Nathan Miller sitting pretty, sliding out the blues

Unstoppable Company from left: Tyler Jorenby, Matt Eckholm, Nathan Miller, Miles Hanson and George Hadfield.
natemillermusic.com
Unstoppable Company from left: Tyler Jorenby, Matt Eckholm, Nathan Miller, Miles Hanson and George Hadfield.

Nathan Miller is, in some ways, the antihero. Rather than striking rock god poses while playing his guitar, he sits onstage playing the instrument lying flat across his knees. While it might make players of the immensely popular Guitar Hero video game scratch their hair metal heads in wonder, it makes perfect sense to this bank teller working nights, wringing the blues from his lap slide guitar.

“I know that I’m at a disadvantage [visually] by sitting. I really have to connect with the people,” Miller says. “I really have to bring something to them that’s going to make them stand up.

“I sit down so that you guys can stand up,” he says.

Standing tall
Miller will be sitting and playing and celebrating the release of his new EP, “For You,” this Saturday (May 31) at Tiffany’s Sports Bar and Grill in St. Paul. The free EP is available for download here.

Miller is proudest of the “So Damned Pretty” track, a song he says shows off the new direction he and his band, Unstoppable Company, are headed.

Rather than the snapping, spitting blues the group is known for, “So Damned Pretty” is a quiet exhale of regret slowly rippling out from Miller’s lap slide.

“The new direction the band is going in right now is a more refined one,” he says. “The song actually features backwards slide guitar for the entire solo, kind of like on the [Jimi] Hendrix ‘Castles Made of Sand’ deal.

“The entire solo is backwards. So when we recorded it, the way the solo starts is the way the solo ends, once we go in and basically take that piece of music and turn it around … if that makes any sense whatsoever.”

“It took us awhile,” the Minneapolis resident says of the recording of “So Damned Pretty.” “It was kind of like piecing together a puzzle. This is the type of song that if it were put out by someone else, I would listen to it. And I’m not sure that feeling has hit me as strongly about any of my songs as it has with this one.”

That feeling might hit others more often than it hits 28-year-old Miller. His coiled, muscular music is played on custom-made acoustic lap slides that have not only the typical hollow bodies, but rare hollow necks as well. The extra chamber inside the instrument makes fuller tones than a standard acoustic guitar generates — sounds that can momentarily remind a listener of echoes of a human wail.

“There’s something about the sound of that guitar that just resonates. Just soul and dirt,” he says. “The all-around tone is just soulful. There’s something that’s so from the earth that I can just kind of connect to instantly.”

You can watch Miller play “Desda,” from the new EP, in three parts:

Live energy
The new free EP is the first in a series of recordings the band will put out in between full-length albums, Miller says.

“There’s no schedule for the EPs,” he says. “It’s just kind of when we have material we decide we want to put out.”

Except for “So Damned Pretty,” “For You” was recorded live at the Fine Line in Minneapolis at a couple of shows late last year.

In mid-June, the band will be entering the studio to begin recording a new album.

“This next CD will be done pretty much completely live [in the studio],” he says. That process runs counter to typical studio recording methods, where the various instruments and vocals are recorded separately and laid on top of one another to make the songs you hear on CDs.

“We have the idea that we want to grab that live-show energy.”

Other life

The former art student studied printmaking, drawing and metal sculpture while working on his degree at the University of Minnesota. It was there that he discovered a love of performing and slide guitar.

“We had a professor there who was a big Tom Waits fan,” he says.

The professor gave the class an assignment to make musical instruments out of found objects. Miller began cobbling together something that was essentially a three-stringed guitar. 

“It was based on a Rickenbacker [guitar], frying pan and lap slide guitar,” he says.

“The climax of the whole project was that we were going to perform a piece of original music with our found-object musical instruments we made.”

“The instant that I played it … it was one of those situations in life where I knew, ‘Oops, I’m on to something here.’ “

Eventually, he says, he realized he needed more strings. Now that he’s armed with six strings on his guitar, he’s trying to forge a career out of music.

Until he does, he’s going to keep working as a bank teller, perhaps the antithesis of the guitar hero.

“It keeps my lights on. It keeps me playing music,” he says.

Nathan Miller and Unstoppable Company celebrate the release of “For You” this Saturday (May 31) at 9 p.m. at Tiffany’s Sports Bar and Grill, 2051 Ford Parkway in St. Paul, Admission is $3. Roster McCabe and This World Fair open the show.

Upcoming pick

The soulful blasphemy of Mick Sterling (check out this video) struts onstage on Friday (May 30) at Whiskey Junction, 901 Cedar Ave., Minneapolis.

Sterling‘s “The Long Ride Home” was published a couple of years ago. It’s a collection of “stories, commentaries and suggestions for musicians and local music lovers from a guy like me who’s been in the trenches of the local music scene for a long time”

The former leader of the popular R&B outfit, Stud Brothers, released his solo “Between Saturday Night and Sunday Morning” in 2005 to positive reviews.

Memphis and the Meantimes open the show at 9:30 p.m.

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