Old 97’s bandleader Rhett Miller never considered himself a corporate shill. But a few years back, a lucrative offer from MasterCard for its “Priceless” campaign proved difficult to resist.
“Normally I would’ve balked at something like that,” he says. “But they came to me and said, ‘We have this idea of you singing Simon and Garfunkel’s “Homeward Bound” for a commercial for us,’ and it was funny because it was perfectly timed with my wife Erica getting pregnant with our first kid. So I thought ‘Why not? I love Paul Simon, I love that song, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with this idea.’”
But the ad proved problematic. Fans who had heard his upbeat version kept begging Miller to officially release it, even as just a single.
Easier said than done.
Over the past year alone, he has stayed busy with no less than three Old 97’s releases — the EP “Mimeograph” and an ambitious “The Grand Theatre, Volumes 1 & 2” — plus constant touring.
This week, Miller plays San Francisco stag, backing the newly issued “The Interpreter — Live at Largo,” a solo, covers-themed concert document that opens with “Homeward Bound” before careening into The Kinks’ “Waterloo Sunset,” David Bowie’s “Queen Bitch” and a knockout Pixies/Ramones combo of “Wave of Mutilation” and “I Wanna Be Sedated.”
Largo — the Jon Brion-helmed Los Angeles nightclub where Miller and countless other young songwriters honed their chops for a decade — was closing and relocating to the Coronet Theater in 2008, so he decided to schedule — and record — a special sendoff set of carefully chosen interpretations.
“I thought, ‘Well, why not try “Homeward Bound”?’ And I ended up really enjoying playing it,” says the singer, 41, who also included obscurities such as Aztec Camera’s “Birth of the True,” the first song he ever played at a Dallas high school talent show as a teen.
Miller is issuing this fifth solo CD on his own label, Maximum Sunshine Records, named for his son Max and daughter Soleil. “Soleil is French for sun,” he says. “I know it’s a little geeky to name your company after your kids, but I don’t care.”
Via a PledgeMusic drive, he is wrapping a collection of duets with female artists including Rosanne Cash, Rachael Yamagata and Heather Robb from The Spring Standards, whom he recently produced.
“I’ve got all these chicks singing on it, so I’m trying to think of a title that reflects that influence,” says Miller of the untitled project. “I’d love it if it kept in line with my previous album titles, like ‘The Instigator’ and ‘The Believer.’ Maybe, umm, ‘The Womanizer’? I don’t know.”
IF YOU GO
Where: Swedish American Hall, 2170 Market St., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday
Contact: (415) 861-5016, www.ticketweb.com