Joseph Wayne Miller – Texas Singer Songwriter
Hello, readers, this is Joseph Wayne Miller. I’m not a fan of writing my own third-person bio, so I’ve chosen to just tell you a little bit about myself in my own voice and describe what I think were my most formative musical influences, as well as a couple of life events that have deeply shaped my songs. Maybe you’ll find it interesting
I was born in Dallas, Texas and raised in the nearby suburb of Plano – a white bread and American cheese wasteland of subdivisons, stripmalls, churches, and conservative ideals – a comfortable suburban setting that I’m lead to believe is a reality for about half of the country. I could invent a myth about myself to better serve the stereotype of a tortured artist or something, but if we’re gonna be honest, my backstory is intensely boring.
So I’ll skip to the music stuffs: When I was about 13 or so, my mother and older brother independently decided that I was old enough to be introduced to the world of songwriting. First, my brother (also a songwriter) gave me a cheap acoustic guitar and John Lennon’s “Acoustic” album that had all of the chords in the sleeve. These items were basically how I learned to play guitar and structure songs for at least the first year of trying.
Second, my mother (a baby-boomer and massive fan of the early 70s singer-songwriter genre) sat me down to listen to Kris Kristofferson’s first album – her favorite. This floored me. I still joke to her that she doomed me for a life of underperformance and financial disappointment by showing me that album, and I’m not really that upset about it. This was my guide for writing lyrics and telling stories for at least the first year of trying.
These two songwriters amount to my first two influences. Not too shabby.
I was captivated by the lyrics in that Kristofferson album. Rich stories and imagery that seemed just as effective (and important) to me as the books I was reading in school. This was a real-deal poet and storyteller. An intellectual with a guitar. To a 13 year old with a tendency to scribble poetry on his math homework, that’s simply too cool to ignore.
Lennon was a master of emotional honesty and intensity who never failed to get his point across and entice great emotion in my teenage brain. All of this was set to some of the most memorable melodies and inventive song structures of the entire rock era, and delivered by – for my money – the most emotive and versatile voice you can think of.
I was hooked, but I hadn’t yet realized that songwriting is what I wanted to focus on completely. I was a teenager trying to figure out my own interests and I hadn’t seen any evidence that this sort of folk tradition existed for my own generation, not just in the 60s and 70s. I didn’t imagine that I could do it myself, because I feared that the artform was dated. I was looking for a contemporary songwriter that possessed the same qualities.
Now, here comes the least surprising thing you’ll read all day: I, like probably every songwriter born between about 1988 and 1992, got really, really, really into Bright Eyes.
Here was a guy – only 10 years older than me – that managed to make a career out of writing folk songs. And it was relevant. My friends in school all had a copy of “I’m Wide Awake”. And he delivered the goods. Those remain some of the most insightful, emotional and thought provoking songs I’ve ever listened to. This was proof that it could still be done. Because of this, I became absolutely convinced of making the Folk song my primary artform and area of focus.
It should be mentioned, for the sake of humor, that Mr. Oberst had an incredible knack for writing emotional hooks seemingly tailored to the teenage psyche. Because of this, I probably spent the rest of high school impersonating him. Not just in the songs I wrote, either. One time I even straightened my hair in an attempt to have my bangs sweep over my eyebrows. This was incredibly ridiculous in contrast to my fairly masculine face – it was not a good look. I couldn’t wear skinny jeans ‘cause my legs were too big and whenever I tried to seem mournful in pictures, I just looked a little angry. At the time, it seemed like a cruel genetic prank that I couldn’t fashion myself to look like an emo kid, but I’m sure my dad was relieved.
Anyhow, Lennon, Kristofferson and Oberst are who I estimated to be my biggest formative influences. I’ve since added many others to my list, and they’re all extremely important, but I think these guys are definitely the pillars of my first few years attempting the craft, and therefore probably more influential. Since then, I’ve just been spending my time trying to discover more music, develop my own voice and songwriting style, and attempt to master the craft to the best of my natural abilities so that I can clearly express myself in my chosen artform.
Along the way, as it is for everyone else, there have been a couple of major life events that stopped me in my tracks and influenced my music, as well.
In 2014, somewhere around the time that I started recording “Word Count: 1,000”, my 11 months younger sister tragically died in a 4-wheeler accident at 23 years old. I can’t properly describe the shock and devastation of such an event, but anyone who has experienced it knows. She was hands down my best friend. We went through all of the same phases together (including the Bright Eyes one) and she even sang harmony with me at gigs and on my first recordings. As children, we lived in the same house, shared the same toys, had the same friends. During her tragically brief adulthood, we even lived in the same apartment complex. We had the same social group, went to the same bars, listened to the same music, everything. They call siblings born within a year of each other “Irish Twins”, but if you didn’t know better, you’d probably assume we were actual twins. I was absolutely heartbroken and distraught. This lead to a year-long spell of complete mania. Among other things, I decided I would go to wrestling school to become a Pro wrestler (and actually finished the school), I immediately abandoned my album once it was released, I drank way too much, no-showed everyone and generally couldn’t discern reality from my own chaotic mental life. During this time, I didn’t write a single song. I couldn’t focus my thoughts into sane sentences, much less lyrics and melody. My brain was fried, my memories were out of order or started disappearing entirely, and I felt like I wasn’t even real most of the time.
Luckily, perhaps due to a strong and understanding family and support system, my mind managed to sharpen against this metaphorical stone and I came out the otherside clearer headed, more empathetic and more thoughtful than I ever could have imagined.
And at exactly the right time, I was stopped in my tracks again. By the end of 2015 I met the woman that would eventually be my wife and I was changed forever, again. No longer would I be a guy that doesn’t write love songs. I never figured such a feeling was possible, but I was proven wrong. Without getting too sappy, I fell in love.
But love is not without existential angst, of course. It’s easy to stand up to death when you’re own your own, but factor in somebody that you connect with so much that you can’t reasonably distinguish your own emotions from theirs, add a recent death related trauma, and you end up with something resembling a mid-life crisis on steroids (or maybe crack).
But this time I was wiser and had an even stronger support system and I knew how to accept these negative feelings into the context of my life as a whole and live with them – to accept them as positives. It resulted in focus instead of mania. The roller coaster of 2014 & 2015 finally came to an end and I was left to figure out where to go next.
So I slowly started to fall in love with songwriting again – only this time it was exhaustive. I approached it with a level of humility and dedication that I don’t think I could have conceived of before. I studied, practiced and went to work on the craft of writing songs basically 9-5 (pm-am, of course), thanks to full support from the wife. Music and art in general is a never ending learning experience, but between 2016 & 2017, with the opportunity and new found focus to do so, I developed as a songwriter and person more than I probably will at any other point in my life.
This all lead to the writing and recording of my latest album, Pacey, and it’s soon to be released follow-up, Tumbleweed. Twenty-two songs that amount to just about everything I’ve got. I feel like I’ve busted the block of concrete that used to rest behind my forehead and managed to get the resulting outpour of emotion on tape (well, protools) in the form of songs that I am truly proud of and want to share with you.
Art, in my opinion, ranks somewhere along side science and love as a higher form of human communication than simple language. It is a necessity, for a world without it is a wasteland. We’d be no different than Chimps (or politicians) hooting at each other and marking out our territory. Because of this belief, I’ve made it my life’s mission to contribute to the this great human tradition in my own small way as best as I can. I’ve been lucky to have gotten an opportunity to do so and I hope you enjoy the results.
– Joseph Wayne Miller