Artist of the Week: Blake Miller

Until a few short weeks ago, I’d never heard of Blake Miller.  I was going through my usual Tuesday ritual of going through all the new albums and songs on the roster for that week.  I listen to quite a lot of new music, so an artist or band I’ve never heard of needs to stand out quickly, in order for me to stay interested.  Most times, I’ll listen to the first minute of a song and hit next without giving it another thought.  When I saw Blake Miller’s Burn Tape, I assumed it would be some sort of singer/songwriter nonsense.  In a sense, that was true.  But, instead of switching to something else after a minute into the first track, I listened to “This Morning” in its entirety, and in fact, the rest of the album.  I couldn’t stop listening, and it’s been on pretty heavy rotation ever since.

Miller is a twenty-two year old artist from Portland, Oregon who received his first Pitchfork review when he was nineteen.  They gave his first album a 7.4 in 2006, and he’s gone almost entirely under the radar since then.  His 2008 release, Burn Tape, received rave reviews on a few random blogs, but Miller is otherwise virtually unknown.  This is completely ridiculous, and if there’s any justice in the music world, it will hopefully change soon.  As for influences, Miller usually garners comparisons to Devendra Banhart.  They have similar projects, though I hear him more as a cross between Destroyer, and early Bright Eyes.

The reason Miller’s album captured me so quickly was the unspeakably gentle production and philosophical subtlety of the first song, “This Morning.”  The guitar track and two layers of vocals quickly make a beautiful chant of a song, repeating over and over “Maybe this is what life is all about- meaningful and complex.”  Miller never says what he means by “this,” but you can hear what he’s thinking in his voice and in the music.  The second track on Burn Tape is what truly hooked me.  “In the Danger” is a little less, ethereal, but still begins with a strange human whistling in the distance.  Then, suddenly, a happily arpeggiated acoustic guitar comes in, and before you know it you’re in the middle of an upbeat chorus with dreamy vocals and a sugary-sweet whistled melody.  It’s the perfect mixture of teenage hopefulness and post-collegiate melancholy.  Ultimately, Miller’s music does what great music ought to do: it expresses something about the human condition that words alone can’t quite articulate.

Another reason why Miller’s music is so refreshing is its truly lo-fi production.  There’s a lot of very young people making lo-fi music right now.  The likes of Wavves and Vivian Girls come to mind.  While I really do respect and appreciate that so-called “lo-fi” scene, at some point you have to wonder what “lo-fi” really means to them, and to us.  It seems like every band that comes out with almost unlistenable post-punk songs immediately gets attention from the blogosphere.  Should we really be holding ourselves to the standard of “if something sounds like it was recorded in a bedroom, then it’s good?”  Blake Miller certainly recorded most of his albums in his bedroom on his own, but the effect is something completely different.  His music is lo-fi because it has to be recorded on a minimal budget, not because he wants to fit into a certain aesthetic (at least that’s what it sounds like to me).  This allows him to pay incredible attention to the sounds and instrumentation, instead of making the production just sound like he doesn’t care, in the vein of Wavves’ brand of lo-fi.  The result is an album that has the intimacy of a good lo-fi record, but the kind of lo-fi that actually makes sense with kind of music Miller is producing.  A fantastic effort from an artist who I hope turns out to be a strong voice of indie folk music in the years to come.  Make sure to check out Miller’s gorgeous, pensive tunes on BTR all this week!

MB: You seem to get a lot of comparisons to Devendra Banhart and are often classified as “freak folk.” What would you classify yourself as? Who are your actual influences?

BM:
My main influence is my own emotions and situations that occur based off those emotions.  I enjoy a lot of old blues and big band jazz. I also enjoy electronic drone sounds. Weird sounds.  Subtle noises.

MB: When did you write your first song? What was it about and how were you inspired to write it?

BM:
My first song that I still remember any way, was about my little brother.  There was some family drama and I was inspired from that to write a song about what was happening.

MB: All of your songs seem very intimate and personal, and they tend to get at the big, existential questions about life. Things that are normally difficult to talk about, but work really well in your music. Is it difficult for you to be so exposed? What’s that like?


BM:
I live my life day to day. I don’t feel exposed but brutally honest.

MB: Pitchfork called you a “naturally gifted young musician.” What’s that like? Is it frustrating that people are always commenting on how young you are? Has it been helpful or interesting in any ways?

BM: I feel old, and it doesnt effect me in any way what so ever.

MB: Are you a student? If so, what’s it like going to school and being a musician at the same time?

BM: I am not a student. But maybe I should go back. I don’t really make any money playing music. But it’s something that has always been there for me and I can’t see myself doing anything else.

MB: Your latest album came out on Exit Stencil records. How did that relationship begin? What made you decide put it out on cassette?


BM:
It was through mutual friends that my demo ended up in the hands of Brandon Stevens and Ryan Weitzel. They really liked what I was doing and wanted to put out an album. I thought the cassette would be cool. A throw back to a more nostalgic time I suppose.

MB: Any plans to go on tour soon? To record some new songs?

BM: I hope I can tour soon. I like to do my own recording, but need some new gear. I’m using a tape recorder right now, maybe I will do a lo-fi album, like really lo-fi. I will always be making music, yes.

MB: What bands have you been listening to lately?

BM:
M83, Sonic Youth, The Cure, and African steel drums.

-Madalyn

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