Dusty Miller on the rock and roll lifestyle

Categories: 5 Questions
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You're front row, dead center at a show for your favorite band, they've just played your second favorite song, and you can't wait to hear what's next. There's a short pause in between songs--the singer thanks the crowd, the bassist cracks a private joke to the drummer, and meanwhile, in a matter of seconds, some guy walks on stage from the side, hands the guitar player a new guitar, and walks off with the old one. It's happened a million times at a million shows, but every time, you notice the guy with the guitar. And every time, you think the same thing: "Who the hell is that guy?"

That guy, if you're watching the Hold Steady, is Dusty Miller, and there's a whole lot more to it than swapping out guitars.

Recording engineer, studio owner, and pretty good guitarist in his own right, Dusty's been a part of the Twin Cities music scene for more than a few years. South Dakota born and raised, Dusty moved to Minneapolis to become a recording engineer in part because of local bands like Dillinger Four and Lifter Puller, so it makes perfect sense that years later, he'd be the guy making sure Craig Finn and Tad Kubler have working guitars. And yet he still finds time to record bands, play music, and fix guitars when he's at home. Now, with a baby on the way, Dusty was nice enough to take a break from planning the world's most rock and roll wedding reception (at the Turf Club Saturday) to answer some questions about the sort of trouble you can get into on the road, how to keep occupied when at home, and the excitement of becoming a dad.


How did you get the Hold Steady gig? How do you balance it with your studio work?

I was working at a studio in town called The Terrarium (http://www.the-terrarium.com) for five years and taking care of the huge collection of guitars and amps there as well as doing emergency setups and repairs for bands when they'd come in to record. It was just a skill set I developed out of necessity. I always just treated it as part of my job as a recording engineer, just something that has to be done to help bands make better recordings. Dave Gardner was one of the engineers I worked with every day and he'd done records for Lifter Puller and the Hold Steady. Around the same time that I started getting cabin fever from not leaving the studio or seeing daylight for a few years he got a call from Tad Kubler asking him if he knew anyone who could fix guitars and go on tour. Dave knew I was getting burned out on full-time studio work, and even though I'd never toured before he recommended me and I ended up getting the job. I opened Nicollet Park Recording Services, my studio, in 2008 that's where I work when the Hold Steady isn't touring. I still haven't found exactly the right balance between the two. Touring is my "real job" and I do a lot of recording with the Hold Steady, but when I'm back in Minneapolis it is nice to have my own place and my passion for recording has been restored just by having a bit of time away from to it realize how much I miss it. I also own a guitar repair shop in Minneapolis.

What's an average day for you on the road?

I guess there's two ways to tell it: Wake up, find coffee, load into the club, restring any guitars that Tad played the night before and make sure nothing got knocked around to bad in the trailer, do a rock show, and load out. That's the rough outline for every day and most days are pretty much that and nothing else. But just when things get routine and everything starts to run together there's nights like going to George Clinton's house and seeing the Mothership in his studio. Or meeting Paul McCartney in the studio. Or getting a kiss on the cheek from Rachel Ray. I've gotten to work in some of the finest recording studios in the country with an incredible rock band.

Explain your tattooing habit.

Just before we started working on the last Hold Steady Record (Heaven is Whenever) last fall we were putting together a list of things we'd need to keep sane and entertained while holed up in the studio in upstate New York for a month. Along with the grill and playoff baseball happening I though it would be funny to buy a tattoo kit. It turns out you can get one way cheaper that we thought. So the box arrived at the studio the day we started the record and the first tattoo to come out of it was the Flipper tattoo that John Reis [guitarist from Rocket From The Crypt, Drive Like Jehu, Hot Snakes, and The Night Marchers] gave me a few days later. Since then we've done dozens of them on the bus and at parties. I've been amazed at the tattoos people will let you give them just because they're free. Now we're at the point where the Weber grill and tattoo gun are two of the things we won't tour without.

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You're getting married this weekend, and you have a baby on the way. How does that change your perspective on the whole rock and roll lifestyle?

Touring is the most fun and eye-opening life experience I've ever had. I get to travel the world, meet some amazing people, and do some pretty incredible things, but it is still my job. Making records and fixing guitars are my only real job skills. I've somehow managed to support myself doing it for the last ten years, and now I guess I'll get to figure out how to support a family doing it. I'd love to see my touring/recording balance shift more in the direction of working out of my studio here, but I've got to do whatever it takes to pay the bills. One thing that I'm very fortunate to have is an incredibly strong and supportive woman who understand that touring is work and that I'm not just out having fun and avoiding responsibility and getting into trouble.

It sounds like a pretty amazing way to live, though. When you're not doing all that cool shit, what excites you these days?

I'm getting married this weekend and our son is due in October. Nothing else will even come close to that for excitement, but I've got a lot of other projects I'm working on that I'm excited about too. My partner in NPRS, John Miller, and I have some great things planned for the studio and we're excited for it to grow. My band, Voytek, is finishing up our second record right now and I'm really proud to be in a band with such amazing songwriters. I guess I'm just excited to be staying busy. Sitting at home and having downtime is the scariest thing in the world to me. Between the kid and the studio and touring and the band I should be pretty safe from it for a good long time.


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