For former V-Roys front man Scott Miller, '04 was a year to "Chill, Relax Now" on the writing/recording front. But instead of getting in scribbling and studio time, the Virginia native and Knoxville, Tennessee, resident ended up whiling away his time playing on some high-profile stages and embarked on some unusual tours.
Most recently, Miller and his Appalachian pop-rock group the Commonwealth have served as the house band on the WB's surprise hit comedy/variety show Blue Collar TV. "The musical director of the show was a fan of Sugar Hill," Miller says of his label. "So he contacted them, and they sent him a bunch of CDs, and Jeff Foxworthy liked us. He's a really nice guy; I had to have lunch with him and stuff, kinda interview for it. It was cool. You can't be a stupid asshole and do what he's done."
Miller's an old-school fellow -- in this age of computers, he collects and still uses old-fashioned ribbon typewriters -- so his winter train tour on the same "Amtrak Crescent" he saluted on last year's Upside/Downside was very much in character. Miller and the Commonwealth and a few roadies, reporters, Amtrak liaisons and film crew members clambered aboard the train in New Orleans and rode the rails all the way to Boston, stopping off to play live in and generally make messes of every city along the way. Miller says the band filmed the whole partially sponsored tour, recorded on eight-track gear in one of the train's larger handicapped cabins some live material, which they hope to use on an upcoming record, and that he hopes to do another train tour, on either the Crescent route or the New Orleans-Chicago "City of New Orleans" line of Willie Nelson and Arlo Guthrie song.
All of which eats into his songwriting time, which is a battle he has just rejoined in the last few weeks after the WB tapings in Atlanta wrapped up. "I got home, cleaned off my desk, and I'm just trying to start writing," he says. He also notes that he's keeping a wary eye on Tennessee's southern border. Football season is about to start, and the citizenry of Alabama is up in arms about recent revelations about University of Tennessee football coach Philip Fulmer's role in landing the Alabama Crimson Tide on NCAA probation. "At this point, if Alabama could mobilize the National Guard and invade us, they would," he says, half seriously.
Train tours, TV tapings, impending interstate internecine warfare -- it all makes a guy fall behind. Miller is unfazed. "I would have been stupid not to do the Blue Collar TV thing, at least for the experience of it, good God." He also notes that the money was great, and being on the show got his band good exposure, something he's had a hard time getting on mainstream radio, which he brands "damn mega-corporation conglomerate corporate pigfuck pieces of shit."
Couldn't have said it better myself. -- John Nova Lomax
Thursday, September 2, at McGonigel's Mucky Duck, 2425 Norfolk, 713-528-5999.
Next time you're looking to burn a couple of work hours tooling around on the Web, do yourself a favor and double click a few Clay Aiken fan sites. Any one will do -- www.aikenforclay.com, www.forever-clay.tk -- even the tragically misnamed and misleading www.claymatesmansion.com. Each of them offers insight into a world of unabashed dork-worship so utterly devoted it makes a Trekkie convention look as hip as the crowd at a Franz Ferdinand show. On these sites you can browse through the "Dictionary of Claybonics," which -- much like Klingon -- is a made-up language. "Claymaniacs" insert the singer's name into everyday words to alter their meanings. (Example: Anticlaymatic -- When everything seems disappointing in contrast to seeing or hearing Clay.) Once that gets boring, surf over to www.claytonaiken.com/readingroom and try the Claykespeare's Midsummer Night's Claydream link. There you can peruse Clay-related original poetry, prose, journal entries and artwork by these nuts. Stories run the gamut from the twisted Kidnapping Clay by Clayfan#1 to the well-intentioned but unfortunately titled Number Two by Beth. If you're worried about being caught by office Internet activity tracking, don't be. Females can expect to be pitied by their higher-ups, who will let it slide. Males? Your suspected insanity will render supervisors impotent. If worse comes to worst and someone does push the issue, just tell them you're seeking help for your addiction in Alclayholics Anonymous. -- Brian McManus
Tuesday, September 7, at Reliant Arena, 8400 Kirby, 713-629-3700.
In the land of perpetual trunks poppin' and eternal tops droppin', it's refreshing to hear H-town rappers take their art form to new levels. And that doesn't mean getting a major-label deal -- it means coming hard or not coming at all. Recently, a few heads have been stepping up to the plate, turning folks out and winning Houston some respect. One such is Savvi, the self-described New Speaker of the South and a guy who's been winning fans over on the live poetry circuit for the past few years. Now that he's learned to set his rhymes to beats, his debut album, The Hueston Chronicles, has raised the bar for underground MCs.
As you might expect, Savvi, whose name is an acronym for shrewd and vivid, is a poets' MC; his politically active lyrics strike chords with the spoken-word crowd. On the song "Figure It Out," for example, he tackles the charged issue of the word nigga: "Figga it out, but first I gotta nigga it out...nigga kinda hungry / nigga let's have a picnic / pick a nigga to lynch / nigga love beef / pick a nigga to dis...Niggas is a beautiful thang / nigga is a beautiful slang..."
The album is an underground mix tape, and its assortment of jacked and mouthwatering original beats (courtesy of Karega and Desiac) deliver a nice blend of East and South Coast sounds. And through it all, Savvi's soulful delivery and witty wordplay capture the essence of Houston hip-hop. -- Felicia Johnson-LeBlanc
The Hueston Chronicles album release party is Saturday, September 4, at the Hard Rock Cafe, 502 Texas, 713-447-7861.
Lennon, with Heart
Anyone who wasted their time watching season ten of the Real World (guilty as charged!) could see it coming. As part of their "job," the Return to New York cast worked as a street promotions team for Arista Records. One episode in particular had them meeting with a beautiful but shy goth-inspired piano prodigy named Lennon. This group of bickering dolts trying to break such a complex artist was an oil-and-water recipe for disaster. She wasn't blond. She played her own instruments and wrote her own songs. Arista and its Real World go-getters decided to market Lennon as a hard-rocking but sensitive anti-Britney. All the "next big thing" hype rang hollow, and it made this authentic talent seem as contrived as the rest of the groups plopping out on the pop-music conveyor belt.
Lennon, smart goth cookie that she is, knew this. When it came time to release a follow-up to her Arista debut, she opted instead to go into her own pocket and put it out on a label she owned, and the resulting I Am left critics and fans giving their own version of the "next big thing" speech. A grassroots buzz shot up so thick it threatened to stain her black clothes green. Now, after two years of touring with the likes of the Cult and Alice Cooper and on the Warped Tour, Lennon finds herself supporting another act of independent-thinking female badasses, the legendary Heart. Catch her before another major label scoops up the pallid crooner and hires the Road Rules idiots for radio promotion. -- Brian McManus
Saturday, September 4, at H-Town's Arena Theatre, 7324 Southwest Freeway, 713-988-1020.
This Labor Day weekend, Houston welcomes an appearance from the hardest-working man on the obscure Canadian dance scene. Club confection artist Luke Fair drives a maple-leaf flag into the international arena, staking a claim on both charts and decks and, in the process, building anticipation for each stop on his tour. There's a prize for everyone in Fair's eclectic, one-of-a-kind sets, in which funhouse mirrors twist techno tracks into sinister industrial shadows; trippy trance melodies swoon into phat progressive dubs; and roller-coaster tracks climb from easy grooves to rocketing tempos, then plunge into the depths of funk. The favorite DJ of electronic act Deep Dish, Fair is both architect and attraction, a one-man thrill ride on the turntables. Step right up, eh? -- Catalina Soltero
Saturday, September 4, at 2401 San Jacinto, 713-759-9606.