Adam Miller (ex Chromatics) tells us about the influences behind his solo debut ‘Gateway’
Adam Miller, who was one-third of Chromatics (who broke up last year), released his debut solo album, Gateway, today. “When I’m in a good workflow, I usually start my day off by just picking up a guitar, zoning out, and recording whatever is passing through the quantum field at the time," Adam says. "It’s a visceral process. I’m not even really paying attention to what I’m doing as I’m recording. I’m usually at my purest creatively at the very beginning of the day, and over the years, I’ve recorded whatever happens in the moment and then organized that material into a library that I’ve continued to draw from." It's gorgeous stuff, 18 airy guitar instrumentals, and you can stream the whole thing below.
We asked Adam to tell us more about the inspirations behind Gateway, and he gave us list of musicians, artists and writers, including the Durutti Column (you can definitely hear that influence), Mary Lattimore, Pharoah Sanders, and more. He also wrote about each item on his list and includes a few Chromatics anecdotes sprinkled in too. It makes a nice read while listening to Gateway. Check it out below.
ADAM MILLER - 10 INFLUENCES BEHIND 'GATEWAY'
Wandering Lucy – “Blacklist Bob”
When I was growing up in South Minneapolis, there was (and still is) a record store called Roadrunner Records on Nicollet Avenue, two blocks away from my parents’ house. I bought this Wandering Lucy 7” at Roadrunner back in 1994. It still has the price tag and the date stickered to the cover. When I look back on the music that has influenced me the most in my life, this record will always be at the top of that list. Most of the 7” is just one surfy/reverb-heavy electric guitar playing over a preset vintage drum machine pattern. Similar to how a lot of demos for Chromatics songs would begin and how all of the music on Gateway started out as too. The music on this record is mysterious and minimal. There is so much space for a listener to get lost inside. This little 7” record really is an entire world in and of itself to me. As a music lover, I can’t wish for more than that. When that little world is generated, it creates a space for me to dream inside of.
Willie Hutch – The Mack Soundtrack
One of my closest friends, Bryce, gave me this album over 20 years ago. I’ve loved it ever since then but I’ve gone back to it a lot the past couple years and have an even deeper appreciation for it today. The pacing and sequencing of the soundtrack tells the story of the film so well it’s almost like it is entirely its own movie. I wanted Gateway to tell a story, and I sourced a lot of inspiration from this soundtrack. It’s why I opened and closed the album with the songs I did. The combination of the music and dialogue in the intro to “Brother’s Gonna Work It Out” always gives me chills.
I love Willie Hutch, there’s just something about him, you can tell he was an old soul and a deep thinker. You can feel it in the music. Richard Pryor is in the film as well and his presence gives the picture even greater layers of depth.
I once listened to an interview with a comedian (I can’t remember who) about when he was coming up in the comedy circuit. He would go watch Richard Pryor perform in small clubs as he was at the height of his fame in the early '80s. Pryor would be testing out new material in the clubs and bombing every night, oftentimes clearing out the rooms. The young comedian was so surprised how unphased Richard Pryor was by the negative reactions. One evening after one of those perceived failed performances, as the two discussed the evening, Richard Pryor told the young comedian, “son, you’re only as good as you dare to be bad.” Those words have strongly resonated with me ever since I heard that interview.
Ash Ra Tempel “The Fairy Dance”
When Chromatics played in Cologne, Germany in 2019 I was able to go record shopping. I found a copy of this Ash Ra Tempel album “Starring Rosi” at a store I cannot remember the name of. I was trembling a little when I spotted it in the racks, as I had been looking for this album for years. It’s never been on streaming platforms. The song “The Fairy Dance” is special. It’s ethereal, it’s cosmic, it’s almost medieval. The best of all those things. I want to live in it.
Ash Ra Tempel / Ashra / Manuel Göttsching have made some of my favorite music ever. I can listen to them all day long, sometimes I do. I get turned off by a lot of music where I can tell the musicians are technical virtuosos because sometimes I feel it can lack the emotional content I’m always hunting for in music. Once guitar solos get involved in a song, it can easily cross the line into overly masculine terrain to my ears. It can become dudes just trying to show off. Ash Ra Tempel is not like that at all, it’s the complete opposite of that. It’s very sensual and even at their jammiest of points, there’s always a purpose behind the jamming, at least to my ears.
Kraków Loves Adana – “Faded To Black”
Kraków Loves Adana was the opening band for Chromatics on some dates of our last-ever tour in Europe fall of 2019. I didn’t get to know Deniz Çiçek (the singer/songwriter/instrumentalist of the group) that well on the tour because being on the road can be highly stressful, and a lot of that trip I was just in survival mode. When I finally started my own Instagram profile in 2020, Deniz and I got in touch and have since become close.
Deniz is a very honest and direct, no BS person. She also writes beautiful songs with huge melodies that stay in your head forever. I’ve since collaborated with her on some upcoming Kraków Loves Adana tracks but more importantly, I’ve made a friend with whom I can always have an honest conversation. We have spent a lot of time just talking about music, ideas, inspiring each other. I love her music. Kraków Loves Adana played this song “Faded To Black” every night of that tour. It stuck in my head immediately after my first time hearing it and there’s rarely a day that goes by where it doesn’t play in my head, along with other songs of hers like “Young Again,” and “Follow The Voice.”
Growing up in my parents’ home we had a few of Elise’s paintings hanging on the walls because she was my great aunt. I think having those paintings integrated into my daily life had a deep influence on me as an artist in ways that I’m only now just understanding. The paintings feel like nebulous hanging portals, inviting the viewer to slip inside another reality. On my new album Gateway, that is how the experience of creating some of the music felt for me, like I was opening portals to healing and self-discovery. It wasn’t the goal, there was no goal other than just to create and relay what I was feeling at the time but I hope the influence of Elise’s art lives on in my work today.
I only met Elise a couple of times because she lived in New York City and was averse to flying. When Chromatics went on our first ever full US tour in 2002, opening for The Gossip, we stayed in New York City for about a week. I contacted Elise and her husband, the poet Stanley Kunitz, and they invited me over to their place one muggy New York summer afternoon.
Elise and Stanley had me enthralled with all their stories of the mid-century NYC modern art community they were a part of. They were right there, in the middle of all of it. If I remember correctly, they had a Rothko hanging on their wall (although it might’ve been a Robert Motherwell). When, in awe, I asked Elise, “How do you guys have a Rothko hanging on the wall?” she just casually told me in her eccentric old Jewish lady voice, “They were our friends so we traded with them.” She even appeared a little shocked that I would be shocked by the fact that they had a Rothko on their wall. If my recall of the correct artist is a little spotty in this story, it is also because by the time I left their beautiful Greenwich Village apartment, at Stanley’s insistence, the three of us had nearly finished off an entire bottle of scotch. At the moment of my visit, Stanley was 96 and Elise was 90. That was the last time I ever saw her, she died two years later.
Pharoah Sanders “Love Is Everywhere”
I listened to this record a lot while I was working on Gateway. It is true, love is everywhere, you just have to learn how to look for it.
Unwound “All Souls Day”
There’s always a little Unwound in everything I do. For people of my generation and scene, they taught us how to do it with class. When Unwound rolled through your town, they would always bring smaller opening bands on tour with them that were coming up in the scene. They always gave back to the community that bore them and that community still gives love to them just as much today, even though Unwound broke up 20 years ago. That’s what it’s all about to me.
When you meet another Unwound fan, I compare it to what it might be like meeting another Freemason or Alcoholics Anonymous member. Unwound fans are our own community where there’s an understanding and respect from the same shared experiences and similar ethics.
Of course Unwound always made great music too. As I mentioned, there’s always a little Unwound in everything I write. Every pattern I program on my 808 has to swing like Sara Lund’s drums (my favorite drummer ever). There’s traces of Justin Trosper’s guitar DNA in every riff I’ve ever written. The way in which Justin’s guitar interweaves with Vern Rumsey’s bass playing was very influential to me. If I had to pick a favorite album of theirs, it’s New Plastic Ideas. It’s one of those artifacts that just can’t be improved upon in anyway. You can tell how unified the band was on this album. Play the intro to “All Soul’s Day” around me and I’ll uncontrollably begin rocking back and forth.
Mary Lattimore “Silver Ladders”
This record gave me a lot of hope and calm as I, like many others, was spinning through the past couple years on my own emotional ferris wheel. It’s such an honest record. You can feel it. It’s direct, intimate, and vulnerable. I hope Gateway feels the same way to people.
Durutti Column “LC”
I bought this album back in 2004 and it is still one of my favorite records to this day. Again, it’s another record that is entirely its own galaxy. It has influenced everything I do from 2004 forward. I look at my life in two phases, before and after Durutti Column. I’ve never heard another guitar player like Vini Reilly. I don’t think there will ever be another one like him. He can conjure so much purpose and emotion out of one instrument. He straddles such a delicate line with the guitar and never strays off of it. The songs remind me of the winter in Minneapolis when I would watch the condensation from the heat on the inside of the windows cool down and quickly form into a sheet of icy crystals on the surface of the glass. That is what Durutti Column’s music sounds like to me.
William T. Vollmann “The Lucky Star”
I read this book at the very beginning of 2020 Lockdown at the recommendation of my friend Eric. People compare Vollmann to Pynchon but I’ve never read Pynchon so I can’t corroborate that analogy. I don’t even know where to begin with how to draw a portrait of this novel so I’ll just attempt to do so with a handful of words…. Spiritual, tweaky, transient, transgender, trippy. There were moments for me while reading The Lucky Star where it actually felt like I was tweaking on hard drugs. I’ve never had an experience like that before from reading a book. The dream sequences and recurring narrative shifts in The Lucky Star left a strong impact on me for how I wanted to tell the story of Gateway.
I read a description of The Lucky Star online that said it “explores the quotidian and sometimes faltering heroism of marginalized people who in the face of humiliation and outright violence seek to love in their own way, and stand up for who they are.” I love that.