Austin, Texas, singer-songwriter and previous Light Horse Harry frontman Gus Miller is anything but cookie-cutter.
As somewhat of a musical vagabond, Miller cannot be put into a singular box. While his music is reminiscent of country classics from eras of the past, Miller simultaneously succeeds in creating space for new story lines and conversations. With only a few singles out on Spotify, Miller has shown cohesive versatility in sound and perspective.
Accompanied by smoky, soulful vocals, Miller’s lyrics are intricately multi-faceted in interpretation, yet all the while vivid and conversational. His new single, “Perfect Fool,” exemplifies this to the fullest– with lyrics like, “But loving her at first was easy/Not like I had much else to do/And then the harder that she squeezed me/Oh man the more that I turned blue,” it isn’t easy to forget.
Though the instrumentation gives off a happy-go-lucky feel, “Perfect Fool,” dives into exactly what it’s like to be so in love with someone that you’re wrapped around their finger– no matter what treatment you get from them in return. Melancholy and optimistic all at the same time, “Perfect Fool” is the designated anthem for anyone who has ever felt dismayed due to the person they love taking them for granted.
We had the chance to shoot some questions Miller’s way about the single, what’s on the horizon, and much more.
Your music has been described as taking an “alternative approach towards Country and Roots music.” Throughout the process of creating new original music, how important is genre to you when conceptualizing your sound?
I think the idea of conceptualizing your music into a genre is important to an extent, because as an artist you definitely need a brand/vibe that’s identifiable, something that people can point to. And yet there’s the aspect of staying true to your own sense of self and all that. If that means expanding your identity/genre horizon because different sounds speak to you, so be it. Don’t pigeonhole yourself, ya know? The cynic in me has a few words to put on the table regarding genre and music classification, particularly on country. The standard idea of “country music” nowadays is something I can’t wrap my head around. Here’s a perfect example…
Sturgill Simpson. His 2014 release, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, quickly shot him up into the global spotlight as one of the greatest country artists to date. Shit, he even won a grammy in 2016 for best “Country album of the year”. He’s objectively one of the best and most successful country/roots musicians around. Despite his massive success within country, the Country Music Association (CMA) establishment in Nashville hasn’t recognized his work, ya know, since he doesn’t rap about trucks and tan lines over a dubstep track with a pedal steel forced into the mix. I just googled “top billboard country hits today” and listened to a song called “Hard to Forget” by Sam Hunt. If someone is able to explain, without laughing, why this embodies a country song, I’d be impressed cause it’s a huge fuckin’ joke! I mean c’mon, it literally samples a classic hit by Webb Peirce and turns into an EDM track. I digress… pessimism is part of what drives my passion.
All bullshit aside, I think Kris Kristofferson said it best – “If it sounds like country, man, that’s what it is. It’s a country song.” In the end, yes, genre is important for something to point at, but if you look at it too long it starts to lose it’s meaning.
So you’re based in Austin, Texas. How has living in Austin impacted your music?
Sure am! Though not originally. I moved to Austin from Dallas in 2012 to study business at UT. Started gigging more frequently sophomore year with my band at the time, Light Horse Harry. Towards the end of college, there were times we’d be out playing four nights a week with classes the next morning. One of our first residences was at BD Riley’s Irish Pub down on 6th street back in 2014. Surprisingly, me and some pals still hold that same slot, almost 7 years later. They make some of the best burgers in Austin, seriously. Check em out! Anyways, I stuck around after graduating UT in 2017, and have been playing music full time with the occasional odd job here and there. Austin has been a great place to grow as a country/roots musician. The city was a hub for outlaw and outlandish music throughout the 70s, bridging a crucial gap between country and psychedelic crowds, sounds, and ideas, allowing the city to be a focal point for all that. And you can see the continuation of that sort of culture in many of the venues and artists around town. I love it.
As a budding solo artist, in what ways has your artistry changed over time?
When I was about 16 I started listening to a lot of traditional and progressive bluegrass. That kinda put me on the track of discovering different avenues of American roots music, listening to artists and groups like Old & In The Way, John Hartford, Railroad Earth, Yonder Mountain String Band, and The Wood Brothers. I’d check out what these artists were influenced by, and the cycle would continue digging deeper into the American root’s sound, picking up nuances to my own sound along the way. Eventually I began listening to many Texan artists, old & new, which gave me a huge appreciation of Texas’ contribution to American roots music. Artists like, Buddy Holly, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Ernest Tubb, Lefty Frizzell, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Buck Owens, Janis Joplin, Doug Sahm/Texas Tornadoes, Stevie and Jimmie Vaughn, Bob Wills, Freddie King, and so, so, so many other Texas artists that have been pinnacle in shaping the American sound. Recently my songwriting has drawn on the ideas and sounds from these artists.
Your new single, “Perfect Fool,” gives off a classic country vibe. What aspects of classic country music inspire you the most?
Thanks! Exactly what I was aiming for. Like I was saying earlier, I really dig the intersection of what’s essentially Hillbilly & Hippie music, like the Flying Burrito Brothers, The Band, Willie Nelson, Jerry Jeff Walker… that kinda music. Recently I’ve been leaning towards the “less is more” mindset in approaching my music. I find a lot of beauty in simplicity and restraint, and I think that’s a common factor in many well written songs. So that’s kinda the idea I went with in recording “Perfect Fool”.
The instrumentation of “Perfect Fool” is also super interesting– it sounds like a summery love song if you take the lyrics out of it. Was this intentional?
Appreciate it! So on that track we got your typical band setup of electric & ac guitar, bass, and drums. Originally I’d planned to play some dobro and mandolin over it, with a bluegrass feel, but opted for a simpler standard country sound. The electric guitar work is pretty great, the breakdown in the middle is a hoot. My pal, Roger Sollenberger, who’s an absolutely amazing guitarist, played that track. He’s got a very Pete Anderson vibe to his guitar playing, where at points you wonder if he’s on pedal steel or guitar. I’d say my intentions for the instrumentation to sound “summery” wasn’t really on my mind in recording it, but I’m glad ya picked up on it!
Over these crazy last few months, you’ve done a few livestream concerts. Even though stay-at-home orders are beginning to lift and live music is becoming a possibility again, do you plan on continuing to do livestreams?
It’s been fun! But different forsure. Personally not the biggest fan of it. May do a few more, when the time is right. Not seeing your audience is pretty weird. It can feel like a one-way conversation at times. I don’t have that vlogger personality anyways, so it’s just not my kinda jam. I enjoy the energy in seeing an audience reciprocate the feelings you put out in a performance. Gives it meaning, ya know? However, I am interested in doing some live band recording/filming sessions in the near future, with an emphasis on quality and lots of sweet camera angles!
While the pandemic has put life on pause for many, how have you been using the time at home to your advantage?
Oh dude, you should see my apocalypse garden. Here’s what’s growing so far. Got some tomatoes, beans, corn, squash, eggplant, cucumbers, okra, figs, greens, garlic, onions, potatoes, watermelon, pumpkins, peppers, cantaloupe, black berries, sage, herbs, and a few chickens. Other than that and playing/writing new music, I’ve been watching a ton of bad movies. Assassin 33 AD is truly something else… Radical terrorists invent time travel, and the very first thing they do is send a SWAT team to assassinate Jesus. Absolutely hilarious for all the wrong reasons. Put it on your movie list.
What do you look most forward to when live music can fully and safely come back?
Watchin’ folks dance to the music I’m playing! And of course who could forget that fat paycheck a workingman’s musician makes. I’ve lost tens of dollars not being able to perform (yes, tens of dollars!). But in all seriousness, I can’t wait to be back up on the bandstand again. Just now starting to get some dates booked/re-booked, so I’m happy about that.
What’s next for Gus Miller musically?
Good question! I would also like to know the answer to that haha. I’d already planned to have released my debut EP by now, but with the virus situation, I realized I’d have more traction for a while by releasing singles until the lockdown lets up and I can get back to playing and promoting my new stuff. I’ll be going back into the studio soon, got a good album’s worth of material I’ve written from the last few months, so I’m also lookin’ forward to that. But really this all depends on what 2020 has got next up its sleeve though, cause times are definitely a-changing, and fast. I would not be surprised if space dust aliens landed next week and introduced an ethereal, nirvana like soundscape that we could only define as musical perfection, which by default would make all human made music fucking whack and weak, effectively throwing me right back into unemployment. I would not be surprised.