When we caught up with Scott Miller this week, he was driving his truck to his 200-acre farm in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. He raises cattle. During his 20-odd years in Knoxville, that was always his ultimate intention, to take over the family business. He currently tends about 70 head.
But he's doing a few other things, too. He's just released Big Big World, a 10-song album on FAY Recordings. The big, big world of the title, he says, is "my take on the tiny microcosm I grew up in, that I'm back in."
His first full-length solo effort since For Crying Out Loud four years ago, the new album was partly an outgrowth of that album. He worked with guitarist-producer Doug Lancio, best known perhaps for his work with Patty Griffin. Miller and Lancio shared a rapport—Lancio stronger on the music, Miller stronger on the lyrics. They began swapping ideas long distance, and eventually, when his cattle didn't need him, Miller found himself dropping in at Lancio's East Nashville studio. Miller, who says he has never thought of himself as a tunesmith, compares their arrangement with Rodgers and Hammerstein.
He thinks this record will surprise folks; Lancio has been especially interested in Taureg music from North Africa. "Lyrically, I'm different, too," he says.
"It was probably not the smartest record to make," says Miller. "It probably would have made more sense to make a good ol' Scott Miller record. But this is what I wanted to do."
In the meantime, he's released a few smaller projects, like the CoDependents EP with fiddler Rayna Gellert last year. She also appears on this new album. "I think she's a regular member of the Commonwealth now," he says. Others on the album include old Knoxville pals Cruz Contreras and Trisha Gene Brady, both of the Black Lillies, on background vocals, and drum madman Shawn McWilliams, who's been playing with Miller for more than a decade. Joe Garcia plays pedal steel.
If most Nashville musicians are "all hat and no cattle," then Miller, who rarely wears a hat onstage, is just the opposite. "I'll tour when I can, and I'll farm when I can," he says. He does appraise Nashville footwear, often observing his colleagues' boots skeptically. "None of these boots have ever even stepped in cowshit!"
Knoxville still claims Scott Miller, who earned his first renown here, initially on his own, then as leader of the V-Roys, then on his own again. He's looking forward to playing the Bijou Theatre on Oct. 4 with the Paul Thorn Band.
"Tell everybody hey," he says. "And to be patient with Butch Jones."