Adam Miller reflects on hurled barstools and Vogue-ing in Vancouver
BY GREGORY ADAMS
Sometimes the shows you remember the most are the ones that don't go according to plan. Through 30 years of show-goin' (lol), there's one that I circle back to often: an early '00s set from Seattle post-punk quintet the Vogue that was beleaguered by missing bandmembers, and saw at least one errant barstool flying through the air. That I took photos that night probably helps.
Two car-loads of Vogue folks planned to drive up to Vancouver's Brickyard venue on May 31,2000, though the one with vocalist Johnny Whitney inside got turned away at the border. Undeterred, bassist Adam Miller opted to put his instrument down for the night and channel his bandmate's energy on the mic.
The Vogue were pretty on-point, having just recorded the artful noise of debut full-length, The Vogue as Brass & Satin, about a month earlier. On another level, it was also a gorgeous, clusterfuck of a situation. No matter how you cut it, the songs were missing a key ingredient. I remember it being a light and mostly unreceptive crowd, and a tonally mismatched bill (two generic hard rock bands played, though I truly can't recall their names). I'd never seen Adam go full-frontman prior to this, and while he dove into the role like a champ, you could tell he was nervous about the switch-up.
Regardless, about a year later Adam recorded and put out the debut 7-inch from his Chromatics project, which was initially a one-person affair. Considering the timing, I'd always wondered if this Brickyard show played an integral part in Adam's vocal journey — that, or maybe the time he hopped on the mic the following December to sing lead on a song with San Francisco's Slaves at the Kirkland Teen Center.
I recently reconnected with Adam to get into his brand new solo EP, Illusion Pool, which continues the prismatic pop of Chromatics' final era, while also dialing into Adam's love of both the Byrds and the Cure (a cover of the former's "Everybody's Been Burned" amazingly features the latter's Tol Lolhurst on drums). While we were at it, though, I couldn't resist asking if he had any memories about this uniquely odd one-off moment at an ill-attended show about a quarter century ago. Enjoy!
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Do you remember this particular Vogue show?
ADAM MILLER: I totally do. I remember getting pretty drunk, and banging my knee on the monitor. I was scared to do it, but I was like, "Ok, I guess if I get drunk I can flail around, and my energy can make up for the fact that I don’t really know what I’m doing here [while] singing these songs.”
Did you know Johnny’s lyrics, or did you wing it?
MILLER: I knew most of his vocals, but I also didn’t have ‘em totally memorized. They were a band before I joined, and I was a fan. We also practiced a lot. It wasn’t like I was going in cold.
Still, Johnny has such a unique singing style and stage presence. It was weird taking somebody’s place, but the show must go on, right?
Since you mentioned being nervous, and needing to put down a few drinks to work through it, how much singing experience had you had onstage before this?
MILLER: Well, my friends and I would play Nirvana covers and our own songs in my friend’s basement in eighth or ninth grade. It was a very strange feeling when our friends were applauding us, because that was the first time I remember sharing music with people, or sharing that part of myself. But it was so exhilarating! So, over the next few years I would play acoustic guitar at a couple coffee shops in Minneapolis with these kind-of wannabe K Records pop songs that I would write.
Really, though, the first show I ever did was when I had this band called Pumpkin Patch, which was named after a Some Velvet Sidewalk song. This was with Annie Rollins; I think we were like 16. I don’t really know how I ended up setting up the show, but we opened for that band the Softies. Maybe it was because I’d written K records on America Online, like, "I saw the Softies are on tour; I can set up the show in Minneapolis!" I used to go to house shows at this place called the Minnesota Academy of Gung Fu, which was just a house on the periphery of downtown. I asked my friend Kevin who lived there if we could do a show with the Softies and Pumpkin Patch, and he was like, "Totally!" That was my first time opening for an artist that I really loved and respected.
I still love the ‘90s K Records stuff: Tiger Trap, Beat Happening, the Softies, Some Velvet Sidewalk, Lync, all the International Pop Underground stuff. It’s still a huge influence on me. I really liked how it was so d.i.y., but those groups made really pretty music. A lot of times d.i.y. punk means something really macho and aggressive. Those bands weren’t like that at all, but they were still operating within that underground scene. I thought it was so cool that Beat Happening opened up for Black Flag. Actually, I remember Al Larsen from Some Velvet Sidewalk telling me that Beat Happening always played their best shows when they had a really antagonistic audience. When they played to a crowd that loved them it usually wasn’t very good, but when they were playing to Black Flag's skinhead fans it was just an incredible show.
Looping back a bit, one thing I remember about this Vogue show was that you whipped a barstool into the crowd.
MILLER: Oh man…I’m sad to say that was not the first time I’d thrown something into the audience, but the people who got hit by things have forgiven me, and I’ve forgiven myself. That was the Gravity Records influence, right there. I did really love how antagonistic and crazy Antioch Arrow was, in particular. I remember seeing Aaron [Montaigne] from Antioch’s band afterwards, Tarot Bolero. He threw a mic stand into the crowd at the Velvet Elvis in Seattle in 1999, and it hit some kid. Split his head open. Aaron went to the emergency room with him, and the kid got stitches.
I threw a snare drum into the crowd in 2003 and it hit this kid in the head; I still feel bad about it. I don’t really know why I did it. That’s really funny that I threw a stool, though. Did anybody get hurt?
I think it just kind of bounced off the floor.
MILLER: Good! I would be appalled if I saw somebody do that today. I’m such a goody two-shoes now that I’d have to have a word with the singer. "Hey man, you’ve got to think about the effects of your actions!" Or, maybe not [laughs].
You can read more about Adam Miller's Illusion Pool project in our recent interview over at Northern Transmissions.
Soiled Doves - "Soiled Doves"
After releasing a three-song 7-inch and a full-length through Seattle's Made in Mexico imprint (both of which sadly not streaming officially), the Vogue organist Casey Wescott left the band and the remaining members morphed into Soiled Doves.
The rebranded quartet put out a two-song 7-inch in 2001 through King of the Monsters. They then re-recorded those tunes and more for their lone full-length, 2003's Soiled Life (issued through Gold Standard Laboratories, if you're keeping score).
It's a surreal beast of an album, but I'm going to home in on Devin Welch's presence on de facto band anthem "Soiled Doves". His guitar playing is so viscerally weird and slippery, here, and proof paramount of how Devin juggled lead and rhythm duties in the Vogue with a fucked-up kind of finesse. The sixth string is trundled all the way down to C in this piece, which leads Devin to juxtapose uncomfortably string-snapping low rhythms against a series of flamenco-ish high string triads. I also love how the creeping dread of the verse leads up to a chorus melody that sounds somewhat like the theme song to Top Gun.
You can check out the song below, but while we're all here I'd also like to point out the impressively prolific lineage of the Vogue/Soiled Doves. The group featured both past-and-present members of the Blood Brothers from the jump (in Devin and Johnny, respectively), but would also feature future members of Chromatics (in Adam, Devin, and drummer Hannah Blilie), folk rockers Fleet Foxes (in Casey), and Gossip (Hannah again), among numerous other projects.