Atlanta, Georgia-based alt-rock artist Blueburst releases his new single/lyric video, “Vanish,” a track from his forthcoming unnamed album.
Blueburst, aka Craig Douglas Miller, is not your typical twenty-something singer-songwriter. He’s 50, and as Miller puts it, “I wasted 20+ years doubting myself and not finishing any music. So it’s extremely gratifying to be back now with the best music I’ve ever made. And it’s been a joy doing it with one of my favorite guitarists of all time.”
During the ‘90s, Miller’s band, The Reach, generated some interest from big labels, but nothing ever came of it. After that, because of clinical depression, writer’s block, and as Miller says, “perhaps a few too many gin and tonics,” he pretty much disappeared.
Things changed when Miller serendipitously connected with Marty Willson-Piper of The Church fame. Miller is back and pumping out superlative music.
Tattoo.com spoke with Craig Douglas Miller, aka Blueburst, to discover more about how he got started in music, his gear, and his alluring sound.
What inspired your latest single, “Vanish?”
I had this riff I liked that had been languishing on my hard drive since about 2005. I pulled it out again in 2020, and it just had a certain joy to it that reminded me of driving in a convertible, hitting the road, and getting the hell out of town. The line ‘Why don’t we just vanish in thin air? sprung up from that feeling, and with everything going on socially and politically at the time, not to mention the pandemic, hitting the road and saying ‘fuck it’ sounded pretty appealing.
Later in the writing of it, I realized that the arrangement was similar to The Who’s ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again,’ and I started seeing the song as sort of a sequel to it. I think Pete Townsend was saying he was happy to join the ‘revolution,’ but he was highly skeptical that it would do any good, and I suppose the ‘Meet the new boss, same as the old boss’ line implies that it didn’t.
To me, the characters in ‘Vanish’ are taking the next logical step. They have given up hope of making any change. They’re bailing out, hitting the road, and reveling in the freedom that’s given them, the freedom to just go make the most of their lives rather than fight an unwinnable war. It may seem like an irresponsible thing to do, and it is. But then again, what if EVERYBODY quit fighting? Hmmm…..
Once I started thinking of it that way, it made sense to have Michael Jerome play the very Keith Moon-esque drum fill coming out of the break as a little nod to The Who.
“Vanish” is the title track to your upcoming debut album. What can you share about the album?
Well, I actually don’t have a title for the album yet, although I’m considering calling it ‘No More Superhero Movies,’ because none of the new ones are as good as ‘Superman II’ in my view. And stubbornly clinging to the idea that the old way is better, is a huge part of what this project is musically.
I can tell you that the album mostly deals with the issues I’ve hit with turning 50 and living in such a big anonymous world. Wanting to make a mark before it’s all over, wanting to be heard, and moving beyond regrets for past mistakes…like spending 20 years drunk and depressed and not making any new music.
How and when did you first connect with Marty Willson-Piper?
I was a huge fan of The Church and have seen them play many times over the decades. When they came through Denver on tour in 2005, I contacted ‘band management’ to try and book them for an appearance at the ad agency I was working at in Boulder. Turns out that ‘band management’ at that time was Marty himself. And although they couldn’t do it, Marty invited me out for VIP treatment at the Denver show.
It was obvious then that he’s a terrific, fun, crazy smart person in addition to being a great musician. So a few years later, it was a no-brainer to book some of his ‘Songwriting and Guitar Guidance’ Skype sessions that he offers via Skype. We started with mostly talking about creative process together, and as he helped me to get myself unstuck, it evolved into a full-on collaboration.
In retrospect, it’s awfully hard to write music in a vacuum. Marty’s advice and input really helped me exorcise some demons and get writing again. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized more and more the value of mentorship, and how hard it is to find. Especially at age 50. Marty’s provided that and more, and it’s been exactly what I needed.
How did you get started in music?
I started as a drummer actually. At about age 10, I made a makeshift drum set out of some newspapers and pots and pans and played it with some sticks from the yard. I must have impressed my parents because they got me a snare drum, and later a full kit.
I only switched to guitar because a friend and I wanted to start a band, and he could play drums a little. I still love to bash out sloppy renditions of ‘Tom Sawyer’ on my electric kit now and then.
Speaking of Rush, that’s how I learned to play guitar, with a Rush songbook that had chord charts in it. I still have it actually.
Did your sound evolve naturally, or did you deliberately push it in a certain direction?
I think it evolved naturally. This album to me feels like a continuation of what I was doing in my ‘90s band The Reach. I feel like these songs are realizations of a sound I’ve had in my head since back then, but never quite achieved until now.
But the next album, I’d like to take a more deliberate approach and have an idea of what the album might be before I start writing for it. I love albums that hang together that way, with songs that play together in the same emotional sandbox. ‘Disintegration,’ ‘Pet Sounds,’ and ‘OK Computer’ all spring to mind.
Let’s talk gear for a moment. Which guitars, amps, and pedals are you currently using and why?
Guitar-wise I’ve generally been a Telecaster man. My 1992 Tele Plus Deluxe is the same model Jonny Greenwood plays, and it’s my most prized possession. But I’ve been branching out a bit at Marty’s behest and trying to use the right guitar for the part instead of just reaching for what’s comfortable. Gretsch 6120, a Rick 360 6 string and a 12 string, Fender Bass VI. We borrowed a vintage Fender Jazzmaster when Marty was here and I fell in love with it, so that’ll probably be my next purchase.
Amp-wise, I’m a new convert to vintage gear, so I just sold a bunch of stuff and purchased a 1966 Fender Pro Reverb, which I absolutely love. Turns out it was previously owned by Jeff Walls, who played with Guadalcanal Diary and sadly passed away a few years ago. I always loved his playing so it’s pretty special to play through that.
And pedals…I love my Acclam Windmiller preamp, I love my Dynacomp with the Ross mod. But I also have an MXR Limiter, which is much more subtle. The Greer Lightspeed is amazing and is made down the road from here in Athens, GA. I just purchased an Iron and Chime from Pettyjohn Electronics, which lives up to its name.
Are there any special recording techniques you use in the studio?
Nothing really unique for recording. But for mixing guitars, I love using tape or vinyl simulation plugins that add just a bit of warble or wow and flutter. I find that adds a certain melancholy to a guitar sound. The human ear actually does not like perfect sounds, like a pure sine wave. So I think the little imperfections, pitches, and volumes moving around sound great.
What inspires your writing? Do you draw inspiration from poems, music, or other media?
That’s a good question that I’m not sure I have a good answer for. Lyrically, I generally start by just singing gibberish over a track until I happen to say something I find interesting. So, I think it’s just whatever is subconsciously floating around my head.
Musically, I’m certainly hugely influenced by the bands I loved when I was in high school in the late ‘80s, The Cure, The Church, and obviously R.E.M. In the case of ‘Supernova’ which is going to be the second single, I started with the idea that I wanted to write something happy. I have a lot of old snippets from my dark days that are hugely depressing, and I wanted to balance that out with a bit of joy. Of course, then the lyrics wound up being about death, so….
What can you share about your writing process?
I generally start with a guitar idea, then put it over a drum groove, then add bass and more guitar, and then start thinking vocals. But I really want to branch out from that. I’ve never written a song where I just picked up an acoustic and wrote it, and I think there’s a real challenge to that which I’d like to take on.
Which artists in your opinion are killing it right now?
This is a tough one for me, as I tend to listen to the old albums that I love over and over and not keep up with new stuff. I find today’s ‘alternative’ music to often be as overproduced and slick sounding as the pop music it’s supposed to be an alternative to.
That being said…Michael Kiawanuka’s latest record is absolutely incredible. I think Wolf Alice is doing some amazing stuff. I also really enjoyed the new record from A Boy and His Kite and got to visit him at his studio in Colorado last fall. I saw Pavement play here in Atlanta, and they just killed it. The Flaming Lips ‘American Head’ is just terrific, one of their best. I don’t know how they do it. I really enjoyed Spoon’s new record, and I got to see them put on a terrific show in Nashville. Faye Webster is a terrific songwriter from here in Atlanta. I also dig Hazel English. And although it’s a few years old now, I thought Wilco’s ‘Ode to Joy’ album was one of their career highlights.
But, as I write this, I realize that all those artists are relatively languid and emotional in what they do. I miss music that makes me want to pump my fist or get up and dance. So, I’m trying to make some!
What can your fans look forward to over the next six months? Music videos? Live gigs?
I’ll be releasing a new single every month for at least six months. And then I’ll be looking at putting out a full album around September. I did a lyric video with my photographer friend Gus Schmiege, and we’re going to try and do some more. I’m also going to start releasing “live-coustic” renditions of some of the songs that I’m recording in my studio.
As far as live, Blueburst has just been a recording project thus far. But I’m going to be playing some acoustic shows this Spring and Summer in Atlanta and Athens. As far as playing as a full band, I would LOVE to get Marty, Michael, Ryan, Riley, Brian and more together in Atlanta at some point to do some shows, but that’s a pretty huge logistical hurdle at the moment. So, I’m planning to reach out to some local folks to see if we could put together a working Atlanta version of Blueburst.