Not many bands can bewitch browsers with an acoustic set at Border's Books and Music, bring fifteen thousand fans to their feet with an a cappella rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner," blow the roof off the arena while opening for Aerosmith or Dishwalla -- and also touch listeners more quietly, in the privacy of their own homes.
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Actually, only one comes to mind: MiGGs, who may even now be on their way to perform at a farmer's market or stadium near you.
Singled out by the San Francisco Herald as "the next big thing outta the San Francisco Bay Area," this extraordinary quartet sold over ten thousand copies of its first album with no promotion, won exposure through promoting episodes of Fox's The OC, secured a Gibson endorsement, and earned plaudits in Amplifier Magazine, Billboard and sites like myspace.com -- all without a label backing them up.
Their second album, Insomnia, will up the ante even more. Produced by Gavin MacKillop (Goo Goo Dolls, Barenaked Ladies, Sugarcult) and with a targeted street date late in 2004, it's a feast of intimate, honest lyrics, unforgettable solo and harmony vocals, and music that can veer in a heartbeat from near silence to peaks of sonic power.
The music is tight and taught; these guys can spin on a dime from a quick 6/8 to a slamming 4/4 and give you change. The songs beat the highest standards of modern writing, with hooks and melodies that connect and stay with you from the first time you hear them. The lyrics come out of everyday life -- stories of loneliness, frustration, regret, and anger, told with uncommon candor and dark humor. (Check the chorus of "Options" …)
Each member of the band plays with chops and conviction. But the story of MiGGs traces back to one young man's complex personality, searing honesty, and superhuman work ethic -- a rare combination in life and almost unheard of back in Bay Shore, Long Island, where Don Miggs was raised within a maze of blue-collar, cookie-cutter houses.
He had the bug from the start: As an infant he broke his crib by grabbing the rim and rocking it in rhythm for hours at a time. His father, a telephone lineman, and his four uncles were all into music. Guitars and keyboards lay strewn around the house; Don got his hands on them quickly and never let go. He still has a tape of himself playing drums and singing "Then She Kissed Me" -- the KISS arrangement -- at age six. By eight he was writing songs that were nothing like what his friends were hearing on Sesame Street.
"My very first one, which I wrote with my friend, was 'You Spin Me, You Dazzle Me, You Take Me For a Ride’," he remembers. "And the first one I wrote by myself was 'Love Machine.' It goes: 'Love machine. You turn me on. Now, don't turn me off. I'm full of love tonight. Yes love.' It actually freaked my parents out.
At age ten Don organized his first band. From the start he was the take-charge type. "I had a dream that my band was going to be called White Mist. I put it together. I literally taught the bass player and the guitar player how to play. The drummer played already, but I'd tell him what I wanted him to do. I didn't want to play other people's music; I was always driven to do my own thing."
From that point on past Don's high school graduation the band morphed from White Mist to the Alliance. He stayed in charge, writing the songs, playing lead guitar -- but never stepping up to do lead vocals. "I was afraid," he explains. "I didn't want all that pressure. Plus I never really thought I had a good enough voice. I'm still like that today: As great as I think I am sometimes, I'm equally capable of tearing myself down hard."
All that changed one night when the singer didn't show up for a gig. "Everyone was like, 'You've got to go on.' So I sang, and then I realized that these are my songs. I feel them. It felt right that I should sing them too. It was right."
Shortly after that the band morphed once more, taking the name Aim Cryer and picking up gigs throughout the New York area. With help from JC Convertino, they secured a development deal with BMG. Convertino produced their CD, Elusivity, which was eventually released by Big Crunch in 1996. At the same time they secured a high-profile gig as a house band at Manhattan's hottest venue, the China Club.
Cool stuff -- but things got complicated, as Don's colleagues unexpectedly busted him down to rhythm guitar and backup singer in his own band. His response was typical MiGGs: He found a voice teacher, took lessons every day for three months, demanded that his band audition him for the lead vocal gig -- and got it back. By this time, though, other issues were making life difficult.
""Things were really starting to happen," he remembers. "We were right on the edge. But it was weird: Every time I'd bring a song in they'd argue about why I wrote it the way I did, what did it mean, could their moms listen to it … They were expecting me to do a certain thing. I was expecting them to be a certain way. And as long as I kept making music in this way, I realized I wasn't going anywhere."
So Don quit and moved, impulsively, to Northern California. "I'd been hearing these West Coast bands, like Counting Crows and the Wallflowers. That sound was something I heard in my own music. So when an opportunity came up for me to move, I took it."
After three months in Santa Cruz, where some say "you're in trouble if you don't surf or smoke pot," Don moved up to San Francisco. Within a few days he met Mark Baker, and Jason Gianni, who lived around the corner, who became the core of the band that would become MiGGs. Immediately Don noticed the different vibe: "Right away they said, 'We'll do what you want. It's your band.' At the same time, for me, this is all about the band, not just one guy. And they really upped my game; there's so much going on in their playing that I'm constantly amazed."
Pooling two thousand dollars and devoting fifty hours to studio time, MiGGs recorded their debut album, Anyway, and began selling it at shows that ranged from acoustic sets at bookstores to full-blast club gigs. Critics took note: Billboard said “timeless and fresh sounding.” music-reviewer.com noted that the music "occupies that ground which Night Ranger aspired to but never really reached, and which Counting Crows should have shot for but never did." So did the public, which typically bought around 25 CDs at each performance and boosted Anyway to prominent positions on loudenergy.com, starpolish.com, and garageband.com.
Two years later, MiGGs went to work on Insomnia, paired this time with noted producer Gavin MacKillop. "Working with Gavin was the realization of a dream," Don says. "The months we spent with him taught us so much about compromise and dedication. Before, I knew I could write a song well enough, but he helped me find ways to make them better. He pushed me to hit new notes, rewrite lyrics, change melodies, all on the spot. He brought stuff out of me I didn't think I had.”
Throughout Insomnia the material and its delivery are inextricable, as the players draw from the songs, and the songs grow in power through the rush of performance. The bonds between Don and his band members bring even more energy to the mix. "A lot of it comes from my watching people go through their lives, whether it's my mom, who has had sickness her whole life, or my band. 'Everything is Fine,' for example, came from a conversation I had with a friend, when he was going through some personal issues. He said something to me about a 'legacy of sad,' and that inspired me to start writing the song as a way of speaking for him and making him feel better. The antenna is always up."
Insomnia is, in fact, a testimony to one band's ability to bring out the best from a remarkable singer and songwriter. The news is already spreading beyond the Bay Area: Europe is taking note, with invitations for MiGGs to perform, and "Everything is Fine" being added to an upcoming European compilation. The list of recent accomplishments goes on and on.
And do not miss MiGGs live where they constantly amaze crowds and venue staff alike with their performances. Watching the band transform the songs on Insomnia into great rock & roll is “mind blowing” says one Denver paper. While they all know how to share a stage, lead guitarist Sep Valizedah is a sight to behold with his energy and excitement for playing for an audience.
Like his dreams of leading White Mist to fame when he was ten years old, Don aims now toward a goal that seems unlikely only until you get to hear these guys and realize they can take this train as far as it can ride. "We’re not up against all the bands of the day that are going to be gone tomorrow -- we all know who they are," Don insists. "Our competition is U2, the Rolling Stones, the Beatles -- the greats. I want to leave timeless music behind me. I want it to be forever."
Insomnia: the first step toward forever. You heard it from MiGGs.
To Be Continued….
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