Game Theory (band)
|Genres||Power pop, jangle pop|
|Years active||1982–1990, 2013|
|Labels||Rational, Enigma, Alias|
|Associated acts||The Loud Family, Alternate Learning|
|Past members||Scott Miller, Nancy Becker, Fred Juhos, Michael Irwin, Dave Gill, Shelley LaFreniere, Gil Ray, Suzi Ziegler, Donnette Thayer, Guillaume Gassuan, Michael Quercio, Jozef Becker, Alison Faith Levy (2013)|
Miller was the group's leader and sole constant member, presiding over frequently changing line-ups. During its early years in Davis, California, Game Theory was often associated with the Paisley Underground movement, but remained based in northern California, moving to the Bay Area in 1986, while similarly aligned local bands moved to Los Angeles.
Game Theory released seven LPs and EPs from 1981 to 1990, not including three compilations. The group became known for its fusion of catchy musical hooks with musical complexity, as well as for Miller's lyrics that often featured self-described "young-adult-hurt-feeling-athons," along with literary references (e.g., Real Nighttime′s allusions to James Joyce), and pop culture references ranging from Peanuts ("The Red Baron") to Star Trek quotes ("One More for St. Michael").
- 1 Career
- 2 Discography
- 3 References
- 4 External links
Prior to founding Game Theory, Scott Miller had been the singer, chief songwriter and sole constant member of Alternate Learning, which issued an EP in 1979 and an LP in 1981. Its members, at various times, included siblings Jozef Becker and Nancy Becker, each of whom later joined Game Theory. Alternate Learning was based in Sacramento and Davis, California, and frequently performed at U.C. Davis.
Game Theory 1.0 (1982–1985)
After disbanding Alternate Learning in 1982, Miller assembled the first iteration of Game Theory, which consisted of Scott Miller (lead guitar, vocals), Nancy Becker (keyboards, vocals), Fred Juhos (bass, guitar, vocals), and Michael Irwin (drums).
The band's first album was the Blaze of Glory LP, released in 1982 on Rational Records, a label operated by the band's manager. Due to a lack of funds to both press the album and print a jacket, a thousand copies of the LP were packaged in white plastic trash bags with Xeroxed cover art glued to each bag.
Nearly thirty years after the release of Blaze of Glory, Harvard professor Stephen Burt described it as "true to the wordy awkwardness... of the nerd stereotype, and yet true to the visceral power, the sexual charge, in guitar-based Anglo-American pop. The songs, and the people depicted in the songs, attempted to have fun, to act on instinct, but they knew they were too cerebral to make it so, except with like-minded small circles of puzzle-solvers."
Two 12-inch EPs followed. In 1983, Pointed Accounts of People You Know was released, with six songs. With Dave Gill replacing Michael Irwin on drums, the group then released the five-song Distortion EP in 1984, with The Three O'Clock's Michael Quercio producing. The first three releases, originally released on Rational, were anthologized by Alias Records in 1993 as the Distortion of Glory CD.
The early Game Theory was described as a "pseudo-psychedelic pop quartet" for which Miller sang and wrote "almost all of the material." On the first three releases, Miller shared co-writing credits on "The Young Drug" with Alternate Learning's Carolyn O'Rourke, and on "Life in July" with Nancy Becker. Miller also included three songs that were written by Fred Juhos, and later defended the decision to record Juhos's songs as a Beatles-like "relief from seriousness," though only one was included on Distortion of Glory. Juhos's contributions were criticized as failing to mesh with Miller's, and Miller later mused, "It's funny that his stuff wasn't popular. We all had the impression that no one was ever going to get into my stuff and that his one or two would be the ones to catapult us to fame."
Reviewers of Distortion of Glory wrote that the band had improved with each successive EP, both featuring "some stellar material." Notable songs included "The Red Baron", cited as "heartbreaking ... an anguished acoustic lost-love song leavened by keyboardist Nancy Becker's mocking "Fifty or more" backing vocal," as well as "Shark Pretty," which featured guest lead guitar by Bowie sideman Earl Slick (credited as Ernie Smith).
In 1984, the Dead Center LP was released in France, assembling selected tracks from Pointed Accounts of People You Know and Distortion, and adding three tracks, including the group's cover of "The Letter" (a 1967 hit for the Box Tops with Alex Chilton's vocals).
In 1985, Real Nighttime marked the entrance of Mitch Easter as producer for the band's remaining releases. Real Nighttime was well-reviewed, appearing in the Village Voice's annual poll of 1984's best releases. The album was critically viewed as walking "a fine line between pretension and genius," with the former view supported by Miller's liner notes written in the style of James Joyce's Finnegans Wake, and the latter view supported by "chiming guitars and great pop melodies" described as "breathtaking."
Reviewers wrote, and Miller later confirmed, that a recurring theme in the lyrics of Real Nighttime was life after college, which Miller paired with the intuition that "freedom had a strong aspect of being bad news." The song "24" sets the narrator at the cusp of a quarter-life crisis, as a self-conscious young adult whose mixed feelings establish that he "doesn’t know where he fits, or to how to live on his own, in a post-collegiate milieu." The theme continues with allusions to finding one's own direction and leaving the nest, as in "Curse of the Frontierland" ("A year ago we called this a good time"), and "I Mean It This Time" ("Give me all the gin I need, for I may not be this strong when I call my parents and tell they've been wrong.")
After recording Real Nighttime, the group went through a wholesale change in personnel, with only Miller remaining.
In 2013, after Scott Miller's death, the group's surviving members from this period (including both Irwin and Gill) coined the ironic nickname "Game Theory 1.0" while rehearsing in Sacramento for the band's July 2013 reunion performance in a memorial tribute to Miller.
The Big Shot Chronicles (1985–1986)
A new line-up, consisting of Miller, Shelley LaFreniere (keyboards), Gil Ray (drums), and Suzi Ziegler (bass), commenced a national tour in 1985.
Billboard pointed to The Big Shot Chronicles' "crisp, moody pop songs," taking note that Miller's high tenor vocals were "sung in a self-described 'miserable whine'", and adding that Mitch Easter lent "an assured production touch" to this "collegiate fave." Decades later, in the 2007 book Shake Some Action: The Ultimate Power Pop Guide, The Big Shot Chronicles was ranked #16 out of the "Top 200 power pop albums of all time." The release was, however, "surprisingly passed over by the buying public."
Ziegler left the band shortly after a tour supporting the release of the album.
Lolita Nation and Two Steps from the Middle Ages (1986–1988)
Game Theory took on two new members, resulting in the line-up of Scott Miller (lead vocal, guitars), Shelley LaFreniere (keyboards), Gil Ray (drums), Guillaume Gassuan (bass), and Donnette Thayer (backing vocal, guitars). Thayer, who was then Miller's girlfriend, had been a guest musician on Game Theory's first album, Blaze of Glory. This iteration of the band recorded two albums, Lolita Nation (1987) and Two Steps from the Middle Ages (1988).
Miller told the San Francisco Chronicle that, with Lolita Nation, he "wanted to throw away some of the givens. It's meant to have a lot of unexpected things happening on it without being abrasive or industrial," labeling the music "experimental pop."
In a review of the double set Lolita Nation, Spin cited it as "some of the gutsiest, most distinctive rock 'n' roll heard in 1987," with "sumptuous melodic hooks ... played with startling intensity and precision," while simultaneously noting that the band "elected to shinny way out on an aesthetic limb" with "a thoroughly perplexing conglomeration of brief instrumental shards and stabs". The CD version of Lolita Nation, long out of print, has since become a collector's item.
The group's 1988 release, Two Steps from the Middle Ages, took a less experimental approach, but despite numerous positive reviews and airplay on college radio, the album failed to reach a mainstream audience. Spin noted:
Good — even great — pop songs are Scott Miller's specialty ... creating essential California rock 'n' roll for the 80s — tense, bristling energy, ingenious hooks and haunting melodies that ought to spell commercial potential. But the albums have remained stuck in the cultist-critic-college DJ loop.
One problem is that Game Theory's obvious debt to Alex Chilton ... and their association with Mitch Easter ... got them lumped in with a whole genre of pop-for-pop's-sake smarty-pants, too coyly clever for their own good. But Game Theory has always rocked harder and thought bigger than the other "quirky popsters."
Many practical factors also got in the way of greater success. Soon after the release of Two Steps, their record label, Enigma Records, went out of business. In addition, there were conflicts within the group. After the 1988 tour, Thayer left the group to form Hex with Steve Kilbey of The Church. LaFreniere and Gassuan left the group at that time as well, and Ray sustained a disabling back injury that rendered him unable to play drums.
Touring and final recordings (1989–1990)
In 1989, Miller convened another new version of Game Theory, which toured in 1989 and 1990.
The line-up consisted of Miller (lead vocal, guitars), Michael Quercio (bass, drums, backing vocals), Jozef Becker (drums, bass), and Gil Ray, who was shifted by Miller from drums to playing guitar and keyboards. Jozef Becker had been a member of Miller's previous band Alternate Learning, and had played on Game Theory's first EP release. Quercio also had a long affiliation with Game Theory, having produced the 1984 Distortion EP, and having appeared as a guest musician on Real Nighttime and Lolita Nation.
Prior to the group's 1989 "mini-tour" of the Northwestern United States, Ray was a victim of random street violence in San Francisco, resulting in a serious eye injury. Ray ultimately left the group in 1990, and the group briefly continued as a trio.
Game Theory's final recording sessions took place in April 1989, when Nancy Becker, the group's original keyboard player and backup vocalist in the early 1980s, returned to record new versions of three songs for the compilation Tinker to Evers to Chance. The re-recorded songs included one Alternate Learning song, and two from the band's first LP, Blaze of Glory.
In 1993, several earlier Game Theory albums were re-released on CD with additional bonus tracks. 1993 also saw the CD release of the compilation Distortion of Glory, combining material from the Distortion EP and Blaze of Glory.
Transition to the Loud Family (1991)
By 1991, Quercio had left Game Theory, opting to return to Los Angeles to form the band Permanent Green Light. With Jozef Becker remaining as drummer, Miller recruited three new members to join Game Theory in 1991. This new line-up had rehearsed several times as Game Theory before Miller decided that the differences in sound and energy warranted a new name for the group, which began performing in the Bay Area in 1991 as the Loud Family. Game Theory's Gil Ray later returned to drumming as a member of the Loud Family, beginning with their 1998 album Days for Days.
Reunion of Game Theory (2013)
Miller's record label, 125 Records, revealed after Miller's death that "Scott had been planning to start recording a new Game Theory album, Supercalifragile, this summer, and was looking forward to getting back into the studio and reuniting with some of his former collaborators." Supercalifragile would have been the band's first album of new material since Two Steps from the Middle Ages in 1988.
The surviving original members of Game Theory reunited on July 20, 2013, to perform a memorial concert in Miller's hometown of Sacramento. Game Theory's 2013 line-up included Nancy Becker (keyboards, backing vocals), Fred Juhos (bass, piano), Michael Irwin (drums), Dave Gill (drums), and lead vocalist Alison Faith Levy of the Loud Family. Guest performers included Steve Harris of Urban Sherpas (lead guitar), and Bradley Skaught of The Bye Bye Blackbirds (vocals). An opening set was performed by Game Theory members Gil Ray (guitar, lead vocals), Suzi Ziegler (vocals), and Alison Faith Levy (vocals).
Includes LP and 12" EP releases.
|1982||Blaze of Glory||
|1983||Pointed Accounts of People You Know||
|1986||The Big Shot Chronicles||
|1988||Two Steps from the Middle Ages||
|1984||Dead Center||LP (France)||Lolita||5031B|
|1989||Tinker to Evers to Chance||
|1993||Distortion of Glory||CD||Alias||A048D|
|1985||"I've Tried Subtlety"||
||The Big Shot Chronicles|
|"The Real Sheila"|
- Burt, Stephen (Winter 2011). "Game Theory, or, Not Exactly the Boy of My Own Dreams". New Haven Review (9): 6–25. Archived from the original on 2012-06-10. Reprinted as Burt, Stephen (Apr. 18, 2013). "Game Theory: "Pure pop for nerd people," the greatest unknown '80s band". Salon. Archived from the original on 2013-04-19.
- DeRogatis, Jim (1996). Kaleidoscope eyes: psychedelic rock from the '60s to the 90s. Citadel Underground Series. Carol Pub. Group. p. 173. ISBN 9780806517889.
- Miller, Scott (1990) (CD booklet) (Release notes). Tinker to Evers to Chance. Game Theory. Enigma Records.
- Gimarc, George. Punk Diary: The Ultimate Trainspotter's Guide to Underground Rock, 1970–1982. Hal Leonard Corporation. p. 676. ISBN 9780879308483.
- Durkin, Thomas (November 12, 2003). "Interview with Scott Miller of the Loud Family". Glorious Noise. Archived from the original on 2013-11-12.
- Cost, Jay (Fall 1990). "Scott Miller Interview". Bucketfull of Brains (38). Copy of interview at the Wayback Machine (archived November 8, 2013).
- Bogdanov, Vladimir; Woodstra, Chris; Erlewine, Stephen (2002). All Music Guide to Rock: The Definitive Guide to Rock, Pop, and Soul. Hal Leonard Corporation. pp. 447–448. ISBN 9780879306533.
- Arnold, Gina (May 22, 1988). "Game Theory: 916 Pop Band Goes 800". San Francisco Chronicle. Copy of interview at the Wayback Machine (archived 8 November 2013).
- Cooper, Kim; Smay, David (2005). Lost in the Grooves: Scram's Capricious Guide to the Music You Missed. Routledge. p. 90. ISBN 0415969980.
- Miller, Scott (December 31, 2007). "Ask Scott".
- Cosper, Alex (July 22, 2013). "Sacramentans pay tribute to musician Scott Miller". Sacramento Press. Archived from the original on 2013-11-02.
- "Game Theory: The Big Shot Chronicles". Billboard. Reviews 98 (36): 80. Sept. 6, 1986.
- Borack, John M. (2007). Shake Some Action: The Ultimate Power Pop Guide. Not Lame Recordings. p. 52. ISBN 0979771404.
- Strong, Martin C. (2003). The Great Indie Discography. Canongate Books. p. 345. ISBN 9781841953359.
- Miller, Scott (1982) (LP insert) (Release notes). Blaze of Glory. Game Theory. Rational Records.
- Wuelfing, Jr., Howard (Jan. 1988). "Game Theory: Lolita Nation". Spin 3 (8): 24–25.
- Hill, Christopher (Apr. 1989). "The Stuff of Life". Spin 5 (1): 16.
- Mason, Stewart. "About Permanent Green Light". MTV. Artists. Archived from the original on 2013-12-12.
- Green, Jim. "Permanent Green Light". Trouser Press. Archived from the original on 2005-01-21.
- Coley, Byron (May 1993). "Miller Genuine Craft: Scott Miller makes a subtle move from his Game Theory into the Loud Family". Spin 9 (2): 26.
- Durkin, Thomas (May 7, 2008). "The Loud Family — Plants and Birds and Rocks and Things". Written as DJ Murphy. WTFF. Archived from the original on 2013-12-05.
- "Loud Family (official website)".
- Blistein, Jon (April 18, 2013). "Scott Miller, Game Theory and Loud Family Singer, Dead at 53". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on 2013-10-21.
- Yudt, Dennis (July 18, 2013). "A way with words: Friends pay tribute to Scott Miller, the late Davis artist who combined his love for music and literature into an influential career". Sacramento News & Review. Archived from the original on 2013-11-19.