Four Square Jack
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Four Square Jack

Cincinnati, Ohio, United States

Cincinnati, Ohio, United States
Band Rock Indie




"Vinyl Static Compliments - Album Review"

Vinyl Static Compliments is the debut by San Diego's John Miller and the Payback. Miller is a singer/songwriter who draws from funk, alternative, classic rock, and other sources to brew quirky pop tunes. The band does most of the studio lifting on Compliments, with guitarist Ryan Vernazza getting plenty of action, along with the rhythm section of bassist Dave Swendsen and drummer Leo Zugner. The excellent production is by StudiOB's Chuck Shiele.

Things get started with "Inside Out," featuring a choppy-riff, rocking beat, and a commanding vocal by Miller. He can sing very well and fills out the songs comfortably throughout. The riffs don't stop as "Wrong Turn Right" is next, another funk piece. This one takes a few listens for the older listener to shake the echoes of Traffic's similar "Feelin' Alright" in the verses; on its own it is an interesting, if awkward, tune with a ear-catching guitar solo by Vernazza. After these two cuts with a lot of R&B feel comes "Away," a smooth trip down the avenue of Tom Petty-style, catchy-as-hell rock. This highlight is executed flawlessly, with Miller dialing in the vocal and the arrangement working to maximize the radio-friendly impact. "Gonna Find Me" is a good calypso-inspired acoustic song that changes the palette completely with Miller singing higher and a large background chorus. Next up is "Heidi," a nod to Elvis Costello that slows the beat down, drives home a catchy hook ("That's how, that's how, that's how Heidi likes it"), and benefits from the drum mixing by Schiele. Miller stays in a mellow mode for "Treated Me Well," as good work on harmonies anchor a strong chorus about California treating him well and more tasty playing by Vernazza.

The disc's eight cuts are a bit over 30 minutes long. A minor problem with a disc of this length is that the listener never really gets a feeling of just what the sound of the Payback is - there are flavors of different genres and styles galore, but nothing is sustained for more than a cut or two, and then the disc is finished.

"Low Fidelity" returns the music to the riff-chunky-verse, melodic chorus style of the first two cuts, which it resembles (especially "Inside Out"). No real harm, since the sequencing has four smooth tunes between, and "Fidelity" gives Vernazza another chance to stretch out. The disc closes with "We Will Find a Way," a soft rocker that seems almost too laid back, until Miller lays into the last couple of verses and hammers it home.

Vinyl Static Compliments is an interesting and varied collection. The songwriting and singing talents of John Miller are clearly evident on many of the songs, and listeners may want a more complete look at him
next time.

September 2009
Written by Frank Kocher - San Diego Troubadour, May 2009

"OB compilation, John Miller good for each other"

The recent compilation album “Waves: The Sound of Ocean Beach,” produced by local music booster Chuck Schiele, has yielded dividends for all involved.

Not only has it focused attention on the local community: it has also served as a spotlight for the participating performers.

One act making a particularly noticeable splash is John Miller and The Payback.

Besides mere geographic proximity, according to Schiele, Miller would have been a natural for the album regardless.

“He’s originally from the East Coast but he sounds like California,” he said. “Miller’s music perfectly captures the feel of Ocean Beach, whether it’s the energy of a summer’s day or the slight tinge of introspection one can get on the occasional rainy afternoon.”

Schiele said “Waves” is currently not available online but added it will be soon. In the meantime, the album can be found for $10 at area retailers such as Cow Records, 5029 Newport Ave., and at the Ocean Beach MainStreet Association office, 1868 Bacon St., Suite A.

Miller arrived in San Diego from his native Pennsylvania in 2003 via a brief stint in New York.

“It was appearing I was going to get laid off from my job and I had some friends living in California,” Miller said. “It was an easy decision that job hunting near the beach was better than job hunting from my fourth-floor walk-up in Brooklyn.

“Bassist Dave Swendsen had been planning to join me in NYC, so I said, ‘How about San Diego?’ He said, ‘Anywhere, as long as come September, we’re not living in Pittsburgh!’ So we headed across country.”

Miller initially found his key musical partner, guitarist Ryan Vernazza, through Craigslist, when he put together his initial band, the short-lived Johnny Different.

“I was handling all of the guitar duties and I’ve never considered myself much of a lead guitar player,” Miller said. “So during the last year of JD, I decided that if we got an actual ‘lead guitarist,’ we’d improve the band significantly. We placed an ad and Ryan was the first person to come in.

“Afterward, I wanted to call the other guys we lined up and tell them that we filled the position,” he said. “The other guys in the band convinced me to still audition the other guitarists lined up - and they were good - but Ryan just set the bar too high. He quickly joined up.”

When that group folded, Miller and Vernazza began playing as an acoustic duo. The pair gigged for six months, and after receiving a 2008 San Diego Music Award nomination for Best Acoustic Performer, the pair decided to fill out the sound for a series of new recordings.

“We had always thought we’d like to get a new band together but we weren’t in a rush,” Miller said. “I asked a couple friends of mine (Swendsen and drummer Leo Zugner) if they’d be interested in recording sessions. After laying down the tracks we realized that we were having a good time, liked the music and the way we all worked together and decided to become a band.”

Ironically, finding the right band name ended up taking longer than forming the band itself.

“That’s probably the most difficult thing a band goes through, coming up with a band name,” Miller said.

It took three months for the musicians to settle on John Miller and The Payback.

“It had been suggested that I use my name in the band name for continuity’s sake and because we were only recording songs that I wrote,” Miller said. “I battled back and forth with this because honestly, I’m just not that big-headed. All three of those guys had a large role in the arrangement of the tunes, so I wanted them to have an identity too.”

Miller said he is not clear on what the direct inspiration for the name is, but it was an instant success with his fellow players.

“The name came to me one day at work,” Miller said. “I’m assuming that James Brown’s song ‘The Payback’ had recently played on my iPod, but I don’t really remember. I e-mailed it to the band and they all replied, ‘Yeah!’ No other ideas or modified version of the idea. Just, ‘Yeah!’ So it stuck.”

Miller said he is thrilled with the results of his East Coast move, but he is specially happy with his new home in Ocean Beach.

“It’s a fantastic place,” Miller said. “Music is in the air here as much as the salt. Plus, the support that bands and musicians get from the community is amazing.”

Though he’s played all the area’s major venues, including the Casbah and House of Blues, he prefers more homegrown events.

“The weekly [Ocean Beach] Farmers Market and annual street fair are hands down my two favorite gigs I’ve ever played,” Miller said. “The atmosphere is unique and it always stands out in my mind. It may be a farmers market and a slightly informal street show, but the community’s love of music keeps bringing me back, as often as I can, to the corner of Bacon Street and Newport Avenue on Wednesday evenings,” Miller said.

July 2009
Written by Bart Mendoza - Peninsula Beacon, July 2009 (San Diego News Network)

"Plenty of musical treats on tap for local venues"

The Ocean Beach Farmers Market may not be considered a music venue, but thanks to local music booster Chuck Schiele, it’s become a prime showcase for San Diego’s acoustic music talent and a great place to try out new material. Such is the case with songwriter John Miller. Miller and his band The Payback debut a new album May 9 at O’Connell’s, but music fans can take an early listen on May 6, when he appears at the farmers market. Ranging from indie rockers like “State of Mind” to hypnotic acoustic tracks such as “Waiting,” Miller’s music is high on the hook quotient without being obvious. Indeed, the latter song veers close to Leonard Cohen territory, in both lyrics and aural setting, marking Miller as more than just your average tunesmith. -Bart Mendoza - San Diego Peninsula Beacon, April 2009

"Making “Waves” OBcean-style"

For those of you that ever tried putting together a mix tape you know just how much fun it can be stringing your favorite songs together all in one place and then playing them for your friends either loudly in your car,house or at a party.

The first time I ever heard O.B. mentioned in a song was off of the very first KGB Homegrown Album from 1974 which had a line from a song that went, “Ocean Beach is breezy you can live like a bum”. The second time was a song on a later Homegrown album called “O.B. Bop” so, I was stoked to get a chance to sit down with local musician/producer/entertainer Chuck Schiele and check out what he’s put together with, Waves, a compilation of O.B. music Vol. 1.

...Cool! Here’s my take on the disc…

...Song 11 is Treated Me Well by John Miller & Payback. A very personal song about finding one’s self in O.B…something that I’m sure a lot of us can relate too. You can catch them live at the O.B. Street Fair this Saturday June 27, 11:15 a.m. at the Bacon Street Sun Stage. - OB RAG, June 2009

"Gonna Find Me - Most Downloaded"

“I have a degree in music from the University of Pittsburgh,” says singer-songwriter John Miller. “I studied jazz vocal...and I was president of the glee club. I know, laugh it up!”

Miller arrived in San Diego in 2003 and settled in O.B. After he began performing acoustic shows with guitarist Ryan Vernazza, the duo ended up forming John Miller and the Payback. “Our music sounds like Tom Petty, Stevie Wonder, G. Love, and Dinosaur Jr. got together and wrote an album,” says Miller, who was nominated Best Acoustic at the 2008 San Diego Music Awards.

John Miller and the Payback’s debut album, Vinyl Static Compliments, was produced by Chuck Schiele at StudiOB. Lead single “Gonna Find Me” was the most-downloaded track on the Reader website for June. Miller provides some background.

What was the origin and inspiration behind “Gonna Find Me”?

I had been working on some lyrics that were personal to me, that were part of a process for me. They focused on my problems with organized religion in general and, more specifically, having grown up Catholic. Religion to me, oddly, had an answer for everything; it was too easy. The more I examined it, the more I drifted away. The process wasn’t easy, and I believe that “Gonna Find Me” was a final part of the process. It allowed me to close the door on any doubts that I had and continue to move forward. I believe in free will, and I don’t believe that you can have free will if someone or something “has a plan” for you.

Can you provide a sample lyric that you think best sums up the song?

“Written word, now states my claim.”

What exactly is the “linear grin” you sing about?

A linear grin is the “aha!” moment. It’s when something clicks, when you realize the answer was in front of you all along. It’s almost a smile, but your lips are tight together, very linear, except the corner of your mouth tilts up, sort of like a smile.

In what way do you feel “We are all consumed by free will?” Wouldn’t a state of free will be one in which you could decline to be consumed?

The lyric in the song actually refers to my soul being consumed by free will. As I stated above, I don’t believe that you can have free will if you believe that someone or something has a plan for you. The writing of this song was part of my process of accepting that my feelings weren’t wrong in regards to religion — though some may see them as wrong — but that they were different than what I was originally raised to believe. My feelings were right for me. - San Diego Reader


Still working on that hot first release.



For Booking: Contact John Miller at 513.400.4111 or at

Let's be honest. Every band fills in this area with something clever or witty in an attempt to sell the reader on their idea or a concept of music. Well, here's the deal...Four Square Jack isn't a concept, we're not an idea; we are a band. We play rock and roll. Sure, we have our own style and we have our influences - all of that comes together and is amplified through the music we play.

Like this bio, our music is honest. It can be upbeat and fun, it can be slower and reflective. In either case, it's from the heart. It speaks of real situations and perspectives on life and that were born from the experiences of our singer and rhythm guitar player, John Miller.

John hails from outside of Philly but sounds like Southern California - seven years with your toes in the San Diego sand will do that to a man. Add in the eclectic surf-mod renaissance of Doug Olberding on the lead guitar and you're a step closer to hearing the whole sound. However, FSJ's sound would not be possible without the rhythm section. Mike and Rob D come together to lock it down, provide the foundation and the groove to shape the sound of FSJ. Finally, Whitney's wonderful voice adds to the overtones of the songs through her harmonies - she adds accents to the tunes with just the right touch on the keys and aux percussion. She's the color in the band... she keeps us in check and makes the songs sound complete.

This is Four Square Jack. Five people who love music. No mystery. No pretenses. Rock on.

FSJ regularly plays with Cincinnati staple, Goose and has opened for Cincinnati's own Fozy Shazam.

Please visit Four Square Jack on Facebook.

More information on John Miller as a solo artist can be found on Facebook or Reverbnation.

Band Members