Rediscovering A Cult Legend: Brett Milano discusses his book on the late pop genius Scott Miller
It has been said that in the ’80s and ’90s, the late Scott Miller, the songwriter behind lost underground pop-rock bands Game Theory and the Loud Family, made some of the best music you have never heard.
Veteran Boston music writer Brett Milano hopes to rectify all that with his new book, Don’t All Thank Me At Once: The Lost Pop Genius of Scott Miller, published late last year via San Francisco’s 125 Records.
Though officially released online back in October, Milano’s latest effort — the follow-up to 2007’s ode to our city’s music scene, Sound of Our Town: A History of Boston Rock & Roll — gets the proper release party treatment this Thursday (March 3) at Store 54 in Allston.
The night will feature a reading by Milano, as well as performances from John Powhida, Scott Janovitz, and former Curious Ritual members Linda Jung and Sean O’Brien, playing the music of Miller. In advance of the party, and as much of Game Theory and the Loud Family’s albums receive the reissue treatment, unearthing recordings that were long out of print, Vanyaland caught up with Milano to discuss Miller’s cult-hero status, his death in 2013, and how a songwriter often compared to the likes of Brian Wilson and Alex Chilton flew under the radar for so long — and if the internet will soon change all that.
Michael Marotta: Off the top — what led you to write a book about Scott Miller?
Brett Milano: Like a lot of people I was pretty shaken up by his sudden and self-inflicted death in 2013, and thought he should be honored in some way. He always figured pretty high in my musical world and I knew him fairly casually and liked him. For me it goes back to 1991 when I was living in Los Angeles and he started sending me demos for the album that became Plants & Birds & Rocks & Things. I spent a year just listening to those songs constantly, I thought it was some of the best songwriting I’d ever heard. I helped arrange for the album to come out on Alias, and got a big thanks on the back cover… so I guess I have the distinction of being thanked personally on one of my all time favorite albums!
So doing the book made me feel the same way I felt when I had these demos — that there’s some earthshaking music here that I have to tell people about. And it helped that there are a lot of interesting and genuinely nice people in Scott’s orbit who helped me get this done.
Miller is still pretty unknown in many music circles; why do you think this is? Was it his own doing? That’s a loaded question…
Somewhat, sure. He was a classic introvert in a lot of ways — very friendly if you said hello at a gig, but as his bandmates point out, he really hated the process of promoting himself. In some ways he had that sterotypical computer-genius personality; the name Spock cane up in these interviews more than once. Karen Glauber asks in the book if he could “make the girls in the back of the hall fall in love with him”, like Michael Stipe did. I think he could have but wasn’t sure if he wanted to.
Though he achieved cult status, why do you think Miller skated under the mainstream radar for so long?
Kind of a deadly combination of bad luck, not having an aggressive enough label, and being just slightly out of step with the times. If you got the term “power pop” hung on you in the ‘90s and your name wasn’t Matthew Sweet, it was pretty much over. And yet… take an album like the Loud Family’s Plants & Birds & Rocks & Things (his best, I think) and all the profound alienation that people heard in Nevermind was right there.
I read that most of his bands’ CDs went out of print for years. Do you think the internet can spike renewed interest in his works?
That’s actually starting to happen now. The Omnivore label is reissuing the Game Theory catalogue one by one; last month they got up to the double album Lolita Nation (which was the one everybody wanted but couldn’t find) and it’s being raved about everywhere — All Music Guide called it a masterpiece. I truly think he’s going to be rediscovered the way Big Star were.