The Austin-born, Dallas-raised lead singer for the Old 97’s has led a fruitful double life as a solo artist with the albums Mythologies (1989), The Instigator (2002), and The Believer (2006). He has just released his fourth album, Rhett Miller (Shout! Factory).
You actually began as a solo artist, making your first album in high school. Your future Old 97’s collaborator Murry Hammond produced it. How did you get from there to the Old 97’s? The 97’s formed in ’93. It was a different iteration of Murry and me. We had a few other bands and got frustrated about battling this testosterone-driven rock world. We said, “Let’s form a band that doesn’t run the risk of getting successful. A coffeehouse, countryish, folk music band.” Of course, ironically, that’s the band that became successful.
Have the Old 97’s been together continuously since then? Not so long ago, there were rumors of a breakup. There was a time around The Instigator when people were talking as if we were, but we were very clear about it. We had been on the road for five years nonstop, so when I did my solo record, everybody got a break, and eighteen months later we were back in the studio.
You’ve said that one reason you make your solo records is that these tunes are rejected by the band. A lot of bands don’t operate so democratically. Wouldn’t it be simpler as the primary songwriter to call the shots? Oh, man, it’s a fine line. How do you keep a band together for that long? To do it, everybody has to feel appreciated. We made decisions early on that would recognize the contributions of, say, Philip [Peeples], the drummer. Philip’s a smart guy who gave up a great