Just When It Gets Good

Album: The Misfit (2022)
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  • Rhett Miller, the frontman for the Texas rock band Old 97's, named his ninth solo album, The Misfit, after a line in this song: "Wind up on a island, feeling like a misfit." The lyric itself was inspired by the Island of Misfit Toys, a place where unloved toys are sent in the 1964 holiday special Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer.

    "That song's one of my favorites because it really came out of nowhere," he said in a 2022 Songfacts interview. "The story in it is so mysterious, but I relate to it so much."
  • Miller can indeed relate to being somewhat of a misfit. When everyone else was into grunge and punk rock in the '90s, he liked folk music and acoustic guitar. Even after the Old 97's landed a deal with Elektra Records, they never quite fit in with any particular genre. The label tried to push them to emulate pop-rock acts like Third Eye Blind, but they resisted.

    "Even into the years when we were lumped in with the alt-country acts, I never felt like we fit in with them. I like British music so much, and my music tends to be minor-chord based and introspective," he told Songfacts. "Even now, we get put on bills with these Red Dirt bands. Invariably, members of these bands will come up to us and say, 'You were my favorite band when I was starting out.' But their audience doesn't like us or respond to us, and we don't fit in with their music."
  • The album also stands out as a sonic misfit in Miller's catalog, thanks to producer Sam Cohen (Norah Jones, Kevin Morby), who encouraged him to experiment with sounds he typically didn't use in his music. One of them was a Korg keyboard the singer was very familiar with simply because he hated it so much when his brother had one when they were teens. He thought the instrument was too loud and sounded too synthetic for his taste, but Cohen changed his mind... sort of.

    "When Sam busted out that Korg, it was like a time machine bringing me back to the '80s, and I had to really get over my immediate visceral distaste of that sound," he explained.

    "That for me was a really tough time to be a human being and alive, and the meaning that I found in life and specifically in music was really rooted in guitar-based music. It was very much an 'us or them,' guitars versus synthesizers world and dynamic in music. I had to get over my preconceived notions about how music should sound. Some of those sounds didn't make the record because it was too much, but there's definitely a couple of songs on there where I let go and let Sam bring me into a new world - a new world from the 1980s."


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