2014 Artist Lineup

Ben Miller Band

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Since its formation in 2004, the Ben Miller Band has staked out an iconoclastic niche that’s established the Joplin, Missouri threesome as both a one-of-a-kind creative unit and a grass-roots fan favorite. Channeling a century’s worth of wide-ranging influences into rousing ramshackle songcraft that radiates with energy, smarts and soul, the trio’s tunes achieve a musical and emotional depth that belies the material’s (and the musicians’) rough exterior. The result is music that’s wholly contemporary, yet which rings resonantly with ages-old echoes of bluegrass, delta blues, Appalachian mountain music and more. The hard-working unit has won a growing regional fan base through old-fashioned ingenuity and an unstinting work ethic, generating a national buzz that’s resulted in the band’s recent signing to New West Records—as well as some high-profile touring with ZZ Top, thanks to the enthusiastic patronage of avowed BMB fan Billy Gibbons. The Ben Miller Band’s D.I.Y. approach extends to the lo-tech, and largely self-built, instruments that the members play on stage, e.g. singer-songwriter Ben Miller’s thrift-shop guitars and banjos, bassist Scott Leeper’s one-string washtub bass, and drummer Doug Dicharry’s varied arsenal, which includes trombone, trumpet, mandolin, electric washboard and electric spoons. Comprised of a weed eater string attached to a wooden pole, Leeper’s washtub bass is not your ordinary instrument. “Playing that thing may sound simple but it is deceptively difficult,” says Miller of his musical comrade. “You have to adjust the tension to change the note. It is incredible to watch him do it. We always have a few bass players right up on him in complete disbelief.” The band’s use of offbeat instrumentation, however, shouldn’t be misunderstood as a gimmick. Instead, the three bandmates have mastered their unconventional axes to produce a uniquely expressive ensemble sound that offers a compelling frame for Miller’s lyrically vivid compositions. “What I really care about is songs, and the rest of it is just a vehicle to get you to that destination,” Miller asserts, adding, “We have no interest in being some kind of wacky novelty act, and just because we use junk to make music doesn’t mean we aren’t serious about it.” “The instruments that we use were originally born out of necessity, because we didn’t have any money,” Miller explains. “People would give us their old gear that didn’t work anymore, and we’d wire things together and try things out in different permutations and see where it led us. Through a lot of trial and error, we arrived at the set-up that we’ve got now. Blazing your own trail through the jungle can take a lot of extra time and effort, but it gives you a chance to end up in a place that nobody’s been to before.” That same adventurous spirit has long driven Miller and the band that bears his name. Growing up in rural Curlew, Washington, Miller began playing guitar at 16, turning his back on a promising career as a visual artist. He gained experience busking and performing in open mic nights while roadtripping around America, and during an extended stint in Eastern Europe. He eventually found kindred spirits in bassist Scott Leeper, who’d been playing since the age of seven and had performed with his family’s band, in a duo with his bother, as a one-many country act and in a variety of blues combos, and drummer Doug Dicharry, whose background encompasses a broad range of genres and instruments. The three like-minded players joined forces, and before long their diligent touring regimen allowed them to conquer an ever-widening geographical base and win a loyal and enthusiastic audience. In 2012, the Ben Miller Band took its first tentative steps in the recording studio, resulting in the embryonic self-released CD Heavy Load, which attracted a good deal of fan praise and critical acclaim despite its humble origins. Word of the BMB’s charismatic live shows and regional popularity eventually began to generate a national buzz, winning them a spot on New West’s roster, joining the likes of Steve Earle, John Hiatt, Richard Thompson and The Devil Makes Three. The band plans to begin recording its first album for New West later this year in Nashville with producer Vance Powell, who’s renowned for his studio work with the likes of Jack White, Buddy Guy, Wanda Jackson, Willie Nelson and Kings of Leon. Another who took early notice of the Ben Miller Band is ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons, whose enthusiasm led to the BMB opening for ZZ Top on a 2013 tour of Europe, where the humble combo wowed unfamiliar crowds on stages in large halls and arenas, including a triumphant set at the fabled Montreaux Jazz Festival. “That was a great learning experience,” Miller notes. “We already knew that what we do works really well on an intimate level, but to see that it could work in huge venues with large stages and big crowds was thrilling beyond words. It gave us a tremendous shot of confidence, and it felt like a validation that we’re doing the right thing. “I like the idea of saying something very complicated in a very simple way,” Miller concludes. “That’s what we strive for musically, and what I strive for lyrically—to get directly to the point and save the flowery b.s. for the romantic poets. John Sargent, the painter, said ‘That which is not necessary is detrimental,’ and we try to live by that.”

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