There’s a virtual universe of podcasts about music, quite a few of which focus on what it takes to compose. In conceiving his podcast “Wheels Off,” songwriter and Old 97’s frontman Rhett Miller could have taken an approach similar to podcasts hosted by Chris Shiflett (“Walking the Floor”), Aimee Mann and Ted Leo (“The Art of Process”), Joe Pug (“The Working Songwriter”) or Ross Golan (“And the Writer Is…”), which dig into the nitty gritty of songwriting, road life, and hanging onto your sanity. Instead, “the messy reality of the creative life,” as Miller intones during each show’s introduction, is the prevailing topic as he talks shop with artists of music (the ever-interesting Rosanne Cash, Portugal the Man guitarist Eric Howk, Rob Thomas), acting (Fred Armisen), comedy (Will Forte), and graphic design (Aaron Draplin).
The Old 97’s have durably remained Miller’s main gig since he and bassist Murry Hammond formed the band in 1993, even as he has spun his creativity in different directions. In November ATO released his eighth solo album, “The Messenger,” and last week Little, Brown Books for Young Readers published “No More Poems! A Book in Verse That Just Gets Worse,” a collection of 23 rhyming poems written by Miller and illustrated by Caldecott Medal-winning artist Dan Santat. Those two projects bring him to town this week.
In his book’s introduction, while apologizing for breaking the usual rules of grammar and punctuation Miller describes his “silly, subversive poems” as “little-kid mind explosions where the line between dream and reality blurs.” Let the fun begin. Santat’s colorful drawings share some of the wise-aleck humor of “The Replacements,” the animated series he created for Disney, and sneak in well-placed “Old 97’s Forever” graffiti with guitar logos. Parents will no doubt relate to the subject matter — “Hairs,” “I Want a Dog,” “Stinky-Mouth You,” “Weirdos of the World Unite!” — although perhaps less so to the self-explanatory “Rock Star Dad.” One can only hope that Miller, a father of two, wasn’t rhyming from experience when he wrote “Brotherly Love”: “Please don’t drown your brother/ In the bathtub, Sweetie Pea/ He can be a twerp sometimes/ I know, believe you me/ But if you dunk him three times/ And he only comes up two/ The cops’ll be all over us/ There’s nothing I can do.”
Still touring behind “The Messenger,” Miller’s playing a string of West Coast dates, including a concert at Pico Union in downtown LA tonight (Thursday, March 14) and club gigs in Huntington Beach and San Diego this weekend. While here, he and Santat are taking over Story Time Saturday morning at Vroman’s. Seems likely there’ll be more than just the 4- to 8-year-old target audience for “Rock Star Dad.”
Rhett Miller and Dan Santat sign “No More Poems! A Book in Verse That Just Gets Worse” at Vroman’s Bookstore, 695 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, 10-11 a.m. Saturday, March 16; admission is free, but anyone wishing to have books signed must purchase at least one copy at Vroman’s. Info: (626) 449-5320. Rhettmiller.com, dantat.com, vromansbookstore.com