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KNAC.COM Exclusive: Interview With Poison The Well Axeman Derek Miller

By Chris Hawkins, Contributor
Wednesday, January 8, 2003 @ 1:43 PM

Poison The Well Guitarist Mill

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Since their debut The Opposite of December in 1999, Poison the Well have been making serious waves in the underground, and now in more mainstream circles. Their sound can be classified as a mixture between the intensity of Hardcore and more mellow meanderings. Poison the Well, however, has risen to become something greater than the bastard child of Hatebreed and Radiohead. They have managed to solidly formulate their own distinctive sound, which has been receiving praise from not just the underground but also higher profile artists such as Kittie and Disturbed. Read on to find more about Poison the Wellís past, present, and future as I chat with the mastermind of riffs, guitarist Derek Miller.

KNAC.COM: So what has Poison the Well been up to lately?
Derek: Not doing much, man. Weíve just been practicing, writing songs, and hanging out.

KNAC.COM: You guys just came off tour, right?
Derek: Yeah, we got home the 29th of October. Weíve got another month and a half off. Itís been cool.

KNAC.COM: Youíve been on the road pretty non-stop?
Derek: Yeah, since last November. We had breaks so we had three weeks in the beginning of the year and then ten days off, six days off, and three days off. I think that was it.

KNAC.COM: What was the theme for the last tour you were on, the Plea for Peace tour?
Derek: The whole thing was to benefit the Kristin Brooks Hopeline Foundation. Itís for suicide prevention. They had petitions at every show that all the bands would urge the kids to sign, which were sent to local senators to help give federal funding for the prevention of suicide. Right now they donít do anything. It was just to raise awareness, and 10% of all the money at the shows went to the Hopeline Foundation. Basically, they deal with crises and all sorts of stuff. Besides that, there were good bands and diverse bills. It was a lot of fun.

KNAC.COM: Itís definitely a great causeÖ
Derek: Yeah, I know. It definitely, definitely was. It was a really well organized tour, and all the people involved were just super-cool.

KNAC.COM: Who actually put the tour together?
Derek: It was a guy by the name of Mike Park, a really awesome guy who lives down in California. He runs Asian Man Records. I think this is his third year doing it. He puts the whole thing together. The whole thing is his brainchild.

KNAC.COM: Poison the Well has toured with some pretty diverse bandsÖ.
Derek: Yeah, punk rock bands, ďemoĒ bands, metal bands, anything. Itís kind of weird. Since there isnít really a specific audience for usÖwell, thereís a group of people, a majority of Hardcore kids who like our music. If these bands ask us to go out we can never really justify saying no because chances are there will be a few kids who will be like, ďwell, this is different.Ē Itís weird because we end up playing with these off the wall bands.

KNAC.COM: Isnít that an advantage that youíre not so easily lumped into one category?
Derek: Yeah, I mean every band always bitches and moans about not wanting to be pigeonholed, and weíre the same way. Itís nice because a lot of people call us a Hardcore band and what not. Just going out and playing for a different audience proves them wrong so itís cool.

KNAC.COM: How did things go with the Kittie tour?
Derek: It was pretty cool. I wasnít really happy with the way things were run for a tour like that. All of the shows were at least 20 bucks to get in, and they make you sell your merchandise for more. Itís typical. Itís not just Kittie. A lot of bigger bands do that. I just hate that. You really have no say when youíre along for the ride. They were really nice girls, and itís nice that they invited us. It was a fun time. There are certain things that we were in no position to change so you just deal with it.

KNAC.COM: Earlier you mentioned that you guys were writing some stuff. Whatís going on with that?
Derek: We have about half of the record written. We go into the studio at the end of January. Up until then, weíre just going to be writing.

KNAC.COM: How are the creative juices flowing now?
Derek: Better than ever. Weíre normally really slow writing a song. We might write a song a month generally, but since weíve been home I think weíve written four or so. Thatís been two or three weeks. Itís really nice. I guess itís because weíve been on tour for so long. On tour I play, but I donít play to write. I play to practice, and stay tight before shows. You build up all the creative stuff when donít do anything. Now that weíre finally home and donít have to worry about practicing or anything, everyoneís writing tons of stuff. You just worry about one thing.

KNAC.COM: The last album, Tear From the Red was great! Are my ears deceiving me or does the album begin and end on the same guitar chord?
Derek: Yeah, it does. (laughs)

KNAC.COM: Was that on purpose?
Derek: It kind of was, and kind of wasnít. The last chord is supposed to be G and thatís the very last thing we tracked on the record. I played that last chord, there was a pause, and I realized, it was the same as ďBotchla,Ē the first track. It was right on the spot, and it was cool because it completed it and it was a nice full circle. Little things like that are fun for people that pay attention.

KNAC.COM: Did you change tunings for this album?
Derek: Yeah, there were three different tunings on this one: D standard, drop C tuning, and then this tuning that I donít know what itís called. From high to low, itís D A F C F A#. Itís really low, but we donít use it to sound heavy. We use it for huge chords. You can play these massive chords that just sound very unique because of this tuning. Thereís actually a lot more stuff in D standard, which is cool. It kind of freshens things up.

KNAC.COM: So you guys actually formed in í97?
Derek: Yes. Most of us graduated in 2000. Jeffrey, our singer, Chris, our drummer, and me all graduated in 2000. Actually Jeff didnít graduate because heís a bum. (laughs) He would have.

KNAC.COM: It sounds like you have done a lot early on.
Derek: Yeah, we started touring when I was a junior. So we had a really big jump on everybody because we were so young.

KNAC.COM: Did you ever run into any problems with clubs?
Derek: Definitely. I had to talk my way out of being arrested just for being young and having beer. The owners would freak out, and Iíd be outside apologizing.

KNAC.COM: I noticed you had a few lineup changes as well.
Derek: Yeah, with bassists. In the beginning of the band, when we started, there were a lot in and out. We werenít as serious, though. Since weíve been a full-time band, itís been myself, Ryan, Jeff and Chris for over four years now. Weíve just had a rotating bassist. The core of the band is us. Now we just got a permanent bassist, Jeff. Heís definitely permanent. He very much feels like a part of our band, which is cool. The same people are writing the music and lyrics as have been since The Opposite of December.

KNAC.COM: What fueled you to put this project together?
Derek: It was Ryan, Chris, and Ari all started the band just to start a band. I met the singer, Ari through going to shows and stuff. I didnít get into the band until they had been together for maybe 8 or 9 months. We slowly just got more and more permanent members. Then Jeff became the singer. Now we have what we have today. This lineup is definitely the last Poison the Well lineup unless someone dies. In that case, weíd probably break up.

KNAC.COM: In those early years, what sparked your creativity to want to play?
Derek: Initially, just the Hardcore bands that were pretty popular 4 or 5 years ago. Cave Inís Beyond Hypothermia was a very big influence on me when I was younger in high school. Converge is worth mentioning. Now I have influences from all sorts of different stuff. Some of my favorite bands are definitely Refused, The Smiths, DeftonesÖ a bunch of stuff. Ryan is very much into Rush. Thatís his favorite band of all time. Weíre all big Nirvana fans, and other early Ď90s Alternative Rock like Soundgarden and Smashing Pumpkins. Weíre all big fans of that stuff.

KNAC.COM: In terms of the Hardcore meets Emo sound, there seems to be a lot of bands that are trying to avoid that tag.
Derek: Definitely. I think there definitely seems to be a lot of bands now, and we were one of them. Some people when I get interviewed ask how it feels to have influenced all these bands and to help start this whole deal. I donít think we did. As far as Iím concerned, the whole thing to start this ďEmo-MetalĒ was Cave-In with Beyond Hypothermia.I mean, of course you could go back and see where bands were mixing heavier stuff with softer stuff for a long time. As far as we were concerned, thatís who we were way into. When youíre 16 and 17, youíre not thinking about being original. Youíre like, ďthat bandís awesome, dude. Letís form a band and sound like that.Ē Thatís The Opposite of December, naÔve and nonchalant.

KNAC.COM: There are so many people, though, that adore that album.
Derek: Yeah. It definitely struck a chord in the Hardcore community. Iím very proud of it. Itís always hard if youíre in a band to like your own stuff. I have problems with the album, but I recognize the fact that a lot of people just felt strongly about it. I respect that and think itís really awesome.

KNAC.COM: Tear From the Red is definitely more mature in terms of structure and just the overall sound.
Derek: I think we were just coming from a different angle with it. It was a completely different state of mind. We were completely different people, and it just shows. I never really say itís better or worse. I donít really compare the two. A lot of people do, but I just feel like theyíre from two completely different places. Tear From the Red is a little more calculated and a little more thought out, which doesnít necessarily make for a better record. Itís just the way the record was written. We put a lot more time into it, and we just care a lot about it and weíre very proud of it.

KNAC.COM: Personally, Tear From the Red has more peaks and valleys which allow the heavy parts to be much heavier.
Derek: I agree. Not sonically, but emotionally itís definitely more dynamic. I feel like the melodies are a little richer and the melodic aspects of the music are not quite as clichťd as they are on the first one. I look back on Tear From the Red and thereís a lot that I want to change, but thatís how everyone is.

KNAC.COM: You have the next albumÖ
Derek: Exactly, and thatís how I feel about these new songs now. I really, really love them, and I feel that itís by far the best stuff that weíve ever written. When itís written and recorded and done, I hope that a year after that Iíll want to tear it apart. That will mean that weíre still moving forward musically, which is very important for us not to feel stagnant. If we didnít feel like we were topping ourselves with each record, we would definitely break up. Definitely. Creatively, I feel like weíre moving forward and doing something different. The new stuff sounds different from Tear From the Red and The Opposite of December. Itís still very much Poison the Well, but I just know that itís going to be the same thing as when Tear From the Red came out. Itís like, ďOh, itís different!Ē Of course! Itís like looking at a car and someone saying, ďExplain the car to me.Ē You say, ďItís blue.Ē Duh! Whatís the make? Whatís the interior? People are so obvious. Get picky. Have a reason to dislike it, not just because itís different, or a reason to like it.

KNAC.COM: How would you describe the new sound?
Derek: Energetic. It goes farther in each direction. There are some songs that are the heaviest things weíve ever written and a lot faster. Then thereís some really beautiful melodic stuff. Itís hard to say. It just feels a little bit different, but with the same fundamentals. Thereís the heavy stuff with melodic stuff. Weíre just trying to have it make sense and feel cohesive.

KNAC.COM: Whatís the songwriting process like?
Derek: It really starts with Ryan and I sitting down with each other and playing a couple of riffs. Iíll have two riffs, and I put them together and show it to him. Heíll like some of all of it. Then weíll get it down, take it to practice. Weíll sit down with Chris, and then Jeff comes in with the bass. Jeffrey does most of the lyric placement. Ryan and I help him out with melodies here and there. Everyone adds their two cents here and there until itís finished. Itís a nice group effort. Ryan and I are becoming more of a solid writing team so itís really cool.

KNAC.COM: When are you actually entering the studio?
Derek: January 3rd we start pre-production. We actually start recording on January 28th, and from the day we start tracking to the day mixing and mastering is finished is up until March 31st. We have maybe a month off, and then start touring for 13 or 14 months. Most of the recording is going to be done in Los Angeles at Sound City Studios. The other half is going to be done in Umea, Sweden at a place called Tonteknik Studios. Weíre working with some guys, Pelle Henricsson and Eskil Lovstrom who recorded Refusedís The Shape of Punk to Come. Thatís what initially drew us to those guys because that record sounds good and full, but itís good that live, natural energy. We definitely donít want some slick, polished Nickleback sound. We want raw, heavy, pretty, and organic, warm. When you mess around with producers, it can be dangerous. Weíre very picky about it. These guys came out on tour with us for a week. They get very involved. Itís not like a show-up, get paid, tell you how to write your record, record it, and thatís it. Theyíre very into getting to know the band as people. Communication is easier. Weíre so excited to be working with them.

KNAC.COM: How is everything with Trustkill Records?
Derek: Well, weíre on Velvet Hammer now, a subsidiary of Atlantic. The people at Velvet Hammer are amazing people. Itís Atlantic because they get Atlanticís money. Velvet Hammer is like its own little label. The people that run it are not like industry people. Theyíre dudes that listen to music. Theyíre fans. Sure, theyíre a record label. They want to sell records, but thatís not why they sign bands. They only have three bands. Weíre one of three bands. They only sign something if theyíre way into it. If the record doesnít blow up, they donít drop you. The President of Velvet Hammer is very into our band, and is willing to let us do whatever we want. Our contract with Trustkill was up so we were like, ďHell yeah!Ē It worked out well.

KNAC.COM: When did the deal actually take place?
Derek: It was a couple months ago. We were on tour so it was definitely a blur. Itís cool because for them the dollar sign isnít the bottom line. They can afford to take chances on stuff they like and care about. Itís really, really nice and refreshing. Itís a hard situation to be in with the state of the music industry right now because people are clawing for anything. A&R guys arenít worried about being passionate about something. Theyíre worried about getting their contract renewed in two years, and to do that they need to sell records. Weíre very lucky to be in this situation.

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