To listen to the songs of Marie Miller is to know this impressive new Curb artist, a triple-threat talent — singer, songwriter, and instrumentalist — who’s poised to become one of the breakout stars of 2013.
“These songs are stories of my life, emotional snapshots of Marie Miller”, explains the 23-year old. “They come from deep inspiration, about big moments that have taught me important things and shaped who I am.
Just as Miller insists on writing from true experience, her music blurs the lines in defining her style. She aims only for the right musical bed for her lyrics, crafting songs that appeal across many genres. Such original tunes as “You’re Not Alone,” “To Be Loved,” “Unconscious,” “Fall Alone,” and “6-2” will likely find listeners in every format from Triple A, Americana, front porch folk to nuegrass to country and classic pop.
She delivers them all in a strong, warm, unfettered soprano that connects with the head and the heart at precisely the same time. Instead of striking a choreographed stance or projecting a manufactured persona, Miller insists on just being herself.
“My image is just who I am. I am a folk artist, a singer-songwriter who grew up loving fairy tales, the Wizard of Oz, and Alice in Wonderland. So there’s a little bit of a theatrical, whimsical look to what I’m about. But it’s all real.”
Growing up in the Shenandoah Valley area of Virginia, the third of ten children, Miller began singing at the age of seven. At “the ripe old age of twelve,” she joined her family band, playing festivals and churches, and trading off lead and harmony vocals in duets with her sister Justina, with whom she was billed as the Miller Sisters. Their parents backed them up on guitar and upright bass, as Marie played mandolin, guitar, and eventually bouzouki. Her family band focused largely on playing bluegrass, a genre that’s about both musicianship and tradition. “I fell in love with traditional folk music and grabbed some of that songwriting style. But then I love pop music, too, like the music of Stevie Wonder, Michelle Branch, John Mayer and The Eagles”. So my music became my own folk-pop concoction, trying to tie all that in together.”
A studious child who loved reading the classics, especially Little Women, which seemed to mirror her relationship with her sisters, Marie also began writing songs, which changed her life, allowing her to turn her dreams and ideas into music.
“My love for songwriting began when I was thirteen after creating a melody for a poem from Lord of the Rings. Ever since, it’s as if my own daily experiences and the lives of those around me call to me in such a way that song ideas are constantly being presented”, explains Marie. Each song on her debut album seems to be presented in a storyteller’s format.
Though she downplays her prowess as an instrumentalist (“I’m no Chris Thile by any stretch of the imagination”), her producer, Paul Mabury, encouraged her to play mandolin on almost every song, and sit in with the studio musicians during the recording of the tracks that will make up her debut Curb album.
“That was a confirmation for me. It stretched me a lot. I would be the studio musician for a couple of hours, and then I would be the artist. It was really exciting to have a group of men who play in the studio every day say, ‘Hey, good lick!’ I bragged to my parents.”
Since she’s been performing for ten years, Miller already has a loyal following from touring across the US. Already hailed as the perfect balance of “youthful style with mature songwriting”, Marie was also listed as “one of the best independent artists that you should know about”.
In the course of the last two years, Miller stepped back for awhile to attend college, write songs, play weekends at the winery her parents co-own in Virginia, and prepare herself for the career she knew would be there when she felt she was ready.
“Sometimes I joke, ‘I might have missed my chance,’ but I wouldn’t have been happy. I just didn’t feel like I was old enough to do it.”
While Miller’s faith is a large part of who she is, her new music embraces lyrics and instrumental styles that expand her audiences across multiple musical genres.
The soaring up-tempo ballad “You’re Not Alone” was written about her platonic friendship with a young man going through tough times with his family. “As young people, we’re so self-centered, and we don’t really notice a lot of times when people are hurting. I thought, ‘I want to write a battle cry for people to be aware of those around them who might be experiencing pain.’” Amazon says about the song, “(You’re Not Alone” is) ready made for hand-clapping and crowd sing-alongs. Her talent and bright spirit are all over the song, from the bouncy delivery to the toe-tapping guitar rhythm. A talented multi-instrumentalist, Miller brings the house down with her mandolin.”
On the other hand, the light-hearted pop of “Fall Alone” recounts her ill-fated obsession with a boy from college who saw her only as a friend, while “6-2” finds Miller jokingly praying for the man of her dreams. She’s been performing the latter song live for several years, and the crowd favorite inspires emails from boys who plead, “Hey, I’m the exact thing, and I think we should date.” It’s also moved a fan to post a YouTube ukulele rendition. “That’s so cool”, she enthuses.
Miller further showcases her songwriting with “To Be Loved,” an upbeat, joyous song she co-wrote with Luke Sheets and Reed Pittman for her six-year-old sister Megan, born with Down syndrome. The title comes from a quote from Mother Teresa. “Megan has taught me a lot about the value of a person, and it really is the capacity to love and to be loved.” In 2010, Miller went to India and spent several weeks working with Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta. “I was really impressed and changed by the experience.”
With the sweeping ballad “Unconscious,” which she penned with Seth Jones and Luke Sheets, Miller draws on the Greek philosopher Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave,” about a man who cannot tell the real world from the shadows on the wall.
“The reason that story is so important to me is,” says this old soul with a young face, “is because I think we all walk around with our eyes closed. The world is so beautiful and wonderful. It also has a lot of pain that we also close our eyes to, instead of reaching out to help. It’s basically a call to awareness of beauty.
“For me,” she sums up, “the beauty of music and the creative world is a reason to exist.”
Her music proves it’s true.