The Ben Miller Band has made a name for themselves in the heart of the Arkansas/Oklahoma with a down and dirty grind house style of play, soulful lyrics and serious showmanship. They’ve grown from their roadhouse beginnings to tour the world, with memorable festival slots and tours around the world opening for acts like ZZ Top. The band has been working on a new album and preparing for their biggest summer of shows ever, so we were shocked earlier today to find out Doug Dicharry, multi-instrumentalist and musical maniac, was departing the band. Even more surprising is that their frequent collaborators, the dynamic duo Tyrannosaurus Chicken, were both joining Miller in his ensemble.
Our own Rex Thomson got Ben to sit down for a quick chat to catch us up on the unexpected change, the new musical direction and his hopes for the future. Check out their conversation below.
Live For Live Music: We’re here with Ben Miller of the Ben Miller Band. How hard was it to come up with that name?
Ben Miller: Not that hard. (Chuckles) When I started out I was doing sort of a solo thing. I was playing percussion, playing guitar, that sort of thing. So in an effort to not the lose momentum I was building, as members came on I kept the Ben Miller part and just added “Band.”
L4LM: Gotcha. I’ve always wondered about bands that perform under the name of one of the members…how that first started.
BM: I’ve kinda worried about it in the past…didn’t want to come off sounding pompous or anything like that. (Laughs) It really was that I had some songs, I had made a start and we wanted to keep that momentum going. I just hope no one ever hears that and comes in with a bad expectation of something that really isn’t what is in my heart.”
L4LM: So you’ve announced some rather dramatic changes in your band. Let’s start with the departure of multi-instrumentalist Doug Dicharry.
BM: You know we had a real good run, we’d been together over ten years. In that amount of time it’s hard to keep things running smoothly and have everybody working toward the same thing. We were working really hard to keep things together but in the end we just couldn’t see eye to eye on some stuff. I don’t blame anyone for it…..and I do hope Doug finds happiness in the next chapter of life.
L4LM: To fill his slot you’re bringing in Rachel Ammons and Smilin’ Bob Lewis, the duo who perform together as Tyrannosaurus Chicken. What made you think of them?
BM: I mean…it was such and obvious choice for us. We’ve shared so many stages together over the years. We’ve played together so many times as a super group type of band…the sound has always been great together, we’ve always gotten along real well. I just knew the chemistry was there and we would make some great music together.
We’ve sorta talked with them before about joining forces a little bit, maybe touring together for awhile, and they had been keen on that idea. we honestly couldn’t think of better people to bring in. Bob is…he’s a living link to roots of the music that we all love. He’s got this amazing encyclopedic knowledge of all the great music and musicians from the Mississippi area. And Rachel is just such a phenomenal violinist and multi-instrumentalist and singer that I knew…if we needed to add some people…we didn’t need to look too far to find someone.
L4LM: Will they be contributing songs and leads to your shows and recordings at all?
BM: Definitely! We’re in a phase of figuring out what every one’s roles are gonna be, what everyone will be doing in different songs and such. My goal, in the band, is to do my best to recognize every one’s strengths, and let those strengths shine through on as big as stage as we can get onto. I think they’re both incredibly talented musicians, writers and arrangers. Scott (Leeper) and I have our own sounds, and we just need to find out how we all fit together.
We’re just gonna navigate this new path together. It’s a really exciting time. There have been some practices and some co-writing stuff…that’s been one of the most exciting parts for me. I like the possibilities I am seeing in what we can come up with in a collaborative manner. It’s just really exciting to me.
L4LM: Which is more important to you…preserving the past sound of the band or finding out where you can take the material with the new personnel?
BM: That’s a good question. Everybody is going to be expecting something…everybody is going to be comparing what we have going now with what we had going before. We want to integrate them into the sound of who we are, but who we are is going to change. It opens up a lot of possibilities, just having one additional person in the band, being a quartet.
So our thinking to start is to bring them up to speed on our songs. Our last album is what we’ve really been focusing on and trying to get down. Honestly, our stuff is sounding better to me than it ever has before.I’ve always thought a fiddle would sound great on our stuff. It’s a rhythmic and melodic addition to what we do that really compliments us.
Let me answer your question…BOTH! (Laughs) I think I’m more focused on the future. We’ve got all this new material that we’re writing together that we’re gonna be playing and recording together soon, so that’s where we need to focus on. But also, working on the old stuff is good, because we’re starting to develop a common language to talk about our music.
Nobody uses the completely same language right off the bat when they start playing music together. Like when I say “I want more air in there.” Not everybody sees or hears that thought in the same way, and we’re working on all getting the same musical vocabulary. The big thing is, the desire for communication is there. We all want to make the best music possible, and we’re working towards that goal together. I think everybody is gonna be really pleased with what we come out with.
L4LM: Are there any other bands out there you would consider bringing in? How big could you go?
BM: (Laughs) I think that, for me, simplicity is really important. A lot of time when I see bands with so many pieces, it kinda overwhelms my ears. I’m a big fan of Robert Johnson, Johnny Cash and Hank Williams, and I like what they did. I tend to prefer that kind of simple, perfect music. We’re not looking for anyone else. We’ve already gotten such a much fuller sound than we’ve ever had before.
It’s better to me, y’know. It’s better to have a few of the right pieces than one of every kind. This way everyone is contributing something. Everybody is playing something that is helpful. A famous painter named John Singer Sargent said “That which is not essential is detrimental.” I try to go by that too…if it’s not essential to what needs to be there, then it just shouldn’t be there. It’s just not pulling any weight.
L4LM: It’s funny you mention Seargent. The knock on his work has always been that though he is technically proficient, his work lacks soul. Soul is one thing your band has never lacked.
BM: The songs that come out of us, out of my brain, are me trying to make myself good…a little bit of wish fulfillment for myself. I am just trying to externalize trouble. If that helps others, I’m glad.
L4LM: I’ve heard your sound described as post-apocalyptic Americana? Does that sound like a fair description to you?
BM: People can call it whatever they want…they’re all just words. I can see where people are coming from with that I suppose. We play on stuff that could be trash after a apocalypse comes. We didn’t have a conversation, we didn’t set out to sound like a post apocalyptic vibe. Some of what we’re doing I can see that though. We’re just trying to make music, in as honest a way as possible.
L4LM: How soon before we see the new line up on the stage?
BM: Our first show will be at George’s Majestic Lounge, one of the great music rooms and a place that’s really helped us out over the years. It’s one of my favorite stages to play on. It’ll be on the 29th of this month. That’s the beginning of about a month long tour. We’re gonna go down to Florida, Pittsburgh, Illinois. It’s gonna be exciting, spreading these new songs in new ways to new ears.
L4LM: Any chance of talking Rachel into busting out her legendary “Electric Cactus?”
BM: YES! I’ve talked to her about that. We do have plans to utilize her legendary electric cactus skills.
L4LM: Any messages for the diehard fans, as well as any potential new fans who might be wondering about the new line up?
BM: Yes, surely. Things are changing…there’s no doubt that things will be different than they were before. All I want is for them to come see what we’re doing with an open mind. If they like it, then great. If they feel like it’s a bad change, then that’s there right. But I really do feel like we’re making some incredible music, and I know that if we make people feel something, then we’re doing our job.
L4LM: That’s all you can hope for. Well, thanks for taking a quick moment to chat with us about the doings in Ben Miller land. Looking forward to hearing the music that comes from this.
BM: Thanks for the chat!
Photos by Jeremy Scott