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You may not know him by name, but chances are, Dominic Miller's work features heavily in your music collection. The Buenos Aires-born guitarist started making a name for himself as a session player in the '80s, first as a member of Karl Wallinger's World Party and then as a studio ringer for acts such as Level 42, Phil Collins, the Pretenders and Paul Young. He quickly caught the attention of erstwhile Police frontman Sting, who made Miller part of his band for 1991's The Soul Cages. That's where Miller has remained for almost twenty years, while maintaining his busy session schedule, appearing on Sting's many solo albums and cowriting a number of his songs, including the hit "Shape of My Heart."
This is a particularly busy time for Miller: Not only has he just hit the road with Sting for the Symphonicity tour — which adds a 45-piece orchestra to Sting's greatest hits — but he's also doing select dates to promote his own new solo project, November, which finds him setting aside his nylon-stringed acoustic guitar and going electric. In the midst of all this activity, Miller found a few moments to talk to the RFT about his solo career, why Sting is taking his greatest hits on the road again and why orchestral musicians are more rock & roll than you might think. For more of this interview, head to www.rftmusic.com.
Dominic Miller: Yeah, I haven't been home, really, for about two months. But this is what I chose, you know. Be careful what you wish for. I'm just going for it, you know? I'm at a stage in my life where I'm just letting it take me, and I'm very, very fortunate to be in the position that I'm in, and I want to keep it going.
The Symphonicity tour kicked off a few weeks ago in Vancouver. How did the first show feel?
It was a great show. I mean, there were a few mistakes here and there, and it's a little difficult doing the first show, because we're all a bit nervous — Are we good enough? Is this for real? — so there was a bit of tension there. But that's quite a good energy to have. I think the audience loved it, and we can see where we can improve. It's just going to get better.
Now, you've done some work with an orchestra on your own.
Yeah, I did that a long time ago, when I did my classical album. Which was pretty intimidating. I think there was a lot more pressure on me for the solo project. And I felt a lot more detached from them, because I didn't have the luxury of spending a lot of time working with them for weeks on end, which we've done with Sting. With Sting, we've utilized the orchestra kind of like another instrument, and I couldn't do that for my album. It was quite scary, but it was quite fulfilling in the end. That was the English Chamber Orchestra I worked with; they're amazing. But after awhile, you realize we're all just musicians. I mean, orchestral musicians are not the same as they were twenty years ago. They're much more integrated into pop and jazz. I love working with them.
No one showing up for rehearsal in a dinner jacket?
No, no, certainly not. You know, the funny thing is, I think orchestral musicians are much more rock & roll than rock & rollers are. We're all drinking mineral water and doing yoga, and they're getting fucked up!
How would you describe your role onstage in this tour? How is it different from past tours?
In many ways, it's completely different — and in many ways, it's completely the same. I mean, I've been working with Sting for twenty years, and I suppose I'm kind of his lieutenant, in a way. I kind of know what his big picture is, and I can transmit that to some of the other musicians. My role, really, is to make his songs sound good. I understand the harmony of his music better than probably most people on that stage, so I contribute and help all the musicians and the conductor.
I'm not a specialist in any given style, and I think that's why it works, because I'm a bit of an all-'rounder. There are a lot of guitarists, certainly, who could kick my butt in certain areas — I'm not a classical, jazz, funk, rock or heavy-metal guitarist. But I know a little about all these genres to be able to get away with it and understand the role. That's what I'm doing here, and I'm not doing anything different to what I'd be doing if we were playing with a four-piece band — it's just music. We're just utilizing the orchestra as another element in the band — one that happens to be 45 people.
I imagine it must add a few logistical wrinkles to the show.