How Rhett Miller Balanced an Old 97's Christmas Album & Deeply Personal Solo LP

How Rhett Miller Balanced an Old 97's Christmas Album & Deeply Personal Solo LP


A lead singer releasing a solo album may kill many bands, however that's not the case with Rhett Miller and the Old 97's. In truth, Miller says that his persevering with solo profession has helped the Old 97's keep collectively for 25 years.

They'll have fun that accomplishment with two new releases on ATO this month — Miller's eighth solo album, The Messenger, launched Nov. 9, and the Old 97's' first Christmas launch, Love the Holidays, out Friday (Nov. 16). They'll help the albums with a tour starting Nov. 28 in Seattle with Miller doing double responsibility, opening solo and headlining with the band.

As if that wasn't sufficient on his plate, Miller additionally has his first e book coming out, No More Poems! — a collaboration with artist Dan Santat — due March 5 from Little Brown Books For Young Readers. While on the highway, Miller obtained suggestions from his 15-year-old son and 12-year-old daughter on speakerphone or FaceTime. "The thought wasn't that I used to be attempting to impress them," he says. "The thought was I used to be writing these poems for eventual publication and I wanted their critique and I needed them to be as harsh as doable and actually let me have it and it was so enjoyable."

Reached by cellphone in the course of a solo tour in late October en path to Houston, Miller — who turned 48 in September — defined how these tasks occurred to return collectively over the course of the final yr.

The e book, Miller explains, has been within the works for the previous few years. "Books take a extremely very long time, particularly when you may have an illustrator on board," he says. As for the albums, "I used to be making them each in the course of the first few months of this yr," he explains. "And it's humorous, too, as a result of they're simply very completely different data. The Christmas report is simply so comfortable and type of hopeful and the solo report is extra sophisticated."

On that finish, Miller offers with private demons from his previous on The Messenger in songs resembling "Total Disaster," "I Used to Write in Notebooks" and "Permanent Damage," together with a suicide try in his teenagers. The possibility to show to the Christmas undertaking supplied some aid. "As I used to be writing songs for The Messenger I saved considering I wanted to move my head to an area that was happier," he says. "I used to be bouncing backwards and forwards between the 2 with a purpose to type of give myself a break from the darkness of The Messenger. Although that does have moments of hope on it, it additionally grapples with numerous heavy stuff, whereas that Christmas report is just about sweet canes all through."

Underneath that vacation cheer, although, Miller notes that there’s some darkness. "The lie of Santa Claus is type of a parallel lie that we're informed all through our youth — that you may be something and do something, and that happiness is our birthright," Miller says. "Eventually you determine that being a human being is admittedly exhausting. Sometimes it's exhausting to persuade your self to go on. But once you're a child, that isn't ever defined to you or offered to you as a extremely regular factor that occurs to all of us."

At the age of 14, Miller says he made a "critical try" at suicide. "I made a decision I didn't wish to proceed residing," he recollects. He ingested drugs together with toxic liquids. "I used to be fortunate as a result of the mixture – the Valium I took slowed my coronary heart charge down. The lamp oil I drank coated the within of my abdomen. It was all these items that will have killed me [separately], however the mixture of them and the very fact I used to be discovered by a stranger on the highway…I survived it."

Since then, Miller has been in remedy, which is one thing he believes in, however had beforehand shied away from talking about publicly. "It's embarrassing in numerous methods," he says. "Suicide and psychological well being is so stigmatized." He was additionally involved that some would possibly accuse him of exploiting his suicide story. Yet Miller had second ideas. "I spotted it was good for it not solely to be a part of the dialog to attempt to de-stigmatize psychological well being [problems] and suicidal ideation, but additionally it's good for me to not beat myself up about it and really feel prefer it's one thing I’ve to cover or be ashamed of."

Musically, as nicely, the 2 albums supplied diversified approaches for Miller. While Love the Holidays paired him with the acquainted backing of his long-time bandmates, he took himself out of his consolation zone with The Messenger, hooking up with producer/musician Sam Cohen, who performed guitars, piano, organ and drums together with bassist Brian Betancourt and drummer Ray Rizzo.

"He's a extremely sensible instrumentalist and producer, who in numerous methods jogs my memory numerous Jon Brion," Miller says of Cohen. "He likes to work shortly, he type of sees the structure of the music because it's being made." To hold issues contemporary and spontaneous, Betancourt and Rizzo hadn't beforehand performed collectively. "The 4 of us would arrange and simply report reside off the ground actually shortly," Miller says. "I believe there's a propulsiveness to the sound. It's comfortable and ebullient and it strikes quite a bit. It's a special sounding report than something I've ever made. It's actually full of life sounding and I believe that helps quite a bit, as a result of a number of the themes on the report are actually heavy." The album opener and first single, "Total Disaster," is an ideal instance, as Miller lists his persona flaws over an irresistible beat and a few tasteful guitar riffs.

Love the Holidays affords the flipside. Produced and engineered by John Pedigo in Dallas again in April and May, when it was "sizzling as hell," entering into the Christmas spirit within the spring proved to be a little bit of a problem. "When I got here to the blokes with the thought to do the Christmas report, it was January," Miller says. "We had all simply come by the vacation season and the very last thing any of us needed to consider was Christmas music, however I knew if we needed to make it and get it out for this yr that all of it needed to occur fairly shortly, so I used to be writing Christmas songs all by January, February, March and into April. It was actually bizarre."

Still, Miller, his Old 97's bandmates – bassist/vocalist Murry Hammond, guitarist Ken Bethea and drummer Philip Peeples – and some co-writers managed to search out the vacation spirit. Highlights on the album embrace "Rudolph Is Blue," written by Miller and Dan Bern in addition to the title monitor, co-written with Kevin Russell of the Gourds. The album additionally contains covers of such seasonal favorites as "Auld Lang Syne" and "Blue Christmas."

"I believe Christmas music is inherently weird," Miller says. "It's type of a funhouse time of season the place everyone pretends to be comfortable, however there's at all times this type of effervescent unhappiness about all the pieces. We mislead our youngsters about Santa Claus. There's a sure creepiness to the Christmas factor that I attempted to keep away from when writing the songs, nevertheless it was at all times type of current in my thoughts."

As for balancing his solo profession with the band, Miller says they've managed to discover a comfortable medium. "I wouldn't presume to talk for them, however my sense is that they've achieved a degree of consolation with me doing solo data," Miller says. "There was a time when it was extra traumatic with me doing solo data as a result of there was a notion inside our fanbase that I used to be attempting to break-up the band or that we wouldn't survive the solo data."

Around 1999, Miller realized that he was ending up with numerous high quality materials that didn't make the Old 97's albums. "I knew that I used to be going to make solo albums for the band to work," he says. "Otherwise, I used to be going to really feel an excessive amount of resentment in the direction of them for stifling my creativity. I believe they admire me having the solo profession as an outlet that enables me to remain a full member of the band and never attempt to impose some dictatorship on them, which actually wouldn't work anyway."

On the upcoming tour, the band has even agreed to play "Total Disaster" from The Messenger in the course of the band's set. "I attempted to get them to report that tune on [the band's 2017 album] Graveyard Whistling they usually weren't ." Yet when the band heard Miller's accomplished solo model, they’d some regrets. "They all stated, 'Why didn't we try this on our report?' And I stated, 'Because you guys hated it,' nevertheless it labored out."

Old 97's/Rhett Miller tour dates


28 – Seattle, WA – The Neptune w/Rhett Miller solo

29 – Portland, OR – Wonder Ballroom w/Rhett Miller solo

30 – San Francisco, CA – The Fillmore w/Rhett Miller solo


1 – Los Angeles, CA – The Troubadour w/Rhett Miller solo

2 – Solana Beach, CA – The Belly Up w/Rhett Miller solo

6 – Richmond, VA – The National w/Rhett Miller solo

7 – Philadelphia, PA – TLA w/Rhett Miller solo

eight – Baltimore, MD – Rams Head Live! w/Rhett Miller solo

9 – Cambridge, MA – The Sinclair w/Rhett Miller solo

13 – Asbury Park, NJ – The Wonder Bar w/Rhett Miller solo

14 – New York, NY – Irving Plaza w/Rhett Miller solo

15 – Pittsburgh, PA – Mr Smalls w/Rhett Miller solo

29 – Dallas, TX – Statler Ballroom w/Rhett Miller solo