God’s Little Smoke Detector

As far more people should know, after the dissolution of his relatively successful 1980s act Game Theory, Scott Miller founded a new band called the Loud Family (a brief, and surely only lightly fictionalized, biography follows this entry). A changing (and less variable) stylistic climate, a label with distribution and promotion problems, and the new, unfamiliar band name pretty much doomed the Loud Family, so when, tired of beating his head against the brick wall of commerce and, with a job and family, sick of touring and playing the music industry game, Scott Miller “retired” after 2000’s Attractive Nuisance, his fans went back to school and got depressed, or annoyingly begged him to come back. Apparently, it worked: a new Loud Family album (with second songwriter Anton Barbeau) is due later this year. Some clips from the album, to be called What If It Works? can be heard at the 125 Records website.

Miller was never the most prolific writer: nearly everything the band did ended up on its five studio albums. The one Miller song I can think of that ended up on another release was “Chicago and Miss Jovan’s Land-O-Mat,” which showed up on the fourth (and last?) volume of the Yellow Pills power-pop series. The song was recorded contemporaneously with 1996’s Interbabe Concern, but stylistically its almost country-ish lilt had no place on the rather darker-textured album. Had it been an era of singles, this would have been a b-side.

The Loud Family also contributed three covers to the ’90s spate of tribute albums. Feaeturing the same band as recorded 1994’s The Tape of Only Linda, this version of “A Horse with No Name” (whence the title of the band’s first album Plants & Birds & Rocks & Things) features swirly lead guitar from Zachary Smith (who actually plays all those little notes). From 1995 (in fact, according to the album’s liner notes, from the very first day of that year) is their version of the Hollies’ “Look Through Any Window.” This track offers a rare glimpse of Scott Miller the bass player (apparently recorded during the interregnum after Rob Poor left to pursue his studies at MIT and before Kenny Kessel’s arrival). The band also contributed a cover of “We’re for the Dark” for Copper Records’ Badfinger tribute album Come and Get It. This song was presumably recorded around the same time as Interbabe Concern and “Chicago…,” since it features the band credited on that album (including here-today-gone-tomorrow drummer Dawn Richardson, who decamped for fame and fortune with some other band’s tour about five minutes before the Loud Family’s own tour was set to begin. But hey: she also played drums on about the worst song ever – that Four Non Blondes number that I’m sorry to have just reminded you of.)

It’s too bad there were never any full-dress studio takes on some of my favorite Loud Family live covers: David Bowie’s “Beauty and the Beast” (rehearsal mp3 here, though), Roxy Music’s “Re-Make, Re-Model,” and, uh, Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid” (I don’t know if the band ever did that one, but rumor has it that Miller and Kessel covered it live in an in-store appearance once or twice…)

The Loud Family “Chicago and Miss Jovan’s Land-O-Mat”
The Loud Family “A Horse with No Name”
The Loud Family “Look Through Any Window”
The Loud Family “We’re for the Dark”

At one time, Alias Records wanted the folks on Loudfans to submit stuff for an upcoming CD’s press kit. This project never really took off, but in the meantime I wrote this. It never got used, and I should say that Alias Records, the Loud Family, the Pope, General Motors, and the CIA have nothing to do with me, and vice versa. I’ve since revised it to update the biography through the two more recent releases.

The release of the Loud Family’s new title, Attractive Nuisance, marks the long-awaited return to the scene of one of pop’s most intriguing ensembles. The band’s main writer, reclusive pop genius Scott Miller, has lived for years alone in a trailer in the Mojave, programming computers and painting windowshades. Alias Records expects that Attractive Nuisance will finally bring commercial justice to their critically acclaimed act. For this album, Scott has cloned himself (with certain modifications to the nose and hair) four times and fashioned a delectable, multi-Scott “boy group,” whose wicked dance steps and cuddly insouciance are certain to open the wallets of billions.

Needless to say, pop connoisseurs and critics alike are eager to know more about the Loud Family and its mysterious leader. What, they want to know, makes him tick? Here’s a brief history.

After inventing the phonograph, Scott makes some recordings with his first ensemble, Alternative Learning. Recorded on wax cylinders with a steel stylus fashioned from one of his mother’s knitting needles, these recordings were long thought lost, until what appears to be the sole remaining copy was discovered in a library in Columbus, Ohio.

A couple of years later, noted folklorist John Hammond travels to the remote town of Davis, California, making priceless field recordings of Scott’s new group, Game Theory. Reissued under the title Irreal Folk Blues, these songs became a bible for handfuls of aspiring pop mavens.

Working as a truckdriver, Scott stops in to Sam Phillips’ Sun Studios to record some of his favorite songs as a gift to his mother, Gladys. A secretary, impressed not only with Scott’s singing and playing, but also by his hair, stylish overcoat, and risque dance moves, brings the recordings to the attention of Phillips himself. These recordings are released as Real Nighttime – the rest, as they say, is history.

Quickly forming a new version of Game Theory to capitalize on the media buzz, Scott and friends submit a tape of their newest material to Decca Records, hoping to get their winning sounds out to the masses. Notoriously, the tape is rejected – undefeated, the band submits the tape, now christened The Big Shot Chronicles, to the fledgling Enigma Records. The label is duly impressed, and signs the band upon whom their future fortunes will rest.

The band now set out to prove that they’re not just another flash in the pan, embarking on their magnum opus, Lolita Nation. Originally, this album was to be recorded with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, and a full-fledged stage show, featuring choreography by Jerome Robbins and a cast of 200, including a synchronized swim team of trained seals, was slated for a year-long tour of major venues throughout North America, Europe, Japan, and Australia.

However, this was not to be: the master tapes including the orchestra mysteriously disappear, the seals perish in a boating accident, and Robbins backs out, not wanting to be associated with what was obviously becoming a major disaster. Undaunted, Game Theory redoes the album themselves, performing all their own overdubs – but the malign aura surrounding this disc would not dissipate. On the eve of the now stripped-down band-only tour, a troubled youth in Minnesota brutally kills his entire family with an axe. Apparently, he’d been listening to a song on Lolita Nation, “The Waist and the Knees,” immediately before the attack. The resulting flurry of negative publicity causes Game Theory to cancel their tour.

Perhaps it was this bad image that motivated Scott’s next step – or perhaps, it was merely his saintly soul. While recording what would be Game Theory’s last album, Two Steps from the Middle Ages, Scott organizes an incredible cavalcade of musicians from around the world, effortlessly managing logistical difficulties which would stymie almost any other human, and mounts two enormously successful, simultaneous concerts in London and San Francisco, nearly every last penny of which goes to benefit famine victims in Ethiopia. Miller is nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, and, it is rumored, is a serious candidate for canonization.

This virtuous persona causes trouble for Scott, however. An image rehaul is in order. Scott forms a new band, dubbed the Loud Family, which records their first disc for Alias Records, Plants and Birds and Rocks and Things. On a television appearance, goaded on by host Bill Grundy, the band utters the words “Joyce” and “Nabokov” live on national TV. A nation is scandalized – but sales of the new disc skyrocket.

An interim EP, Slouching toward Liverpool, is quickly dispatched – Scott increases his media notoriety by appearing at a record company naked except for a leather jockstrap and riding saddle. Leaping upon the polished mahogany table, Miller bites the head off a goat. Alias hastily appeases the animal rights people, and another successful disc is unleashed upon the cheering millions.

For the Loud Family’s next full-length, The Tape of Only Linda (yes it is too available on CD), the band decides to go for a back-to-basics, lo-fi approach, recording the entire disc on a $15 portable cassette deck (found at a Salvation Army store) in a phone booth on a crowded San Francisco street at three o’clock in the afternoon. Fans and critics alike are amazed at the sounds Miller and company were able to achieve under such primitive recording conditions. While it sells enough to be certified a Tin Record, such disappointing sales are unable to recoup Alias’s massive promotional expenditures – including the notorious launching in San Francisco Bay of a 900-ft. tall statue of Scott Miller.

On the next album, the whimsically shifting breezes that have wafted personnel in and out of the Loud Family result in the inscrutable brilliance that is 1996’s Interbabe Concern. While the band features a new drummer for three minutes (she leaves to accept a lucrative touring offer with a band that happened to be driving by the studio in its van), every other note on Interbabe Concern is written, arranged, performed, recorded, engineered, produced, mixed, mastered, pressed, designed, art-directed, drawn, photographed, painted, typeset, manufactured, assembled, distributed, sold, and delivered to all purchasers’ homes by Scott Miller.* He even presses “play” for all listeners’ first experience of the CD!

1998’s Days for Days features the return of legendary Game Theory drummer Gil Ray, legendary Liverpool bass player Paul McCartney, legendary Spanish tenor Placido Domingo, legendary Denver quarterback John Elway, and the debut of a certain hungry talking chihuahua, later to become famous as a spokesdog for a national taco chain. The dog plays contrabass ocarina on an early version of “Way Too Helpful,” whose working title, “Are Too Deee-Tourned,” arose from its lyrics’ exploration of the Situationist practice of détournement in relation to the whirring, beeping Star Wars droid’s wanderings through the galaxy. (The new lyrics are about sex, tennis, and murder. I think.)

This, of course, was until now the Loud Family’s most recent album – but we know that, having returned, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Attractive Nuisance – the brilliant new platter by San Francisco’s Loud Family. Available at all your better purveyors of recorded music, on Alias Records.

* A well-placed source asserts that other band members delivered some copies. However, Scott forced them to wear “Scott” wigs so awed consumers wouldn’t notice the difference.



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4 responses to “God’s Little Smoke Detector

  1. Tris McCall

    the *debaser* and *when you sleep* covers were pretty hot, too.

  2. Anonymous

    Hey Jeff, your links to “Any Window” and “We’re for the Dark” point to … the same song.

  3. 2fs

    Tris – Agreed, but at least there were official live releases on From Ritual to Romance.

    A-nonny-nonny: Oops. Thanks – corrected now. Actually the link at the bottom of the post was correct, but not the one in the text.

  4. DJMurphy

    That bio of LF circa Attractive Nuisance was true comic genius!!! I haven’t laughed that hard in forever. I did my own extended bio, but granted, it had fewer laughs. Mine can be found here: http://www.gloriousnoise.com/features/2003/loud_family-11-12.php and here a sequel of sorts: http://www.gloriousnoise.com/articles/2006/loud_family_interview_miller.php

    Thanks for a great laugh!! It’s cool to see another GT/LF fan out there.

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