With 12 band albums, eight solo albums and an endless set list, the Dallas native and St. Mark’s grad Rhett Miller is back in the studio with the Old 97’s for lucky number 13. We caught up with Miller while he was battering up breakfast pancakes for his wife and two kids at their home.
Tell us a bit about the beginnings of your career.
I started doing gigs in Dallas when I was 15 years old. I would sneak out to rock clubs and open for punk rock bands. I’m turning 50 this year… so that’s three and a half decades of music. Dallas was a great place to start, as I found it to be a very nurturing place. The artistic community is really strong here. I still keep tabs on younger musicians coming up in Dallas, and I’m always so impressed by what I see.
What inspires you musically?
I feel like the education I got at St. Mark’s in high school in language, creative writing and the study of Shakespeare we did has been really useful throughout my life. To me, so much of songwriting is word-based. I love language. I love the way you can tell a story on multiple levels. I think there is so much you can do with this art.
Do you have any songs you’re particularly proud of?
The song that has the most plays on Spotify is always a good place to start in terms of what people most respond to. It’s a song that I wrote called ‘Question.’ We were already done writing our album, Satellite Rides, and before going into the studio and recording, I took a trip to Europe and wound up falling in love with the woman who is now my wife. At the time, I was just meeting this girl who I spent the day exploring with. I ended up writing ‘Question’ that night while I was staying up late to watch the Dallas Stars play the New Jersey Devils in the Stanley Cup championship (you can’t win them all!). I was just trying to keep myself awake by writing a song and was just having fun putting words together, but over the years the song has taken on a new life. It’s been in commercials, movies, and people propose while I perform it. The thing that gets me is how it’s been useful in people’s lives. It’s a really beautiful thing to create something that then, on its own, takes on a life of its own and goes on to be a part of people’s real worlds.
Tell us a bit more about your podcast, Wheels Off. You recently interviewed Tig Notaro and Rainn Wilson…how do you make your selects?
To me, Wheels Off gives audiences (myself included) a glimpse into the real life of people versus what they think they know. It’s so easy for us to look at the art that people create or the work that they do, and assume all the things about them are represented in that. I love finding the true humanity behind people. I’m glad I get to be a part of that conversation and try to feature people I admire, look up to and want to learn from.
Speaking of admiration, is there anyone you would say is your role model?
My bandmate Murry Hammond. He started off as an older brother figure as I met him when I was 15. He recorded my first dems and helped me learn how to write songs. He’s been one of my best friends and strongest confidants through the years. As brothers do… he and I have lots of good times and bad times. Being able to have a friendship with someone who knows me personally and artistically so well and for so long has been one of the most valuable experiences of my life. We’ve come far enough where we know that even if everything disappeared today, what we did meant something…
Photography by: photo by Rick Kern/WireImage/Getty Images