You may have heard her song “6’2” on ABC’s Dancing with the Stars, or maybe you came in contact with her first single “You’re Not Alone” via CMT. Either way, Marie Miller is ready to recapture your ears with her new album, Letterbox.
The songstress used her love of literature to jumpstart her songwriting career at a young age. To this day, she still turns to classic novels for inspiration for her beautiful lyrics and melodies. Combining a character who is dear to her heart with one of her own experiences results in the narrative style she’s made her signature.
To capture her folk-pop sound, Miller teamed up with Eric Rosse and Chad Copelin, two producers who helped bring the songs of Letterbox to life. I grabbed a few minutes with Miller to talk about the album, her favorite books, and of course, being in Austin for South by Southwest.
Vinyl Mag: First of all, what shows are you playing at South by?
Marie Miller: On Tuesday, I’m playing Nashville House, so that will be awesome!
VM: Is there anyone you’re looking forward to seeing perform?
MM: I kind of love to just wander. So not a particular artist; I just like being mixed in with all the music and the crowds. It’s really fun.
VM: What’s your favorite part about performing?
MM: I love so many parts about performing. I’ve been performing since I was really little. Just that feeling of connecting to an audience, being on stage and being able to share who you are with strangers and have a connection … it’s really amazing.
VM: I know you love using classic books as inspirations for your songs. Was literature always your favorite subject growing up?
MM: Yes, definitely. It was the only thing I did in school that I would do outside of school. Literature is amazing and still a huge part of my life.
VM: Do you have an all-time favorite book?
MM: I have a few favorite books. I would say Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, Anna Karenina by Tolstoy, Lord of the Rings and The Great Gatsby. I’m old school; I don’t know a lot of new books. People will be like, “Oh my gosh, have you read this New York Times best seller,” and I’m just still catching up on old stuff first.
VM: What is it about those books that makes you want to write a song?
MM: Well, all of those characters in the books that I’ve read, they’re just so vivid to me. I think a great book makes the characters just run out of the page and become part of your life and part of your story. For me, those characters get to play a part in my songwriting. So I’m writing a song, and it has something to do with something that happened in real life, but then maybe I’ll intertwine a character that I met in a book but that has become really real to me.
VM: How do you make that relatable to the average listener even if they haven’t read that particular book?
MM: I think that a lot of the struggles and triumphs and the situations are pretty universal. So just things like love, friendship, suffering, trying to get through hard times, courage–all those things we all can universally relate to, and those characters are just having particular instances of those things. So, for example, “This Side Of Paradise”—which was the first song that came out from the new album—is inspired by an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel called This Side of Paradise, but you probably wouldn’t even know that. Mainly when people hear it they go, “Oh, that sounds like a song where you’ve had a really crappy day and you’re trying to just rally yourself.”
VM: Would you consider yourself more of a lyricist than a musician?
MM: I think more in between … I would say a performer, actually, because there are a lot of musicians that are quite a bit better than me, and there are people that can song-write better than me. So for me, my sweet spot is performance, and it’s just super natural to me, like I have absolutely no idea what stage fright is–I’ve never experienced it!
VM: Well, you mentioned you’ve been performing since a really young age, right?
MM: Yeah, so I started performing at probably 11 or 12, so it’s been awhile!
VM: Tell me about your song “6’2″—I love the title so I have to know the story behind it.
MM: So, “6’2” is about not being too picky with who you date. This girl is saying “I don’t care,” and then she gives a long list up to his height. To me, the song was totally a joke. It was kind of making fun of girls and how they can be that way, but it’s been amazing because it was on Dancing with the Stars which was cool. But also people will say like, “We danced to this song at my wedding” and “I heard it on the radio, and it made me think of this guy with blonde hair and blue eyes that I met a few days ago, and I got the strength to write him” or whatever. So it’s been a really cool song even though for me it’s not my favorite song, it’s still been really neat to see the stories from it.
VM: What was the best part about making this new album, Letterbox?
MM: It was just an incredible experience–a long one, just years of writing and then it took a year and a half to record everything. But the particular experience for me would be recording in Los Angeles, and my sister was with me, so she got to be part of that. I hadn’t really spent a lot of time in LA, and I absolutely loved it. We were like six minutes from the studio, so it was really easy to get there, and the people were amazing, and I grew a lot just from being there for a month. It was really special.
VM: What about the most difficult part?
MM: We worked with a lot of producers, and I think that finally finding Chad Copelin who produced seven out of the 12–that took a long time. So trying to find the right fit to make the songs reflect what my sound was and not making it sound too country or making it sound too pop–making it that perfect blend of folk and pop is pretty hard to do, and I think Chad did an amazing job. But that took a long time.
VM: How did you choose which songs to put on the album?
MM: Well, it’s sort of a process. We have producers helping me choose, and then my A&R at the record label. So it’s all of us talking, and I really got everything that I really wanted on it, which is great because I have to sing it every night—they don’t! But it was difficult, and I think it’s the right group of songs. But now I’m actually writing a lot right now so I’m like, “Let’s record more!”
VM: Which song off the album are you most excited to perform at SXSW?
MM: It’s always really fun to perform “This Side Of Paradise.” It’s just a ton of energy, and I play it on my mandolin, and I love playing my mandolin.
VM: One question we’ve been asking all of our SX artists is: barbecue or tacos?
MM: Oh gosh, I could not decide that, I really couldn’t. Those are my two favorite foods! I love fish tacos or carnitas–all that! And then for barbecue, it’s kind of everything. I was born in Dallas, and I’ve got a lot of family in Texas so Mexican food and barbecue–those are my family’s favorites.