Interview:10 Questions with Deron Miller of CKY
by Lisa Sharken
The inception of CKY dates back to 1994, when guitarist/frontman Deron Miller and drummer Jess Margera formed a group called Foreign Objects. Within two years, the lineup was solidified with guitarist/producer Chad Ginsburg and touring bassist Vern Zaborowski, and the band's name was changed to CKY (which stands for Camp Kill Yourself—a name conceived by Miller).
The Pennsylvania-based group got its initial break when Margera's brother, professional skateboarder Bam Margera, landed a deal to star in a series of skateboarding videos. With his influence, CKY was tapped to provide the soundtracks. The material was independently released as Camp Kill Yourself Volume 1 and Camp Kill Yourself Volume 2. Later, when Bam was asked to participate in MTV's Jackass, he helped to get the group's songs onto the show's soundtrack, which then led to mainstream airplay. CKY gained greater popularity through participation in the 1999 and 2000 Van's Warped Tours. Soon after, the group scored a deal with Island records and re-released its first soundtrack disc as CKY Volume 1.
CKY delivered the acclaimed Infiltrate-Destroy-Rebuild in 2002. Following the album's release, CKY was selected as the opening act for Guns N' Roses' highly-anticipated comeback tour. Unfortunately, the tour was canceled after only a few shows, due to Axl Rose's erratic behavior. However, the group did have the opportunity to perform to a sold-out crowd at the prestigious Madison Square Garden. CKY then wasted no time in lining up dates for its own headlining tour and salvaging the situation.
Guitar.com caught up with Miller as CKY was finishing up the final dates on its spring tour before taking a well-deserved summer break. Miller spoke about his background as a player and provided some insight into his songwriting process, explaining how the material on the group's latest disc had come together.
Guitar.com: Which players have influenced your style as both a guitarist and songwriter?
Deron Miller: I guess that's something I developed on my own after dealing with many influences. My first influence was probably Ace Frehley from Kiss. When I was three, I saw a poster of Kiss in my cousin's room which had Ace with a smoking guitar. And after that, all I was interested in was being like Ace Frehley.
I started taking guitar lessons when I was eight and I learned how to read music at first. Then I started to write my own songs because I was so frustrated with reading music. Now reading music is something I no longer do and can't do at all. I've just spent a lot of time with the guitar. I mean a lot of time. So if I was up 15 hours a day, I'd probably spend 13 of them with the guitar, writing and practicing, and picking up new influences on the way. I had started getting into thrash metal and death metal. Chuck Schuldiner from Death was a big influence on me, as was James Murphy, who's also from Death. James Hetfield from Metallica was really a huge influence on me, too. Then I just started finding out about newer music, more extreme music, more talented musicians, and more underground musicians, like the guys in Cynic, Pestilence, and Malevolent Creation. I decided that I liked rock and roll and death metal, and wanted to try to combine the two. So I guess that's how I developed my style.
Guitar.com: What was your first guitar?
Deron Miller: My first guitar was a $50 piece of crap that my mom bought from her friend because her son had stopped playing. It was an electric. I think it was a J.C. Penney generic guitar. I remember that his dad worked at J.C. Penney and I think they bought it out of the catalog. After that one broke, I got another guitar. I remember that it was blue and a lot lighter, and it was like an imitation B.C. Rich. I got frustrated with that thing and busted it up. I didn't have any name brand guitars until I bought my first Ibanez in '92—an RG570 that my dad bought for me. I got in my first band in '92 and I've been playing out ever since.
Guitar.com: How have your preferences for gear changed along the way? What are you currently using onstage?
Deron Miller: I have to admit, I'm not much of a gearhead. But my ear has gotten better at figuring out what I do like. I fell in love with a 100-watt Marshall JCM2000 head and I bought a stack. In addition, Dave Ellefson [Megadeth bassist and Peavey artist relations representative] is helping us get hooked up with Peavey. They have some really good-sounding amps. Chad just got one, and Vern is using a Peavey bass rig. I'm thinking of picking up a Peavey cabinet, but I don't think I could part with the Marshall head.
I'm using Parker guitars, which are definitely the best guitars ever made. I usually use two or three guitars during a show and rotate them for different shows. I have three NiteFly-M's, three P38's, and three P40's, which are made of wood and have that Fender kind of feel to them. The NiteFlys are made of complete graphite so they won't warp and the intonation doesn't really get messed up. They stay in perfect tune. They're just great guitars. They can handle the wear and tear onstage and in the tour bus. I'm really glad to be hooked up with those guys.
My guitars are tuned down a full step to D and I use .010 gauge strings with a wound .017 G string, usually D'Addario. I leave the top two strings off—the high strings, which everyone thinks is really strange, but I don't like to play with those. I think they sound like dying cats, so I leave them off. But I always make sure that my G string is wound because the sound gives it a heavier, thick punch to it. For picks, I use the heavy-gauge Dunlop Tortex. We have some with our logo on them. I like the pick to have a little bit of flex to it, but I could really use anything except a thin.
Guitar.com: How does your live rig differ from the gear used to record Infiltrate-Destroy-Rebuild?
Deron Miller: In the studio, we use Chad's cool modified 1972 Marshall head which sounds really good, but we would never bring that out on tour for fear of it getting damaged. Onstage, I use the JCM2000. I pretty much stuck to one guitar for this album and I used a NiteFly for my tracks. We really don't keep a record of what we use, so I really can't recall exactly what was used on each song. But that was the main setup—the Parker and '72 Marshall. We usually record the tracks on two-inch tape, then transfer the tracks to Pro Tools and take advantage of all those onboard effects. We have everything at our hands and we don't go in the studio with any limitations of what to use and what not to use.
Guitar.com: Tell us about the material on the new album. How did the songs develop?
Deron Miller: The first album had started out as a demo. Once we had four songs recorded and done, I think we wanted to graduate from the term "demo" and start to call it an "album." A demo pretty much says that you're looking for record company involvement. Our demo was sounding so good that we thought we should call it an album. So we spent more time and we wrote more songs, and that album took us two years to finish because of money. I had financed it, so every time I'd run out of money, I'd have to wait and save up for another two months to go back in and record some more songs.
Once we got ten songs done, we put it together, printed it up and it was our album. It was no longer a demo. So that album was two years in the making. It included songs that had been written from two years before we started, up until the last week of the recording. So that album was pretty much four years of songwriting. The new record was completely different. I guess I was really inspired because I just started churning out riffs and songs. We were excited to make a new record because the other one was so old and the fans were wanting a new one. In addition, this one was actually going to get a really broad release. So we flew to a studio in Hawaii and we kind of made it like a vacation. We were out there for a month and just battled through the ten tracks and made sure it was perfect. This time we had the money to make sure everything was just right. I think we made one of the best rock records of the last ten years! We had a lot of fun making that album and I'm very proud of the songs on there.
Guitar.com: In what ways has your writing style evolved?
Deron Miller: I've learned a lot by working with Chad. We've all learned a lot from each other and from doing these two records. I had a tendency to write songs and drop them—get rid of them and not ever play them again—because I thought maybe they might have limitations in the studio. But I've learned that you can take a song that sounds great on one guitar, and by the time it's recorded, overdubbed and mixed, we'll have one amazing song. So basically, I'll just come up with a riff and if the vocal line comes to me immediately, I know the song is a keeper. If I just have a riff and I don't know what I'll be singing over it, I'll still keep it. I don't really tend to drop anything anymore because I know that everything has potential in the studio once Chad gets hold of it and comes up with some good ideas to put over it. We all bring something different to the table and we get a unique product in the end.
Guitar.com: How do you and Chad split the guitar parts?
Deron Miller: Live, we both do rhythms. On the records, I'll do most of the rhythms and Chad does a lot of overdubbing of different sounds and effects for whatever the song needs. I've been playing bass on the albums just to save time. Chad and I want the bass to be as tight with the guitar as humanly possible, so we feel it makes sense for the guitarist to play the bass part. We usually write the bass part over the guitar parts in the studio and this way works best for us because if we want to change the guitar riffs, we know the bass lines going underneath the riffs will work with the drums and the guitars. So Vern is pretty much a live bass player.
Guitar.com: In what way does your attitude towards playing differ when onstage and in the studio?
Deron Miller: I would say we're a completely different band live. We don't try to recreate our record live. Onstage, we're all about energy, not about recreating a record. In the studio, we're about making great songs and having great sound. If you want to hear our record, stay home and listen to the record. We've never really been criticized for not sounding like our albums live. We sound completely different live than we do on the albums and I think that's what the fans like about us.
Guitar.com: How do you warm up for a gig?
Deron Miller: I like to listen to heavy music before we go on, and as loud as possible. It's usually Malevolent Creation. They're my favorite death metal band. It's fast, angry, agonizing music. Also, something that gets me pumped for getting onstage is seeing the line of kids waiting to get in.
Guitar.com: Tell us about your upcoming Death tribute project. When do expect that to be released?
Deron Miller: We're going to start working on it in August and it's going to be a lot of fun. CKY is taking a long break this summer and we're going to work on different projects. Chad is going to work with the Murder Junkies and produce some of their songs for their new album. That was G.G. Allin's band. G.G. Allin is his favorite dead rockstar. For Death, what I'm doing, Chuck Schuldiner left his family with a lot of medical bills because it's hard for musicians to get good medical insurance and once he was diagnosed with his brain tumor, he ended up spending all his money and a lot more. So I decided to get together with some Death fans in the business—two guys from Malevolent Creation, and Paul Grey from Slipknot. James Murphy, who used to be in Death, ironically has a brain tumor, too, and is also in need of funds for medical bills. So we're getting together to do this as a benefit for him and the Schuldiner family. We're going to cover about 15 Death songs and release it, then donate the money to the Schuldiner family and to James. What don't know what label it will be on yet because I'm still in the process of getting it together and approaching labels. I know labels hate to take on tribute projects because they're one-offs, not bands that put out multiple records, and they usually don't sell that well. If worst comes to worst, I'll record it myself and release it myself. If a label gets involved, it could be out by the end of the year. If it's all me, it might take a little longer to seal any distribution deal.