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Adam Miller Provides Insight Into His New Release, UNIFY​



JGT Editor Bob Bakert talks to Australian jazz guitarist Adam Miller about his new project, UNIFY – release date August 7, 2020.

JGT:  Tell us a bit about this project and why this record now?

Adam: UNIFY is the story of finally moving across the world from Australia to Los Angeles to keep chasing the dream so to speak. All 9 tracks are new original compositions. The music is as much influenced by the LA scene as the music scene in Australia. 

This album is my first to be recorded in Los Angeles CA. All but one of my previous releases have been recorded in my hometown of Newcastle, Australia, so though this was a great way to cement myself into my new home. The trio is the group I played with most consistently in 2019, Joel Gottschalk on bass & Justin Glasco on drums. I guess none of us really true jazz guys, so the album definitely has a groove and solidarity to it of serving the songs first & foremost. 

I was in Australia when the pandemic hit and my flight back to the USA was scheduled a few days after all the borders closed. It was a tough time – missing out on a few months of tours in the US, but we (my wife Holly & I) were also finally getting our own place in LA. Previously we’d been on tour so much that we only had temporary rooms for 2-3 weeks at a time. So it’s kind of funny that UNIFY is about the uncertainty of life in a lot of ways – and it’s continuing on in a way no one could’ve imagined!!

It was an interesting time to think about releasing new music. As it was mixed and mastered in March, I initially wanted to get it out straight away. I think the music carries such a great positive message that people could relate to and help them through rough times. 

But then I realised that I finally had the opportunity to work on a release the way I’d always dreamed, without the obligations of touring and a general hectic life. So I took the time to look at it different and put the time into making videos and trying to look at this as a huge positive too. The album preview video ended up being a sort of mini-documentary of my 2019. It was so much fun to back and look at photos and videos and re-live the year. I never would’ve had time to think about making that if I was touring and booking shows. And I never would’ve had the time to push my iPhone iMovie skills to the limit to make it myself!!

JGT:  What would you consider unique in regard to your musical approach?

Adam: I guess as a guitar player I’ve got through a lot of focuses throughout my career so far. Most of my early work was solo fingerstyle guitar (more Chet Atkins, then Joe Pass), and then I slowly worked my way back to the electric guitar and working with ensembles. I’ve always had a love of contrapuntal independence and so my songs generally start as a fully formed solo guitar arrangement. Studying Charlie Hunter’s playing for years definitely gave me the grounding in being able to play almost any feel by myself (with a few weeks of solid practice). 

This new record certainly has elements of that, but is often more subtle in the way I combine chords and melody playing. Playing with an incredible section of Joel & Justin meant that I really wanted to leave space for them. There are a few songs where I overdubbed some acoustic guitar and Frisell style loops to create more of a sonic bed.  

My focus was really on establishing the melodies in the most beautiful way I could. From a playing perspective and a tonality perspective. 

JGT:  Can talk about the scene in Australia?

Adam: Australia’s jazz scene has always been very small and may even be getting smaller with fewer venues. I believe now even Sydney (the largest city in Australia) only has one dedicated regular jazz Venue left. 

Australia has quite a small population for a large spread out  country of around 25 million. Touring is almost non existent outside the major cities. I think that’s why you’ll find so many Australian musicians out over the world. 

But that has never seemed to have an impact on the talent and exploration of the musicians. My love of jazz definitely started with incredible Australian artists that the world probably hasn’t caught onto unless you’re super hip. Check out guitarist James Muller & bassist Steve Hunter – two of my all time favourites. 

My home town of Newcastle has one regular weekly jazz gig that I actually still help book. But there’s great music going on everywhere and certainly I find that younger people are getting into jazz more & more, especially through the almost vitality of bands like Snarky Puppy. I can do a show at any venue and present either solo or a trio of my original music to a full room of people ranging from 18-70 years old! 

Of course COVID-19 is going to have a very real affect on this. Australia is in a good place right now, with almost nil cases in my state of NSW, so venues are starting to open up, but restricted to very small numbers of about max 40 pending venue size. It’s hard to know how it’s going to look, especially for small jazz venues. 

JGT:  What are the challenges of international travel as a touring act?

Adam: Being based in Australia for so long has been, it has been super expensive to actually get around the world. Flights are long (I once did a 54hr transit day from Australia to Germany – story for another time), and you have to try to make all the dates link up well to make the trips worthwhile.

One thing that shocks a lot of people is just how hard work visas are for different countries. Without having a huge budget promoter it’s basically up to me to try to sort all these things out. The USA is by far the most difficult. 

As a solo musician you have to get an O-1 visa – which is also known as an ‘Extraordinary Talent Visa’ – no joke! That doesn’t sound too bad, but you have to prove all this legally on paper. You need years of press clippings, reference letters, government documents, plus all your work calendared up for up to 3 years and a sponsor that you’re working for (hopefully agent, manager, arts organisation etc). Then you pretty much have to pay an immigration attorney to do it! This process can cost anywhere from US$3k to US$8k with no guarantee of getting it, and all before you ever play a gig! Something to consider before demanding your favourite non-US artist to play your local club!! 

Each country has its own process, and whilst it’s stressful to work out, I’ve come to embrace it as part of the process of the honor of getting to share my music with the world. 

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