Chris Milam @ Pisgah Brewing Co. 10-12-2016
What happens when a plan fails or a path forward disappears? What happens as you walk your way back?
After a tumultuous year, Chris Milam went to the studio with a dozen new songs that tackle these questions and define his sound. He emerges after months of recording with an eagerly-anticipated slate of new material, a collection of songs called Kids These Days. Its next single—“Tell Me Something I Don’t Know”—comes out September 27 on Namesake Records.
Following a broken engagement, Chris Milam lost everything but what he could fit in his car. Then, while on tour, that car—and everything in it—was stolen.
“That was the lowest moment. All I had was a garbage bag of clothes and some songs.”
The songs became the turning point: Milam teamed up with Memphis producer Toby Vest [High/Low Recording] to begin work on what would become Kids These Days. To fund the project, Milam spent a year without a home–couch-surfing, pet-sitting, troubadouring—saving for studio time rather than rent.
He called in Memphis musicians Greg Faison (drums), Pete Matthews (bass), Luke White (guitar), Jana Misener (cello) Krista Wroten (violin), and Vest (keys, effects) to illustrate the tension and sense of loss in each song.
“We wanted the record to feel atmospheric, dynamic, and unpredictable. It was important to me that these songs were built around live takes. Memphis musicians have a way of filling a song with life—beautiful, weird life.”
Last fall, Milam released the first single from this material, “Autumn,” a richly-orchestrated ballad about the moment his engagement ended. Its anthemic chorus identified the source of his heartache: “it’s not the break, but the breaking.” If “Autumn” depicts a breaking point, “Tell Me Something I Don’t Know”—the album’s biggest rocker—reflects the chaos that follows.
“I think everyone has a moment when they realize the grownups don’t have all the answers. At this time, I was desperate for answers and finding none. The song tracks that and the downward spiral that came with it.”
Both singles introduce the darker sounds and carefully-layered arrangements found throughoutKids These Days. These sounds evolved in the studio, but started with an atmospheric vocal, shimmering guitar, haunting strings, and a menacing drumbeat.
“Toby and I talked about combining elements of folk and classical with elements of rock and even hip hop. On one hand, there are strings and bright guitar tones. But underneath, there’s this dark, driving backbeat.”
“Tell Me Something I Don’t Know” typifies a record full of inflection points. Milam’s gift for melody and lyricism revisits the earlier comparisons to Paul Simon, but these songs draw heavier from other influences: Chris Bell, Damien Rice, and R.E.M. Reflecting the songs themselves, Milam’s voice has matured: plaintive vibratos shift in a flash to a shout, growl, or croon.
The album explores the ways in which “kids these days” aren’t kids any more. Each song has as its underlying question: “what now?” For Milam, the loss of a defining relationship carried with it the loss of youth. And it’s a break from that path, and that youth, that this record really mourns. Kids These Days examines loss while seizing the opportunity for change. For Chris Milam, this isn’t a break-up record; it’s a break from record.