A Muse's Muse Interview with Singer/Songwriter/Producer, Blue Miller
conducted by: Jodi Krangle
"He's sung and played guitar with Bob Seger and Isaac Hayes.....He's led a 3 time charting Pop group (Julia) and a chart-topping Country band (The Gibson Miller Band). He's written songs for everyone from Gladys Knight to Neal McCoy. His many admirers include Chuck Leavell (Allman Brothers, Rolling Stones), Ted Nugent, Eric Clapton, Levon Helm and Waylon Jennings.
In a time when it's all of a sudden a GOOD thing to be "eclectic", Blue Miller defines the word."
He also gives one hell of a fantastic interview. I asked him about everything from how he got involved in the music industry to where he thinks it's going in the future - and he answered all my questions with candor, humor and honesty. This is a keeper, folks. I hope you enjoy!
Question: What is your musical background? Do you have a musical family or did you just fall into songwriting all on your own?
I did grow up in a musical environment. My Dad was a classically trained guitar player and had his own band, The Quarternotes, for about 30 years. I remember being very little, sitting next to him on the couch, watching him play and knowing that I wanted to play like him. I was six years old when he bought me my first old Kay accoustic guitar, but it wasn't until I was nine that I really got serious and started practicing. I formed my first band when I was twelve with a few of my classmates and I was fourteen when I started writing my own songs. I remember being painfully shy around girls and the only way I could talk to them seemed to be through the lyrics in my songs. The problem then was that for a long time, I was still too shy to play them the songs I wrote. We cut our first record, a 45 rpm when I was sixteen, and I wrote both sides. That's when I realized how I could talk to girls. Since then, writing songs really has been the best way for me to express myself.
Question: What sorts of things have you done to improve your songwriting since then? Any favorite books or previous mentors you'd like to talk about?
Lennon and McCartney, Paul Simon and Bob Dylan's songs were all pretty important to me. Growing up in Detroit with two older sisters had me listening to whatever they were listening to... a lot of Motown and everything on pop radio. Thanks to them for being "big sister bossy" and for bombarding me with great musical influences. As I got older, I realized that Detroit also had it's own very special rock scene, and at the top of the heap for me was Bob Seger. At first, it was as much about his voice as it was the songs, but his lyrics and stories really touched me. In a strange twist of fate, my band ended up being managed by his manager, and one thing led to another. Next thing I knew, I was in Seger's band. We never wrote together, but when I would write new songs, he would give me advice and critique me. It was a great learning experience for me. He taught me how important it is to say what I want, but say it in a way that the listener could clearly understand and share the experience. I've learned a tremendous amount from many different writers, but Bob Seger had the biggest impact on me. Before I left Detroit, I had the opportunity to write music for a few TV shows. Those gigs taught me the discipline of focusing within specific time lines in order to paint the big picture, and I thought that was great! I was even nominated for an Emmy Award three times and won once for best original music. From that I began writing jingles for radio and TV and found that I could complete an entire song in thirty seconds instead of three minutes. I moved to Nashville in 1990. There, I learned more about the Nashville way to craft a song and how to write with another person. Co-writing...that was a pretty new trip for me. I love it, but sometimes I still like to pick up my guitar or sit at the piano early in the morning with a cup of coffee, by myself, before the day filters in and clouds the muse and just see what gift I might receive. Lately, I've been co-writing with a couple of young artists that fortunately haven't learned what you're (supposedly) not supposed to do yet. It's always a fresh, new and exciting experience to stumble through their heads and discover a new way to see life. It's pretty amazing that through someone else's vision, you can truly see a brand new day. To sum this up, I've been writing all kinds of music all my life, and everyday, there is still something new to learn.
Question: How have you gotten your songs out to the industry who should hear them? Sounds like you've been pretty successful with this. Do you have any tips to offer other songwriters in this regard?
I am an "extremely lucky" artist, able to perform my own material. I think every cut I've had, I can attribute to being a performer and either someone heard me do it live or on a recording. Tips?.........What I know for sure is that a song can't be cut it it's not heard, and sometimes the hardest thing in the world is to get it to someone who'll listen. I've always felt that a strong, reputable publisher can and should do just that. In Nashville, it seems to be as much about relationships (publishing companies and producers and artists) as it is about the songs.
Question: This is a really interesting concept. Can you talk a little bit more about this? How has "building relationships" helped you get your songs heard? When you say that Nashville is as much about relationships as it is about the songs, what do you mean by that? What are some of the most interesting things that have come out of these relationships for you?
Relationships built on and around reputations and trust. Legitimate publishers and their pluggers have built relationships with producers, artists and label A & R executives. It's what gets them in the doors of these people first and foremost. Even if they don't always hit a home run with the right song for a project, the intended listener knows that their time won't be abused and they'll always be played professional, high quality material. The other side of that relationship coin is the old, you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours, thing that occasionally gets a song cut as well.
Hey......it happens. I still feel that it should ultimately be about the song.
Question: Do you ever experience writer's block? I imagine this would be particularly annoying if you were in a collaboration situation. If you do, what do you do to get over it?
The dreaded writers block.........I HAVE experienced writers block and it CAN be pretty frightening, and embarassing in a co-write situation. Not long ago, I tried to write with a guy. We sat and looked at each other all day. We both seemed to have that "block" Of course, we'd never written with each other before and sometimes the chemistry is just not there. For me, I've found that the thing to do is trust the muse. Simple and maybe silly, but the sun can't shine every day, so there's gonna be some rainy days, but it won't rain every day, so you can count on that sun shining again. Micky Newberry, an incredible writer whom I hold in high regard, told me to write something every day, even if it was worthless because it was much like exercising a muscle.
Question: You're currently doing some producing, isn't that right? How easy was the transition from performer/songwriting to producer? What's different about it from songwriting - and what's the same?
I've always produced my own projects for as long as I remember. Since I co-produced my band, Gibson/Miller Band on Epic Records, I've had people wanting me to produce their projects as well. This is very flattering and a nice challenge for me. Producing is very much like writing in that you are creating, painting a picture. But I think I will always be a performer/artist at heart. It's hard sometimes to separate that part of me from the producer. Trying to capture the artist and their vision is exciting and also very hard, because although they're entrusting you to produce the project, you always have to remember, it's about them, not you. One of the projects I'm most excited about right now is a girl from Atlanta, India Arie. She's on Motown Records, and I produced a song she and I co-wrote called "In my Head", that will be in a new Spike Lee film, "Bamboozled", coming out in September. She's great and I'm really proudof the recording we've done.
Question: How do you feel about MP3s, Napster and the like? Do you think online music will play a large part in where the industry heads in the future? Where do you see songwriters fitting into that? Do you feel this technology is a good thing for them or a bad thing?
I truly believe that on-line music is where the future is. I'm absolutely excited about this and trying to get a foothold and hang on,(bluemiller.com). I'm also scared and frustrated about the general populations lack of understanding and respect for intellectual property.I feel that having access to music on-line is a wonderful thing. It's going to let people realize that there is a lot more music out there to be shared than they've ever been allowed to even know about. BUT......there's got to be a way for writers and artists to be compensated for their work, because ultimately that's what we are dealing with: their work, their livelihood, AND they should not be denied a living. Too many people, including my own government seem to think that writing and performing songs is easy. They think it just kind of comes out of thin air and just happens, and then question why they should have to pay for this. They take for granted the sometimes lifetime of work, pain and other emotions that go into someone's craft before that great song is born. That song, the one that has an impact on so many people's lives should be shared with everyone and everyone should have access to this great music, but NOT at the expense of the creator. I believe the internet is a fantastic vehicle for anyone and everyone to get their work out to the masses, but just like we gladly pay every day for things that don't last, such as a cup of coffee, or a pack of gum, or a pack of cigarettes, or whatever, people should also be glad to fairly compensate an artist/writer for their offering that can last a lifetime.
Question: What's coming up for you, Blue? What are you working on now and where do you feel your music and your producing is headed?
Well, I've got a new website up, www.bluemiller,com, and a new CD, titled Blue. This is my band from Gibson/Miller Band minus Gibson and it's all about, and for, the artist in me. This part of me refuses to go away. The producer part of me is pretty excited about a couple of projects I've been involved with recently. One is the girl from Atlanta I spoke of earlier, India Arie, on Motown Records. India is the only new act to be included on the soundtrack for "Bamboozled" along with established artists Stevie Wonder, Erika Badou, Prince, etc. Hopefully the release of her own CD won't be far behind. The other is an alternative rock band from Texas, Blue October, on Universal Records. I did pre-production for them and co-produced and co-mixed a couple of sides for their new CD, "Consent to Treatment". They asked me to narrate a poem written by the lead singer/songwriter, Justin Furstenfeld, for the beginning of the CD.Very interesting and exciting! Then I fill in the gaps as a session player, recently on new CD's by Michael Bolton, Ilse DeLange for Warner Brothers Holland, and a new artist O.J. Hanssen from Norway. I also write for Warner Chappell Music and do music interviews with you, so I feel pretty fortunate with life at the moment.
For more information and a complete bio on Blue, try going here: http://www.bluemiller.com/bio.htm .