Q&A: Rhett Miller of Old 97's on His Self-Titled Solo Album

​Long the handsome face of alt-country luminaries the Old '97s, Rhett Miller has also released four excellent solo albums, including one he made in high school. His latest is last June's self-titled outing, which betrays scattered moments of twang but otherwise proceeds from offbeat guitar-pop to robust rock. On the phone from his adopted home in the Hudson Valley area of New York, the 39-year-old singer/songwriter outlined the album's unlikely results.

Q&A: Rhett Miller of Old 97's on His Self-Titled Solo Album

OC Weekly (Doug Wallen): Your latest album is less alt-country and more pop/rock.

Rhett Miller: Well, it's a product of the Old 97's taking the songs that are more in that vein, because they work better with that band. So the songs that are left over are the ones the band turns down, which are more quirky or weird or poppy.

But you don't feel like you're working with castaways?

No. There are castaways, beyond the solo records and the 97's records. There are songs that don't make the cut. A lot of songs, in fact. I feel like I wouldn't make a record if there weren't enough to populate it, at least to my taste. But I had to stop thinking about it that way, because the 97's are so specific. It's not like they take what I think are the best songs; they just take the songs that they feel like they can play well. That's why I did a solo record to begin with, because there were songs that I liked that weren't getting released. It was pretty frustrating until I got to do that.

Was making this album self-titled a way to reintroduce yourself?

Yeah. I can't believe I had never done it before. I feel like I missed an opportunity; I could have done on the first record I made in high school. I figured if I was ever going to do it, this felt like the record that should be eponymous.

The album feels polished and light at first but gets gradually fuller and heavier.

"[Producer] Salim [Nourallah] and I worked together. Maybe if I'd had my druthers, I would have opened with "Like Love," but he pushed me to open with "Nobody Says I Love You Anymore." It's such a weird song. It's like 3/4 time with a waltz, with huge John Bonham kind of drums on it. And lyrically it's a strange, dark sentiment, so I think it makes sense to open the record with it. It's maybe not the safe, obvious choice, but I feel like it was the right choice because it really makes a statement."

It's often quite upbeat musically, but lyrically it's a fairly dark record.

That's always been the idea behind what I do. Because I know a lot of the music I really love and listen to a lot is depressing. It sounds sad, and the lyrical content is sad, so that's what I'm drawn to. But then when I play in front of people, I have this really strong desire to make them happy, to let them have fun. I don't know if it's the entertainer in me, but I can't force people to sit there and listen to sad songs that sound sad. It's just too much for me, even though some of my favorite music is like that. Like the Pernice Brothers, for instance. I just can't do it. If I'm going to have a sad lyric, it has to be set to music that's uplifting or upbeat or kind of fun-sounding. But typically if I write a happy song, then it's okay if it sounds sad. (Laughs) It has to be one or the other.

Click to read Rhett Miller feature running in OC Weekly on newsstands now.

Rhett Miller and the Serial Lady Killers with Leslie & the Badgers at Galaxy Theatre, 3503 S. Harbor Blvd., Santa Ana, (714) 957-0600; www.galaxytheatre.com. Thurs. (Feb. 4), 8 p.m. $18.


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