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In Focus: Miles Miller

July 6, 2023 10:12 am GMT

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Many folks know him as a drummer who’s performed with everyone from Sturgill Simpson to Town Mountain, but on his new solo debut Solid Gold, Miles Miller puts his songwriting front and center, no longer leaving it to boil over in the background.

On it the Central Kentucky-born, Austin, TX-based artist tells a love story from boom to bust over a dozen deeply personal tracks, learning and growing from the experience in the process.

The roller coaster story told within shares many similarities with Miller’s musical journey, something that was always prevalent at home with his parents and three sisters growing up. Despite getting his first guitar at 13, his breakthrough would come on drums three years later when covers he was posting to Youtube were discovered by producer Dave Cobb (Shooter Jennings, Brent Cobb, Jamey Johnson).

After coordinating a visit to meet him, Miller and his father drove from their hometown of Versailles, KY to Nashville in October 2009. Being a small-town boy with big dreams, the trip was an eye opening one for Miller.

“It was the first time I’d ever gone anywhere outside Versailles,” Miller tells Holler. “We set up at the Indigo Hotel and played the song he saw of me on Youtube as an audition of sorts for a band he was thinking of putting together at the time. Nothing happened with it until a few years later when he called me about Sturgill, and the rest is history.”

After being connected by Cobb, Miller and Simpson immediately hit it off. Both Versailles natives who graduated from the same high school 15 years apart, the pair’s bond led to Miller joining Simpson’s band in 2012. For nearly a decade Miller remained behind the kit for Simpson — from the days of his breakout Metamodern Sound in Country Music to The Ballad of Dood and Juanita — until opting for a different path in 2022. However, the ties between the two remain, with Miller bringing in Simpson as a producer on Solid Gold.

“It just felt like two kids in a candy store,” says Miller about working with Simpson in a producer role. “We both love nerding out over sounds and cool music shit. The comfortability between us made it a no brainer to have him in that role. It was more like hanging out than it was actual work.”

Calling from his home in Austin, Miller spoke with Holler about the love story laid out on Solid Gold, introducing fans to Miles-the-songwriter and more.

In many ways Solid Gold feels like a story that moves from falling in and out of love to recognizing your worth, coming back to love and everything in between?

Ideally it started out as a love story that goes wrong, starting good before fading away. In the beginning everything’s all golden, or solid gold, but a lot of it is also about the feelings after a relationship has ended and you’re left in a cloudy haze. It comes from the perspective of knowing that the relationship is going to end and what you would say to that person before and after it's over. It’s more depressing than a good ole love story. It’s not just rainbows and sunshine all the time, it has its downside as well.

Where does a song like ‘Don’t Give Away Love’ fit into that story?

It’s about realizing the love that you have because sometimes you may feel undeserving of it or feel like you want other things. It’s an ode to appreciating what you do have and not giving it away, but keeping some of that love for yourself.

It’s my pop song in a way and the only song I’ve ever written in one sitting. I was in Ireland finishing the record and wrote that one very quickly. It’s like my mid-70s pop-rock jam.

Speaking of Ireland, isn’t that where you finished writing ‘Highway Shoes’ and a handful of other songs on the album as well?

I started it over here and finished it over there. I took 10 days in November 2021 to spend Thanksgiving and my birthday over there by myself holed up in a hotel room. I needed four more songs for the record and thought the trip sounded fun, so I went over on a whim, bought me a sweater and raincoat, drank a lot of Guinness and thought about my life.

I wrote ‘Where Daniel Stood’ over there. I also came up with ‘In a Daze’ while walking the streets there and then had to run back to my hotel to write it down before I forgot it. ‘Highway Shoes’ is about traveling like that. It speaks on crossing the pond and doing a Dublin dance, which is just slang for partying in Dublin, and the escape that a new or unknown place can provide.

Is ‘In a Daze’ essentially a story about the foggy emotional space you’re often left in after a breakup?

Yes, it’s about that cloudy and hazy mess you’re left in that leaves you unsure of where to go next. You start losing track of time, don’t know what day it is and are desperately searching for something or someone to love. You started out with love and not wanting to give it away, but now you’re in search of it. That song is my way of encapsulating the mess of it all.

I remember seeing you play that song with Town Mountain at The Burl in Lexington, KY a couple of summers ago. Do you have any recollection of that?

I remember that. I’d never done anything like that before. I sounded pretty awful if you ask me, but it was still a fun moment. That was my first time performing my own music in front of an audience since coffee shops and bars in high school, so I was very nervous. I’m really thankful the guys gave me the opportunity to do that. They’ve saved my life in several ways over the years, so I’m always appreciative of those boys.

Is sideman and drumming work something you’re looking to continue after the release of Solid Gold?

Not really. I want to give songwriting and performing my full attention because it’s a full-time thing and it’s a different expression that I need to feel right now. With drumming I didn’t necessarily hit a wall, but I wanted to do something else for a while. I love them and will always be a drummer, it’s never something that’s going away, it just became more interesting to play drums for my own record. For now, this is the Miles Miller show, the solo guy and not the drummer.

Aside from the desire to try something new, were there any other circumstances that led to you pivoting to your own music at this time?

It was an amalgamation of things. Sturgill had lost his voice again in late 2021, leaving me at home with not much to do. The pandemic awarded everyone a lot of time for everything, and for me I spent that building a shed wherever I lived in Nashville at the time. It became my little safe haven, like a church, that I could hole up in and get my head around things. Over the years Sturgill would also push me by asking about my “notebooks” because he knew I wrote and was curious about it. As I’ve gotten older and wiser I’ve had plenty of things to write about, and this album is a combination of all of that. I’m 30 now and time isn’t slowing down, so I might as well go for it.

With that in mind, what does it mean to you to introduce folks who know you primarily as Miles the drummer to Miles the songwriter?

It’s crazy. I always knew that I wanted to do this. I just didn’t know what it would look like, what it would sound like or what it would feel like. This is a reflection of my life and the moments within it that I wrote about, which is the kind of music that connects with me. There’s music to get on a boat and party and dance to, but I like the music that sparks a bit of introspectiveness. I’m excited it's finally here because it’s been a long time coming. We’ve already played some shows and the music has been well received. I’m ready for people to live with these songs for a bit, because I’ve been living with them for a while now.

You just got done opening a few shows for Tyler Childers. Did you have the same nerves for those as you did during your Burl sit-in with Town Mountain?

It’s different because it’s a thing now. I’ve got this album and these songs so I embrace it a lot more. I knew in those rooms that it would sound good, so I was ready to get in front of the audience and give it my best. I had nerves of course, but once I got up there it was like a whole other power that I’ve never felt before, which was very freeing. Usually I feel a bit constricted on stage, but for those shows I just felt really free.

That’s great to hear. Looking back on your musical journey from drum covers on Youtube as a teenager to playing with Sturgill and now releasing your own album, what is one thing that music has taught you about yourself?

Music is life. It’s literally been my identity and what I wake up and breathe for. I’ve never altered that for anything or anybody. There’s a cohesiveness of writing a song, the patience of learning a song, the patience of waiting for the words to come to you, patience with loved ones and patience with life’s struggles. To me it all goes hand in hand. At times I’ve had to separate a bit just to not go crazy, but at the same time it's everything to me. It always has been, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. It teaches you about love and joy and sorrow and it can heal you, all at the same time.

Miles Miller’s debut album, Solid Gold, is out on July 7 via Thirty Tigers.

Written by Matt Wickstrom
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