Dominic Miller: I Want to Work with Musicians Who Understand Space and Colour
Guitarist Dominic Miller is best known as Sting's sideman. He has contributed to all of Sting's albums since 1990 and is an integral part of the former Police frontman's touring band. Miller has also worked with such names as Paul Simon and opera singer Plácido Domingo. But he also gives his musical fantasies a lot of space on his solo albums. The latest, which is out now, is called Vagabond. Before Dominic embarked on his own tour of Europe, he found a moment to talk to us in the middle of a series of concerts with Sting in Las Vegas.
When I interviewed you during the ad hoc album period, you said that when you write stuff for a new album, it usually goes pretty fast. Was that also the case with your new record Vagabond? Can you describe how the songs came together?
Some tunes were written in a day and others took up to a month. I find that some almost write themselves and I just take dictation from the source which is inspiration. That's the best-case scenario. Others take longer because I'm usually offered a 'clue' which can be two chords that work well together and then I have to complete the picture. Either way, I always finish every idea that I start. I wrote about 25 tunes for this album and only 8 made it to the record.
On the new record, you were joined by drummer Ziv Ravitz, Swedish pianist Jacob Karlzon, and Nicolas Fiszman on bass, who has been working with you for a long time and played on your albums Fourth Wall, 5th House and also your latest record Absinthe from 2019. What were your criteria for choosing the musicians for this record?
My main criteria is to work with musicians who understand space and colour which these guys totally do. And they each have a superpower. Nicolas, coming from the world of pop and rock, has that kind of precise timing and versatile tastes which I like. Ziv is the ultimate painter and colourist who never plays the same thing twice. And he's fearless which encourages us to take more risks. Jacob has a unique approach to improvisation and always surprises me. And he has the tone and technique of a classical pianist which works well in this project.
Will you be performing with the same line-up on your upcoming shows in Europe?
Absolutely! And no doubt they will interpret the tunes differently every night.
Where and how did you record? Did you record live as a quartet to achieve a more heartfelt result or was the album recorded during the pandemic when this was often not possible and many performers recorded remotely?
We recorded it in the south of France towards the end of the pandemic. We were wearing masks. All the tunes were recorded live, two takes at most. I added the occasional overdub of a guitar. But the music was recorded in two days.
What do you personally prefer, recording with the whole band in one room or individually track by track?
Definitely as a band because amazing things can happen with interplay. In the pop and rock world, I like crafting guitar parts individually.
You said that even if you don't consider yourself a vagabond, you identify with these people. Obviously, travel is in your blood as you were born in Argentina, then grew up in America and now you're based in France...
The only connection I have with a vagabond is that I move from place to place and I'm free. Yes, I like being in different places and absorbing different cultures but I'm getting tired of the actual travelling part. I was definitely influenced by these countries in many ways. I feel very lucky to have these different backgrounds which have served me well in music. But with all the travelling I do, I feel the same way about everywhere I go.
What was probably the most special place you have visited as a musician? And is there a place you wish you could play but haven't gotten the chance to yet?
Probably Cuba, mostly because the level of all-round musicianship is on a higher level there than anywhere else I've been. But everywhere I've been has something I like and draw from. I've never been to or played in Jamaica. I would love to go there and learn from all the amazing musicians there.
Now finally there has been a series of concerts in Las Vegas, Caesars Palace, where you actually stay and play in one place for a whole week. Do you have any experience with something like this, have you done anything like this in the past?
It's a unique model of working, almost like touring in reverse because you stay still while the audience does the travelling. I love it. Vegas has changed a lot since the 80s when it had more of a Scorsese vibe, which I miss. Now it's more gentrified which is also fine.
You contributed three songs to Sting's latest album – "The Book of Numbers", "Harmony Road" and "The Bells of St. Thomas". When you write a piece of music, what are the criteria you use to choose whether it goes to Sting or stays for your solo project or other side stuff?
I have no rules here. Whenever I have a new idea or riff I usually play it to him because he's like my older brother and muse. Occasionally, he says they should be songs so naturally I'm always happy to work on them more in a songwriting context. Sometimes they end up on my albums as instrumentals and his as songs.
When you write songs for Sting, do you try to take inspiration from his older work?
No. I don't think that would be very interesting because we're always looking for something new.
Your son Rufus also plays the guitar. Did he choose this instrument after his father's example? Did you teach him?
Both. I think most sons like to emulate what their fathers do. He's a great player and a brilliant songwriter with a killer voice.
You both met in Sting's band. Did you recommend him yourself? And what's it like playing with your own son?
Actually, I didn't recommend him. It's a common misconception. Sting has known him since he could walk and Rufus often jammed with us at soundcheck so Sting, when he was looking for a rhythm guitarist, asked: "What about Rufus?" and it went from there. It's great playing with him as we have similar timing and instinct. But I'm not sentimental about it.
You've basically been working with Sting for three decades. What was your relationship like in the beginning and how has it changed over the years? On a professional level, but also on a personal level.
It's 33 years actually! I could write a whole book about this but I'll just say that our relationship is very strong mostly because we are both curious in nature. On a personal level, we're actually not that close. Musically, we are joined at the hip.
One of your great musical inspirations is Johann Sebastian Bach. Do you remember the first time you heard his music and what made you enchanted by it? Did you have to find your way to it or was it literally love at first hearing?
I heard Bach as a kid and have loved it ever since. It was not until I started playing it that I became almost obsessed. I take a lot of inspiration from his harmony which finds its way into my music.
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