For one night, Shank Hall becomes "Miller" Park
Rhett Miller arrived in Chicago Friday afternoon and, after battling some heinous traffic to get to his solo gig at a club called Schuba's, the Old 97's lead singer did what many Illinois residents do nearly every week:
He started planning an escape to Wisconsin.
"I was actually thinking about trying to go to the Packers game," said Miller, who will play a show at Shank Hall on Sunday night with opener Vanessa Peters.
"I could wake up early in Chicago, drive up to Lambeau Field and try to get a scalper ticket. I don't have soundcheck (at Shank) until about 6 (p.m.), so I could do it."
OnMilwaukee.com chatted with Miller by telephone Friday evening about Lambeau Field and other topics. Here is a sampling of the conversation:
OMC: The Old 97's played at Summerfest two months ago. Looking back, does anything from that show stand out for you?
Rhett Miller: I loved it. It was nice to get to play with Son Volt. I love the new lineup with Chris Masterson on guitar. I've always loved playing Summerfest. We did it one year with Switchfoot and it was kind of early on our stage and that wasn't great, but this year was so beautiful. I loved the lineup. The weather was great. The crowd was great. I sat on the side of the stage when Son Volt played and I kind of had a moment. It was a great time.
OMC: What kind of show can the people at Shank Hall expect? Are your solo shows kind of loose? Do you do a lot of requests?
RM: It'll be very loose. I'm making it up as I go along. The 97's are going go into the studio pretty soon, so I'm going to do some new songs from them in the show. It's hard, because we have so much stuff. It'll probably half Old 97's stuff, and a little from the solo records.
I probably won't make everybody happy. I tend to listen to requests, as long as the people aren't obnoxious. It depends on how late it is in the show and how much I've had to drink.
I like to do unrecorded stuff, but I like to do things that are fun. The other night, playing in New York, I did "Come Dancin' " by the Kinks. I'd never played that one start to finish, even sitting down by myself. But, I got through it. It was fun. I did "California Stars" (the Woody Guthrie song interpreted by Billy Bragg and Wilco), too. It's fun to do things like that.
OMC: What's next for the Old 97's.
RM: We're going to go in the studio in a couple months here. We've been talking our time on this record. I probably could have gone into the studio in February, but I'm glad we didn't. We've got a pile of songs we're sitting on and there are about 15 that we all agree have to be on the record. Then there are about 10 on the fence and another five or 10 songs that could make up most of the next solo record. So, I've been working.
OMC: Does playing solo shows and doing covers like that get the creative juices flowing in terms of songwriting?
RM: It does. Feeling a song go through you, thinking about the arrangement and the chords and the way the verses fit together does get things going.
OMC: Do you ever have writer's block?
RM: I've had tough times. Last year was tough. Universal kind of gave up on "The Believer" after about six weeks. It was disheartening, because I felt so proud of that record. Everybody in the division got fired. Things at the label just fell apart.
OMC: There is a lot of that going around these days, with labels becoming irrelevant. It almost seems like bands that record in the basement and sell stuff online are better off in some ways than those on "major" labels. What's your take on the way the music business is going?
RM: That's the million-dollar question. This business model we've been using obviously is outdated. What's going to be the next thing? Nobody knows for sure. It's going to be 'Net-based, obviously. It will probably a subscription service of some kind. People have to make money.
OMC: That's the one constant.
RM: It's never been easy to make money in this business. Now, it's really f*cking hard. I feel like a T-shirt salesman.
OMC: So, will there be T-shirts available at the Milwaukee show?
RM: Unless they go crazy in Chicago, I'll have a bunch of them. At a reduced price, too, because I don't want to take them back to New York with me.
OMC: Two more questions. First, what are you listening to these days?
RM: There is so much stuff. They might not have a new record out, but I listen to the Pernice Brothers a lot. And I love Of Montreal. There is just so much good stuff happening out there.
OMC: It's almost like there is so much good music that it's hard to find it.
RM: Yeah, there isn't a filter.
OMC: Last thing -- did you know that your song "Question" gets played a lot during Brewers games when someone does one of those marriage proposals on the scoreboard at Miller Park?
RM: Those guys from the Brewers park, I've met them. They've been coming to shows and they're super cool. I've heard that they play it at other stadiums and I love it. It's a useful song.
OMC: So you like being on the "Jock Jams" mix tape alongside Gary Glitter, Queen and the guys who did "Who Let the Dogs Out?"
RM: Maybe I should record a version with heavy, crunching guitars.
OMC: Since teams charge money for the proposal thing, you should at least get a piece of that action.
RM: You're right. I'll talk to my management people about that.
"It doesn't seem that long ago that the Old 97's played at Summerfest." It was July of 2007. And seriously - "Miller Park"?? And no one is ever to bring up a "Question" question again. That song has been overused into the ground and its charm has faded greatly due to overexposure.
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