On file: John R. Miller’s Depreciated
On the Record is a new SPIN feature where we pick an album that we think is fantastic and ask the artist to share the stories behind it.
Artist: John R. Miller
Number of tracks: 11
Label: Rounder records
Release date: July 16, 2021
Debut of singer-songwriter and guitarist John R. Miller Cushioning tells the story of a life well lived. Don’t be fooled by the title of the album. No matter how far the journey that took him to Cushioning, the songs are filled with hope and wonder, set against a backdrop of folk-blues, Nashville countrypolitain and swamp rock. Like this interview, his music reflects a refreshing raw honesty, reflection, and the undeniable beauty of discovery and growth. Musically, Miller is at the top of his game. While Cushioning is perfectly unadorned, it is decorated with the best collaborators on congas, violin, mandolin and then some.
Justin Francis (Leon Bridges, Kacey Musgraves, Margo Price) and guitarist Adam Meisterhans produced Cushioning– with a cinematographic and fortuitous story to accompany it. As Francis was mixing the album, another producer walked by and was so enthralled that he passed Miller’s music to an A&R person for Concord. And that’s how Miller was signed.
John R. Miller goes âOn the Recordâ with us to discuss the simplistic magic of Cushioning.
What is your personal story that led you to make this album?
I had been without a regular band for a few years, mainly touring as a bass player for a living, spending the rest of my time doing the dishes, playing darts and drinking at the two local bars where I was. lived in a small town on the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers in West Virginia. One was always the bar you started your night in, and the other was the bar you ended it in, usually falling through the front door around closing time and stumbling home. âShenandoah Shakedownâ was written about the breakup of a relationship against the backdrop of rivers and bars, told in hallucinatory vignettes. The city is small enough that everyone literally knows everyone to some degree, which as you can imagine can be both a blessing and a curse. âLooking Over My Shoulderâ reflects this period of recklessness and turmoil, and tries to avoid an old flame while revisiting a place the size of four square blocks. Eventually, I followed friends to Nashville to find more stable work and try to get out of a worsening drinking problem; over the next two years most of these songs started to take shape after leaving home for the first time and sobered up, to all intents and purposes. I surfed the couch and lived for a while in fairly knotty rooms, working odd jobs in bars and restaurants, doing landscaping, delivering flowers, etc., a period documented in the song “Old Dance Floor”.
Eventually I found a wonderful, supportive creative community in Kentucky, and I started spending a lot of time traveling and playing my songs there. I met some good musician buddies, we formed a band, bought an old rusty conversion van (the research of which was the inspiration for the song “Half Ton Van”) and finally between the tour and the work of a band, I was able to save enough money to make a record. I brought in old buddies Justin Francis for the engineer and Adam Meisterhans for the co-production, and we brought the band to the Sound Emporium in January 2020 to record the songs. We followed everything live in the studio for three days, and it all went very naturally from there.
Why does the world need Cushioning now?
I feel like a lot of us are looking for a connection with each other right now, trying to find our collective path to the switch in the big dark room. Whether or not this album is something particularly special for someone else, I think it was my most difficult attempt so far to create something that could perhaps try to foster that connection. Much of the file is about moving and not knowing where you’re supposed to be or what you’re supposed to be doing. I tried to find commonalities through the lens of my own experiences, in the hope that other people might find something familiar there. I was also trying to make myself feel better in the hopes that it might also help someone else feel better.
Is there a story behind the title?
Cushioning comes from a line in one of the songs, and I felt it represented one of the overarching themes of the record – how despite our best efforts, everything shrinks over time, and the value is subjective.
Who deserves special credit for making this album?
My partner Chloe Edmonstone, who plays violin on the album and with the band, has been there from the start of it all and has helped me figure out a ton of things that I either didn’t fully understand or couldn’t handle. on my own. She is a great fiddler and she has given me more support than I could ever ask of anyone, and an incredible source of wisdom.
Robbie Crowell added Wurlitzer and B3 on a handful of songs, and Russ Pahl added pedal steel on a couple. These two gentlemen have an otherworldly skill and musicality, and their contributions really tied the piece together, so to speak – it was an honor to have them on the album.
What are you most proud of on this record?
It turned out to be a lot more cohesive than it seemed at first, and ended up telling a story that I didn’t even realize we were telling until I was able to step back and figure it out. watch everything.
What makes this album different from the previous ones?
It was the first record I made that was super intentional from start to finish, and the first collection of songs I had the opportunity to record live with a whole band. I also think the unique array of influences that influenced the record ended up being more congruent than I expected. There’s violin and mandolin combined with a Wurlitzer and psychedelic electric guitars, which I find pretty cool.
What’s your favorite song on the record? What’s the story behind?
One of my favorites there is “Old Dance Floor” which is really fun to play and sing along with the band. It’s a little more lively and electric, and tells the story of two people, each with one foot outside the door of a house owned by a pretty horrible owner, trying to figure out how to stay together despite outside forces that seem to be working. at separation. them apart. It’s also about closing the door on a cycle of self-defeating behaviors and moving on.