Interview with Jason Charles Miller
You just released your new album In The Wasteland which is such an incredible album. It's also your first solo release in about 6 years. How do you feel you were able to connect with In The Wasteland compared to your 2012 album, Natural Born Killer?
Well, they’ve been songs that I’ve been working on the entire time, so as far as– if I had my way it would not have been 6 years. [laughs] You know what I mean? It’s just that you know I was always looking for the right partner and having the right behind the scenes team is so important and the right label and everything like that. They have been working on [it] even longer than 6 years.
So, for me, I ended up writing 45 songs and narrowed it down to 14 and then ultimately 11. But I went through a lot of different creative paths with it. And at a certain point, you get songs you’re really excited about, but then maybe they might not fit into the collection.
So, there are a lot of those songs that are still out there that may end up on video games, or TV shows or movies or maybe they’ll end up on the next record. but for me, this collection of songs is it the most accurate representation I think of me as an artist. from what I understand it’s getting attention on the Rock chart, the Metal chart, and the Country chart all at the same time, which is me exactly, you know what I mean? [laughs] It’s an amalgamation of those certain styles and somewhere in the middle, so that’s super exciting.
You are truly such a diverse artist, you really bridge the gap Rock and metal and Country... You touched on it in your previous answer, but I just want to get your opinion your feelings about how you feel you bridge the gap between those genres? And how do you feel that represents you as an artist?
Well, I mean I think when you are true to yourself and you are a fan of all those genres and I study them but out of love, you know, I was just out of…Like, when I get into something I really get into it and there are certain styles of music that I was exposed to when I was growing up. And then others that I gravitated towards and of course like when I was growing up, not every style of music was easily as accessible as it is today.
We kind of had to pick our lane because whether a friend makes you a mixtape or you have to go to the store and buy CDs, obviously you had a limited budget. And so you had to decide [laughs] what kind of music you were going to be into to based on who you were growing up around.
Then as I was exposed to more and more and more and more music, I just felt like it was hard to just pick one, you know? I’m inspired by music that moves you. Some people say there’s there are two kinds of music, good and bad. [laughs] Those are the things that inspire me.
Then growing up in the south and being exposed to Country at an early age and sort of rebelling against it at first, really being into Rock and Metal, then ultimately going back to realizing value of Country Music at least, or is that it tells like so eloquently; that sort of brings everything full circle for me and hopefully it’s something that other people can relate to and sort of see the angles that I’m coming from.
If there are people that are only into one style of music that hear my album hopefully they can hear the style that they like the most within the tapestry of the album.
Well I love the album! You were just talking about artists that you were drawn to while you were growing up, who were some of the artists who initially sparked your passion for Rock, Metal, and Country?
Well, I think that band while I was growing up was Fleetwood Mac, I think they did things like that. They crossed genres of Folk, Rock, and Country; a lot of harmonies. My first records were Beatles records and John Denver records. [laughs] Ones that my parents gave me, you know? [laughs]
Then I got into Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Ozzy. Then Merle Haggard and Johnny Cash. What’s interesting is that a lot of British bands that took American Blues turned it on its head and then fed it back to us in America, like Free and Bad Company, obviously Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Allman Brothers.
On the heavier side, I guess Black Sabbath, but once again Led Zeppelin to me will always be Led Zeppelin I and Led Zeppelin IV because those were the two albums that I owned. [laughs]
I have these weird gaps in my influences because I was really into Led Zeppelin for a long time, but for only those two albums. [laughs] And then, I am obsessed with Deep Purple Mark III, which was when David Coverdale sang and Glen Hughes sang with him. Burn and Stormbringer are like my absolute favorite rock albums of all time. In fact, I think Deep Purple’s Burn is one of my favorite albums of all time, for sure.
How do you feel Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin have made an impact on your new album?
So, a lot of that stuff is really riffed based, right? I have a lot of riff-base stuff on this album. Like, No Bridge Left Unburned and Riverbank, those two in particular have that kind of standard, “Here’s the riff and then here’s the song!” you know? But always the riff first.
Same with Trunk Full of Bibles. Other songs I have that just start off right with vocals on count-one aren’t necessarily influenced by that, but I think there’s enough riff-based Rock on the album that people are going to be able to hear that.
I love to ask this question to everyone I interview because every artist I ask, I get a different response. To me, music is alive. There's just an energy - many different energies to it. How would you say that you bring your music to life?
There’s always a magic performing live at a show, the sort of unpredictability of it, but the magic that happens.
So, I try to do as little overdose of possible, or punch ins, so that you got one complete performance from me from the beginning of the song to the end of the song.
There’s going to be some, but I really try to spend the time singing a song over and over again so I’m really happy with the entire thing. That way it has a much more continuous feel and maybe the listener can feel like they’re there with me in the room, rather than have overly produced something.
I was going to ask this question later on in the interview, but since you just brought it up... There is a live energy aspect, like on your studio album and when you're recording, it can be very isolated. How do you feel that you translate your live energy into the studio?
I think it all starts with the drums and having Kenny Aronoff [John Mellencamp, John Forgerty] play on the album was a huge thing because he’s so in tune with that and he obviously is a live drummer, he tours with John Fogerty every weekend and then he does sessions during the week and he’s somebody that’s constantly playing shows literally every day.
So, to bring that energy in, is to me, the cornerstone; that’s where it all starts. Then, being able to push and pull off of those performances is hopefully what gives the album a live feel.
I’ve done other albums where we’ve actually all recorded together at the same time, not in the same room but in different isolated rooms. So, I try to do that as much as I can too. we did not do that on this record, but I think having Kenny gives the feel that we did.
You also mentioned there's a magic with playing live. What are some of your most magical moments that you have had whether it be while performing live or even in the studio? Have you had any moments when you've been creating music too?
Well, I think any time that you– there’s a certain energy that you can get from an audience where you’re kind of in sync with each other; that to me, can be a small audience or a really big audience. Like, you feel the energy coming back to you and I’ve been lucky enough to have this experience many times and it’s hard to pinpoint which one…
A few years ago, I got to open for Alan Jackson at the Greek Theatre. You know, to go on right before him and to feel the acceptance of the audience, of the Alan Jackson audience, was really welcoming and warm. There was a vibe there from them that I’ll never forget because coming from what I did before and then being sort of thrust on to literally on this giant stage. For his crowd to accept me was extremely humbling, but also, it felt like, “If they’re going to accept me, then I’m doing the right thing, I’m going down the right path.”
In more recent time, I guess, in this time of being a solo artist, as opposed to be in a band situation, of course I have a band with me, but you know what I mean? Like, bringing myself out there and have my– “This is me.” That was sort of a pivotal moment for me and something I’ll never forget.
You have your work with Godhead, which is Rock and then you went Country with your solo work, would you say that energy or that magic maybe differs between the two genres or is it kind of the same?
It’s different, but the same. If you’re having a good time on stage and the audience can see that and the audience can see that you’re authentically representing the music that you’re performing, I think that the energy is going to be pure. The energy is going to be honest. and I’m not up there performing anything that I didn’t want to perform and that I thought it should perform, I’m just playing songs that I want to play and come out of me and therefore, I think the audience picks up on that, that it’s always going to be a symbiotic relationship between the audience of you.
What are some your most honest and raw moments on your new album; the most profound ones?
There’s a song on the new album called No More Reasons, where it really is somebody kind of at the end of their rope and feeling a little– feeling a little depressed about everything and then being able to put it down on paper, write about it, sing about it, actually becomes cathartic and helps me work through it. You know, because I’m saying in the song, “I’ve got no more reasons to try.” I felt like that just came from a frustrating moment in my life.
Also, Finding My Way In The Dark, was very gospel inspired. There are a lot of songs on this record actually that have Heaven and Hell themes. Riverbank is about a baptism in the river. Running is about an angel that chose Lucifer’s side and then changes his mind. Get Thee Behind Me is about Jesus, but from Satan’s perspective.
I went pretty deep into some sort of theology inspired stories, but then Hundred Pound Hammer is something that probably everyone at one point or another can relate to. So, everything comes from the heart, as much as it possibly can.
I've had artists tell me that as they're writing and creating music, that the music speaks to them and kind of tells them what to write. How did your songs, as you were writing In The Wasteland, speak to you?
Well, I think a lot of times, it’s one of two ways… You might have an idea somewhere walking along in life, like a lyric will jump in your head, maybe you’ll write that down. Or nowadays, put it in the notes section of your phone, right? [laughs]
So, that might be the inspiration or something. Or, you have this piece of music or riff or chord progression or something and then that will certainly dictate where the lyrics go.
When I first started writing music, I did it that way. I sort of let the music speak to me on what I thought the song should be about and then later when I started collaborating in writing with a ton of different people, where they would say, “Hey, I got this song title. Hey, I’ve got this one line- let’s write this song.” I always thought that was an interesting way to approach it too.
I think it made me a much better songwriter, kind of a approaching it from both ways. I would say that the music is always going to speak to you if you start that way. It really just depends on your intent on where you want to go. If you’re coming up with something really aggressive and then want to write a love song around it, it just might not jive with you. It might feel forced. So, that’s the last thing I want to do, is force something. I think for me, especially on this record. Like, there’s a good combination of both honestly, but they all came from a place of not really being forced, just sort of letting it happen.
How would you say everything began to materialize for you while you were writing In The Wasteland?
Well, you know it became– I think I said before, I wrote about 45 songs for the album; wrote and co-wrote. And then came down to kind of pairing up songs and figuring out what all fit together. There’s some introspective stuff on the album and then there’s, like I was saying earlier, some Heaven and Hell themes.
So, I think like just finding the ones that flowed and the ones that fit together. There’s a song on the album Uncountry called The River. I do a full band version of that song live and on Uncountry, an acoustic version. that was one of the ones that almost made the record; we did a full band version of it and it sounds AWESOME, but it just didn’t make the final round of choosing. But, that might end up somewhere– certainly, people that see me live and hear me do that song the way we do it now would appreciate that recorded version.
It Was really about making the album a journey from beginning to end and making it all flow together, not feeling like we’re repeating anything, any subject matters or chord progressions or having too many songs in the same tuning. It’s kind of maddening figuring out the final decision and luckily my producer, Matt [Hyde] was helping me and of course our A&R guy at the label was helping, just to get several different perspectives on how to make it flow. I couldn’t have been happier with the final result. [I’m] super happy that it ended up being exactly the way it is right now.
As everything is materializing, you have a vision of what the song/album is going to be - how do you even begin to take those visions and turn them into riffs, melodies, and lyrics too?
It just kind of it happens. I think you draw on your experiences from before. I would think about an overall structure of a song, but then you just have to let it happen and you can’t put too much pressure on a song when you’re writing.
The best thing to do is to just write the song for the song’s sake and when it’s done, you can stop back, then you’ll really know if you have a good song, if you have a great song, if you have a song that just doesn’t work, if you have a song of that is great but it doesn’t work for the album.
One of the things that I learned going to Nashville, there’s a great songwriter by the name of Kris Bergsnes; people would say, “Well, what advice do you have for new songwriters?” And he would say, “well, Just know that your first 500 songs are not going to be as good as your next 500 songs.” [laughs]
Coming from someone that, from what I was in a band, and every song is precious, and every song you are married to, so to speak, and every song is a collaboration of all these different people with the fact that I could write hundreds of songs that might not even see the light of day. At first it seems wrong, it seems sort of like you’re wasting time or something. But then when you realize that every time that you write a song, you learn more about songwriting and you learn more about what you can do to make a song about better.
I think writing is just another part of the process that you just have to let the songs be what they’re going to be and not try to force anything. The key to that it’s just writing a ton and having a ton of [inaudible].
Which song or songs have some of the most meaning for you on In The Wasteland?
They’re all sort of inspired by different– I would say, the songs that tell a story, not that they have less meaning, but the songs that are telling stories probably don’t touch me as deeply as the ones where I’m conveying my pure emotion.
Like I was saying earlier, No More Reasons might have the most meaning for me. Also, The Line. For that one, The Line is a song about mob mentality and how it can go too far and it was really inspired by my observations of how a digital mob can turn into a physical mob and how mass hysteria can then shape real events. To me, that one might be the most [meaningful] because it was something that I was observing and [it] was disturbing me.
At the same time, Hundred Pound Hammer was really personal because it was about getting cheated on, but it’s also about how you react to getting cheated on. Like, do you become a cheater? Do you take pain that’s happened to you and then subconsciously apply that to your life?
Every song has special meaning for me, even the gospel inspired Finding My Way In The Dark, is sort of about my religious journey in my life, my spiritual journey– more spiritual vibe and quest that I’m constantly on. Never-ever ending quest for spirituality.
You were talking about how a lot of your songs are inspired by Heaven and Hell and also, as you were just saying, the digital mobs & mobs...What exactly was it that sparked your inspiration for those themes, especially the Heaven and Hell one?
I think that it sort of surrounds our society, you know? Morality is everywhere. And Heaven and Hell is everywhere. Decisions that you make on a daily basis have an impact for the rest of your life.
The themes that snuck into a lot of these songs, really made me– I think as I’m living my life and seeing how people…How two people could look at a situation and based on their lives say, “Oh, that’s an evil act.” And someone else could be looking at the exact same thing and say it’s a good act. I find that kind of fascinating and also disturbing at the same time.
And I find that the definition of good and evil, so radically different to people that live side-by-side and what is holding us together? Like, what are the things that are keeping us from tearing each other apart? It’s also something that a lot of people can relate to and a lot of people think about everyday; [what] is Heaven and Hell? And what’s going to happen later? And what’s already happened? And what are the things that have happened that brought us to where we are now?
This is, I have to say, one of the most interesting interviews I've had in a long, long time. Thank you for being so open and raw and honest. It's very fascinating. You also keep mentioning things that touch on my questions I have for further on in the interview. Like you were saying that writing In The Wasteland was a journey for you; music always is a journey-- throughout your entire career, whether it be your solo work, Godhead, or just as being an artist/musician in general-- what have been some experiences that have impacted you the most throughout your journey?
Every time I perform in front of an [inaudible] audience is the most amazing thing for me. I get into a zone and I equate it to, there’s a Star Trek movie, Star Trek Generations, and Whoopi Goldberg’s character, [her] name is Guinan, and she’s talking about this place called “The Nexus“. The Nexus is pure joy. And if you’re ever ripped away from The Nexus, all you think about is a way to get back to The Nexus. And that’s what I equate performing to.
I mean, performing at a show, I’m at my most pure moment and nothing else matters and I have absolute focus on that. I think that a lot of performers are that way, it’s something that we share as fellow performers and it’s almost undefinable as to how great we can be and so I’m always hoping to do that again and again and again and again. That’s, for me, the ultimate [sic], is performing live and being able to hopefully entertain people with what I’m doing.
[Before the interview, Jason joined forces with Guitars For Vets and became an ambassador for us!] Guitars For Vets is a non-profit organization that gives guitars and guitar lessons to our Veterans and helps those, especially, who are dealing with PTSD. What do you feel the importance is of having a program like this?
I think that it’s extremely important because if you’re dealing with PTSD, you need to have other things to concentrate on. Like, your brain doesn’t want to go back to that place. If you can take the energy and fuse it into something else and fuse it into something positive and fuse it into making music, how amazing is that?
If we can help by getting more guitars in people’s hands that need them– here are these soldiers, these service men and women that have given the ultimate sacrifice for us and are out there making sure that we can still have the freedom to make music when we want, that we have the ability and the [inaudible] to be able to enjoy these freedoms. If getting a guitar, giving guitar lessons, songwriting lessons, like you can take that energy and put it in a positive direction. I can’t think of anything better. So, I’m honored to be asked to do that.
Thank you so much. We're honored to have you a part of it. This brings me to my next question... What does it mean to you to be involved in Guitars For Vets?
It means to me… First of all, I don’t feel worthy. [laughs] But, it’s very humbling.
Would you like to share any experiences you've had where you've been in that dark mindset and playing guitar has helped get you through it or even with your songwriting has helped be a part of your healing?
Music heals me all the time. Being able to to take any negative experience that I’ve had and then writing about it, whether I’m writing a song about it, writing lyrics about it; it gets it out of me. It makes me feel better. It helps me cope and one of the amazing things that I get back is when people send me messages and tell me that something I’ve written or performed is helping them cope. That is the best feeling ever. I try to be as honest as I can with my lyrics and how I certainly feel, so that other people can at least feel [inaudible] and heal… I listen to songs when I’m feeling down or when I feel like I need somebody else to feel that feeling with me and it helps me feel better. I love that.