Q&A: Miles Calder

Tuesday 20 April 2021

The very talented Wellingtonian, Miles Calder, is currently touring his new album and is set to play Tauranga this month. He spoke to us about living life on autopilot and what inspires him in everyday life.

Kia ora Miles, congratulations on the release of your debut solo album Autopilot Life! How does it feel to have the album out in the world and to be on tour in Aotearoa?

Miles Calder: We've had the album finished for a while so it's great to finally have it out. There's been such a positive response, especially cool to get lovely words back from other artists and people in the industry. It's heaps of fun to bring the album around the country as a live show and get to meet people loving it. 

With this album you’ve gone in a different direction, how does that feel? How would you describe the new sound?

MC: It feels more me than anything I've done before. When writing this album I let the songs fall out more than force them. The lyrics feel much more in my own conversational voice. I had also taken to the piano and electric guitar and a lot of the songs were written on these. I had always been confined to acoustic guitar, but I definitely rode the edge of my ability and comfort-zone for the piano and my parts of electric guitar on this album. I think you come up with heaps of pure, simple ideas that way... not clouded by virtuosity. I love the piano ballads like 'Autopilot Life' and 'Greener Grass'. And I could express the feeling of a song in whole new ways, like guitar solos on 'Take Me Back to How It Was' and 'Hold A Grudge'.

Sound-wise, my listening has definitely changed over the last few years, with deeper dives on a lot of late 60s, early 70s psychedelic rock like Beatles and Pink Floyd and others, as well as a bunch of current indie folkers like Kevin Morby, Jonathan Wilson, Damien Jurado, Richard Swift, Andy Shauf. I think overall we shot for the core of the tunes being vintage and familiar but dressed up with some less expected elements that give a bit of edge and atmosphere, like synth, electric guitars and effects.

What were the themes and inspiration for the album?

MC: The first songs started to be written when I was nearing the end of a year living overseas in New York and then Geneva ('Take Me Back to How It Was' and 'Lake Geneva' both started in Geneva). Most of the songs were written in the lead up to a break up of a long term relationship. If I'd actually examined my own lyrics I would've had the realisation that I wasn't on the right path sooner. It's a break-up album in genesis but I think it also got to something more universal in the snapping out of autopilot. 

Autopilot is pretty self-explanatory: Being stuck in just going through the motions... numb, scrolling, day jobs, stale relationships, routine, comfort, mindless entertainment. And the album is written from the gradual waking up from living an unexamined life. 

We love your merch. What was the idea around the pencil and notebook set?

MC: We wanted some merch to go along with the single release of 'Take Me Back to How It Was' before the album, and thought of these as something I'd want to buy. It's pretty on brand for me as I still write songs in notebooks with a pencil like a lil romantic try-hard. It's a nice faux leather soft-cover notebook with the lyric "Lost in a dream" embossed on it, and comes with the old maroon school-yard pencil with "Take Me Back to How It Was" on it. A tribute to getting lost in ideas, reflection and imagination, not content and distraction.

What/who is inspiring you right now? What are you reading, listening to, watching?

MC: I'm loving Jeff Tweedy's new book on songwriting How to Write One Song. It's so thoughtful and inspiring to just become a writing workhorse and find flow through it. I'm always reading old sci-fi for an escape too. 

I'm always inspired by so much music. There's obviously the influences mentioned above. Julia Jacklin is constantly arresting. I can't stop listening to my favourites for a few years Sam Evian, Sam Cohen, Kevin Morby. And I think everybody should do a deep delve on the three albums Damien Jurado made with Richard Swift (Maraqopa, Brothers & Sisters of the Eternal Sun, Visions of Us on the Land). Closer to home, I keep going back to Tiny Ruins Olympic Girls, and basically all of Phoenix Foundation.

You are performing at the Jam Factory this month and we can’t wait! What can we expect from the show?

MC: We're looking forward to coming back to the Jam Factory. The full band show is so much fun to do. We basically are playing the whole album and pushing the boat out a bit on some of the tunes with some jams. I get to play guitar and keys and we're even playing a couple of even newer tunes during the tour that we're hoping to record once we're back in Wellington.

Saturday 15 May
The Jam Factory, Tauranga
Tickets: eventspronto.co.nz

More info HERE