Dividers Keep the Flame Burning

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From the moment I heard Dividers’ Once More with Feeling EP, I was hooked. Samuel Miller’s ever-evolving project has several disparate touchpoints, but his singular vision knots it all together. Miller continues to push himself as a songwriter, refining an approach that lands on so many levels. Crime of Passion, released earlier this year, is one of the year’s most memorable albums with fried aural whisps, unforgettable hooks, and a warm layer of desolation. As good as it’s all been so far, though, it’s evident that Miller and Dividers are just getting started.

Alright, so first things first, where did it all start for you and your obsession with music? What were some of the earliest things you heard that left an impression and became formative experiences for you?

It’s hard to say because I’ve been fanatical about music from an early age despite growing up in a pretty non-musical environment. . . I started playing drums when I was real young and slowly taught myself other instruments over the years, with some scattered formal training here and there. I definitely consider myself a devotee of rhythm first and foremost, though, and I tend to approach all music-making percussively and with the intuition of a drummer.  

I grew up mainly listening to stuff I would find of my own accord, beyond whatever basic hegemonic rock n roll my parents played and things I’d hear on the radio. As a teenager, I had a good-sized record collection. I was actively trying to listen to as many different kinds of music as possible— punk/hardcore, eighties indie like Dino Jr, a lot of jazz, and a ton of classic country, of course. Zappa was my window into a lot of more adventurous music- the musique concrete sensibility, sound collaging, etc… Still, I didn’t start seriously getting into electronic music until a little later when I was finally exposed to the right stuff.  

What eventually set you off on making your own music, learning to play, and all that? Did you always want to be a musician? Has your family been supportive?

There’s not really a single event or linear progression I can point to as far as beginning to make my own tunes. It just came about naturally, and here we are.  

How did that all eventually lead to starting Dividers?

Before starting Dividers, I had several other projects and bands, most with Lawrence [Moody] and me as the core members. One of them was an electronics-based sort of Krautrock-worship group called Zaat that revolved around this warehouse venue and studio in downtown L.A. called the Rec Center, where I was living and recording in exchange for working the gigs. So essentially, all we did for six months was experiment and track stuff in this totally insulated environment, usually on little to no sleep and surrounded by various kinds of debauchery – but this is really where the collective vision started coming together. We spent the next few years gigging around L.A. and putting out weird cassettes that basically nobody bought.  

The country angle came about later (summer of 2020), and kind of haphazardly, as I was going through a real nasty breakup and found myself circling back around to these classic records I was into as a teenager. I had a dusty old 45 of “Honky Tonk Girl” by Loretta Lynn -the original version from 1959- which I’d play endlessly, and it just occurred to me that combining this more traditional style with the weird experimental stuff we were doing would be interesting. Lawrence was living in Santa Barbara then, so I went up to visit him, and we spent some time hanging out on the beach with acoustic guitars and a portable Casio, getting stoned off our gourds. Within a week, we had written all the songs on Once More with Feeling — everything gelled really nicely, and we started putting together the first Dividers line-up.  

So the thing that struck me immediately about your songs and hooked me from the beginning is this combination of divergent styles into something all its own. To me, it’s like shoegaze country or something like that. I don’t even know if that makes sense. I’m just curious if you can talk a little bit about your approach to songwriting and if there’s this intentional idea to combine various styles or if this is all more esoteric and just kind of happens?

I’ve never considered myself a songwriter and find the whole process of writing lyrics quite tedious and frustrating— the words are usually there to advance the music, not the other way around. But I guess one of the things that drew me back to country music (specifically the really ragged honky tonk stuff) is its sort of simple universality, which as a not-so-good lyricist, made me realize I could still write decent songs that others might find relatable.  

I’m not sure what you mean by esoteric, but like I said in the beginning, there was definitely a more conscious effort to combine various styles, whereas now I suppose it just happens, yeah. I’ll approach a certain project with a specific concept or feel in mind, but I’m also not a gear snob by any stretch of the imagination and enjoy the challenge of working within a bunch of self-imposed limitations- equipment/instrument-wise, being able to create something out of nothing, with whatever is around. Utilitarian might be a better word for it.  

Building off that, the most recent release, Crime of Passion, expands the sonic palette even more and brings a harsher edge to some songs. I love that I’m never quite sure what to expect with a Dividers release. How did Crime of Passion end up in that gnarlier zone? The description of it is “a surrealistic vision of modern decay and apocalyptic love” won’t get out of my head… 

A combination of factors. . . On some level, I definitely started to grow weary of being labeled this revivalist country band, I.E., “Cosmic Americana,” after the first release. That phrase conjures up many ghastly associations in my brain- grown men with cowboy hats living out their ’70s L.A. fantasies and cosplaying Gram Parsons, so I wanted to dig deeper and make something a little less on the nose. Hence the freakier parts. But I was also intentionally trying to make the record as cinematic and visual as possible. I worked with a whole bunch of raw material from different sessions with different personnel. The real challenge was making it all fit together cohesively, so unlike the first record, which we did in one night, COP was much more of a solo endeavor where the bulk of the work was in the overdubbing and editing – picking apart and reassembling the material in various ways, seeing what worked and what didn’t, with a lot of emphasis on quick cuts, weird samples, and transitions to create this evocativeness. By the time it was finally getting to a releasable state, I’d gone so far down the rabbit hole I was pretty much thinking of nothing else, grinding on the mix ten+ hours a day and generally driving myself insane. It was mostly not a fun experience.  

“Dead Flowers” is a song I return to over and over, and I absolutely adore it. While I’d love to know more about this song specifically, I also wonder, more generally, how you’d describe your style of writing lyrics and how autobiographical this stuff is?

It’s all fairly autobiographical, I guess, insofar as the songs are mostly inspired by some kind of real-life event or feeling. “Dead Flowers” is a cover of a Stones song, though, so I can’t take credit for that one- which I suppose is a good thing because I don’t think I’d much like being the character shooting smack in a dirty basement pining over a prostitute.  

Who are some of your favorite singers?

Well, my listening habits definitely reflect my own approach to making tunes, and I generally seek out more instrumental stuff than I do vocal or lyric-oriented music. But a lot of my favorites are still O.G. country heavies like Buck Owens, George Jones, and the Louvin Brothers— I’m generally drawn to harmony and melody, so I’ll always return to those guys. . . Some other random all-time favorites might be Tom Waits, Howlin’ Wolf, Bjork, Billie Holiday, Lou Reed, Alan Vega- but besides the last two, these singers haven’t really influenced me so much personally.  

So what’s the line-up for Dividers these days? If my memory is working right now, I think you told me it’s just you right now, but there have been several line-ups, yeah? How does it change the sound when it’s just you compared to when you’re playing with Lawrence Moody, for example?

Correct. There’ve been many different incarnations over the years, but generally, I’ve found it pretty hard translating the vision into a conventional band setup. We’ve played so many utterly disastrous gigs over the years at this point; keeping it simple and limiting the number of players seems to be the most effective approach. Lawrence is probably the most intuitive musician I know, and there’s a lot of creative synergy- but our dynamic is also quite dysfunctional. We’ve had to take long breaks from collaborating over the years to avoid killing each other. So, yes, for the time being, it’s just me. But who knows? Maybe there will be another band.  

What’s been on your stereo lately?

Let’s see what I’ve got in the rotation right now. . . Ferraro, Muslimgauze, Basic Channel & related projects, Harmonia & Cluster, Steely Dan outtakes (specifically Gaucho, which I’ve been playing religiously all summer), Nurse with Wound, G.D. always. . . a lot of the stuff on my playlist.  

What’s coming up next for Dividers and any other projects you’re working on during the latter half of 2022?

Moves. Just played a show in Upstate New York last week, and I’m now starting to prepare for a few gigs in early October. Specifics pending, but the main ones will be in NYC and Athens, GA, where our label, Primordial Void, is based. I also have a few releases in the works, which are pretty varied. One of em’ is this utterly deranged hour-long collage, Aiwa Blues, that sort of picks up where the stranger bits on COP left off, with some more keyboard-heavy snippets of songs throughout. I think that’s going to be a Shabbat release. Then there’s also a third Dividers album in the nascent stages of development— trying to keep it hush-hush, but I can tell you it’ll be titled One More Expensive Kissoff and will be much more stripped down and funkier than COP. Also, grinding out a techno release, more or less for fun. Oh, and a reissue of the Hometown Hoedown tapes from years ago, I finally got around to properly mixing. Some other things. . . Too many projects and ideas are swirling around in my cluttered head. Those are the main ones— over and out, and thank you! 

Foxy Digitalis depends on our awesome readers to keep things rolling. Pledge your support today via our Patreon or subscribe to The Jewel Garden.