From Empool to Destroy All Monsters to Empool… Part 1
As mentioned elsewhere in this blog, due to space restrictions, not all content and contributions made it in to our book. In addition to wanting to share all of this extra detail I have to say that Empool, in their own right, are a band that are well worth listening to. Of all of the different parts of research involved in writing the book, Empool were one of the most exciting aspects. Below are further recollections from Empool founding members, and Destroy All Monster members, Ben and Laurence Miller.
Niagara, Mike Kelley, Jim Shaw and Cary Loren formed Destroy All Monsters in 1974. In 1976 Mike and Jim left to pursue their respective art careers in earnest, there departures left a hole in the band. Enter, the Miller brothers…
Q. What prompted you to become involved in music, and why take the step of active participant as opposed to enthusiastic listener?
Ben Miller: As an enthusiastic listener (British Invasion, Garage Rock and the Classical/20th Century records my Dad played), my life seemed to swerve into the “active participant” quite easily. It was probably due to my Dad’s piano playing and DNA? Music moved me to incredible depths as a very young kid such that by 7th grade I had learned alto saxophone and guitar and began to perform live with my brothers.
However, this was not fun for me. It felt cool after the gig, but I was terribly shy on stage and could not look at the audience. I recall, at 16, when my friends listened with us in the living room to the single-pressing of the Sproton Layer record. It was a very challenging experience. I was very nervous and cringed most of the time. Looking back at decades of music related realities (active participant), I have no idea how I managed. I was not the showmanship type. I cared only about the music, and only if it was original. My enthusiastic listening was still there, I just heard music differently now that I was writing Songs myself. I think what probably prompted me to be an active musician was wanting something my father had as a well-known scientist; recognition. But I was only interested in select forms of music and had no interest in jamming with musicians who did not appeal to me. And very few did until later in my life.
Laurence Miller: Music moved me from as far back as I can remember. I played clarinet in the school band and enjoyed performing on stage. Our parents encouraged us, too. But yeah, I think it was The Beatles, to be honest, that initially prompted me to actually be “in a band”. My two brothers and I would rush home after school for lunch to stand near the phonograph in the living room and play air guitar as we listened to our early records. Sproton Layer, and my experience at age 15 playing the drums with that group was certainly the first real motivator I had in making a lifelong commitment.
I also began writing my own songs on guitar at that time as well, though they didn’t fit into the rock format. Writing “original” music was very important to me (and my two brothers), while our friends and musical acquaintances seemed more concerned in playing cover tunes and learning how to play like their heroes. NOTE: Performing original music “live” was always a bit unnerving for me though, as I was a relatively shy guy. I soon learned to record my own songs on the family tape recorder, a discipline which developed over the years into sound-on-sound recordings, and eventually solo multi-track home studio productions.
Q. What are your first musical memories?
Ben Miller: Listening to girl groups on the AM radio in the family car at a very early age. I felt the music, but did not understand I had the bug. The Beach Boys and Bob Dylan due to my oldest brother, Gifford, an avid enthusiastic listener who loved those two artists. Those genres were not the direction I took, but I did enjoy them on some level as a preteen. My father played Romantic Classical and 20th Century music on the record player often, so that too opened me up to how complex music can be.
Laurence Miller: I recall a moment in my mother’s arms, at a school music program (older brother’s or sister’s), being virtually brought to tears. My 3rd grade school music teacher thought I had perfect pitch (which I do not) and prompted my parents to get me into piano lessons followed by clarinet lessons. Around that time I fell in love with “the sound of bagpipes”. I asked my mother if I could learn, but she said they were too expensive and difficult to play. I’ve since learned how to make my accordion sound like one. My older sister and brother turned me onto 60’s folk music as well.
Q. Who were your first musical influences, do they still continue to inspire you?
Ben Miller: Certain guitar solos and special moments within The British Invasion and soon as a teenager; Barrett’s Pink Floyd, SRC and Alice Cooper’s first album, Strictly Personal and Are You Experienced. Yes, all of my earlier inspirations are still in my musical expression in some way.
Laurence Miller: Our father often played romantic Classical music and 20th century orchestral LP’s on the living room phonograph. He also took us to Classical music concerts as well as 20th century stuff like John Cage and Stockhausen, electronic music, and other such wild stuff. It’s pretty much what we grew up on until British invasion took hold; The Beatles, Stones, Who, Kinks, DC-5, Herman’s Hermits, etc. Then came the psychedelic music of Syd’s Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, Soft Machine, Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, Silver Apples, Tyrannosaurus Rex – not to be confused with T-Rex – Alice Cooper’s 1st LP, Thirteenth Floor Elevators, SRC’s 1st LP, the MC-5 (and eventually Free-Jazz). It was around this time, in our teen years, that my brothers & I would go to the local Sunday concerts in the park, just down the street, and witness the MC-5 and other such raw local talent. That was really something. Yes, “all of this” still continues to inspire me today and it always will.
To be continued… Part 2 HERE.
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