Many times the stereotype of a successful musician is that of a carefree gypsy with no roots or responsibilities, but with the release of her first EP, Anchor, Heather Miller turns that assumption on its head by releasing an inspiring collection of rootsy, melodic songs after spending a year anchoring herself to her art and her calling.
Growing up in Fairfield, Iowa, Miller surrounded herself with art and music at a young age. She remembers being steeped in acoustic music with her father playing Donovan and Pete Seeger on guitar along with hefty doses of the Beatles. Though she hung around the theater crowd in high school, it wasn’t until college that she began to find her musical groove. Lilith Fair was at its peak, and Miller dove into the catalogs of Sarah McLachlan, Dar Williams, and other prominent female singer-songwriters. She also taught herself how to play guitar and started performing at open mics. In 2008, Miller began DJing her own show for women singer-songwriters called Lyrical Venus on KRUU, a solar powered radio station in Fairfield. Her passion for music and the women artists she was inspired by transformed into a platform to share their music with a larger population. The show still currently runs every Wednesday on KRUU and streams globally online. http://kruufm.com/lyrical-venus
It was 2011, however, that brought about a seismic shift in Miller’s relationship to her path in music. While she was championing the art of so many songwriters via her Lyrical Venus radio show and blog, she still felt a void in relation to her own art. The nagging calling to do something led her to find Rubicon Artist Development in Austin, Texas, a recording studio and year-long mentorship program founded by producer and musician Daniel Barrett. Rubicon offered intensive study and goal-oriented mentoring in writing, musicianship, performing, and recording.
Sometimes an anchor has to travel a long ways before it finds some ground to settle in, and in Miller’s case she had some life re-organizing to do. With the support of her husband who stayed in Iowa, she sold her car and rearranged her life to be able to afford the Rubicon program and a year of living in Austin. She packed two suitcases and her guitar and left home behind for a year of intense focus on her craft.
Working with Barrett, Miller spent the year in the Live Music Capital of the World not only working on her inner musical self, but putting her performer self into the world. Barrett suggested she start performing at open mics to hone her skills, and throughout the course of the year she performed at over 150 open mics, showcases, and gigs in Austin and formed a band during her time there. “I just jumped in and started swimming, and it was foundational and transformational to my confidence, self-acceptance and professionalism as a musician,” she says. She also closed out her year by recording Anchor, a 5-song EP.
The songs on Anchor reflect Miller’s journey from Iowa to Texas, with opening track “Keep Telling Me” addressing the fears that everyone faces when trying to take a big leap in life. “Shoreline of Alaska” again explores searching for something greater while trying to make it through every day existence. “Jonah’s Whale” continues the nautical theme of the record with a twist on an old story that addresses the inner turmoil of being a human…or a whale. “Rain Song” pulls from Miller’s first long, hot summer in Austin, perhaps an overly warm welcome with drought conditions, fire warnings, and 100+ degree weather. The chorus of “Everybody needs a rain song, something to sing when it’s been dry too long,” becomes a classic folk song, a simple prayer set to melody. Finally, the title track, written when Miller first arrived in Austin, turns out to be a self-fulfilled prophecy. “I’m leaving behind everything I know to follow the calling deep within my soul…I’m gonna throw my anchor down, gonna hold my head up high.”
Sonically, the album pulls from Miller’s acoustic folk roots and builds on them with appearances by some of Austin’s finest musicians. Rick Richards on drums (Joe Walsh, Dixie Chicks, Mary Gauthier), Red Young on piano and Hammond organ (Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt), Daniel Barrett on guitar and bass (porterdavis), and Warren Hood on fiddle (The Waybacks) are all featured on Anchor.
After coming to Austin to explore the life of a working musician first hand, Miller left not only having seen it but was living it daily, and with the release of Anchor, she is planting herself firmly in the musical world and following her calling. “I don’t have that nagging voice anymore asking, “When are you going to do the music?” Now it’s like, this is who I am and what I do…you don’t get freaked out about how to make eggs in the morning…you just do it. All that anxiety of wishing and hoping isn’t there anymore. It’s happening.”
I remember as a kid, wearing a cape and somewhere upwards of 17 crazy pigtails, bouncing around the bedroom of a small trailer in Iowa, changing the colors to “Yellow Submarine” for as long as my dad would play it. I can still recall the smell and texture of the covers of the songbooks he had for Donovan and Pete Seeger tunes. Thus my musical journey began…
School years included plenty of singing in choirs and musical theater productions and the occasional campfire sing-along.
Fast-forward to college, one of my neighbors in the dorm went on a month long study abroad trip and left me with her guitar and a book of Easy Beatles Songs. I taught myself chords by fumbling through those familiar songs, guided by my memories of how they were supposed to sound.
A college music class came with the homework to write a bit of a melody every day! With no real facility to play melody on an instrument, I had to sing my assignments. I turned to my journals filled with poetic ramblings, picked a few bits and pieces here and there and quickly a small catalog of songs began to build.
After college, my practical side took me through a series of jobs to pay off my student loans. I learned a lot about many things that I’m grateful to know but music was mostly put on the back-burner.
Now I’m slowly creeping back in, observing and inspired by the world around me and writing little songs that make me happy. I hope you can hear the joy, even in the sad ones. :)
Lately I’ve been having fun hosting a radio show on my town’s little low-power grassroots community station - KRUU-LP 100.1 FM. My show is called Lyrical Venus and the focus is on female singer-songwriters. We only broadcast within a 15 mile radius, but you can listen anywhere in the world online at www.kruufm.com Tune in Wednesday mornings at 9am Central!
I also like to blog! If you like female singer-songwriters, check out my other blog - lyricalvenus.com