Some people think back to childhood and turn sentimental over a favorite
toy, a stuffed animal maybe, or a pet. Not Rick Miller, singer and
guitarist for Southern Culture On The Skids.
When Miller recalls his innocent years, the thing that makes him all misty-eyed is a recliner chair.
"I'm kind of partial to La-Z-Boys because I had one growing up," said the
thirtysomething Miller by phone from Virginia. "In fact, it was the only
stereo we had in the house -- it had an 8-track tape deck built into it. It
was in the side, and there was a secret compartment. You had to hit a
switch that was under the armpiece. The thing folded out and you'd put
your 8-track in, and then there were two speakers behind each ear, so it
Plastic Seat Sweat, Southern Culture's recently released sixth
album, features on its cover what must be the most souped up La-Z-Boy ever
created. Upholstered in metallic green vinyl, the piece sports not only
professional pinstriping, but also a hand-painted flame job and a gearshift
recliner lever. "The irony is so nice," said Miller, "that something so
slow could look so fast."
In recording Plastic Seat Sweat, Southern Culture On the Skids
spiffed up its sound along with the chair. Of course, all the elements
that won the band its biggest audience yet with Dirt Track Date
(1995) are still in place: the fleshy, lubricated rhythms of bassist Mary
Huff and drummer Dave Hartman, Miller's chicken scratch guitar, and the
lyrics warped by a white-trash sensibility. But to that mix, the Chapel
Hill, N.C. band has added touches of banjo, occasional horns and organ, and
even a drum loop.
"This album is more diverse than Dirt Track Date," Miller said. "I
really liked that Dirt Track Date but it was all one style. On this
new one we've got a lounge song that Mary sings, 'House of Bamboo,' we've
got 'Dance for Me,' a belly dancing flavored instrumental. '40 Miles to
Vegas' is straight up rock 'n' roll, and 'Day Old Banana Puddin' ' is sort
of an earthy food song. It's a little different stylistically. We were
flirting with more different genres of music."
This time out, Huff once again takes a turn on the vocals for some of the
more sensual songs. As with "Nitty Gritty" from Dirt Track Date and
"Daddy Was a Preacher But Mama Was a Go-Go Girl" (on 1993's Peckin'
Party EP), Huff's tracks here are actually covers of obscure songs by
other artists. "Love-a-Rama," for example, was penned by a man named Leon
"That song came out with a really good energy," the 30-year-old Huff said. "We found it on a single in a thrift store. We're still trying to do that, but good
records are hard to find."
Huff said she's especially excited about the Plastic Seat Sweat
tour, because for the first time, the band has hired a professional tour
bus. There are, however, some drawbacks, she said. "There's this big list
of dos and don'ts on the bus. If you throw up in the bus, it's a $250
fine. And if you spill anything on the seat, it's $200 for the guy to
clean it up."
Miller, who suggested the bus after fearing the group's own van wouldn't
survive the trip, said the behemoth white vessel looks like a gospel
bus. "That way no one will break into it," he said. "Inside it's real colorful. It's got some nice wood paneling, I'd say circa 1985, '86. It's
not a new one by any stretch of the imagination. It's still in keeping
with Southern Culture On the Skids."
Which begs the question, just how much of Southern Culture On the
Skids -- the music, the lyrics, the dress, the lingo -- is genuine and how much
Miller said it breaks down about 50-50. "Most of the songs I write are
basically about things that have happened to me, or things I've
experienced, or things I like. Like 'Day Old Banana Puddin'.' That's one
of my favorite deserts. And then songs like 'Shotgun' are a take off on
the southern stereotype, the whole shotgun wedding thing.
"Being from the South, it's like you got so much to work with," he added,
more seriously. "The South is just full of stories and music and
literature ,and it all has a certain distinct flavor. A lot of it people
consider to be weird, or out there, or eccentric -- and that's even better,
'cause you can just work with that until people scratch their heads. [Wed., Sept. 24, 1997, 9 a.m. PDT]