Q&A: Jazz/Rock Guitarist Dave Miller on the Connotations of Experimentation

With more musical projects than fingers, Chicago guitarist Dave Miller has his hands fully immersed in jazz, rock, psychedelic, noise, and experimental forms.

His primary creation as a bandleader, Algernon, is one of his most accessible — jazz-flared, vibraphone-heavy post-rock that’s rife with effects. His other groups draw further into the realms of freeform structures, though most don’t hurt for hooks. (One such outfit, Zing!, was lauded here in advance of a local show last weekend.)

Online editor Scott Morrow caught up with Miller to discuss musical personalities, the connotations of the term “experimental,” the next Algernon album, and his countless other endeavors.

Algernon is one of your most straightforward, melody-driven projects. Other than being a vehicle for your rock-flavored compositions, what do you hope to accomplish with Algernon?

One of my most important objectives in music has always been to connect with people. I try to walk the like between tradition and innovation as gracefully as possible.

So with Algernon, the project that reflects my musical personality most accurately, I try to write music that is accessible to people who are not musicians or music intellectuals without sacrificing the integrity of the music.

Like many of your outfits, Algernon is full of wild guitar effects. But how much of your experimentation — with pedals or otherwise — is reserved for Zing!, Blink., your other groups or your compositions for film and theater?

I was having a conversation about the musical term “experimental” with my good friend and musical cohort in Algernon, Toby Summerfield, recently. He made a really strong point that I agree with: a lot of times, the music that we write is called “experimental” because it may stretch the boundaries of what people may think of being conventional-sounding music.

Truth be told, “experimental” music writers will spend much time finding new and unusual ways of making music. However, the finished product is ideally no longer an experiment but a fully realized and valid musical idea.

With that being said, I am a curious musician by nature. So no matter what band I’m playing in or project that I’m working on, I try to continually find new ways of interpreting the music that lets my musical personality and influences shine through.

Your projects allow you to collaborate with other members of the jazz/rock/improv community. How does working in so many groups affect your own creativity?

I’ve found it to be somewhat overwhelming at times because, at any given moment, I tend to have a lot on my plate. Nevertheless, I’m never at a loss for being inspired, because I’m consistently playing great music with so many great musicians and having a blast doing so. I feel lucky to be a part of everything going on in Chicago scene right now!

What can we expect from the next Algernon release? What else are you working on?

The next Algernon album is all written. We have too many songs at this point, I think. We’ll be recording in March at Steve Albini‘s studio, Electrical Audio, with our favorite enginer, Manny Sanchez.

This new album will be a little bit more rock-oriented and will have more experimentation with form. The album as a whole will go through a lot more musical moods than the last. I’m excited to get it done!

As far as other projects, the new Ted Sirota’s Rebel Souls album will be out in March or April, the new WW Lowman album should be out by the summer, the new Mercury Effect (Tommy Faulds’ solo project) album, which I contributed a good amount of guitar to, should be out soon, and new albums from the Kevin Kizer Quintet and the John Wojciechowski Quintet should be out soon as well.

I’m also in the beginning stages of planning out a solo record. I don’t know really how to describe it yet, but it’s different.

– Scott Morrow

Dave Miller: www.myspace.com/davemillermusic4
Algernon: www.algernonmusic.com

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