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Cold Sun interview with Billy Bill Miller

October 19, 2012

Cold Sun interview with Billy Bill Miller

‘Cold Sun’ are perhaps one of the most
unique examples of intelligent and fresh psychedelic wave coming out from
Texas. They were formed in the late 60’s and their influences came from diverse
music, that made them so different. Like ’13th Floor Elevators’, they also had
an instrument, that added that extra special sound. Here is interview with
Billy Miller, the leader of the band. These days he is still very active and
don’t be surprised if the near future brings another interview about his
current projects, but for now enjoy the story of ‘Cold Sun’.

Interview:
Hi Billy! Thank you very much for taking
your time. ‘Cold Sun’ is an amazing band and I’m more than delighted we can
talk about it.
Thank you, Klemen. I hope this is helpful
to you.
I`m doing a number of interviews lately.
You are very cool, so you are further ahead in line than the rest. I’m
surprised about some of the stuff you “get”. I`ve seen your magazine.
How do you feel about the fact, that young
people from other parts of the world know and listen to your music?
 
I suppose that was what I intended in the
first place. I guess I should feel … happy about that. I guess that I do. I
supposed I was focused on that back then, a world view. It`s no wonder that we
did not go over very well with the locals. Young people are concerned with
mortality, as well they should be. I’m especially glad that a number of them
are young scientists. That was my intention – to reach the future. I think more
and more recent generations feel a vibration, something unseen, something that
conflicts with acceptance of mortality. It`s no wonder that vampire media is
such a big thing these days.
(By the time this interview reaches people
in the not so near future I would hope to have met them in person. People want
to be saved.)
Saved from what?
.. from those who can not pass the test and
from their beliefs.
 
What test?
A lie detector test (laughs) … no, not
really … from … Klemen, do you think an electric Ouiji Board is possible?
 
I get the idea that anything could be
possible. Do you agree?
Yes, and … Thomas Truax, a great current
British singer has a song about Joe Meek in which he has quite a few haunting
lines. One I like is, “Maybe we could change the future …”.
I would like to know what were your very
first influences in music?
I remember listening to the radio as a
child. I remember the dawn of the transistor age.
One song I heard a lot on my first
transistor radio was “Angela Jones”. Another one was “Green
Door”. Both of these were produced by Joe Meek, who ushered in the first
age of transistor sound with music made for it. He knelt at the altar of the
heart and the soul of the transistor.
 
In fact I would like if you could tell me a
few words about your childhood and teen years?
No, I don’t think I will.
(laughs)
Just kidding …
I can mention that I went to night school
in my high school years. I was nocturnal, but I really despised public schools.
I do recall that. I really had no ambition to interact with people my own age.
I never dated high school girls. I liked college girls much better, junior
cougars though they were. America was
a snake pit back then. Wait, I`m sorry. I
didn`t really mean that. I like snake pits. I still am surrounded by people
mostly not my age. Now they are younger – I guess the college age thing stuck
with me.
Around 1968 you and your friend Tom Mcgarrigle
formed your very first band. You were called ‘Cauldron’.
That was a stand-by name until we had a
name I was satisfied with.
The ALIENS was the first name I was really
satisfied with and that was a few years later. We would have changed Cold Sun if
we had come up with a better name. I thought “Dark Shadows” was a
perfect name but it was a little too close in time to a TV show of the same
name. Every band I’ve been a member of since The ALIENS has had a name I like.
I like those early names now. In fact, the Live in `72 album is called
“Amethyst” and not only because it has bonus tracks of Amethyst LIVE
at The I.L.  Club. We actually like that
name as a title for the first live album. That was Wolf`s idea. I like it a
lot.
Tom Mcgarrigle
What was some material you played as
‘Cauldron’?
The songs were the same as the songs of
Amethyst. I think we only called it “Cauldron” for a few weeks until
we came up with a better name. See, we suddenly had a gig and needed a name.
Can you talk about that gig?
I could.
Will you?
Oh, alright. We were the house band of the
general strike and we played on campus before a crowd of several thousand angry
people. The general strike was very much like the current “Occupy”
movement. “Pigs Off Campus” “No more business as usual”. I
suppose the songs were violent in a way that early
gangsta rap was. It was radical. Around the
time it became Cold Sun we shifted into more songs detached from the concerns
of that world, that era, probably more concerned with this world today. I
suppose I’m not so surprised that is popular today, the Cold Sun stuff.
We went from being more like MC5 to being
more like … oh … Television, I guess. We were a few years before
Television.
By the way, John Kearney thought up
“Cauldron”. Tom Mcgarrigle thought up “Amethyst”.
“Cold Sun” was my idea.
Later you changed your name to ‘Amethyst’
and started to play at local clubs around Austin, Texas.
That`s right, about two weeks later.
How do you remember the time when you were
called Amethyst?
Yes, I remember it very well.
By that I mean if you could share a story
of that era.
Oh … ok. We did a lot of shows.
We played a lot at a place called,
“Bonnie`s” and The I.L. Club. We played a localized semi-recurring
rock Festival. We did one show with a band called, ZZ TOP – back when they were
a quartet with Lanier on keyboards. Soon after they were a Trio and on their
way up. I like trios.
Among many interesting things you
differentiate from other bands is also that you played autoharp. How did you
got the idea for that?
I was thinking of a keyboard that would get
sounds like Joe Meek or Max Crook. The sawed – off piano came to me at age
15  and I got the autoharp at age 16. It
was two years later that I chose it to explore 
new sounds. I had been using a guitar to write songs. I considered
myself a singer but could not afford to hire writers. I began writing using the
autoharp and one day I stumbled upon a whole universe of sounds. I figured out
ways to control the overtones. The attack varied these tones but then I
discovered that the attack itself could be varied to make it sound like several
instruments playing several different things independently and at once.
Besides the scene around you at that time,
I mean legendary bands like The 13th Floor Elevators, you were also influenced
a lot by The Velvet Underground and The Doors. Were there any other bands or
should I say general influences which have reflected your personality in those
days?
I really was not influenced by any local
bands. The Elevators were the only band from that era that is considered
relevant today other than the Doors or The Velvet Underground. So, I can see
how it could be perceived as similar. I was definitely not into what was
happening locally as far as any influence on my musical concepts. But I do
fondly remember the bands of that day. Every town in the U.S.A. had its own
version of The Kingsmen. Austin was no exception and had no shortage of greaser
bands. I guess I liked the greaser bands more than the “mod” bands. I
really liked “Tim Lively And The Prophets”, a Kingsmen-like band. And
I liked The Babycakes, a Mod band, a lot The Tornadoes were a big influence on
me – not the Texas Tornadoes, of course; they came later, but I`m referring to
the one and only Tornadoes, the band that recorded, “Telstar”
possibly the greatest band ever.
How would be the LP named if it was
released in the early 70’s; ‘Cold Sun’ or ‘Dark Shadows’?
It would be called, Cold Sun. I liked
“Dark Shadows” better, but it was the title of a popular TV show.
I think I was more or less Goth –
“Dark Shadows” would have been perfect. meek-shadows-? I suppose you
could say that my girlfriend and I were more or less Goth. In fact we were very
Goth – not very involved with any local scene and not wanting to be. I suppose
we wanted to “be a part of it, New York, New York”. We were more pale
than others in the scene EXCEPT for Edgar Winter … and Johnny. No matter how
hard we tried we could never be quite as white as Johnny and Edgar. We both
despised jealous or envious people but I suppose we might be guilty of a tiny
item of jealousy, jealous of Johnny and Edgar for being more pale than us.
(laughs)
I hear Johnny Depp is in a new film based
on “Dark Shadows” the old TV series.
What is this film called?
“Dark Shadows”
Great title.
Yes, perfect.
One thing, that I find very interesting is,
that all of your songs on the LP are pretty much “dark”.
Thanks, Klemen. We try. It`s a dark world.
There must have been times I felt like I was opening a fire hose on the hippy
crowd.

How did you look at the
“movement” that was going on in late 60’s?
Thought it would lead to better things and
it did – FINALLY, RECENTLY. It sure took a long time.
I knew a few old-style card carrying
Commies. I got along with those guys a lot though some of them were not cutting
edge with musical. Some of the leftists were anti-dope. But they were not
snitches. I was further to the left than Kruschev.
If I’m right the band was active until
around 1973?
That is right. I recall the night I decided
to retire Cold Sun was the night I saw Lou Reed in Memphis and read the Rolling
Stone review of “Nuggetts” later that night. That is when I decided
that Cold Sun never had existed and I wanted to do something revolutionary but
far more total Rock-N-roll. “Exactly What ?” was the question. It was
not very long after that night that the answer came in the form of my new
friend, Roky Erickson. I had known him a while but would never consider working
with him. I had NO idea that he was a writer. Also I was a singer. Also I
thought he would have rightfully considered the autoharp the LAST thing on
Earth he needed. But he saw it the way it was eventually seen in the ALIENS productions.
Where did you do most of your gigs?
We played around in Texas, central Texas,
San Antonio and Houston mostly.
How do you remember your gigs, by that I
mean how was it on stage with that band?
People reacted to me in a way I did not
expect – very positively. It`s been that way ever since.

If I am correct there was only one acetate
made and it got lost?
The only acetate made was one the bass
player had made up so he could play it on turntables. We had stereo cassettes
but most people did not. A few years ago that acetate sold in auction for
10,000 dollars on E-bay. YOU could have an acetate made up of the album – but
it would not be worth anything, would it? I can`t imagine WHY anyone thought
that worthless acetate was valuable.The bass player knew me. Am I that
valuable? I should make up some acetates and sell them at a bargain for 9,000
each instead of 10 if that is the case.
NEXT: Plotting Roky`s world debut.

Photo: ©2012 Ronn Spencer

Interview made by Klemen Breznikar / 2012
© Copyright
http://psychedelicbaby.blogspot.com / 2012
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