Calling drummer, vocalist and composer Kid Millions a musical warrior would be an epic understatement. He’s a multidimensional force of nature who’s been fearlessly crossing boundaries for the last 25 years, forever steeped in the DIY aesthetic, with a hardcore belief in community. Best known as the loose-limbed workhorse and pulsating heartbeat of improvisational psych-rock institution Oneida and as the mastermind behind the ever-mutating new-music collective Man Forever, Millions has a consummate command of navigating myriad walks of music. (Under his given name, John Colpitts, he’s made resounding contributions as a performance curator and writer.)
On February 28, 2018, while in Los Angeles for a recording session, Millions was involved in a serious car wreck that knocked him out of commission for several months. As a result, an Oneida tour in support of 2018’s excellent and overlooked Romance was shelved, as was a recording session with Royal Trux, for whom Millions was drumming at the time. After an intensive recovery, Millions soon enough was back behind the kit and in the van, touring solo and with Oneida.
Now, Millions is ready to tell the story of that fateful crash and its aftermath, exactly two years to the day later at Roulette. First performed in its early stages at the Hopscotch Music Festival, The Accident has taken on many forms during the last year or so, morphing from a bare-bones solo percussion piece to what will be presented at Roulette: a full-fledged narrative multimedia epic, directed by Mark Armstrong.
Joining Millions to flesh out the piece are a host of his peers, including drummers Brian Chase and Greg Fox (integral members of the Man Forever percussive army), violist Jessica Pavone, bassist Tristan Kasten-Krause, and Matt Evans (TIGUE, Bearthoven) on percussion and piano, with Yeasayer drummer Noah Hecht serving as music director. The production includes visuals by Brock Monroe, footage shot by Mike Bonello and Alex Hadjiloukas, and outtakes of Millions in a Laurie Anderson video shoot.
Millions plans to release a recording of The Accident, and a film is potentially in the works. And, naturally, Oneida is at work on a new record. We caught up with him at home during intensive prep for the Roulette performance.
BRAD COHAN: Not too long ago, you did a tour overseas.
KID MILLIONS: It was a Man Forever solo tour. Eight or nine shows in the U.K. and Ireland. I was workshopping this thing that I’m doing at Roulette, but it’s going to be quite different.
COHAN: So, you were sort of test-driving the piece on tour?
MILLIONS: I’ve been doing [the piece] for a while, maybe about a year. I was asked by the Hopscotch Festival to do a solo set the same year as my accident. That was September, and my accident was in February. It was one of the earliest shows I’d done, and I was like, “Jeez, I never play solo… okay, fuck it, yeah, I’ll do it.” It was a day party, and I knew the people who set it up, so I’d do something.
Then the day of the show, I thought, “Something that would be really hard for me to do would be to talk about the accident.” But I also thought it would be a way out of doing a solo drum performance, which I don’t really relish! [laughs] I’d done a couple, but not really any in the U.S., and I don’t love being put on the spot like that. So: “fuck it, I’ll just talk about my accident.”
COHAN: So The Accident was basically a spur of the moment idea?
MILLIONS: Yeah, and I was like, “wow, that worked.” And it was pretty effective, relatively. It was surprising—and it was surprising to me. I thought, “Maybe I should do that more.” So I did it another time in Europe, where I was asked to do a solo show. I did two tours playing it in Germany and Italy, and then England and Ireland.
I thought it was cool, but it’s a little bit… I don’t want to disparage myself too much, but it was just more off the cuff, and I really wanted to challenge myself and try to produce something more rigorous—I don’t know about elaborate, but just be more inspired by my heroes like Laurie Anderson and Spalding Gray, and do something that’s a bit more considerate and not just me riffing, even though I had done it enough that I knew the beats, the narrative beats. So I gave myself another challenge: Let’s see if Roulette would book me on the anniversary of the accident. So they did.
COHAN: The piece that will be presented at Roulette sounds like it will be very different than what you were workshopping.
MILLIONS: It started as solo percussion, but I’m trying to make it as interesting and powerful as I can. I’ve just been going deeper. I’m working with a director. I want to be hard on myself and make it more effective. I’m so used to just getting up onstage and improvising; I just wanted to step away from that a little. It’ll still have that, I’m sure, but that’s the gist.
COHAN: How has the piece evolved since its beginnings to what will be performed at Roulette?
MILLIONS: It’s funny: I didn’t realize this, but the first performance was recorded, and I didn’t know this for about a year. I thought, “Aw, you know, I wish I had that first show. I could see what I did and what was effective.” Somehow, somebody was like, “It does exist. I have a copy.” [Laughs] I got that, and I listened to it as I was prepping for this show.
The things that really stood out to me, at the time and that day, was this is the first time that I’m reliving the whole arc in front of an audience. As I mentioned before, the story beats and the narrative beats, they’ve been pretty consistent. I know what moments really impressed themselves upon me. Those are still there, but I was trying to figure out more of what I was trying to do. It’s one thing to be like, “This is the story of my accident. It sucked. It was hard.” [Laughs] It’s another thing to try to make it into something that’s compelling.
It’s been about getting words down in a clear way, and also thinking in terms of really what I’m trying to do. Initially, it was like, “I’m going to tell this story. People are curious, so I’m going to say what it was like.”
COHAN: As far as I know, you’ve never discussed the accident at length.
MILLIONS: No, I haven’t, except among friends. The way that the piece has changed is just me taking it more seriously as a piece, and there’s been music that I’ve added.
COHAN: It began as all-improvised, and over time you’ve transformed it into a composed piece.
MILLIONS: Yeah. I’m trying to be more aware of a narrative, and having it be interesting. [Laughs]
COHAN: Is The Accident on a similar aesthetic wavelength of what you’ve done with Man Forever, or is it completely off that sound spectrum?
MILLIONS: To me it doesn’t seem that off, but it is different. Maybe it’s more of a combination of some of the earlier albums and the newest album [Play What They Want]. That album was more “songy.” It’s funny: I overthink, initially, what the audience needed. I thought they needed to know all these details, but I’m discovering the audience’s imagination is really robust. There’s a lot that you don’t need to spell out. I’m playing around with that, and I’m trying not to get stuck on that. I’ve been doing shows for 25 years, but nothing like this. However, I’m just trusting I’m engaging in it, and it’s going to be what I want it to be—or close to what I want it to be. I just trust the process.
COHAN: Was tackling the events of your accident in this way a therapeutic experience for you?
MILLIONS: No, it’s not therapeutic, and I’m not trying to be like I’m having a hard time—you kind of get through things on your own. I didn’t need to do this to get through it; I just wanted to make something out of it. I thought it would be interesting, so I did it, but I don’t think it’s helped me. [Laughs] The accident was traumatic, but there’s only been a few moments where I’ve “relived it.” The mental effects are more subtle; there are not these traumatic effects that I’m trying to avoid or compartmentalize.
COHAN: Were you on tour when the accident happened?
MILLIONS: I was actually in L.A. for a session. I recorded drums for an album so I was only there for a couple of days. I played on the Black Mountain album that came out recently.
COHAN: You were headed to the airport to catch a flight home when you were involved in the crash?
MILLIONS: Some of this will be in the show—I talk about all of it. I was in a Lyft, and we were rear-ended by a drunk on the freeway. If I hadn’t had a seat belt on, I’d be dead for sure. I had one on.
COHAN: Were you the only passenger in the car?
MILLIONS: Yeah. It was me and the Lyft driver. He’s fine, and nobody died in the accident. There were two cars that were affected by the crash… three total, including the drunk.
COHAN: What injuries did you suffer?
MILLIONS: I broke two ribs and I chipped a vertebra. But what happened was the drunk ran into me, in a way. The Lyft was just a little compact car, so he went through the back and rammed into the bench seat. It was this really intense impact. I had broken a couple of ribs and my neck was fucked up, but there was also this pretty bad impact injury in my back, which just missed my spine. There’s a lot about it, and it was bad enough, but it could have been a lot worse.
COHAN: How long were you in L.A. recovering as a result of the crash?
MILLIONS: I was in the hospital for three days. I couldn’t travel, so I was at a family friend’s for two weeks, and then I flew back and recovered for, in a way, a few months. I was able to move around after about nine weeks. I was able to walk, but I wasn’t, like, shuffling around. [Laughs] I actually had this Oneida tour that I ended up doing. It was my first return.
COHAN: How long after the accident was that Oneida tour?
MILLIONS: I think it was July, so it wasn’t that long after.
COHAN: Did you heal pretty quickly?
MILLIONS: Yes, I did, but I feel of a couple of minds about the Oneida tour: I probably shouldn’t have done the tour. [Laughs] However, doing the tour really forced me to engage with my body and prepare, so I really worked hard leading up to the tour. Basically it was full days of prep, like exercises, massages, and physical therapy. I practiced using this book called Inner Drumming, which is like a tai-chi approach to drumming. It’s a method book, exercises to improve your body awareness, in a way, because drumming is four limbs, so there’s certain parts of your body that are asleep somewhat [laughs] where they’re not actually active in a way that you would expect in drumming. It also makes sure that you’re playing efficiently and using gravity and rebound.
It’s really slow movements, and I just spent every day preparing. It was my job. It ended up being cool, but it was like, “I shouldn’t be on this tour.” But then if I hadn’t done the tour, I don’t know what I would have done! [Laughs] I might never have soldiered on, in a way.
COHAN: How did your body react on that tour, after the accident?
MILLIONS: I had to be more controlled; I couldn’t just flail around and blast away like I used to. I had to be more aware of my posture and movement. I think it may have improved my physical technique a little bit, because I had to straighten out. I couldn’t hunch over and just do whatever. Most of the pain was in my neck, and there was a time in the middle of tour where I was like, “Okay, maybe I shouldn’t have done this tour. This might have been a bad decision.” We had 10 shows in a row, no days off. Normal for us, but I was like, “holy shit.” [Laughs] But I got through it, which was cool. It was like: “Wow! I did it!”
COHAN: During your recovery, you also had an experience with opioids.
MILLIONS: I withdrew. I was dependent, because when I withdrew it was like hell. It was hell for like three days. I do talk about it in the show. It just gave me a perspective about people suffering with that, and how easy it is to get hooked. I was just taking the drugs, as prescribed, for three weeks. That’s it. I didn’t take more than what was prescribed; I just did what I was told. And when I stopped, it was a pixel less shitty than what it was like after the accident. It was just almost as bad.
COHAN: Do you have plans to record The Accident for release?
MILLIONS: Yes, although I’ve been having many different thoughts about it. Of course, my hero is Laurie Anderson, and she’s done that, but I’ve thought that the music that I’ve created for the show is cool on its own—I don’t know if I’ll release this as a narrative album. It seems that could be a bit like “a listen to it once” kind of thing. I may, but for now it’s full sprint to the show, and we’ll see what happens and go from there.
COHAN: Laurie Anderson appeared on Play What You Want, and you’ve said she’s a big influence behind The Accident.
MILLIONS: She’s just like my North Star. I just like how she places these kind of narrative morsels inside of a musical context. I think my piece is a little less far-ranging, perhaps. She can be, in an awesome way, more abstract sometimes. I suppose I can always get more abstract. So I’m trying to distill all of the moments that I went through into something compelling.
Kid Millions and Man Forever perform The Accident at Roulette on Feb. 28 at 8pm; roulette.org
Brad Cohan is a music journalist based in New York City. His work has appeared in the Observer, Village Voice, Time Out New York, Vice, and Noisey.
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