From Bach fugues played on a Moog synthesizer to futuristic sound-collage compositions, Sam Miller is a prime example of a forward-thinking artist cranking out thoughtful and stylish songs. Hailing from Oregon, Miller is a multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, and producer with a penchant for playful, musical experimentation.
His recent release, “Silver and Gold”, is a demonstration of Miller’s diverse musical interests – solemn acoustic guitars and funereal trumpets provide an earthy backdrop for a fleet of synth arpeggios that float around like UFOs in the silent, starry nighttime of the New Mexican desert.
Atop the orchestration, Miller’s voice invokes chilling images of destruction and death: “And they stand ‘round my ghost while it burns”, Miller repeats again and again as his unique fusion of acoustic and electric sound ebbs and flows in the background. The experience is different, its destinations unique, and its methods worthy of inspection.
In addition to “Silver and Gold”, Miller has a wide interest in other musical experiences and genres – particularly classical music. Miller recently released a collection of music dubbed “Bach, Human Arpeggiator”, which is a collection of J.S. Bach compositions recorded entirely with a monophonic Moog synthesizer, Wendy Carlos style. “Bach, Human Arpeggiator” demonstrates Miller’s infatuation with the fusion of past and future, and the interesting intersection that’s created when the two collide.
We recently caught up with Miller to discuss his new single, musical journey, plans for the future, and the uncertain reality of pandemic-life and what it means for us.
Your new single, “Silver and Gold”, has a pretty unique blend of acoustic and electronic instrumentation. Is that fusion something you try to achieve in your music? Yes, absolutely. I love the juxtaposition of dusty strings with old synthesizers. Almost all of the songs on my album include traditional folk elements along with electronic instruments. In the case of “Silver and Gold,” we used a quirky sounding Omnichord that was found in a high school band room many years ago.
What’s the central message behind “Silver and Gold”? This song was written by my talented friend Eva Avenue, whose artwork is also featured on the cover. I’ve never fully understood exactly what the song means, but I enjoy the ambiguity in the lyrics. I texted her just now and this is what she had to say: “So I used to walk around Chicago with this tape recorder, and I recorded that song vocally in like 30 seconds, and it was immediately a song, which was inspired by this homeless guy in the park I was walking by lighting his stuff on fire. He had a lot going on, and there was this big fire, and some people kind of off to the side, and I was imagining how you can feel something so deeply and it’s the most important or impactful thing in the world, but to other people it’s literally nothing and not a thing. So ‘they stand round like ghosts while it burns’ alludes to no one noticing your fire. I also was thinking about how my stepdad was aging.”
Who are your top musical/lyrical influences? I’m very influenced by the singers I grew up emulating/covering, such as Johnny Cash, Hank Williams and Elton John. I saw Batman in the theater when I was three years old which I think burned Danny Elfman’s music into my brain. I’m always practicing new classical pieces on piano, and definitely influencing my musical sensibilities. Lyrically, I’m probably most influenced by my favorite philosophers- the Pre-Socratics, Nietzsche, and all my songwriter friends from around the USA.
When you write your music, is it typically a combination of solo writing and collaborative writing, or is it skewed further in one particular direction? I’m most comfortable writing alone, and usually my process is almost secretive. I’ll occasionally send drafts to a few friends for specific feedback. I love collaborative writing, but it’s uncommon for me these days. When producing music for other artists, the process is entirely collaborative. I suppose songwriting just takes me into a different, more personal zone.
How did you get into playing music? I started playing trumpet and guitar in elementary school, and my first band was in sixth grade. When not jamming with friends or practicing tuba parts for middle school band, I would play classic rock/pop songs with my dad. I got into writing my own songs during college.
How did your origin in the Oregon music scene shape your sound? I was born in Oregon, but only recently moved back this year. I grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and since finishing college, I’ve lived in Vancouver, Seattle, Washington, NYC, Los Angeles and The Bay Area. Each of these places have shaped my sound, but Albuquerque and Seattle definitely had the greatest influence.
What have been some highlights of your career so far? The friendships I’ve made through music are definitely the highlights of my career.
Where do you hope to see yourself in five years? I just released a Moog synthesizer Bach album and, as silly as it sounds, I’d like to establish myself in the classical realm—along with continuing to write songs. Hopefully putting out lots of material.
What might be in store for Sam Miller for the rest of 2020? (aside from weathering the pandemic) I’m currently trying to take full advantage of quarantining, cranking out instrumentals and songs. I’ll be releasing an Erik Satie piano album within the next few months, and I have another collection of songs on deck.
What lessons do you hope the world or at least our country will take away from this current pandemic? I hope we figure out how to deal with pandemics more effectively, because the world could be hit with an even worse virus in the future. I hope we’ll appreciate being around each other that much more once this finally ‘washes through.’