Bob Miller interview

First published Fodderstompf, August 2006
© 2006

Fodderstompf.Com: Bob Miller worked with PiL for around 2 years, circa 1982-84. Co-producing and engineering the 'This is Not a Love Song' single, and what would have been their 4th studio album (later released unfinished by Keith Levene as 'Commercial Zone'). Bob also mixed Front-of-House sound for their live gigs; including the Japanese and European Tours of 1983. He has NEVER spoken of his time with the band. Until now… "PiL Revisited, 20 Years Later…" Interview conducted via email for Fodderstompf 2006.


Martin Atkins, John Lydon, Bob Miller, Pete Jones. San Francisco, Galleria, November 5th 1982 © Bob MillerFor those who don't know, you were the engineer on the 'Commercial Zone' album, and are also credited with co-producer, along with PIL, on 'This is Not a Love Song & 'Blue Water'. Were you brought in as a producer or engineer?

At that time, I was on the staff of Park South in NYC. I had been an engineer for about maybe 10 Years at that point and was quite technically knowledgeable also… blah blah blah…

Correction: On Fodderstompf I see the studio listed as 'South Park'… not sure whether this is a joke or what, but the studio name was actually 'Park South Studios'.

Ha! That's the way it was listed on the 'This is Not a Love Song' sleeve. Typical bloody Virgin Records!

So how did you get involved with PiL? Were you the resident engineer at Park South, or were you brought in especially? Was it through Bob Tulipan? [who was then acting as PiL manager]

This question is a little deep but another part of PiL history…

Yes, I was the resident engineer but I was not the engineer for the PiL sessions. I was basically the assistant, because the studio thought they would bring in another engineer –  I think his name was Chris Jorgenson – a nice guy and we got along fine. Another whole story we will leave alone for this one…

Soooo… Worked on sessions with Chris for about 2 weeks and he made absolutely no headway. He didn't have a clue of what they wanted, but I was paying very close attention to what was going on and tried to help Chris without getting in the way. In 2 weeks they hadn't really accomplished anything.

So Chris called in sick one day (I think they broke him! - Just kidding!). PiL came to the studio and I told them Chris was sick. John or Keith (I'm not sure who) asked if I could handle the session myself. I had never really said anything about being an engineer myself at that time. The studio was trying keep me in the background for some dumb reason (“Bollocks!”). I believe that my reply was, “I'll give it a try. What do we have to lose?” So, I don't really remember but I think the first day we actually recorded 2 or 3 tracks that they were quite happy with… blah blah blah…

To answer your other question… this was the point that I met Bob Tulipan. He was managing PiL at the time. So, the next day they came to the studio and said to me, “We need to talk” Naturally, I thought, 'Ooh, Shit!' I think it was John and Keith, and they said, “You're our new engineer.” I asked them, “Did you tell the studio?” their reply was “No,” and all I was thinking was, “oh boy this is gonna upset the studio's apple cart!” And it did. The rest was a chain of events from working practically day and night to get something accomplished… and we did! A couple of weeks later John asked me to co-produce the record and become 1/4 of PiL. Which at that time were basically John, Keith and Martin Atkins.

In the interim, because of the involvement with PiL, they wanted me to mix 'Front-of-House' sound for their New York, Roseland live show. I was the only one who really had a handle on what they were trying to do. We did the show, and designed a system together with 'See Factor Lighting' and 'Sound Company' with an English mate named Mike. The show was a major success. The sound we achieved got as much press in the reviews as the band!

At that point I became basically PiL “Technical Everything”, Co- producer and Engineer and pretty much Technical Director of Everything. The best part of this was that we all had great respect for each other and got along like a team on a seriously focused mission. A company well defined in just what we were trying to accomplish.

This is the basic answer to 'How did it get started?' Believe me, this is the short version!

The recording of 'Commercial Zone' took place roughly over a year, 1982-83. Obviously there were periods when John couldn't be there because he was away shooting the 'Order of Death' film, but how much time did they spend in the studio? Were there various chunks, or just stop-start sessions over the year. Did you think there was any kind of creative block going on, or was it just the logistics that meant it took so long?

I can't say that there was actually any creative block, but lots of problems between John, Keith and Martin before Keith Levene left PiL. This was in between the live shows we were doing all over the US and working in the studio. So, the moral of the story is truly that:
1.) To take a year to try and finish an album is definitely not out of the ordinary under normal circumstances, and
2.) With the schedule that we were keeping and the insanity we encountered with Keith, I think we were doing really well (thanks to John and Martin, and Bob Tulipan).

Bob Miller (centre!) in Japan with PiL summer 1983 © Bob MillerWas the plan to record a full studio album? Some reports stated they wanted to record an EP or mini album.

Well all I can say to this one is yes, YES, Yes, Yes.

All these options were tossed about but a full album I think was the goal… I believe we had about 20 reels of tape at this time.

Were you brought into the creative process, or was the job just to record the band? Since you have a track named after you, 'Miller Hi-Life', I presume you were more involved. In our Martin Atkins interview he says you were “almost part of the band at that time”.

I think this is where I need to clarify the 'Commercial Zone' Issue… Then I can tell ya the 'Miller Hi-Life' story. 'Commercial Zone' from what I remember was released in sort of an under-handed manner… When we went to Japan, Keith went back to the studio unknown to us and came up with 'Commercial Zone' from all the stuff we had done before we went on the tour.

Some of the final mixes were the roughs that we did before we left. 'Miller Hi-Life' was a track that I did, and never really had a name, and it could not be remixed because of all the things I did to it. So I guess Keith used it and called it 'Miller Hi-Life'. During that time Virgin came and got the tapes and took them back to London. After the European tour, John and Martin went to the studio and finished what he called 'This is What You Want… This is What You Get'. This was after I was gone… of course another long story…

How was your relationship with the band?

The entire time I worked with PiL and Bob Tulipan, I don't remember ever having any disagreements with John, Martin or Bob; even when Keith was there. We all got along without a hitch. We were very focused on what we were doing and just plowed through everything to keep moving forward… Ok, I had some bouts with Bob Tulipan but only regarding getting what we needed to pull off some of the live shows. That could be another whole interview. I get mentally exhausted just thinking about it!

And then, Larry White took over as manager (our official on-board John Lydon groupie). This is where everything started going down hill at a rapid pace. With Bob Tulipan, everything was fairly smooth. With Larry White damn near everything was wrong and I'll leave this alone for now but this could be another book in itself…

Do you remember Ken Lockie having any involvement?

Yes, I remember him being around for a short while but don't really remember any significant input to the project hmmmmm?????

There was also talk of recording music for the 'Order of Death' soundtrack. Was anything recorded especially for the movie, before being aborted? 'The Slab' (aka Order of Death) would seem obvious soundtrack material.

I remember talk about soundtrack stuff 'The Slab' was definitely one of those
type of tracks but really any of the tracks we were working on could have fit that description even today there are lots of movies requiring many different kinds of
music… and of course the right connection to get it there. John lives in the right
place for all that…

It's safe to say that tensions were high towards the end of recording, was the writing on the wall for the band, or did you expect them to get through it and release the album?

Tensions were not as out of control as everyone thinks… No matter what was going on we all remained focused on what we were doing and YES I did expect the record to be released

Did you consider the record finished? Would you like to see it finally released?

I consider 'Commercial Zone' the closest to where we were going but definitely
not finished and 'This Is What You Want... This Is What You Get' the not so finished version of where we were going… I have a copy of the tracks that were first sent to Virgin records as a guide to what we were up to, and remember Richard Branson
spending some time in the studio with us… What I call the official real tracks which only were on the 'Commercial Zone' album.

After Pete Jones returned to England, and PiL were left without a bass player, the story goes that you auditioned various people along with Martin Atkins, and hired Louie Bernardi who you already knew and trusted. Later, when Levene left, you also had a hand in recruiting some of the other members of the so-called 'Cabaret Band' is that correct?

Ok, here is the real scoop: Louie and I had been friends long before PiL and worked with him a lot before PIL… forget the 'Cabaret Band' bollox. The only reason Louie and Joe Guida were hired was purely because of their talent and the final decision on hiring them I left totally up to John and Martin because I didn't want my friendship to have anything to do with the business… Not to mention that after Japan Joe was fired… We auditioned a zillion so called “great” guitar players because they didn't think Joe looked the part and ended up I said to John and Martin, “I can't take this any longer let's get Joe back and end this nightmare.” And we did. Why? Because he was the only one who could play this stuff correctly… 'Cabaret Band' My ASS !!!!!!

I've seen some pix of Bernardi in the studio; was he involved in the recording at all, or only brought in for the Japanese shows?

Louie was with PiL before Japan (replacing Pete) and continued after Japan and did play on some of the records and Joe also (replacing Keith) was with PiL before Japan and continued after.

You worked on the Japanese tour as the sound guy, and also engineered the 'Live in Tokyo' album…

Sound Guy is correctable terminology. “FOH” [front-of-house sound] is actually correct but more like “PiL Technical Production Manager”… In collaboration with John and Martin I was the guy that had to get it all correct and ya know what we DID !! ( Everything!!) We actually accomplished all this long before Japan.

Did you part on good terms? I can't say I ever remember reading anything bad about you! Except from Tom Zvoncheck, but he doesn't really count does he!

Simple answer: Tom Zvoncheck: The most out-of-control person that was ever associated with PIL. I had him tossed out after Japan… The truth is that he was the out of control drunken fool not me… thank you AMEN!!!

And as far as John and Martin are concerned after all these years I believe we could still be best of friends. We had a great respect for each other . Maybe even do another Record… I'd be up for a John Lydon Album in 2006 or 7 ! We had one hit together. Why not another?

What was your last involvement with PIL?

European Tour 19 eighty something. [1983]

What did you do before PiL?

Engineer / Producer.

Bob Miller in NJ 2006 © Bob MillerWho have you worked with since, what are you doing now?

After PiL I had a few years of re-organizing my personal life… but 20 years or so later I am still moving forward and the owner of a company called 'BobDigital' that is doing very well with Music Production, Video Editing, DVD Authoring, Multimedia Creation, and Graphic Design and a Remote A/V Truck.

Anything else you would like to add?

Not at this time… but yes, “Thanks Fodderstompf!” for your interest in my story. Hope you can use it…

Thanks for your time.

Bob Miller


Picture Credits (top to bottom)
Martin Atkins, John Lydon, Bob Miller, Pete Jones. San Francisco, Galleria, November 5th 1982 © Bob Miller
Bob Miller (centre!) in Japan with PiL summer 1983 © Bob Miller
Bob Miller in New Jersey 2006 © Bob Miller
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