In the wake of rising gas prices and uneven economical times, singer/songwriter Scott Miller is ditching the typical tour van or luxury tour bus model in favor of his third Amtrak train tour. The country-tinged folk rocker finds the means of travel more conducive to his grassroots attitude, while also spreading awareness for a railway system that continues facing government cutbacks and a looming uncertainty. But his latest round of tour dates in support of his latest album Citation (Sugar Hill Records) will go beyond an educational message to encompass a guitar slinging celebration of his thought provoking tunes. The satire streaked troubadour recently caught up with Livewire's Andy Argyrakis to talk about his travels, current projects, politics, plus a look at the current and classic country movements.
Livewire: Let's start by talking a little bit about your current record Citation. Are there any particular lyrical or musical themes that seem to run throughout the disc?
Miller: I almost called this record Heroes. The producer Jim Dickinson and I talked about that during the mixing of it- I guess because most of these were written and recorded on the fly and I finally had a chance to look back at what we had done. Guys like Sam Houston- the song "Say Ho"- or common servicemen like Jim Offat- the song "The Only Road"- are also heroes to me. The first song contains a reference to Bruce Springsteen, a hero of mine as well. Jim Dickinson, who produced Citation is a hero of mine and a hero to many "garage bands" of the past and present. I think its good to have heroes, and I hate that in today's 24-hour news cycle they find enough time to tear them down. Humans need to strive for something: If your not gonna make your dreams epic, why bother to dream anything at all? Somebody wrote that...
Livewire: Where on the country/roots rock plane would you like to be classified?
Miller: Nobody likes to be classified, but I guess if you held a gun to my head I'd say folk. I use the "G" chord a lot.
Livewire: What is your opinion of the modern country movement including its positives and negatives?
Miller: If you mean by "movement" that some of this crap is gonna get out of our system and move on down the pipe then I'm all for it. There's a positive and a negative for you. I miss country when it was about good songs and stories. Now its like some advertisement for a style of life that none of them have lived and I doubt whether it even exists anymore.
Livewire: Who are some of your all time favorite classic country artists?
Miller: Roger Miller is my all time favorite writer, singer, player, performer, etc. but I like anybody who sings a good song. Especially when the singer meets the song, which is what happens to me in country music more than any genre, but it can happen in other styles as well. Frank Sinatra's "One More for the Road" is as good as Hank Williams' "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry." I like all the ones everybody else likes. And why not? George Jones? Porter Wagner? Louvin Brother's? Don Gibson? Who can beat 'em? Well, Patsy Cline, Merle Haggard, Johnny Paycheck, etc.
Livewire: How did you get hooked up with Sugar Hill Records?
Miller: RS Field helped me record four songs for what was going to be the Thus Always to Tyrants CD back in 2000 and I shopped it around. Out of the offers, the folks at Sugar Hill were such a natural fit. They're good people, an independent and respected label and they still like music. You especially don't find the latter with many labels.
Livewire: What's your take on being a label mate with Dolly Parton and who are some of your favorite artists with the company?
Miller: Who is this Dolly Parton you're talking about? Is she famous? Hands down, my favorite artist on Sugar Hill's roster- a very fine list I might add- is Doc Watson. No contest.
Livewire: How did you originally get hooked up with Amtrak?
Miller: I'd already written the song "Amtrak Crescent" and thought out loud one day that would be a fun way to tour. So I wrote a letter to the department of transportation saying just that and they put me in touch with Amtrak who were extremely helpful and really behind the idea. So the answer to your question is "shameless self promotion."
Livewire: What social and political issues are on your mind relating to this particular outing?
Miller: It might be time for a play off system in college football. I have to admit I have not been in support of it in the past and have preached staying the course with the bowl system, but it just dawned on me that its not working so something needs to be done. I know that's controversial, but it's time people in this country start saying what they think and try to think forward. It's also time some leaders emerge and lead us to a balanced and fair system, where tough conferences like the SEC are recognized, but kids still get an education. I'm so fed up with Democrats and Republicans and the House and the Senate and the media and yes, the executive branch. I feel like they all let America down by its level of discourse and discussion and its attitude. All of 'em! Throw them all out and start anew is what I'm thinking. I'm gonna miss the old bowl games, but the time has come for a new approach.
Livewire: Between your tours and last year's Arlo Guthrie benefit trek, it appears artists traveling by train is becoming a trend once again. Do you feel this will increase in time or are they just under specific circumstances?
Miller: I'm always just far enough ahead of the curve to be copied, but never far enough ahead to make any money at it... I really love the idea of somebody else driving and the rhythmic rhyming sound of the term "bar car." If we can get a decent rail system back in this country, I think even people who are not traveling musicians would agree.
Livewire: What can fans expect from the shows themselves?
Miller: Well I'm solo this time, so it's me and a guitar. Fans should expect lots of lasers and dancing moves.
Livewire: Is there any one particular city you're looking forward to on the trip?
Miller: I love me some Chicago. If I had to live in a big city that would be the one for me. I'll see some old friends in D.C., but have family there, so of course I charge them double at the door. I've never had a bad time in NYC although they do take all your money somehow. I didn't spend enough time on the road last year and hope to do more in '07. The road is like a train, its hard to get moving, but once you do its as natural as any other thing.
Livewire: What's coming down the pipeline from you project wise in the New Year?
Miller: We're recording a live album with the band in a couple of weeks to be released in April I'm calling Reconstruction. I just recorded a song for a tribute CD for the author Larry Brown that will come out hopefully with the celebration they're planning in Oxford for him. And I'll be recording another studio album for Sugar Hill. In between that I will tour. It's the life I've chosen...
For additional information on Scott Miller, log onto www.thescottmiller.com.
2006 Amtrak tour dates: The Amtrak Crescent
Monday, Nov. 27 - Iota Club - Arlington, VA
Tuesday, Nov. 28 - Rodeo Bar - New York, NY
Thursday, Nov. 30 - Ashland Coffee & Tea - Ashland, VA
Friday, Dec. 1 - Smith's Olde Bar - Atlanta, GA
The Amtrak Ann Rutledge
Tuesday, Dec. 5 - Woodhouse Concerts - Clayton, MO
Wednesday, Dec. 6 - Schuba's Tavern - Chicago, IL
Here's Your Chance to.... Respond!
Your feedback will be featured on
Rant or Rave within 24 hours.