The smooth voice of Jarad Miles rolled back into the public ear recently with the release of his third studio album, Ancient Wave. For the past few years, Miles has been a semi-regular fixture on Portland’s folk scene, and his latest work warrants more attention around town.
From the optimistic opening of We’re Reborn I, to the uplifting rise of the album’s title track, Ancient Wave, Miles’ songs captures the optimism of the American West. Listening to the album, you can easily imagine yourself driving around the open spaces of Miles’ native South Dakota and through the urban landscape of, Portland, Oregon, his adopted hometown. Not everything is sunny, though, and Miles’ pulsing vocal style adds an unsettling tension in more than a few places.
(Watch the video of Ooh Child, a single from the album released in 2013, below.)
A little bit folk, a little bit pop, and a little bit country, Ancient Wave is easy to listen to. Most artists would be loathe to bring together diverse sounds like the steel guitar or a driving synth bass drum, but Miles pulls it off gracefully. He has created a well-done album that people should hear, in this writer’s humble opinion.
Q&A with the artist
To give me a closer look at Ancient Wave, Miles agreed to answer a few questions about the album and what is happening with him these days:
CPDX: How does the new album compare to its previous ones?
JM: This album was much more collaborative in its nature because I was playing all the songs live with a band. In the past, the songs were much more folk-centric and mostly about capturing my solo performance. This time around it was each band member finding their place in the song and making it their own. I suppose in that way the arrangements were more thoughtful and involved. Also, I would say this album more accessible in that the songs are not just lyrics with acoustic guitar strumming. There is more of a rhythmic element driving each song with little grooves and hooks glued in along the way. It's not lo-fi sounding in terms of its production style like my previous albums, but it still sounds like real people playing real instruments (which it was, well... 98.6% of it).
CPDX: What kind of music did you listen to growing up?
JM: Mostly church hymns and country songs. It did seem that country radio was playing in the background wherever I went there for awhile. I remember Randy Travis' deep voice, and something about John Anderson's songs and one in particular by Mel McDaniel. And Dwight Yoakum. I still love Dwight Yoakum. His song "A Thousand Miles From Nowhere" is still great to me.
When I was around eleven or twelve I remember finding a cassette tape of 50s and 60s rock-n-roll hits. I don't know where it came from or where I found it but I popped it in the player and it really shook me up. Songs like "All I Have To Do Is Dream" by The Everly Brothers, "House Of The Rising Sun" by The Animals, and "La Bamba" by Richie Valens really killed me. I was obsessed with Richie Valens for many years after I learned that he had died so young in a plane crash like he did.
By the time I hit junior high and high school I was hearing all kinds of new stuff- rap, grunge rock, Emo and skater punk, death metal and pop stuff. It wasn't long before I was introduced to bands like Modest Mouse, Radiohead and Wilco that would stay with me through the years. I remember finding Elliot Smith's album XO and some Mark Kozelek's Red House Painters stuff at a Goodwill store in Brookings, South Dakota and to hear that music at that time in that place was like discovering best friends I never knew I could have. It wasn't until my early twenties that I really became aware of Hank Williams, Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan. Especially Dylan who I would later emulate as I learned to write my own songs.
CPDX: What was the goal for the new album?
JM: I don't know that I had any goals. Well, I must've wanted people to hear the songs. I sorta felt like the songs had their own will to be born. Maybe I felt a responsibility to the songs in some way- to feed them and clean up after them and take them to school.
CPDX: Which song on the album is your favorite? Why?
JM: I should probably say I don't have a favorite. But, I'm not going to fall into that trap. My favorite song on the album is the last song, Ancient Wave, because it gets right to the point and in not too many words. I really thought the outro of the song came out so nice and sweet. It seemed like an appropriate way to end the album.
CPDX: Please describe your creative process (i.e., where you get your inspirations, etc.)
JM: Basically, I like to write and sing wherever I am but it usually ends up working best when I'm alone at my desk. It can be nice to write from a moving vehicle also. Many times I will play a melody on piano or guitar and words will seem to naturally fall right in. Sometimes the words mean something and other times it's just the emotive sound they have that is the meaning. Songwriting can be a lot like putting a puzzle together. If ever the pieces don't fit I know it's time to go take a walk or eat a sandwich.
CPDX: Where can people get your music?
JM: People can find the music at jaradmiles.com, iTunes, Gumroad, Bandcamp, etc. I also have some new videos up on the tubes.
CPDX: Any live shows coming up?
JM: No live shows planned right now. But, I am preparing a live set of new material called Ancient Wave. It will be more visual and conceptual. I will no doubt debut it before the year 2014 is through. You might look for it on CNN's "breaking news".
CPDX: We’ll do just that. Best of luck to you.
(Check out this video for another example of Miles’ music.)