A solo artist in his own right, Dominic Miller is probably better known as Sting's guitarist. His new album, "Ad Hoc," recorded in Germany, is a return to his acoustic roots. DW caught up with him in Cologne.
Dominic Miller has released 10 solo/duo albums to date and has worked as a session guitarist with the likes of Phil Collins, Peter Gabriel, The Pretenders and Tina Turner, to name a few. He's probably best-known as Sting's guitarist and has played on every album and tour since 1990.
DW: Your new album has a cohesive and flowing nature to it. At the same time you called it "Ad Hoc," which suggests on-the-spot spontaneity. Is that how it happened?
Dominic Miller: Pretty much, because a lot of things happened during the album that were unexpected. I chose the musicians for a reason, because they're the kind of musicians who can think on their feet, react, because I came with loose structures, a melody, but I didn't how I was going to do it. I didn't do any demos. This was a deliberate exercise. I wrote with a piece of paper and a guitar in my kitchen, the old way. It was quite a discipline to not do [the demos].
I believe the first time you lay something down, that's the best it's going to sound. So I wanted to capture that in the studio, with the guys... I said to them 'don't even take the run-through seriously, I just want you to know that we're going to go here, going to go there. This is the route and it's going to end here. Just busk it.' So we did a maximum of three performances, and we took either the first or the second.
So 'Ad Hoc' is really thinking on our feet, and I chose guys that would give me that "ad hocness."
Did you have one song that provided a theme?
No, but I did want to do a concept album. I mean the bar was set very high with Pink Floyd's 'Dark Side of the Moon,' which I've been trying to reach ever since Mike Oldfield's 'Tubular Bells.' I know it's not hip to say you like that, but I do. I love concept, not just a concept album, but I wanted to do something where there wasn't necessarily a theme, but there were little hints of tunes you might find in one and then another song. You might subconsciously think, 'oh I've heard that before.'
This album is a bit of a departure from your previous album "Fifth House," which had more electric/rock elements in it. Was this a conscious decision to return to your roots, so to speak?
Yes. Those were two very different albums and two very different approaches. My approach on 'Fifth House' - which I'm happy with - is that I wanted to make the LA record that I never made, in LA with that American kind of execution, you know these guys who've played with Toto, played on big records, session guys. And I wanted that, I wanted that personality. I wanted their personalities to come through.
So it's very different to this album. On this album I didn't want personalities. If your playing was recognized, I wouldn't be doing my job. I didn't want anyone drawing attention to themselves. For this one I wanted more of a European feel, so that's why I chose Cologne, and that's why I chose European musicians.
A couple of songs have a country-esque or folk feel to them. Was that an influence of working on "The Last Ship" with Sting?
No, not at all.That's probably more my freaky side, my hippiness. It's more Americana than folk to me. I am the only Grateful Dead fan that I know, I love them, I love Jerry Garcia's guitar playing. So that's the tribute to Americana, songs like Doolin' and World Party, so there is that San Francisco side of folk music.
Exiting Purgatory, the first track, has such a great, nagging riff to it that immediately lodges in your head. How did that come about?
Well, that was the first tune I wrote on the album. I think I may be right in saying that the sequence that you hear on the album is the sequence that I wrote them in, and it's the sequence that I recorded them in. That's how the idea of the album started, just by accident really. I stumbled across it. I didn't think it was an amazing riff, but it happened at a time where I thought it's time to start saying something, it had been two and a half years.
It sounded like Philipp Glass to me, so that's where it started, a sort of minimalist, repetitive, monotonous type of ostinato. It had a shape, so that was fine, that was done. So I played it to the guys - and it used to be a lot faster, but then Rani's (the percussionist's) instinct was to slow it down and make it heavy. So then we were kind of in Lep Zeppelin mode...And then one thing lead to another, the bass followed the root notes, which makes it sound fat and the harmonium gave it the sinister feel, and then Eda Zari (vocals) did the sort of scary, Latin, Verdi Requiem-type script, and then it was a no-brainer.
And I had this title hanging round for years, because I bought a painting in New York years ago and it's about being in hell; it's about being in an uncertain place. The exiting part for me means finding your way out of it.
Ad Hoc is out now on Q-Rious Music.