Rhett Miller embraces his quieter side on The Dreamer.“I’ve spent so many years yelling,” Rhett Miller says of his nearly two decades as the lead singer of the Old 97s. “I feel like I’ve been doing it every night.”
It’s not that he’s tired of his time with the Texas-based alt-country band known as much for its raucous live sets as for its extensive catalog of songs. But after spending almost three years pushing a pair of the band’s energetic rock albums, the 41-year-old frontman was ready for something a little more low-key. That’s why Miller’s new solo record, The Dreamer (Maximum Sunshine Records, $13), features extensive use of his inside voice.
“In the old days I had to yell because the monitors were never good enough. Even today, I still get taken over by the spirit. I can’t help it — I just start yelling,” he says. “But now I understand restraint. I feel like I can get volume and passion and energy while still maintaining some control.”
It’s obvious that Miller is happy with his handiwork. He even admits to having a favorite song (“Sleepwalkin’,” written about an indie-film director he’d read a newspaper article about), though he says he’s not supposed to.
And while The Dreamer isn’t Miller’s solo debut, it might be the biggest musical leap he’s ever taken. He recorded with his touring band, the Serial Lady Killers, for the first time, and the waves of steel guitar that roll over many tracks give the record a relaxed country feel. Miller even served as his own producer, making a point to hold post-production changes to a minimum to keep the record’s sound as authentic as possible.
“I’m pretty proud of it because that doesn’t happen much anymore in these days of Auto-Tune,” Miller says. “Almost everything you hear is just a live take off the floor.”
It’s the level of control that Miller seems to relish about going solo. And it doesn’t hurt that his bandmates support his side projects.
“There’s just a lot of warmth and brotherhood in the 97s. I didn’t feel like I needed to prove anything to them,” Miller says. “On this record, I felt unencumbered by some
of the voices in my head that have driven me to second-guess things about records in the past. It was all me all the time, and that’s a cool thing.”
“Need Your Love,”
the Temper Trap
The Temper Trap (Glassnote/Columbia Records, $15)
“I am a war of flesh and heart that’s left undone
Between the person that I was and have become”