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Making The Most of Haunting, Sparse Production to Record a Raw Masterpiece
“When you get discouraged, use it and don’t let it defeat you.”
Lee Miles aka Chief Ghoul is no stranger to introspection. I’m sleeping on a bed of nails, but when I get home, I’ll have a story to tell (“Bed of Nails”). Lee has returned and is gracing us with this third album, appropriately titled III. Everyone has a story to tell and our beginning is just as important as our middle and inevitable end. Flashing back to when he was twelve years old, Lee first picked up the guitar and made things up as he went.
Having grown up in Kentucky, he made the move to Chicago when he was twenty-one; at the time, he wasn’t writing music. The Chicago music scene greatly influenced his musical perceptions. He became one with the blues, immersed himself in Chicago and dug into the city’s history. “Chicago is a gritty city and I mixed that sound with Louisville and ended up with a good merge of the two.” Lyrically, Bob Dylan influenced Lee; structurally, Duchess and The Dukes influenced his strong writing, but King Dude is the one who got him writing in the first place.
Recorded at The Nook in Chicago, Lee completed recording the LP in just three days. His dedication to driving 90 minutes to the studio every day is reflected in the solid, well-crafted album he has produced. The atmosphere was relaxed, as it was just himself in the studio, first laying down the guitar tracks and then the vocals. He wanted the album to feel natural, and he was wholly successful in that endeavor. “It just happened. It is important, to me, to have a live experience.” Upon listening to the album, it felt like I was standing in front of the stage, and Lee was singing solely to me.
The album experiments with elements of alt-country, folk, rock and blues; it’s a truly special sound. The writing and recording process took place during a particularly difficult time in Lee’s life but he seems to have harnessed that and turned it into a raw and emotional listening experience. His lyrics are like poetry; he takes elements from the past and his present experiences. Lyrically, he finds himself turning to a lot of Biblical references; he considers himself spiritual and on a journey. “I wrote about things that I was going through and there has never been a different feeling for me across my albums.”
Reflecting upon his songwriting experience, he notes, “It is really therapeutic [for me] to sit down and write a song. I want everyone to relate to my experiences and as a result, relate to the songs.”
Inspiration sometimes strikes randomly and sometimes is planned. For Lee, it is a mix of both, however he makes it a priority to sit down and write songs, guitar tracks, and lyrics as often as he can. A lot of songs have been started and then left behind to be eventually matched with music composed at another isolated time. He’s inspired not only by his own introspective moments but from seemingly monotonous activities like reading, walking and watching movies. “When I read something and like the way the words sound, I try to spin it and relate to it personally.” Walking, a seemingly mindless activity, allows us to interact with the outside world, providing mental stimulation. Watching movies, on mute, “relying on only the visual elements, gives me inspiration.”
Speaking of visual elements, Lee just unveiled an epic video for “Roll Baby Roll, Kill Baby Kill.” [WATCH ABOVE]
He explains, “It’s a biker exploitation- a sub genre of film in the ’60s and ’70s. We are drinking and riding and having a good time.” The video is a solid visual representative of what Lee expresses lyrically. There is a hype around this catchy song, and knowing that Lee was hanging out, drinking beers, shooting guns, and having fun with the video, makes it an even better musical experience.
Every song on the album is identifiable by its uniquely different sound and lyrical theme. “Wild West” comes across as longing for a sense of belonging and seeming unsettled. When I spoke with Lee, he affirmed my assumptions, and noted that at the time he wrote the track, he was planning on moving to California but it did not work out. Having the ability to convey a deeper meaning through musical and lyrical elements is rare, and to have those equally expressed across an entire album using just raw, sparse production is even rarer.
In discussing the “Wild West” and its relation to feeling unsettled, Lee expressed that “the more I think back to the wild west, that era of time, and how it would have been…it would have been tough times, but it would have been an experience.” Insightful moments like these are strewn throughout the album. I belong in the wild west (“Wild West”). Lee would be an equal mixture of a cowboy and outlaw. “You have to do what you have to do all while having a moral code.”
With a song title like “I’m On Fire,” one expects it to be filled with more angst about something specific but upon listening, it is obvious that Lee has harnessed and accepted whatever his demon was. It is by far the bluesiest song on the album. A lot of topics are touched upon and each listen reveals something different – layers of truth with just a voice and guitar.
The best advice comes from someone who has been through it all. Lee put me at ease: “When you get discouraged, use it and don’t let it defeat you. Don’t let it overwhelm you to the point where you don’t do anything at all.” Music is a therapeutic experience, whether you listen to it or create it. “Do it for yourself. It will come out they way it comes out and it will have special energy of its own.”
Follow on Twitter @ChiefGhoul
Photography by John Towner