Name: Bailey Miller
Occupation: Designer, barista, teacher, musician, artist
Recent release: Bailey Miller's Still Water is out via Whited Sepulchre.
Recommendations: The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron; Color Me by Active Child – both the song and the short film directed by Martin de Thurah
If you enjoyed this interview with Bailey Miller and would like to find out more about her music, visit her official website. She is also on Instagram.
When did you start writing/producing/playing music and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
My first experience playing music was with piano, which I took casually for a year or so around 9 years old. Other than that, I sang here and there at church growing up or in school. I suppose I also tried saxophone which made my mouth feel weird so I stopped.
I first started writing songs in 7th or 8th grade when I got a guitar. I had a solo “project” called Permafrost. I put a few songs on Myspace that I recorded in my mom’s office with Garageband. One song was some sort of weird comedy skit. Another song was an acoustic guitar song that I wrote about being cold. Another was a cover of 1234 by Feist. Back then I desperately wanted to be in a band like Paramore one day and make emo music.
From then, my music endeavours laid dormant for a while. I continued lazily playing guitar but picked up violin when I was 16. I was really passionate about violin, which lead me to pursue classical music for a while. I didn’t write music again until later in college, when I took some electronic music classes. This planted a seed that didn’t really sprout until I started writing the songs that became Sensitivity, my first EP, a few years after college.
My earliest influence musically was my connection to it through dance, which is something I started doing when I was 4 years old. As a teenager, I was really inspired by brooding emo music, the grounded songwriting of Coldplay’s earlier stuff, and the lush string-laden music of bands like Arcade Fire.
As a young kid I was really into “My Heart Will Go On.” I think the fact that the only CD I listened to for awhile was the Titanic soundtrack laid a foundation for someone who only likes the heart-stirring dramatic stuff.
When I listen to music, I see shapes, objects and colours. What happens in your body when you're listening and how does it influence your approach to creativity?
I think I feel music very spatially. I feel most attracted to music that feels three-dimensional in some way. When I listen to music, I feel the desire to imagine reaching out in space, even if I don’t physically dance.
I think this way of relating to music inclines me to think in terms of a few different patterns—certain chord progressions that evoke a sense of motion, swells and layers that have a creative process akin to sculpture, and variety in terms of styles.
How would you describe your development as an artist in terms of interests and challenges, searching for a personal voice, as well as breakthroughs?
I think in the beginning of this solo project (with Sensitivity), I was most interested in experimenting with production.
The main source of inspiration and home for the songs I wrote were in the DAW, with most of my interest being on those experiments. Then, I didn’t really feel interested in my voice—my literal voice, my voice as a songwriter, or my voice as an artist in general. I feel proud of what I made back then, but I don’t really feel like my soul knew how to come out in music yet. I was too young at the time to have discovered quite how to experience the level of self-intimacy that was needed to be very vulnerable with the process.
With Still Water, it felt like a long and arduous journey of uncovering a deeper plane with music. Some big shifts happened in me that changed how I viewed and created music. I think I started to see it as practice of uncovering, rather than a force of will.
Tell me a bit about your sense of identity and how it influences both your preferences as a listener and your creativity as an artist, please.
This is very much something I’ve been trying to figure out recently. I struggle with the pendulum swing between identifying very much or not at all with music. I find that I feel most healthy when I can hold the paradox that music means everything and nothing.
I also struggle with what it is to be a listener of music. I suck at it to be honest. I spend most of my time in silence and feel like I feel content to spend a day listening to little to no music sometimes. I think I tend to take music so seriously as a form of expression, that sometimes I only want to listen to it if I feel like I’m in a really expansive and open heart space. Or sometimes I feel so entrenched in my own musical projects that it’s hard to listen to music without seeing it as a very concrete form of inspiration or objectifying it. I really wish I was a better listener.
I feel most connected to music when I’m watching one of my friend’s local shows. The Cincinnati music community really inspires me, which means I sometimes don’t feel quite as inspired to listen to music of people I don’t personally know.
Something shifted for me when I started getting more connected to live local music that made music start to feel inextricably connected to community and place. I think a lot about what that means in terms of growing an audience or projecting music out into the void of the internet.
I think a lot of what my journey as a musician and artist has been a practice of undoing any identification with any format, medium, or instrument. I could never be someone who is really good at something. I like to pick up whatever tool feels like it could be the best vessel for an idea or emotion in the moment, and I need there to be a freedom in that.
I think that also causes me to struggle with any of the practical aspects of music—whether it’s marketing myself or predicting what the future will look like or discerning what I want music to be in my life.
Of course I would love to be able to make a living off of my art and not have to work a day job, but I really struggle with whether that would be a healthy set up for me. I burn out so quickly and feel really bummed when something in my life switches from being a tool for experimentation and un-self-conscious expression into a tool for production and mastery.
What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to music and art?
Many spiritual ideas—grace, resurrection, emptiness. Paradox. Having the weird insatiable need to spill my guts and be honest. Seeing questions as teachers in and of themselves. Letting each piece be a totally new experiment. Seeing art as no place for striving
How would you describe your views on topics like originality and innovation versus perfection and timelessness in music? Are you interested in a “music of the future” or “continuing a tradition”?
I hate perfection! I think it’s a silly trap we make for ourselves to try to outrun the love that is constantly trying to be channelled and given through art. I don’t really care for making a mission out of originality or innovation.
I see myself as an experimental artist and love that sort of posture, but I don’t see the point of experimentation as being innovative or original for me. I see experimentation more as a tool for getting into the nooks and crannies of how to express the human experience. But I also I think being interested in any of these things is fine!
The music of the future and continuing a tradition are both great! I have been formed by the classical world as well as the folk world and think they’re both wonderful in their own ways.
Over the course of your development, what have been your most important instruments and tools - and what are the most promising strategies for working with them?
Whatever tool allows me to feel like I don’t know what I’m doing. Once I feel like I have a handle on something, it loses its ability to influence me as deeply. When I’m able to approach something with a beginner’s mind, I can improvise with more curiosity.
On some other notes, Ableton Live has been an inspiring tool for me. Harp helped me get over my angst with violin. Banjo helped me get out of my ruts with harp. It’s a silly endless cycle.