(Image via facebook.com)
Staff Writer: Rena Danho
If you haven’t heard of Holden Miller, you’ll want to listen up.
An upcoming folk-pop artist originally hailing from Long Island, Miller is a singer/songwriter who puts everything he has into his music.
Despite not yet having released an album, Miller’s discography is full of EPs and singles that will pull you in from the first note.
I was lucky enough to be able to interview Miller and get an exclusive look at both the music and the man behind it.
What inspired you to make music?
Miller: “I grew up listening to 60s and 70s music. My dad raised me on my idea of good music so that definitely gave me an appreciation for it at a young age.
I played piano when I was little, but then I stopped and transitioned to sports. I thought that was going to be my life. But then there was my brother, who was always playing guitar behind closed doors and was very introverted and shy about what he was doing. I could hear him playing, though. I would be in the basement, and I could hear him playing through the ceiling. I used to think, ‘damn, he’s really good.’
When he started college, I was beginning my sophomore year of high school. He finally played a song for my parents and I before we left to drop him off. I watched him shred this Neil Young song on an acoustic guitar as a thank you and goodbye for us. When we got in the car to drive back to Long Island, I was like, ‘I need to take guitar lessons. I need to be able to do that too.’
My brother was my direct inspiration for getting back into music later in life, and he’s the reason I started playing guitar again. I discovered that he had started uploading voice memos from his phone. Just him, sitting around in his bed playing acoustic guitar and singing these original songs he wrote – super stripped-back, acoustic, lyric-driven tunes. I found them on SoundCloud. He didn’t tell anyone, but I found them, and then it was a combination of seeing him play guitar and write songs that really made me feel like I could do it, too. He was probably the direct inspiration for getting started with it all.”
What artists are big inspirations for the type of music you make?
Then last year, I had a pivotal point in terms of discovering more of the indie pop wave. My old roommate showed me Alexander 23, Adam Melchor, and Jermey Zucker. They definitely inspired me to pursue the world of pop production. And, as so many artists do, I keep going back to The Beatles.
What’s your process for making music?
Miller: “It’s different. There’s no one definitive way, and it’s definitely changed over time since I started writing. I’m constantly writing down lyric ideas in the notes app on my phone, so a lot of the time, I pull from that.
Once I have a lyric idea, I put a melody and chords to it. Sometimes I wake up with a melody in my head, sometimes a chord progression. It’s never the same. There are many ways to do it.
I’m someone who doesn’t like to force the creative process, so getting studio sessions has been something new for me, which I’ve been doing since moving to L.A. two years ago. It’s like, ‘here’s a block time, we’re gonna write a song, and that’s what we have to do with this time.’
But when you’re doing it alone, if nothing comes to you, you can just step out of the room and do something else for a couple of hours. So for me, it’s whatever comes most naturally – at least for when I’m writing alone.”
How much did Covid affect making music?
Miller: “Covid was really interesting for me because I graduated college in 2020. I got sent home with two months left in my senior semester, and I wasn’t looking for a job. I was just planning on producing music as a full-time undergraduate. I wanted to put together a mini tour of the North East, start playing shows and grow a following that way.
Then obviously, Covid hit, so I moved home. I was completely lost. Graduated from college with nothing planned for the future. It’s not like there’s that next semester where you’re going back to school. I was stuck at home, with no one in my immediate circle in my hometown who was pursuing music or even just doing anything creative to the point where they could help me write or produce. So I felt isolated in my craft, and I’m very much someone who likes to be surrounded by other people doing similar things.
Covid was definitely tough, and it almost pushed me away from doing this. Then it ended up being a blessing in disguise because I moved to L.A., and I probably never would have done that if Covid didn’t happen. It was totally on a whim and not something I had ever planned. That was scary, but I think it was the silver lining of Covid. What it did for people, how it allowed people to discover things that they never would’ve before.
I’m out here now, and although, at first, it was really bad for my music career, it ended up being the thing that drove me to take my career to the next level.”
As you’ve said, you moved from the East Coast to the West Coast. Do you think that affected how you make music or the kind of music you were making?
Miller: “Before I moved out here, I had this one-track approach to making music. It was because I wasn’t surrounded by as many songwriters or people in the industry back in the East. I feel like I was just stuck in my old singer/songwriter way, and I wasn’t learning much. Moving out here, meeting a lot of other songwriters, doing collaborations, and discovering new music is what really drove me to take a step back and say, ‘okay, there are a lot of different approaches to writing a song and different approaches to lyricism.’
One of my biggest takeaways from last year was my roommate turning me onto Alexander 23. I remember realizing, ‘oh my god. You can have the most simple lyrics in the world, and you don’t have to sing anything crazy. You don’t have to be a poet.’ Using simple language to say things in a unique way can be the most powerful thing you can do as a songwriter. For a while, I was just trying to write crazy worn-out metaphors or just being too vague or too poetic with my songwriting. Then I was like, ‘wait, I can be super on the nose about these things as long as it feels like it’s fresh,’ and that was a huge perspective change for me.”
Are there any artists you want to collaborate with?
Miller: “I mean, Alexander 23 is up there. He’s such a good producer, too. There are so many, but I would love to write a song with Jason Isbell. He was one of the biggest singer/songwriters that influenced me. I would love to see their processes and pick their brains.”
What was the hardest part of getting out there and getting people to notice your music?
Miller: “The grind. Keeping a level head and keeping the hope alive. Because there are points where you’re putting out singles every couple of months, and it feels like no one sees them. You’re doing all this prep work to make the song sound as good as possible and to make the content and the music video and everything. Then no one hears the song, and no one gives a shit, and you’re like, ‘Why am I even doing this anymore.’ I think getting over that hump is the hardest thing to do.
Once you get the traction, you still have to put in the work. I still have so much to do for sure, but once you can start latching onto a fanbase and a process that works, it gets easier. Until you get over the hump of thinking, ‘there’s no light at the end of the tunnel,’ or ‘I don’t know how I’m ever going to break through and stand out from other artists and grow a following,’ it takes a huge mental toll.”
Your top song on Spotify is “Far Side of the World.” Do you feel like that really represents you and your music, or do you wish it was a different song?
Miller: “This is a loaded question. It’s interesting because ‘Far Side of the World’ is a collaboration, and I didn’t write the guitar riff, and that’s the backbone of the song. It’s this repeating riff that plays throughout the whole thing. So when we did have to write, I wrote all the lyrics and the melody. So lyrically, I feel like it is very me.
It’s really cool that something that’s so soft, delicate, and vulnerable is my top song because for a while, I felt like I had to make upbeat, happy pop music because that’s what I thought people would want to listen to. Which is not true, but I felt that way.
At my very core, I’m a folk singer/songwriter, so for a song that’s so vulnerable to be at the top gives me faith that I can release songs like ‘Watching the Moon’ and ‘She’ll Still Be,’ and there’ll still be an audience that it will resonate with.
However, I also feel like ‘Far Side of the World’ is not naturally me because I didn’t write the guitar riff. It’s not 100% me.”
Do you have a favorite song that you’ve made? And is it different from your favorite songs to perform live?
Miller: “Well, ‘Watching the Moon’ is my favorite song I’ve written. It’s just one of those songs where every word feels right. It was completely me, coming from a completely vulnerable moment. It spilled out of me, and I think that’s the most beautiful part of the process– when you can look back and say, ‘I don’t even know how I wrote that.’ It almost formulated itself.
That’s probably my favorite that I’ve written, and honestly, it’s probably my favorite to perform, too. For a similar reason to why I like ‘Far Side of the World’ being at the top. It’s a beautiful thing to be able to play something so vulnerable and so bare– something that the audience can’t really dance to.
Usually, wherever I go, the audience is just listening to that song, and they give it the respect that I feel like it needs to exist in this very quiet environment.
Where do you hope to see your music in the future?
Miller: “I would love to reach more people. I would also love to put together a bigger compilation of songs rather than just doing the singles. I want to have a thought-out grouping of music put together, whether that’s an EP or an album.
Honestly, I would love to just keep trying my best to create the stuff that is most authentic to me. It’s the advice I would give to other people, but sometimes I feel like it’s hard for me to take it. I want to be able to make something that’s exactly how I want it to be without worrying about the pressures of being commercial, adjustable, or excessive. That’s when my best music comes out, so I would love to just keep going with that confidence and trust in myself and my collaborators. To trust that if we make what we wanna make, it’ll resonate with people.”
Do you have any advice for others to get their music out there?
Miller: “I get asked this a lot. It makes me think of this mentor I have. He was managing this artist that I was listening to, and he sort of took me under his wing. He wasn’t managing me, but he was like, ‘Any advice you need, let me know.’ He told me that he hates when people gatekeep. In the industry, there’s no reason advice shouldn’t be free to everyone.
I love to share my experiences, especially because I feel like I’ve narrowed it down to what it takes and simplified it because it’s so scary to jump in. My advice is to just be consistent over time. If you release quality music consistently over an extended period of time, you will find success. That’s what that mentor told me, and it definitely helped me.
Consistency and persistence are like weathering through the storm. If you can have those two things in mind, it’s the best thing you can do because it’s really hard to power through the initial hump.
Other life lessons I would give are to just be yourself and to make the music that is most genuine to you. That stuff is easier to promote, too. You see people on TikTok doing these very stripped-back personal things, and those are the things that blow up. So grind TikTok, too. It sucks, but you’ve gotta do it.”
Did you ever think you’d end up where you are today?
Miller: “Yes and no. I think it’s easy to say, ‘I never expected I’d be here; this is so cool,’ but I think in the back of my head that if I didn’t expect myself to make it to this point, then I wouldn’t be doing it in the first palace. But I don’t know if ‘expect’ is the right word. Maybe ‘hoped.’
I think now that I’m here, it’s hard to appreciate how far I’ve come. I could’ve done this for ten years and never made it half as far as I am right now. I think that appreciation is very valuable. It’s a matter of what term you use. Did I expect it? I don’t know. I hoped for it and thought there was a good chance, but it’s hard to expect anything.”
*Article updated on March 1st, 2023 to embed artist songs within text.