Rhett Miller on Working With Peter Buck: ‘R.E.M. Changed My Life’
Earlier this month, Rhett Miller released his latest solo album, The Traveler, via ATO Records, and for the LP, he enlisted the help of members of the Decemberists as well as R.E.M.’s Peter Buck. Miller says it was the latter who changed his life.
“This sounds like hyperbole, but in a lot of ways R.E.M. changed my life," Miller told Billboard. "I was this 14-year-old kid who didn’t see much point in all the pain inherent in this world and I got Life’s Rich Pageant … I would sleep and listen to side one over and over and the next night I would listen to the other side.”
“Here I am decades later and I’ve got to be friends with Peter through getting to open for R.E.M. over the years," he continued. "Then to call him up and get him to play on my record was something I had never dreamt of as a young rock and roll love. He’s just my buddy now and he’s a sweet dude.”
Miller’s backing band, Black Prairie, features the Decemberists’ Chris Funk and John Moen, both of whom Miller says played an integral role in the making of The Traveler.
“Chris Funk is the dobro player in the Decemberists and Black Prairie and is sort of the musical director for both bands,” the Old 97's leader said. “I don’t think anybody would get mad at me for describing him this way; he was technically a producer on this record, although one of the things we kept bringing up was that everybody in Black Prairie kind of has production chops and has lots of ideas.”
“John Moen is the drummer for the Decemberists and Black Prairie and is a famous Portland drummer that has played with everybody,” he added. “When I saw Elliott Smith do his SNL appearance, John Moen was his drummer. He’d been around a million blocks and he’s just a really brilliant guy.”
Miller also said The Traveler -- at its core -- is an album about hope.
“Putting ‘Reason to Live’ at the very end was my way of saying I have found there is hope and a reason to keep going when you’re really defeated,” he said. “I wanted to give people the ray of light and say I learned a little bit about perseverance and survival in the making of this record and surviving the last 40-odd years of my life… Navigating this life is a tricky thing but if you are open to the beauty of it -- and open to creating beauty of your own -- it can be really rewarding.”