Awash in a melodic swath of near-psychedelic ether, Miller’s I Made You Up teeters between that delicate dream state of newborn refuge and Milky Way haze. Don’t let the SoCal singer-songwriter thing fool you: Miller’s unassuming yet gumptious approach places him squarely alongside the likes of troubadours Pete Droge/Steve Forbert but with flecks of Supertramp/Bowie-style transcendental grandeur.
I Made You Up is Michael Miller’s second full-length album. Miller describes the process as “effortless and Christmas-like” thanks to the group of elite luminaries involved. “They’re mostly old friends who all know each other and also happen to be some of the most sought after players in L.A. I feel remarkably fortunate to have had them on this project.”
The cast includes drummer Brendan Buckley (Damien Rice, Shakira), bassist Dan Rothchild (Sheryl Crow, Beck, Heart), pedal steel guitarist Eric Heywood (Ray LaMontagne, The Pretenders, Son Volt), keyboardist Patrick Warren (Aimee Mann, Fiona Apple, Tom Waits), guitarist Lyle Workman (Jellyfish, Beck, Sting), B3 organist and keyboardist Rami Jaffee (Foo Fighters, The Wallflowers), lap steel guitarist Ben Peeler (The Wallflowers, Jim White), cellist and violinist Stevie Blacke (Beck, Madonna, Snoop Dogg), guitarist Adam Zimmon (Shakira), and guitarist Mike Roe (The 77s).
“I think all of my songs have been greatly tainted by the fact that I was born on April Fool’s Day,” says Miller. “Many warble around the April Fool theme, whether it’s about someone who gets fooled by a ‘love-grift’ or the prankster who says one thing but pulls the rug out from under you as the punch line drops. It’s like there’s a sneaky, smirking devil inside. I’ve noticed that about myself, as well. I love the tricky riddle or putting people on or making a sweet, straight-faced tease. I think it is this same spirit of the April Fool that gets buried in all my songs, consciously or subconsciously.”
“The chorus of ‘Munkie’ (I Made You Up, track 5) is that for me sometimes ‘it’s April Fool’s Day every day,'” Miller explains. “I got a dear-john type letter one year on my birthday and despite the miserable heartache of that breakup, I still vividly remember thinking in that very moment, that it was a magnificent image that should go in a song and therefore was worth all the pain!”
In contrast, I Made You Up’s closer, “Million Lonely People” (which features guest vocals by Pete Yorn, Tracy Bonham, Amy Correia, and others) is a kumbayah-style, campfire sing-a-long with the underlying hope-filled message that everyone is loved by someone.
I Made You Up was produced by Miller, Buckley, and multi-instrumentalist, Joe Ongie, and recorded at New Monkey Studios in Van Nuys, CA by Mike Terry (Foo Fighters, The Eagles), and mixed by 3 time Grammy winner, Ryan Freeland (Aimee Mann, Crowded House, Bonnie Raitt, Ray LaMontagne).
Miller was born in Los Angeles and grew up with music as a constant. “My mother performed and sang professionally with her sisters and toured state fairs and made regular appearances on television and radio shows. There was constant singing in the Miller house. I can remember her rocking me to sleep with the Mockingbird lullaby, sweet a cappella hymns each Sunday at church, backseat harmony choruses on our long, summer vacation road trips. It was as natural and normal as exhaling or eating or laughing.”
Michael wrote his first songs at the tender age of 6. “My friend and I would write these silly theme songs about all the kids in the neighborhood. They were slightly cruel but extremely hilarious — at least to the minds of 6-year-olds — and we would get the rest of the kids to sing along.”
As an adult and now seasoned songwriter, Miller has made it a ritual habit to go exploring in other countries. “Long ago, it became an annual tradition and I guess my drug of choice. Besides the sweet freedom and built-in surprises of a new, faraway world, I love getting lost, literally, in strange lands, diving in and immersing myself in the local culture, and seeing how the natives live. It’s sort of like soul mining. I get to go dig for beauty and truth in other people’s backyards and the discoveries and treasure-finds typically end up in my songs in some way.”
When Miller is not out trotting the globe, you’ll find him drawing “little doodles,” as he calls them, for several different international greeting card lines. “I still have a line with Hallmark. At one point, they fired some of their best art directors and VPs, then axed my line, saying they were ‘reassessing their taste guidelines’ and thought my work was too irreverent or inappropriate,” he says, proudly. “They then asked if I would be willing to draw for their writers and editors on another line. I agreed but insisted that I use my pseudonym, which was in fact, my ‘porn star name’. You know that middle-school game? I still get a good laugh out of seeing my ‘porn star’ by-line in mainstream card racks.”