At the LA vintage shop No Grand Rituals, owner Garret Miller is remixing history. Garret sees the pieces he sells as ongoing physical stories: a jacket could’ve been worn by a steelworker or fighter pilot fifty years ago, but that narrative evolves when a new owner with a new life story makes the jacket their own. Garret’s passion for history goes back to his New York days, when he was staging historical reenactment photos.
CONVICTS caught up with Garret at his place in Altadena. We got his word on the importance of the past, the object-less learning that comes from time spent in nature, and the vibrational differences between New York and LA.
To start can you introduce yourself and what you do?
My name is Garrett Miller. No Grand Rituals the business that I started out here in Altadena, California.
You were born and raised in New York. How do you feel about NYC?
Good question. I think about it a lot actually. New York Lost its creative rawness, mostly due to the capitalism of real estate and how art’s been dumbed down and become easier to digest. It’s not rough and raw and playful in New York. There’s still a playfulness to art out here. In New York, you are just so worried all the time about paying your rent that you do the safest thing possible.
When did you make the decision to leave?
I had been thinking about it for probably five years before I left. I was going through the same old motions and searching for an energy that just wasn’t there anymore. So I sold all my stuff. I got rid of all my art, I got rid of all my furniture. I just brought one bag of clothes and shipped a storage bin across the country. It was so liberating. It was so good. I wish I could do that again.
Did the road trip west forge any connection with America?
As a political entity, no. But as a physical entity, very much so. I’ve thought about whether to move to Europe, but I feel like there’s so much here that we haven’t seen and experienced. The history of the country is still here in so many ways. If you leave the city, step out of your comfort some, talk to strangers, you will be pleasantly surprised.
What interests you so much about history?
It’s ingrained in me. It was a family interest. We were always interested in family history and lineage, heritage. How everything leads to everything else. We don’t live in a vacuum, everything we see and do or create always reflects the environment we live in and the history that is embedded in it. In my mind I can’t separate an old jacket that some guy wore with my re-using of it now. I feel like I am combining our histories.
Can you talk a bit about your life before No Grand Rituals? What were you pursuing?
I’ve been making photographs since I was fourteen. I was making photographs that looked like historical film stills, probably because I love history so much. I would dress and costume people, because I wanted them to be as accurate as possible. I was making photographs in New York for a long time. After having odd jobs, working for other photographers, other artists, bartending, just getting fucked up in New York and wasting a lot of time, I decided to go to grad school in 2009. I was like ‘Ok, I’m going to get serious now.’ I loved studying, I mean I love reading.
What did you learn in school?
Grad school taught me that you could use anything at your disposal. If an idea is not properly expressed through a photograph, you could use any medium you want for it. That realisation gave me the freedom to move more fluidly throughout the world. I was like I don’t have to make it in New York as a photographer during this time in my life’. I no longer thought that if I didn’t become a famous photographer or a gallery represented artist that I failed. So the freedom of mediums helped me realize that I could express my interest through other things.
Where did the name No Grand Rituals come from?
Oh, that’s a good question. I always describe it differently to everyone that asks. It’s about noticing the little things. It’s about the way you brush your teeth, the way you put your pants on. It’s not about a grand social ritual. It’s about noticing the details. It’s about paying attention to the small stuff and not taking yourself too seriously. I love this business and that I can work for myself, but I am a human and an artist first but going out into the woods and taking time off to make art – those are the more important things for me. At the end of the day it’s about the rituals you give yourself time to do. The things that actually make you happy: reading, hiking, making art, going to the beach, whatever it is. Those are the most honest things.
What’s the appeal of finding new pieces?
When you find the good stuff it’s extremely thrilling. The other cool thing is that it’s not necessarily something you can dictate. You’re gonna find what you find. You’re gonna find what was donated. You know you can buy things within a realm of a subject matter, but you can’t go and get an exact object, it always has to be within a realm of thought. You have to be open to the whims of the universe. That’s with anything, though. You’ve always gotta be open to that whim.
How did you end up in Pasadena?
I was honestly a little hesitant being this far up from the city. It’s only twenty or twenty-five minutes, but I was a little hesitant at first ‘cause it’s not around stores and bars and stimulation. But you’re so close to the mountains and the trees and the weather. It’s quiet. And also the prices. I was able to afford a one bedroom by myself.
You seem to have a strong connection to nature. What draws you to the outdoors?
You are without objects. It’s a balance I have to find in my life, because I have so much stuff surrounding me and am constantly stimulated by things I love and learning something new. But out there you can do the same thing but without requiring an object to facilitate it. You can always learn with the minimum amount of physical made objects surrounding you.
This is an abstract question, but how does California compare to New York, in terms of ethos?
Out here, they don’t tear down buildings as much. They typically modify them to make it their own. There’s a kind mentality of making what you’ve got work for you. That really speaks volumes to me. You know that still exists in New York, but it’s a lot harder to do, and people don’t value their immediate history. Here, you have the space to notice things and walk a little bit slower.
How does that spirit translate to a personal level?
Moving forward, I want to continue to learn and facilitate my leisure time as well as my business time and make them work for one another. As opposed to living only for one or the other, ‘cause they both have a lot of value. We need to work to feel satisfied as human beings. We need to feel satisfied that we’ve done something good for ourselves or people around us.
Right on. On that note, can you talk about the community surrounding No Grand Rituals?
It’s super social, if I didn’t have a community of people around me I wouldn’t exist. We are all doing something that speaks to us and we can only do it together. If I didn’t have a tight social knit group of people to open up to, I would never find anything. Before they had the internet, it was all word of mouth. The community is how you would find out about estate sales.
Speaking of which, how has the internet changed the nature of your business?
Some people do it completely online. Actually, I really pushed back against that for a long time and don’t have an online presence because I want people to feel the analog. I want to touch and smell the objects, and I want them to feel that too. I deal with actual people who want to talk about history and who want to actually look at the things they are buying. They are not buying it for a concept, they are buying it because they are actually attracted to it. And that conversation is way more important for me. I don’t think I would want to do this business if it didn’t have to do with talking to other people all of the time.
What are some things that frustrate you about what you do?
The unsurety of it. There’s no set paycheck. I’m working for myself. Week to week I could make a lot of money or not very much money at all. There’s no certainty when it comes to paying the bills. You got to do it old school and have a stack of money under your mattress, saved for that rainy day. If there’s a bad week, you got to make sure you have your ass covered, make sure you can pay rent. Sometimes I miss not giving a shit about a crappy job and showing up and getting my paycheck and being able to go home and do whatever I want. I could work two or three or four days a week, make my money and go home, but I was unsatisfied. This is a lot more exciting but also more difficult and stressful.
Cheers. Thanks for the chat Garret, and best of luck with everything.