Interview with Robert Miller
Can you tell us more about your latest single “The Queen’s Carnival”?
“The Queen’s Carnival” is a fun, upbeat, Latin/Caribbean fiesta. A feel good song. My wife always encourages me to write upbeat, fun songs that people can groove to. Every time we play it live the place goes wild – dancing in the aisles. So I knew that this one should be the focal point of the album.
Did any event in particular inspire you to write this song?
My father played the trumpet and was a big lover of Latin music. Whenever we were together in the car for example he would have one of the NYC Latin stations on the radio. And that music – particularly the rhythms – just got into my soul. And the guys in my band are all Latin. I call them my International Cartel. So when I was composing the songs for the new album this all came together one evening. “The Queen’s Carnival” came to me in a rush – the rhythm, melody and feel. I literally pictured a carnival as I was writing it, with all the colors and fun that go along with that image. I was originally going to call it “The Queens Carnival” because I grew up in Queens, NY, but I decided that the royal “Queen’s” sounded better and created a wonderful image!
How was the filming experience of the official video?
The official video for the song is a combination of some stock carnival footage together with footage of the band playing the song live. I think that the director did a wonderful job of merging the two. Initially the video ran into some problems on Facebook – they thought it was too racy! How crazy is that? But we worked it out with Facebook and now the video has been viewed over 500,000 times around the world.
Why did you choose to name the album after this track in particular?
Coming up with an album name is always a challenge to me. And because the album has such diversity of material there was no one theme that dominated. In the end my team and I just thought that “The Queen’s Carnival” was a cool, distinctive name for the album – and we were able to come up with a great visual for the album cover.
Can you tell us about the recording and writing process of the album?
I write in a very idiosyncratic manner. Since I play the bass, I’m always thinking about the feel and the groove of a song. So most of the time I come up first with a bass figure which kinds of guides the rest of the creative process. Once I have something that I like I sing a melody to that figure. If I like what I’ve done I then “record” a short demo by recording a snippet to my iPhone! I usually let the idea germinate for a few days and then I go back and listen. If I like what I hear I try and finish off the song.
I pride myself on the diversity of my material. I’ve never been a fan of albums where all the tunes basically sound alike. I’ve always admired artists like the Beatles who made albums with great variety. That’s what I tried for on the new album. So the songs run the gamut from near-hard rock to punk to funk to Latin to Celtic to fusion, with a gentle lullaby thrown in at the end.
When we record an album we do it the old fashioned way – we play the song live in the studio as opposed to recording track-by-track as in pop music. I’m trying to capture the perfect feel. We then do some overdubs where needed, but mostly it’s a live in the studio sound.
On the new album, after we recorded the basics of the title track, I felt that something was missing. It was supposed to be a carnival, a fiesta, but it didn’t quite have a carnival feel. So I got the idea to have my guys – all Latin – go back in the studio, stand around a mic, and overdub fiesta sounds. Whooping and hollering and yelling in Spanish. As if they were at a carnival. That’s what you hear on the final version. It was the cherry on the cake.
You cover a few classic singles (by Jimi Hendrix, The Kinks) – How did you choose which songs to reinvent with your own renditions?
I’m a child of the ‘60s. I grew up with the British Invasion bands and all the great music of that era. In fact, I only played rock music until I was about 19 years old. People like covers because the music is familiar. But I’m not interested in doing a cover that sounds exactly like the original. So I got the notion to “reimagine” a song. To keep enough of it so that the listener can identify it and relate to it, but otherwise to make it my own. I’m not trying to show up the original artist, it’s really a form of homage.
I’ve always loved Hendrix. Who doesn’t? 20 years ago I recorded a version of “Fire” on one of my albums by The Robert Miller Group. It was kind of a psychedelic version. Interestingly, I had Al Foster playing drums for that session. Al played with Miles Davis. He had never played the style that we played for that session. But he nailed it.
When we were getting ready to record the last album, “Made In New York”, I thought about that version of “Fire” and decided to redo my own version. (How’s that for chutzpah?) So I changed it around completely from my older version, and gave it a completely new feel. Kat Robichaud sang the vocal, and I think that the final version is out of sight! And the critics all agreed, as we got incredibly good reviews for that song.
When it came time for the new album I decided to continue the concept of taking a classic rock song and reimagining it. I always loved The Kinks. And “You Really Got Me” is one of my favs. I always considered it to be a forerunner of grunge. It had that great guitar lick and a nasty attitude. I felt like I could take it to another level. Ironically, when we first practiced it, it sounded way too blah for me – like Sade singing it at a Bar Mitzvah. It needed to be toughened up. So I came back the next go round with a new, improved and tougher version – and this one worked right from the get go!
You also get to blur styles/genres on this album – how did your ‘post-fusion’ jazz/rock sound evolve?
Like I said, I was raised on rock. Then I evolved into jazz when I studied for a bit with Jimmy Garrison, John Coltrane’s bassist. But the rock/jazz dichotomy has always been a part of me. I knew when I was writing the songs for the new album that I wanted to have a mix that walked that fine line between rock and jazz. I wanted the power and feel of rock and the improvisation of jazz. I wanted to take fusion to a new level. I may be the only guy out there playing this kind of stuff but this is me. This is my artistic vision. I can only hope that people get it and dig it.
What role does Latin culture play on this album, and why do you think the title track has become so popular among Spanish speaking nations?
Like I said, all my guys are Latin, and I was raised in part on Latin music. The title track embodies all of this. When we put the track out there on the Internet and on Facebook, it immediately resonated in various Latin countries – Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Dominican Republic. Even Italy. But it works
with all audiences because it’s fun and upbeat. When we play live this is the song that gets the loudest and best response.
Where do you find the inspiration for your original songs and lyrics?
Ha! I have no idea! I just do my thing. I try to stay true to my two loves – rock and jazz. When I write something I never fully orchestrate it. I write a lead sheet with the melody and basic chords. I bring it to rehearsal and I let the music evolve. I rarely tell any of the guys what to play. I let them figure it out for themselves. After all, they’re all supremely talented pros. Sometimes I get surprised. So, for example, when I wrote “The Rescue” for the new album, I had in mind “Crossroads” by Cream as the feel that I wanted. But when we played it like that at rehearsal it was totally flat. My guitarist then started playing a James Brown kind of lick, and we all jumped in. And voila – the song was born. I really love when that kind of thing happens.
Any plans to hit the road?
We are concentrating on building a strong following in the tri-state area. We play frequently in NY but also in NJ, CT and PA. And we like to open for people in the bigger venues. So this past year we opened twice for Boney James in two performing arts centers in NJ and PA, we opened for Scott Weiland at the Gramercy Theater in NYC, we opened for The Reign Of Kindo at the Knitting Factory in Brooklyn, and we were the featured performer at the F.M. Kirby Center in PA.
Our upcoming dates include a special Thanksgiving benefit concert for Citymeals on Wheels at the Iridium in Times Square on Nov. 21st, and a featured performance at the Highland Lakes Concert Series in NJ on Dec. 3rd. Plus we have a monthly residency at a neat club in the Village called The Groove.
What else is happening next in Robert Miller’s world?
Isn’t this enough? But seriously, outside of music I like to spend time with my family – I’ve been married to my college sweetheart for over 40 years, we have two grown, married daughters, and a 16 month old granddaughter who I passionately adore. I wrote and recorded two songs for her – “The Gift (Juliet’s Song)” on the last album, and “Lullaby For Julesy” on the new album. I’m also a big tennis player and a mad fan of the NY Giants! Visit –http://projectgrandslam.com