Songwriter Chris Milam’s new album Meanwhile goes against all label trends and offers a palette of warm and neutral-like tones and instrumentation. It’s the best way the songwriter knows how to convey his intimate new material about surviving life’s trials and changes.
“I wrote these songs while my dad was sick in 2017 to 2019,” Milam told American Songwriter. “They’re not all about him, but they’re all about limbo, ways we get through the day. By virtue (or vice) of my life then, there’s a lot of isolation, depression and bad habits. So, in December 2019, I walked into the studio and inadvertently made a quarantine album.”
“This album’s extremely vulnerable,” he added. “The trend is to use electronic instruments to communicate loss and loneliness, to steel yourself against vulnerability. My producer Toby and I wanted the opposite: warm sounds, live performances and acoustic instruments. We wanted it to feel as intimate and human as possible. We talked about albums and production styles from the 70’s. A lot of introspective music amid terrifying civil unrest. Most of Meanwhile works in the same way: from the inside-out.”
The Memphis singer-songwriter also notes the detailed differences between his previous records and this one, explaining Meanwhile is a songbook with a non-linear story, where his last record Kids These Days stuck to a chronological method of storytelling.
“There are lines, riffs, pieces of arrangement that echo each other,” said Milam. “Kind of voices in my head, or memories, or dreams, that keep recurring-the sounds of a broken psyche.”
The inner psychological turmoil is illuminated in the lyrical lines in the title track: ‘I was half a man when you found me/Heaven only knows what you’d leave’. The sparse and conventional instrumentation produced through piano, subtle strings, and acoustic elements grants room for Milam’s vocals to distinctively share the narrative.
“In The Blood” another from the 10-song track-list shows a different side to Milam’s songwriting. While it still holds to similar instrumentation and the use of warm tones, it does lean heavily on electric guitar and even peppers in some psychedelic sounds, outlining a sense of transformation and the uncertainty that comes during transitional times.
Meanwhile is out April 24 and the retrospective songs came to life with the help of producer Toby Vest and engineer Pete Matthews at Memphis’ High Low Recording, both Milam had previously worked with. A small but mighty crew of studio musicians fleshed out the record with Milam, including Lucero’s Rick Steff on keys, guitarist Steve Selvidge from The Hold Steady, Marc Franklin of Gregg Allman on trumpet and Milam’s longtime touring buddy, cellist Elen Wroten.