An interview with DAVID MILLER
By J. Tagmire
Hello Radio: The Songs of They Might Be Giants is a tribute to an
often overlooked and often misunderstood band.
The two Johns, Linnell and Flansburgh, have been crafting a
very unique form of Indie-Pop since their first self-titled record
was released in 1986.
Since then, they’ve seen a few impressive numbers on the US Modern
Rock and UK Charts with the singles “Ana Ng” and “Birdhouse in
your Soul”. They also recorded the theme song for the highly
successful Fox series “Malcolm in the Middle.” Recently,
they’ve recorded two children’s albums and have even appeared in
spots on Homestar Runner.com.
Hello Radio is a very impressive tribute. With big shots like Frank
Black, Indie Rock heroes like The Wrens and former TV stars like
Steve Burns attached to the project, how could you ever go wrong?
Let’s ask David Miller, the vision behind Hello Radio.
J. Tagmire - Why did you choose They Might Be Giants?
David Miller - Well, the thing about They Might Be Giants is
they are often overlooked as far as songwriters go. They kind of are
the Lennon/McCartney of alternative music. And hence sort of
trailblazers as an independent band as well. you gotta consider the
time they came up in the 80's independent rock was not a very viable
commodity. And They Might Be Giants were selling more records than
any other independent band in the world and coming dangerously close
to having an actual hit song. Nowadays and since then, independent
music has been snatched up at every turn. But I think there are a
lot of people who hear them and are turned off, because there's
something in their sound doesn't appeal to them. But if you take
that away and listen to the melody and the lyrics, you'll find some
of the most amazing songs ever written. Some of the most poetic
lyrics ever written and some of the most beautiful, pompous,
majestic melodies, too. There's some songs that I wish people had
done that aren't on there, like “Birdhouse in your Soul”. And I
think it's because nobody thought they could tackle it. The Wrens
were going to do that and then changed their mind. “Birdhouse”
has this very pompous melody and it's very regal, and very majestic.
But at the same time, it's very simple in it's concept because it's
just a song about a night light... Who's ever written more beautiful
lyrics about a night light?
J. Tagmire - Do you remember the first time you heard They
Might Be Giants?
David Miller - No. I was really little. The perks of having a
brother who’s ten years older and in college when you’re a kid
is… all that cool stuff kind of gets trickled down. And there’s
something about their sound that’s really appealing to kids. I
think I didn’t outgrow it because you get to a certain age and you
actually notice the words, and all of the sudden it’s not cute
anymore. All of the sudden it’s really serious and you go, “Wow,
what a really good song”.
J. Tagmire - What do you think makes a good cover song?
David Miller - A song is a song. It’s a foundation of
music. There used to be back in the day there was the person who
wrote the song and the person who arranged the song, and they’re
two very different things. Now it’s kind of the same way,
there’s the person who writes the song and the person who produces
the recording which is where the arrangement happens nowadays.
Anything you do, any decision you make as a band, as an artist,
whatever, has to be for the good of the song. Whatever you’re
doing you have to say, “Ok, I wanna do this, but does it serve the
song?” A good cover song has to be as good as the original or
completely different from the original.
J. Tagmire - So what did you apply when recording your
contribution to the tribute, “Narrow Your Eyes”?
David Miller - Very little. I added a synth part. I changed
the solo completely, I guess you could call it the bridge. I
completely revamped that. And I put a little nod to The Who in
there. I didn’t know what to do for a backup vocal, and because of
the two chords that are in the chorus, I kept accidentally singing
“The Kids Are Alright” over top of it. So I took the harmony
from “The Kids Are Alright” and applied it to “Narrow Your
Eyes”. That’s really it.
J. Tagmire - Is the record complete yet?
David Miller - Yes.
J. Tagmire - Is there a release date finalized?
David Miller - Summer. Not officially, not until I get this
J. Tagmire - Have you been in any contact with They Might Be
David Miller - They Might Be Giants management has been
nothing short of amazing to me. They were receptive to the album.
They were encouraging. They were complimentary and even helped get
the last band on board. I wanted one more big name to kind of push
it over the edge and that management also represents OK Go, and they
were kind enough to email me an mp3 of an OK Go track that they did
years ago. They did a cover of a song called “Letterbox”. And
when I emailed them and said “Look, I’m out of money, but would
they be interested in doing it?” He emailed me back within 5
minutes and said, “Absolutely”. Whereas, I have not actually
heard from They Might Be Giants themselves, but I imagine they’re
very busy, busy guys.
J. Tagmire - They Might Be Giants are known for their rabid
fans. Are you prepared for their reactions?
David Miller - Not in the least. A lot of people have been
very nice based on the sample that’s up on myspace. I scour
message boards once every few months to see if anybody is talking
about it, not for my ego, but simply to see if anyone’s looking
forward to it or not. Because unfortunately, with the next four
months coming up I need to start thinking about how many copies are
going to be sold. And I started the buzz really early, I think most
people are just aggravated with me because I spoke very soon about
it and it’s not out yet. There have been people who said they’re
not interested in hearing it, that nobody can touch their songs. And
the whole idea is… this is actually, almost more in a way, for
people who aren’t fans: Because, I wanted to put versions of these
songs out that are nothing like They Might Be Giants, and I wanted
people who don’t like They Might Be Giants to hear it and go,
“Wow, this is a really good song.” And then people who are fans
can go, “Well screw you, because you said you didn’t like them.
J. Tagmire - And if any song does that I think it’ll be
Self ‘s version of “Ana Ng”.
David Miller - His song is amazing. Yeah everybody has
said… I consider it blasphemy, but everybody has said that they
think his is better than the original. It comes back to the
songwriting, that’s just an amazing song to begin with.
J. Tagmire - It’s an amazing way to lead off the tribute.
David Miller - I hope it’s a single, honestly.
A TMBG Fan Can Truly Understand A TMBG Fan - A Q&A with Superfan
On the web:
Hello Radio will be available this spring. Also look for This
Radiant Boy’s cover of They Might Be Giants “Don’t Let’s
Start” as well as David Miller’s original song “Track 3” on
the Mass Broadcast Volume One Compilation.