INTERVIEW: NJ Transit, Social Media, and Making a Debut Album with Tor Miller
  • WEDNESDAY, JULY 13, 2016

  • Posted by: Kirsten Spruch

NYC-based singer-songwriter Tor Miller has been on our radar ever since we heard the sweet sound of his single, "Carter and Cash," released almost a year ago. And in just under a year, a lot has happened for this skilled storyteller. He toured extensively, hitting our Baeble Bounce House at SXSW on the way (which will be released tomorrow!), played packed rooms as he supported Norwegian princess Aurora on her sold out tour, released a handful of new singles, and finally announced the release date of his debut LP, American English, out on September 30th.

As we wait for our fresh new session to go live, we decided to sit down with Miller and discuss his career further. We wanted to check out what goes on behind the scenes, like the songwriting process and how being stuck in the middle of nowhere helped shape him as a musician today. We also go into detail about the awful purgatory that is Port Authority, spending long nights commuting between NJ and NYC, the benefits of playing to a crowd of two people, connecting with fans all over the world via social media, and of course, his forthcoming full-length.



Kirsten Spruch: I saw that you created a Spotify playlist called "Midnight on the NJ Transit." Why the New Jersey transit?

Tor Miller: Well that's the train from New Jersey to New York and I spent a lot of late nights on that train, especially while working on the new record, so I had like an hour and a half to chill, if that makes sense.

KS: Yeah, I just found that interesting because I'm on the NJ transit all the time too, so when I saw that I got really excited. A lot of people could probably relate. Do you have any crazy stories about being in Port Authority late at night?

TM: Oh yeah, I definitely have -- people telling me not to look at them straight in the eyes and that sort of thing.

KS: That's the true New York experience.

TM: Yeah, you need to have those. Put in the work.

KS: Do you enjoy the hour and a half on the train, just being by yourself and picking out new music to listen to?

TM: Yes, definitely. It reminds me a lot of when my Mom, Dad and I would come back to New Jersey from New York when I was going to school in New York and we moved out to Jersey the first time. It's just kind of the same as back in that time, and I always relate the ride back to that experience.

KS: What was it like growing up in Jersey?

TM: It was weird. Especially because I'm from Brooklyn and I went to an art school in the city as a kid, and then going to sort of a prep school in New Jersey where the mentality is much different about certain things... it was such a culture shock.

KS: Did it help shape your music at all?

TM: Oh definitely. I don't know for sure, and who's to say really, but I don't really think I would have gotten into music as much or I don't know if it would've meant as much to me if I had stayed in New York. There is something about New Jersey and that whole experience, living out in the middle of nowhere, that forced me into it.

KS: Were your friends as into music as you were, or were you kind of the odd person out when you were growing up?

TM: During my first trip to New Jersey, I didn't really associate with anyone for the first couple of years. It wasn't until high school that I found a group of friends that were interested in music and then we started a band and now all of my close friends are very much into music.



KS: You've been on tour a lot lately too, in fact you recently wrapped up tour with Aurora -- how was that?

TM: It was amazing. It was an incredible experience because we were on a tour and headlining, and it was so different playing these venues that were sold out and packed. It's kind of hard to go back to normal after you had that experience. Being with Aurora was amazing, we played her sold out tour every single day, and she tours with such an incredible band, we had a lot of really good moments. It was just a really fine experience -- And I had grown used to touring by myself, so being with a group of people was a lot of fun.

KS: I feel like people talk about their best shows all of the time, but have you ever had a terrible show?

TM: Oh yeah, lots! When I was a kid, I was playing in a lot of bars in New Jersey. You play these three to four hour shows where no one is listening and you feel like you don't exist and those are pretty demoralizing. I also had some shows where there's only one or two people and they're just like making out with each other. So I've had those very awkward moments, too many of those to count really. So every show is a good show to me now.

KS: It's good that you experienced that in a way, because now every show is amazing.

TM: It makes you realize that nothing can be as bad as it once was and then you realize that the world doesn't revolve around you, which is actually a really good thing.

KS: And you have your debut album coming out, American English. Can we expect anything different on the album that we didn't hear on the Headlights EP?

TM: I think that the album is more grand of a statement than the EP, it's much more lush and fully arranged. I really like the direction and I'm very excited about it, and I mean we had a lot more time and money to work with, so it was what I had always envisioned, it's like the baby brother of the EP.

KS: What was the hardest song to write for the album?

TM: I remember when we were writing "Midnight," it was John Rey and I, he's a really good friend of mine, we had written a song called "Washington Square Park" which is on the last album, and Washington Square Park is this sort of place that is beacon for us, so it is a new level of songwriting. Now we met up again six months later and we sort of wanted to one-up it, so we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to make an even better song. When we wrote "Midnight" we had the first part of it and we spent like five or six hours working on the chorus that we just couldn't get right. Eventually it started coming together, and the next day we met up and I just couldn't sleep, trying to come up with a million ideas, figuring out the melody and where the lyrics should be and then eventually we made it work. And when we finished I said I don't really know if this is any good because it's so memorial, but that is sort of what I had expected, and it turned out to be great.

KS: Have you had any songs that kind of just wrote themselves because it was so easy?

TM: Yes! It's happened a couple of times, I mean "Headlights" came together in a few hours and it sort of happened in itself. It's pretty crazy when that happens, it's a good feeling.

KS: For sure. So you released your video for "Surrender," which featured a lot of dancing -- did you have fun filming that?

TM: I did have fun, I was very exhausted by the end because I sang on all of the takes, full-fledged.

KS: Holy shit, wait, you were full on singing the entire time?

TM: Yeah, for like six hours, just going over and over and over again. That's really the only way I can do music videos, I just have to sing it. But it was a lot of fun and it was different for me as well because I'm not used to standing under a spotlight.

KS: Do you plan on releasing more music videos?

TM: We definitely have a video for "Always," which was just released, we're in the works for that. I have a lot of creative friends around New York so who knows what would become of other songs, maybe I can produce it, just film around the city.

KS: Sweet. And I also wanted to ask, do you feel like social media has helped you as an artist at all? Because most artists are very active and dependent on social media these days.

TM: It helps my discipline because at first I was very against it and I felt that it had all this nonsense and that I was not getting much feedback on anything, so it became sort of this tedious thing where I had to be more watchful of my work. Kind of living through a lens and watchful of the camera the whole time, but it's fine now. Now I really enjoy it because people seem to enjoy sending a lot of feedback, so it's good for me. It's also nice because a lot of my music is so serious, and as a person I'm often perceived as serious, but I love to just fuck around as well. It's nice to let people know that I'm not so intruding all the time and that there is a lighter side to me.

KS: Yeah, it's hard because, like you said, you don't want to be living your life through a lens, but it's also such a great way to connect with your fans. Now anyone can just tweet at you and you'll see it, even if they are on the other side of the world.

TM: It's incredible, and it's nice to know how far reaching someone's success can be. I mean, my impact isn't massive, but it's crazy to know that there is a group of people in Brazil that like me, I get messages from people in China, it's crazy.

Get excited for Tor Miller's new album American English out September 30th and also make sure to check out his live SXSW concert for Baeble, out tomorrow!

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