were re-releasing "BUBBLE" and was a contributor from then until we disbanded about two years later. And through my relationship with JC in LP…I was asked to participate in the magic that is Another 7 Astronauts.
Since then I've played with Wanda Jackson and Spoon and have participated in some recordings with bands like with 23 String Band, Ladybirds, Wax Fang, Cheyenne Mize, Another 7 Astronauts.….and have played what feels like a million other gigs freelancing with cover bands, jazz bands, rock bands..soul bands. I'm involved in a lot of musical circles.
My main things these days are D'Arkestra, Junk Yard Dogs and A7A.
NN: I read that you studied jazz in college. How has a technical understanding of music impacted your collaboration with people that may not have the same background?
DM: The biggest thing about collaborating is the ability to exchange ideas, and those collaborative situations are often the most rewarding. Having technical understanding has just given me another way to communicate orally about what is happening aurally. The bandstand is the ultimate equalizer. Its all perspective.
NN: Do you prefer writing alone or collaboration? What’s your perfect scenario for composition and why?
DM: I like both. But as I have grown older and feel more comfortable with myself and what I am doing artistically, collaboration has been my preference. It can be challenging but in the end you know everyone is invested in what is going on. The key to co-creating is having a common goal. Imagine if for some reason Nick Cave and Riff Raff were handcuffed together and thrown into a studio in a weirdo SAW type situation…. I think Nick Cave would gnaw his arm off before releasing a song that he co-produced with RR… I could be wrong though.
"Imagine if for some reason Nick Cave and Riff Raff were handcuffed together and thrown into a studio in a weirdo SAW type situation…. I think Nick Cave would gnaw his arm off before releasing a song that he co-produced with RR… I could be wrong though."
When writing for D'Arkestra, the songs that seem to move fastest and end up strongest are brought to the group partially finished. This allows for everyone to have input on an actual coherent musical idea or expression, where the true magic happens in refining and adding to it. Trying to come up with something from scratch with 7 people is usually not productive and ends up sounding heady and forced.
NN: How did D’Arkestra form? How has it differentiated from your other projects and why?
DM: I was really inspired by the large ensemble format of Lucky Pineapple and when that was over I started writing songs that were horn heavy and heavily orchestrated. This was my first really big compositional project. Even though the early stuff was heavily arranged and employed some of the harmonic characteristics of jazz it was really leaning towards the rock end of the spectrum. The process was new to me as well because a lot of those songs started as bass riffs and there was a lot of odd meter and numerically odd structures. This was all a subconscious effect from playing all that crazy beautiful Lucky Pineapple music. Once I got some music together I got a band together. We've been at it roughly 3 years now and it has become an increasingly collaborative process between all of us.
NN: Why Midnight Vultures? What about that particular album merits special consideration?
DM: Well, we aren't playing the Album Midnight Vultures……I must clarify…we are performing AS "the Midnight Vultures" with Cheyenne Mize, Meg Samples and Mick Sullivan. We are playing songs from a bunch of different albums.
NN: Relative to that, how important is it to cover a song (or album) exactly as is? Or should it be different? What value is in either and why?
DM: Both approaches have value. In this instance we wanted to get close to the recorded album versions. Some of the sounds are hard to match but we are getting close! If I were to cover a song for an album I would try and put my juju on it for sure.
NN: What did you think about Beck and Kanye West at the Grammy’s? For that matter, what do you think about award’s shows as a whole?
DM: I feel like it's really hard to know exactly what is going on. At that level of the biz its all a big facade…a put on. So what is real? The only reality is that Dr. Luke and Max Martin and whoever else ghost writes all this shit make so much money selling misogyny, consumerism,stereotypes and so many other destructive ideas and values. Does Kanye really think Beck didn't deserve the Grammy or was he trying to get his big head on TV and get everybody to keep talking about him. I'm glad Beck got some recognition. Morning Phase is such a great sounding record.
"I feel like it's really hard to know exactly what is going on. At that level of the biz its all a big facade…a put on. So what is real? The only reality is that Dr. Luke and Max Martin and whoever else ghost writes all this shit make so much money selling misogyny, consumerism,stereotypes and so many other destructive ideas and values."
NN: What videogame have you never beaten that you wish you could? Have you ever played a game so frustrating you wanted to throw the controller? I’m looking at you Mega Man.
DM: The one that sticks out in my memory is Ninja Gaiden. I think I did eventually beat it, but it took a long, long time. This of course was 89' or 91', the age before internet and all the help from online discussion or accessible cheat codes. We did have Nintendo magazine though.
NN: Is there a God? If so, what does that entity look like in your mind? If not, why?
DM: I would imagine that she looks like Halle Berry playing storm in the X-Men movies.
NN: What are your non-musical interests lately and why? What are you reading, watching, eating, or drinking that’s most getting your skis shined up, and why?
DM: My ongoing non-musical interests are bourbon, Steigle Raddlers + tequila……Also I've been doing a lot of collage lately. There's something about telling a story with images that has grabbed me.
Here are some stop motion collages that I have made as videos for D'Arkestra:
NN: What have you been listening to lately and why?
DM: I recently bought a live Samba record from 75' carnival and a non-descript Steel drum record that have been on heavy rotation. The energy and rhythms just make me feel good. It is also something different for my ears, and that is really refreshing. I've also been on a Beck binge in preparation for our show.