Jarius Miller: Practice makes perfect
If practice makes perfect then Jairus Miller certainly has a lead on his competitors. Growing up in an Island off Maine on the US, Miller began his music career at a tender age of six when he unwillingly began piano lessons, by the time he reached his early teens he was highly skilled in both Piano and Guitar.
His music is a collaboration of the past and present, which pushes both genre and geographical boundaries to create an eclectic, innovative sound opening it up to a wider and more consequently appreciative audience. By picking elements of electro, drum and bass and older rave style, Miller’s music reaches out to all music fans. With a constant desire to broaden his musical spectrum, Miller rates as one of the top experimental electronic artists today.
ITM caught up with Jairus to discover that although he has lead a long and prosperous career so far, him still remains humble and hopeful about what is yet to come.
Have you ever been referred to as a child prodigy?
Not for anything music-related. I guess I was one of those kids who wished they were talented, but never quite got there. It takes a significant amount of discipline to really excel at something like music, and I never put the required time in – too many video games probably.
You are trained both piano and guitar, when did you decide to switch to electronic music? What changed your perspective?
In my early teen years I was listening to quite a bit of heavy guitar music, and was getting into industrial bands like Ministry, NIN, and Skinny Puppy. I realized that I was looking for something with electronics, but I wasn’t sure about what it was that I really wanted to hear. Hearing groups like Orbital or the Crystal Method whet the appetite, but I didn’t know that much about the history of electronic music, the scene, or what it was all about. I’d make these strange electro-rock instrumentals using cheap midi modules and a 4-track cassette recorder, but it just wasn’t there. The single biggest factor in my becoming aware of the breadth of electronic music was discovering the mod scene back in the late 90s. I was really impressed that you could make such cool sounding songs with such a minimum of equipment. Since the files were so small, even someone on a slow dial-up connection could download hundreds of them, which I ended up doing. There was such a sense of wide-open possibilities that I knew I had to get started with it.
When you making a new record what do you think about? How do you approach it?
It usually goes most smoothly if I have some sort of idea of what overall shape the track should have, some idea as to a bassline, melodic motif, or rhythm. It’s also fun to just sit and experiment with different sounds, since it can often lead to entirely new ideas for a song. One thing I find difficult is turning a 32 bar section into an entire song. It’s hard to know how best to maximize the listening experience, since there are so many options for how to “make the journey” so to speak. I’m definitely guilty of often adding too many layers or trying to artificially force a track to go in one particular direction. Hopefully this will be less of an issue as time goes on. Most people tend to lay out the drums and bass, and then build on that “foundation”. I seem to be in the habit of composing with effects more than I should, like building a song around a delayed synth line. I find it useful to sometimes use tracks by other producers as starting points, trying to create a similar drum pattern or pad sound. I’m rarely successful, but at least then you’ve got something to work with.
Do you produce songs with a particular vision in mind?
I usually have some idealised version of the song in my head, and I then attempt to make the actual song sound like the one I’m hearing. It usually doesn’t work very well! For real dancefloor-style tracks, I try to imagine people dancing to the music, and how they would respond to various elements of it. If I can see them moving to the flow of the music, I tend to feel like I’m on the right track.
Essentially is your music a personal thing or something that you produce with the masses in mind?
Music can be so subjective at times, so while I really prefer to be satisfied with all my tracks above all else, I never discount the possibility that other people will hear them differently, liking things I didn’t or vice versa. I’m not sure if I could produce something which I hated but thought everyone else would enjoy. On the other hand, it seems like a big part of making music is sharing your creations with other people, so the songs should (at least in part) be enjoyable to more than just yourself. I guess I would say that popular sentiment is a motivating force, rather than a limiting one.
Your music has many layers of sound and a certain fullness to it, what inspired you to create this type of sound?
It’s odd, I definitely enjoy minimal, restrained music in many instances, and yet whenever I go to produce something in that vein, the result tends to be much “busier” than I intended. I suppose that part of it is that I don’t want the listener to lose interest, even if I’m the only one in the audience, haha. On the other hand, I really like “big” sounding productions, be it dance music, classical (Mozart, Wagner), rock (black-album-era Metallica, NIN), and so on. Stuff that reaches out and grabs you, not letting go. Maybe it’s a reflection of the frenetic nature of modern society, music that keeps pace with the relentless stream of sensory input we receive. Truthfully though, I just want to make tracks that sound as good as Steve Porter.
You pick and choose elements from different electronical musical eras and genres and fuse them together, is this a difficult thing to do and pull off?
For me, it’s a fairly organic process, i.e. there’s not a great deal of conscious effort going into that aspect of production. There’s so much great electronic music that has been produced over the past 20 years or so, and it seems unfair to ignore it just because it isn’t “of the moment”. There are probably some records nobody’s ever heard from 15 years ago that would still sound good in a set today. Stuff like “electroclash”, nu breaks, and almost any techno is deeply rooted in the historical context out of which they build their respective styles. I am by no means an expert on any of this, but the key seems to be incorporating all these historical sounds and styles in a way so that they are given new life and made relevant to modern listeners. So, the vocoder effect and 808 drums might work, but the “funky drummer” sample and 16-bar snare rolls won’t, hehe.
You musical career and experience has already outdone many other in terms of time and success, what do you see yourself doing in 10 years time?
In a decade I would love to be in a position where I was not only still producing dance music, but also scoring films, writing pieces for other media (such as games, or television), and hopefully have developed some sort of live performance. It would be awesome to have the name recognition of someone like BT, Sasha, or Liam Howlett. Certainly it’s unlikely, but it can’t hurt to dream.
How much did you parents influence your interest in music?
My parents were relatively neutral as far as their own musical tastes were concerned. Neither played an instrument, and they didn’t play much music around the house. On the other hand, they were very supportive of my own musical interests, from piano lessons to buying a guitar to investing in some recording equipment. They never made me feel like it was “a waste of time” to pursue an interest in music, and they also never complained about obnoxious guitar solos late at night, haha.
Did you ever resent being pushed into music at a young age?
Absolutely. It’s hard to see the value of weird beginner piano exercises when you could be outside playing with your friends.
How do you feel about it now?
As one might expect, the value of it all is a bit clearer in hindsight. Having a sort of minimum musical baseline percolating in the background is probably what led me to continue making music despite lack of knowledge and ability. It’s a bit of a chain reaction, one thing leads to another, and without that first experience, none of the others would ever have occurred.
Do you plan on doing this for the rest of your life?
I will always be making music in some form or another, probably until the day I die. Like many people, I feel it’s something that’s become part of my identity, even if it only amounts to strumming a guitar once a week. Obviously there is a desire to be able to devote oneself entirely to music (i.e. “make a living” doing it), but at this point I have very low monetary expectations. Even if I was making money from music, I doubt that I’d ever consider it a “job” in the same way I would working in an office – it’s just too enjoyable.
So obviously music is a great passion of yours, but what do you do when your not making music?
Besides the depressing drudgery of manual labor, I try to keep my mind occupied, lest it atrophy too much. I read quite a bit, both fiction and non – lately quite a bit of politically oriented material. In the winter I try to snowboard whenever possible, but it’s challenging when you’re broke and not very good at it! I dabble a bit in things like computer programming, photography, writing, and environmentalism.
Who do you like to listen to in you spare time?
I like listening to the previews of new tracks on digital download sites, it’s nice to be able to get a sense of what’s cutting edge at the moment. Some older stuff (DJ mixes and artists) that I listen to includes: Sasha, LSG, Prodigy, DJ Hyper, Swayzak, John Tejada, Gang Starr, Dr. Dre, Megadeth, Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, DJ Shadow, John Digweed, Pat Martino, Al Di Meola, John Coltrane, Bob Marley, Astral Projection, Emperor, and the sounds of the natural world.
Which artists have influenced your music the most?
Steve Porter, Liam Howlett, Metallica, Hybrid, BT, Dr. Dre, Orbital, and countless mod artists.
Jarius’ latest releases include the ‘City of Light’ EP (Shrimps and Chips), a remix of ‘Tantric Progression’ by Michael Lanning on the label Toes in the Sand, the ‘Startide’ single (Hunya Munya), and he also has 2 tracks upcoming on Infamous Light Recordings, ‘Jester’ and ‘Venutian Dancer’.