Interview: Project Grand Slam’s Robert Miller

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Robert Miller

Bassist Robert Miller, and his group Project Grand Slam, just released their seventh album, PGS 7, and the reviews thus far have been exceeding positive. While still re-invigorating the jazz-rock idiom, vocalist Ziarra Washington really shines on the new album, along with some surprises.  We caught up with Miller at a rehearsal before their next show in Bethlehem, PA.

And, also check out a doc on PGS: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qBHkQTdyhhw

Q: How would you describe the new album, PGS 7?

A: I pride myself on the diversity of PGS’s music while still remaining true to our “sound”.  PGS 7 carries this concept forward.  I set out to write and record an album that, as one reviewer remarked, “swoops and soars”. From the hard rock of “Yeah Yeah” and “Get Out”, to the Latin influenced “Take Me” and “Funk Latino”, to the power instrumentals “Python” and “Torpedo Of Love”, to the quirky “At Midnight”, the album shows off the full measure of the band. I think it’s our best album yet – and the critics agree. 

Q: The first single “Get Out” had an interesting birth; tell us about it and what happened with YouTube and Facebook.

A: I wrote “Get Out” as a political protest song, although I never mention anyone by name and the subject matter applies generally.  However, the video that was put together for the song was definitely political. We discovered afterwards, though, to our shock and disappointment that both Facebook and YouTube now have policies which effectively ban political videos.  Sure, they say all you have to do is jump through a few hoops to get approval, but we jumped through every hoop and the video was still frozen out.  In my view it’s a terrible infringement on free speech and artistic expression (take a look: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p_Gmxkb-y-Y).

Q: Your vocalist, Ziarra Washington, really shines on this one. Did you want to feature her more on this album?

A: Yes! PGS started out in 2007 mainly playing instrumental music.  But a few years ago my wife convinced me that people like vocals.  And I have such a wonderful vocalist in Ziarra.  So I started writing more vocal songs, which was a bit of a challenge for me because I was not as experienced in writing lyrics.  But I found that the inspiration just flowed.  Of PGS 7’s 13 tracks, 10 of them are vocals and Ziarra simply knocks the ball out of the park on every one of them!

Q: “The In Crowd” was just an inspired choice; tell us about how that happened?

A: As I’ve said many times, I’m a child of the ‘60s.  I grew up on the great music of that era particularly the British Invasion.  In 2015, when I re-formed PGS with a new lineup, I decided to include my take on Jimi Hendrix’s “Fire” on our Made In New York album. It worked so well that on each succeeding album I took a classic that I loved and gave it the PGS twist. The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me”, The Who’s “I Can’t Explain”, Cream’s “I’m So Glad”, etc. On PGS 7 I was inspired to give the PGS treatment to Dobie Gray’s “The ‘In’ Crowd”, a song that I always loved.  It added a totally different color to the album. Ziarra’s vocal is sublime.
Q: It’s just such a great song. The Bryan Ferry-take on that is pretty inspired too.

A: I’m not familiar with Bryan Ferry’s version, but I always loved Ramsey Lewis’s “live” version which was recorded in a nightclub and became a big hit for him.

Q: Last year at this time, your Trippin’ album was #1; how’d that feel?

A: It’s always satisfying to receive recognition for your work.  PGS 7 has been reviewed about 15 times, and each review has been outstanding.  Trippin’ also received wonderful reviews, and then when it hit #1 on Billboard it was a very, very satisfying achievement.

Q: We last saw PGS at The Loft in NYC … what other shows are coming up?

A: On August 1(tomorrow) we have the pleasure of opening the MusikFest festival in PA along with Earth, Wind & Fire.  Our team is working on a European tour in the fall including festivals and clubs.  We are also arranging a date at The Groove in NYC, where I like to work out new material in front of an audience.  I’m currently writing the songs for our next album (I like to do an album a year).

Q: What’s the plan for PGS from here?

A: Writing and recording of course.  And I really love performing at festivals and larger venues.  I feel that our sound is most suited for those environments, and having the support of a large crowd is a total rush!

Q: You’ve supported such a wide diversity of acts (Edgar Winter; Blues Traveler; Mindi Abair; YES), who would you like to work with next?

A: We did a bunch of openers for some great artists the first few years after I re-formed the band in 2015.  It was a great experience for us – borrowing the headliner’s audience and ultimately getting a standing ovation each time.  But openers are a bit like the minor leagues in baseball; ultimately you want to get up to the majors.

A: You may be surprised to learn that I rarely listen to anyone else’s music.  That’s not because I’m a musical snob, it’s because I don’t want to be influenced by any other artist.  I feel that PGS’s approach and music are totally unique – in fact, several reviewers have said just that.  And I want to keep it that way.

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