Michael Miller sounds like he is in a good mood. He is speaking with an air of calm, pausing frequently between and even in the middle of sentences, always searching for just the right words. At times he is even self-deprecating, realizing how easily he can take himself and his music too seriously. But despite all the evidence to the contrary, it is clear he is keeping his fingers crossed as we speak over the phone.
“I hope my car doesn’t get some huge bill,” he says. “I’m at the shop getting my car’s oil changed, and it always seems to come out about a thousand bucks more expensive than it was supposed to be.”
This, in a way, is emblematic of Miller’s approach to life because he always seems to be waiting for the other shoe to drop. Not that you can blame him exactly; after all, he once endured a break-up on his birthday, which happens to be on April Fool’s Day.
“I got a ‘Dear John’ letter and, despite going through that heartbreak on my birthday, it still came to me that, ‘Wow, this will make a great song.’ It’s kind of like the movie Groundhog Day. If April Fool’s Day were every day how cruel and horrible would that be to not only have pranks pulled on you, but then to also have the carpet pulled out from under you in your relationship.”
Most of the material on his latest album, I Made You Up, focuses on relationships. But unlike some artists who prefer to observe them rather than engage in them, Miller’s inspiration is autobiographical.
“Each song is very literally connected to a person, relationship or break-up; it came from some true life experiences,” Miller says. “I’ve found that for better or worse, I write really, really well and stuff ’s just pouring out of me when I’m going through tragedy. I’m amazed when someone can write out of happiness.”
He has tried to write during better times, mind you, but the efforts have not gone so well.
“I’ve tried, but the songs always sound like happy, children’s nursery rhymes,” he says with a laugh. “When you’re writing, you always want to try to affect people the way you’ve been affected by other art. The happy songs just don’t affect me. I’ve had several friends suggest that I should just try and write some happy songs, and so far I have not been able to do it.”
Perhaps it comes naturally for him to write about serious material, but Miller cautions that this should not cause others to assume that he is a miserable person.
“The funny thing is, the songs I have written and recorded, once I’ve gone through everything and some time has passed, I’m actually quite happy when I sing them now,” he says. “It’s just that I’m singing about experiences that have happened in the past.”
That last point is key in Miller’s life because there is a process and he realizes, and even appreciates, that things take
time. Thankfully he has always had music to lean on to help him get
through life in the meantime.
“Music has definitely saved me from a lot of pain and insanity, and a lot of bad things that could have happened,” he says. “It’s therapeutic, a catharsis, because it’s helped me work out a lot of troubles or pains or whatever. Music has kept my mind and heart from falling apart.”
Given the immense emotional bond he has with music, it should not come as a surprise to learn that he fell in love with music early on in life.
“As a kid, I can remember getting lost in music, becoming obsessed with it,” he says.
“Sometimes when I ask people what’s their favorite album I’ll run into someone who says they don’t really listen to music, and it’s so amazing to me. I can’t believe that. It’s so sad. Music is so important and vital, and it really does heal people, so to me it’s so amazing. Music has saved me, healed me, helped me to deal with things and to say things I normally wouldn’t have been able to say.”
Music is a powerful medium of expression in and of itself, but as Miller demonstrates, it also helps that he has grown to view the world through a slightly different lens than most of us do.
“Everything has a rhythm or a melody. I hear an airplane going overhead, and it just has this tone to it, or the knocking of a car engine. Everything just makes a certain sound. I used to imagine that everyone thought about things like that. I know now that it’s not like that, but I kind of always thought of music as this language that everybody spoke.”
If only it were, Michael. If only.
On the Bill
Michael Miller plays
The Laughing Goat on Sunday, Oct. 24. Set starts at 9 p.m. Cydney
Robinson and Marc Perreault also play. 1709 Pearl St., Boulder,