by G.H. Harding
MILLER’S CROSSING — We’ve tub thumped bassist Robert Miller and his group, Project Grand Slam in this column. Now, with their new album (their 4th) The Queen’s Carnival being properly released next month (via CEN/RED), we went for an in-depth behind-the-scenes conversation with Mr. Miller:
Tell us about the new album The Queen’s Carnival? How does it progress from the previous one?
This album was much more faithful to my two musical loves – rock and jazz, and I feel like I was able to combine them as never before. This is the album that I’ve been building towards my entire professional career.
You played the F. M. Kirby Center in Wilkes Barre (PA) last week and we heard it was terrific … and, you streamed it! Tell us about it and what made it such a memorable performance?
First of all the venue is historic, dating from the early 1900’s when F.M. Kirby founded it (as well as the town of Wilkes-Barre!). Second, the band was really hot! We played like our lives were on the line! Third, we were able to live stream the event over our Facebook page all around the world. How cool is that? As of this writing the concert has been viewed by over 13,000 people, just a few more than were in attendance at the Kirby Center!
We read about your bass-guitarist influences recently; what do you love most about the instrument?
The way that I play bass I’m dictating and controlling the vibe and feel of every song. It’s like a conductor waving his baton at a full orchestra. I guide the emotional and musical feel of the music – which is an awesome joy!
Tell us about working with The Voice’s Kat Robichaud? And, about Lucy Woodward?
I guess I’ve got a thing for beautiful, talented female singers! And the songs that I picked for them to sing (“Fire” and “You Really Got Me”) are quintessential guy songs. So in addition to reimagining the song and making it my own, I’m flipping the entire feel by having it sung by a woman instead of a man. And these two ladies just owned the songs!
How did you come to choose the song by The Kinks? (“You Really Got Me”) Does the audience get it right away?
I’m a baby boomer and a child of the 60’s. I grew up on the Beatles, Stones and the British Invasion bands. I played only rock and roll until I was 19. This music is in my DNA. “You Really Got Me”is one of the hardest, edgiest songs ever recorded. The Kinks were the forerunner of grunge. I loved that song. What better tribute to the Kinks and Ray Davies then to take his song of 50 years ago and give it a new set of clothes! So far the audiences have loved it!
The album is out August 19 and I know you’re holding an event at Rockwood Music Hall in NYC for it. Will you and the band be performing at it as well?
Is the Pope Catholic? Of course we’ll perform! We’re looking forward to playing for about 30 minutes – about 5 or 6 songs from the new album. Enough to get the audience ready for the free drinks afterwards!
The music business today seems to be evolving everyday; first from a singles-market, then to an album one, and then back to a singles-one. I know that the first single from the new album (“The Rescue”) made a lot of noise and the next one is The Kinks re-worked one. Did you have a cover in mind when you began this album?
Yup. I knew that I wanted to try “You Really Got Me”. But I went through a few iterations with it before I got the feel that I wanted. The first time we played it it sounded like Sade singing at a Bar Mitzvah – totally bland! I knew I had to toughen it up. So I told my sax and guitar players to rock out. And voila!
Tell us about the players in your group.
I play with a rotating cast of young, supremely talented, music school educated, mainly foreign born musicians. I call them my International Cartel. And their leader is a guy who grew up in Queens, NY!
Social Media – how much of it is a plus for you and PGS?
I’m still trying to figure out the whole social media thing. My biggest problem is that it’s a very “cool” medium – it takes no effort and no commitment to “Like” something on Facebook or any of the other sites. Translating “Likes” into actual fans that come out to see you perform and buy your albums and songs is a big hurdle. And the other thing that’s daunting is the world has really gone from CDs to downloads and now to streaming – and the artists get paid next to nothing for a stream. So music has sadly evolved into a nearly-free calling card.
I know you’ve played Lucille’s at B. B. King’s and The Cutting Room in NYC and you have a monthly a residency at The Groove in Greenwich Village. Where else would you like to play in the city?
Madison Square Garden, Carnegie Hall and the Ed Sullivan Show!
Check out the official website for more info on Project Grand Slam and Robert Miller.