This interview with Phil Miller was conducted by fax in spring 1995 following the release of "Recent Discoveries".
Can you tell us more about your influences as a
Well, my influences in a way mirror whatever the state of my immediate musical activities and abilites are and were. My first influences, at age 14, were blues and r'n'b, in particular guitarists Earl Hooker, Otis Rush and Buddy Guy. Parallel to this, I was listening to very advanced jazz such as Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, Thelonius Monk, Jimmy Giuffre with Jim Hall, and Ornette Coleman... but only listening! I couldn't even begin to do any more than sit there in stunned admiration! In a sort of counter-balance to this 'heavy' stuff, I listened to some pop music - Beatles stuff, bit of the Kinks naturally, Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles...
After a while, as a minimum of technical expertise on guitar had been assimilated, I began to play semi-professionally, and the first attempts at writing songs with words were undertaken. Jimi Hendrix and Jeff Beck were thoroughly listened to... At the time of Delivery, I was listening to things which I'm still happy to listen to today. Roy Babbington, the bass player, introduced me to Bartok - in particular the five string quartets - and he was playing in the Mike Gibbs Band at Ronnie Scott's and invited me to have a listen... I must admit that Mike Gibbs is one of my favourite composers and arrangers... Hearing his band then was a big influence for me. Delivery were playing upstairs at Ronnie Scott's quite regularly, and I had the pleasure to hear in the flesh such people as Gary Burton, Roland Kirk, Stan Getz (my interest in A.C. Jobim started there)... Carla Bley is a particular favourite, whom I found through Gibbs and Burton. Nowadays I still listen to these guys. Add to these Django Bates, Frank Zappa, the Brecker Brothers, Mike Stern, Scott Henderson, John Scofield, John MacLaughlin, Wayne Shorter, Jaco Pastorius and Joe Zawinul.
Are you a prolific composer yourself
Not really. Someone like Zawinul has written something like 300 pieces. I suppose my equivalent total would be 100. Obviously not all have reached the point of getting other musicians to play them, but about half. Using a computer can help the output once you've mastered it.
Does it take you a long time to compose a piece
? Are you an instinctive composer, or an intellectual one
As for the time it takes, it depends. It can take me two weeks to write a piece or two hours, depending on the method and complexity. I like to write something, leave it and then come back to it a month later, hear it fresh and rewrite bits that don't work, if there are any. As for a method when writing music, I have quite a few. Instinct is another way of saying without regard to the rules, then yes, but theory does help quite often. I generally work on computer (Atari, Notator/Creator). Before that, on a portastudio. Before that, on any tape machine that could be found and worn out. Before that, just with guitar. These are ways in which I capture ideas. The ideas themselves could come in the form of a small bit of melody, a chord sequence, a rhythm or a groove, an arpeggio or whatever, which I then take and expand. I like taking small fragments from someone like Didier Malherbe or Richard Sinclair, and developing them beyond recognition.
Why did you compose so little in National
Health, after contributing two or more tunes on each album by your
In Matching Mole and Hatfield, I wrote things that fitted the band, but at the time of National Health, the sort of things I was able to come up with were not really relevant to the rest of the music. Quite definitely, Alan Gowen and Dave Stewart were then far superior writers to me, and I learnt a lot from exposure to their music. It was enough for me to get to grips with the guitar playing!
You don't seem to play in improvised settings
That's not quite true. While I like the well-rehearsed tight band with an openness best, I need to still have the opportunity to play music totally without plan, as I sometimes do with Lol Coxhill and my brother Steve. However, if you write quite complex stuff, you need comparable rehearsal time if you want the right result.
Do you prefer being the leader in the band or
is it more comfortable being just one member among several
Bandleading has its drawbacks, but if you want to hear your music played, you have to take the responsibility and do the chores : get the gigs, book the rehearsal room, incure the phonebill... Being in a more relaxed democratic band means you play guitar better, but then don't have as much of one's own music played. Anyway, I like to put as much of my own stuff into, say, one of Hugh's tunes, as I can.
The line-up of In Cahoots has changed several
times since 1982. How do you explain this?
Well... Bands have a finite life. Things, personnels, always change, whether you want them to or not. I have enjoyed thoroughly everyone's playing in the various InCa's. It's good to welcome these changes as a musical challenge. Different people require different material and approaches. Like the music on Digging In, only some of it is suitable for real musicians to play, and then some of it relates to some people more keenly than others.
Can you tell us more about your future plans
Dave Stewart and I will be working together on an album that Dave is proposing, that will be featuring Dave playing and producing various compositions by people like Django Bates, Mont Campbell, Tim Hodgkinson and myself. I'm also still working in duet with Fred Baker. He's a virtuoso bassist and guitarist, who can play anything you put in front of him... A massive talent! And of course In Cahoots still exists, we're still playing and touring together occasionally.
(c) 1995 Calyx - The Canterbury Website