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DON MIGGS TALKS TO ROCKWIRED
ABOUT BLOWING OFF THE 9 TO 5 FOR ROCK N ROLL
HIS CD INSOMNIA
AND REACHING FOR THE BRASS RING
INTERVIEWED BY BRIAN LUSH
DON MIGGS is rock n roll machinery at it's finest. It's all rehearsals, one gig after the next, living in a van and sharing a hotel room with three other band mates, all just to get the music out there. It's all about cutting the bullshit and getting right down to business- as much as rock n roll can be called a business. Brought up in a musical family, DON learned the tricks of the trade early in life (guitar, bass, drums and keyboards) and ran with it. Sure there were deviations and distractions along the way - like a job - but we won't get into that. Let's just say that DON MIGGS came to realize that music was his business and things have been on the up and up ever since.His aim is simple. "I wanna take the melodies of pop music and this big sound of LED ZEPPELIN and put it in a blender."exclaims MIGGS as if he's desperately ransacking the kitchen for the sounds that he would like to put into said blender. This sound comes to life on MIGGS' sophomore release INSOMNIA. Pop's sweetness and Rock's edge come together seamlessly on this record. Pop psychological heartache is worn on this guy's sleeve and that's the way we like our pop-singer/songwriters. There is nothing sophomoric about this release.
At the time of this interview, DON MIGGS had to cancel the first four dates of his 170 date tour because of throat and chest pains. Despite the setback and being heavily medicated, MIGGS took the time to speak with ROCKWIRED over the phone. Here is how it went.
I was given this number to call you by HOWIE (MIGGS' publicist) just now, instead of the old one.
Yeah, I was supposed to be on the bus heading up to Fresno, but I've had to cancel the show. I've never had to cancel a show.
Why did you have to cancel?
Last night I started getting throat and chest pain and I struggled through the set that we were doing. We were supposed to play Fresno tonight. Tomorrow we were supposed to play Santa Cruz. Friday Sacramento and San Jose on Saturday. I was ready to do these shows to. One time I had all four of my wisdom teeth taken out and and I did a show. My thinking is, if you say your going to do a show, you do it. Last night I had to end the show early. I hate making excuses for a show and I didn't want to have had to do that tonight so I canceled it. The venues are cool about it. For these shows we were the support, not the headliners. It worked out all right.
Who were you supporting?
It's embarrassing. I'm on some crazy stuff and I can't remember. I called my dad this afternoon telling him that I couldn't believe that I was actually going to have to cancel a show. Growing up my dad managed the band that I was in. We were like fourteen years old and if we went around saying we can't do this gig, my dad would be like "Wait a minute! you spend all of this time rehearsing and you told them you were going to do the show. Do it!" Some places we'd play, we would be on until midnight, but that's how my dad was. When I talked to him today, I thought he was going to give me a reprimand but he just said "There are time when you're body knows that you need to stop. Your tour is going to be 170 dates this year and you don't want to ruin it." Unfortunately, the tour was to start on the ninth and I got sick on the eighth.
Not knowing that any of this was happening, my first question was going to be about this Dr. Kessler that you thank in the liner notes of INSOMNIA for "fixing the pipes".
I'm not a natural singer. I'm a guy who sings and a guy who ha s always loved to sing. I'm more of a character guy and I wear my emotions on my sleeve for me, i want to get a point across. I don't need it executed beautifully. I need it to come across with conviction and emotion. When I was signed to BMG ten years ago, i didn't know how to sing at all. I just happened to be the guy who wrote the songs and the guy who was supposed to sing didn't show up one night so I started singing. Then we got the record deal and I used to sing just from my throat. So I went to DR. KESSLER noticed this and also noticed that I had a deviated septum. So he fixed that and found me this great vocal teacher and I actually learned how to sing as best as a guy like me is ever going to learn how to sing.
What got you into music?
Music isn't something that I chose. It chose me. I remember my first time on a stage when I was eight years old. I wrote my first song then. I knew how to play guitars, drums, bass and keyboards. In my house, my dad and his four brothers played music and if you wanted to have a voice and hang out you had better sing a harmony or pick up an instrument. It was a natural thing for me. I had always been around it. I feel more comfortable on a stage than I do here or anywhere else. Because of my uncles ages, I was introduced to everything form the fifties, sixties, seventies, eighties,and with me the nineties. I really got an understanding of everything from ELVIS to THE BEATLES, to LED ZEPPELIN, to STEVIE WONDER to KISS, CHEAP TRICK and BLONDIE. I was schooled in everything that was pop music and started writing from the get-go. When I was eight years old, I wrote a song called LOVE MACHINE. As you get older other things come into play. People say that your going to be a doctor or a lawyer and I kind of entertained that for a while. When I got the record deal with BMG, I had a job and everything and balancing two worlds and proving to everyone that I could still do business. Three years ago, I met with the producer of INSOMNIA GAVIN MCKILLOP and said "We'll make this record on the weekend or whatever works." Then he said to me "Haven't you done that enough. Are you a musician or are some guy who plays music?" I really hit home. I was in New York at the time and I got back to San Francisco and I quit my job and told all of the guys in the band "This is it! Everyone is quitting their job and if you can't do it, then this isn't what you should be doing. We're gonna become a band that's going to be on the road and that's the way we are going to make our money." So, two years ago in January, that's exactly what we did.
Sounds inspiring. You make me wanna go out there and start a band.
There area couple of things that I've learned along the way. Life is really short and you're going to be dead a lot longer than you are gonna be alive. At the end of it, you don't get an award that says that your tired harder or held in there more so you damn well better go for the brass ring every chance you get because tomorrow may not be there and you may not get the opportunity. I just started doing this thing with kids which is pretty cool. I goto different high schools and I'll teach songwriting in English classes. For me, I want to inspire these kids into thinking that they can' take that chance. These kids are brainwashed into thinking that they've got to be either a doctor or a lawyer- which is fine. But when they don't , they'll follow what everyone else is doing which is drugs. If what you really want to do is sew, then start sewing now 'cause pretty soon your choices are going to be made for you and you are going to have a mortgage, a car, nice clothes, and then you can't quit your job and start sewing, or be musician or a writer. I moved from new York to San Francisco and I basically did what I called my ATLAS SHRUGGED. I don;t know if you're a fan of AYN RAND.
Never finished it.
The book FOUNTAINHEAD changed my life. When I read ATLAS SHRUGGED I decided that I needed to do my own ATLAS SHRUGGED. In New York we signed the deal with BMG and then the whole label got screwed around they decided they were gonna give all of their money and attention to DAVE MATTHEWS and I was like "I've got to get out of here 'cause I'm never gonna make it." So I got rid of everyone that was a hanger-on and moved to San Francisco and from there I decided that I was going to get the chance to be who I want and do what I want to do. My advise to anyone that wants to do music is to stop buying things that you are going to get tied to. The minute you get a mortgage when that record deal comes in, you can't quit your day job. the record company is not going to give you a million dollars to go on the road. They're going to give you just enough money to squeak by. When we left our jobs to to tour, we knew that all four of us were going to be sleeping in a two bedroom hotel the whole time. Thats the reality. you are going to live on $21.00 a day per diem. No one is going to get rich off of that.
Other than working with big name producer (GAVIN McKILLOP) what us the major difference between INSOMNIA and your previous effort.
Th e biggest difference I can tell you is that for the CD ANYWAY, I had two-thousand dollars and went into the studio and did it in 50 hours - recording, mixing, the whole nine yards. We wrote some songs on the spot and I produced it, just like a REPLACEMENTS record. I'm a big fan of that. With INSOMNIA, it was like being in a dark room with somebody who knew where the light switch was and that was GAVIN. I had to feel my way around the dark room. GAVIN has worked with JOHN LENNON and NEIL FINN and JOHNNY ROTTEN. He understood where the light switch was and he made it happen. On the downside, I was a little intimidated, because i loved the TOAD THE WET SPROCKET albums that he did. His notoriety intimidated me. For the next album, I want strip the sound down a little and make it more raw sounding. I did the INSOMNIA album and I'm proud of it. I'm actually thinking about calling the next album WIDE AWAKE. ANYWAY was a record where we were only going to do a three song demo but we ended up making a record instead. INSOMNIA happened because i have INSOMNIA and I wrote all of these songs in the in-between hours. I just did this acoustic EP called LATE NIGHTS AND EARLY MORNINGS. I think people are ready to hear 'for real' rock music again.
So the band MIGGS is essential you, JASON, JOHN, and MARK, right?
No longer actually! Wow ! we didn't even hit on that story. JASON, JOHN and MARK are dear friends. I love them dearly. They could not tour anymore. After the song PERFECT went to the top 50 at the end of 2005, the label sat us down and said that we could take three weeks off from touring but at the end of those three weeks we would be starting a 200 date tour for 2006 and all of the guys in the band kind of hung there head and said "It's too much work!" I was like "Guys, what are you talking about? We've got a single that's actually starting to chart here and we've gotta get our asses out there. I'm ready to go!" I tried working stuff out with them and they couldn't do it.
What a nightmare!
My manager looks at me and goes, "What are we going to do?" and I offer to go out on these dates acoustically and the manager says " we can't do that, we've got to go out as a band. MTV2 said they were going to post tour dates. Things start happening and the song ends up on THE O.C. and got word that it was going to be on the ABC television show later in the year. All of these great things are happening and i can't get eh band in the van.and they said that they couldn't do it. so I got a hold of a friend of mine in New York who plays bass and I asked him if he wanted to d it. He flew out a week later. I found a local drummer.- and excellent drummer and this guitar prodigy from L.A. When we got together it completely gelled and these guys really work the songs.