I started this site in 2010 as a way to give a voice to songwriters in the same way that interviewers give poets and prose writers. I wanted to treat songwriters as writers and to have an intelligent discussion about the writing process. A Paris Review of songwriting interviews. Rhett Miller of the Old 97's fulfilled that mission for me perhaps better than any other. But that's because he sees himself as a writer, not because I treated him as one. There are a few times during our conversation when Miller reveals himself as a songwriter when he discusses guitars and chord progressions, but for the most part Miller could just as well be a poet or a short story writer. Of course, Miller is both of those: he's written poems and essays and short stories.
At some point in our talk, I mentioned to Miller that he refers to his unfinished songs as "drafts." I told him that using the word "drafts" shows that he sees himself as a writer since that's what prose writers call their works in progress. Throughout the afternoon, there was never a moment when I felt that Miller wasn't thinking about writing. He carries his notebook everywhere: it was in the car as we rode together, in the treehouse as we talked, and at the table as we had lunch. As you'll read, his answers reveal the anxiety and struggle that all writers face as they try to distill their experience and very existence to an audience.
Miller and I talked while sitting in his treehouse outside his house in upstate New York. It was a warm, cloudless day, and as we chatted the occasional deer ran through his backyard and a hawk flew overhead. Read my interview with Rhett Miller after the video.