How do you live up to the task of entering the same business that your father helped to create and redefine?
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This is a question that sometimes haunts those whose parents are famous songwriters or musicians. After talking to Dean Miller, I get the impression that he is on the right track to finding the answer. He is doing so by simply being himself.How do you live up to the task of entering the same business that your father helped to create and redefine?
This is a question that sometimes haunts those whose parents are famous songwriters or musicians. After talking to Dean Miller, I get the impression that he is on the right track to finding the answer. He is doing so by simply being himself.
When I first listened to Dean’s CD, Dean Miller, on Capitol Records, it hit me from the start that here is a guy who is different not only from the mainstream but from his legendary songwriting father, the late Roger Miller, who most feel is one of the most influential country lyricists ever. If you don’t know Roger Miller’s work check out Randy Travis’ version of “King of the Road” or go buy a copy of the sheet music to Big River a musical written from Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn.
Dean is wise beyond his years and it gives me hope in the record industry that a major label is presenting a young artist who actually has some wisdom under his belt. This is not a Garth clone. Dean is definitely his own man. The main similarity between Dean and his father are that Dean writes almost all his own material on the debut album. I asked him about his writing and how he approaches his craft.
“When I sit down to write, it’s different every time. Sometimes I’ll get a line or a thought that I’ll put down, but often I’ll get a whole verse or chorus. Things just come to me. I don’t try to mold anything to what I think somebody wants. Often you’ll see the pitch sheet around town and it will say ‘no drinking songs this week.’ But I don’t pay much attention to that, I just try to write what I would like to hear and not toward a market. With each song I try to have some integrity or diversity and I like to write about the human experience.”
Dean wrote his first songs at the age of 13, and though he wouldn’t sing any them for you now, he said that a few germs of those tunes remain in his writing today.
“There wasn’t a difference between writing a song and learning a song. Everybody in my family was musical, so we all wrote. The main thing I kept with me was to be original. I never want to sound like anything else. I just wanted to be myself. This is something that’s stayed with me through people saying that I sounded too edgy or not edgy enough or too middle of the road. I’ve tried not to change at all.”
This focus has lead to a debut album that wasn’t tampered with in the slightest according to Dean. Apparently his resolve to “be himself” paid off when the timing was right. At first he said that the label was worried that he would turn in something that wasn’t marketable, but by the time it was done they were happy with the outcome. This hangs in with his general philosophy.
“My main hope is to touch people emotionally. I remember doing a radio show when someone called in and was crying because of a line in one of my songs. That’s really important to me, to get some kind of reaction out of people. To try to do something other than what I do wouldn’t translate. People would know just by listening that I was trying to be something I’m not.”
It’s hard to avoid asking obvious questions in the event of interviewing someone of Dean Miller’s pedigree. So I inquired about his Dad’s influence on his writing. I was pleasantly surprised to find someone who was open in regard to a sensitive topic.
“My dad is definitely the biggest influence on me, not in style but in approach. He taught me how to be a professional. Some of his advice about lyric writing was valuable as well. He said not to ever write more than five words in a line. You should say what you want to say in as few words as possible. I got my outlook on the industry from my dad. He told me not to take criticism too seriously. I always try to look at the source of advice from people. If they say something negative it might often be just because they want to get you out of their office. I learned all this from my dad.”
There’s always a down side of being a famous person’s offspring. Often it takes the form of great expectations. I’ve found this to be true with my dad, Michael Martin Murphey, and Dean agreed.
“Sometimes it’s a self-induced pressure that keeps you from progressing, but it mainly comes out in a pre-conceived thought of what your dad is. Sometimes when I go in to play a song for someone, they’ll spend 10 minutes just talking about something they remember about him, and when it comes time to play a song, they won’t listen because of an idea they already have about the way he sounded and how I should sound. The baggage that goes along with it can be frustrating, but for the most part it helps more than it hurts because of all the great experiences I’ve had as a result of my situation.”
I asked Dean about his place in the current country music field and where he fits in.
“I would like to see country music broaden to include more music. They always say it’s darkest before dawn and right now it seems everyone is trying to hold onto the narrow. The industry is definitely in change but I don’t necessarily want to force it on anyone. I want to ride the fence, but we’re so immersed in this in Nashville and I think everyone needs to relax. The funny about it all is that you can wait for all this time to make it and it comes down to a 10-12 week period in which you either make it or you don’t. The public doesn’t care about Nashville politics and who wrote what or who published what. So I try not to concentrate on that too much.”