ABOVE: WYMOND MILES
Though Wymond Miles has made his name with his day job as guitarist and one-fourth of the San Franciscan garage janglers The Fresh & Onlys, he’s always had a deeper romance at heart than the records he’s made with that band have demonstrated. The last couple of years have found Miles taking time away to explore of that dramatic side. 2012 saw the release of his inaugural EP, Earth Has Doors, as well as a full-length record, Under The Pale Moon, both of which took inspiration from the downer pop tunes that Miles absorbed during his high school years.
Despite the fact that he released both of those records last year (as well as The Fresh & Onlys’ latest LP, Long Slow Dance), he’s returning now with another full-length, Cut Yourself Free, for Brooklyn’s Sacred Bones Records, instrumentally streamlined and conceptually expansive. As Miles tells it, the project was initially meant to be another EP, but as he delved into the set of songs, a burst of inspiration pushed it to full album length. During a break in the filming of the video for “Night Drives,” Miles took a few minutes to explain the origins of his new record and detail a few key ideological concerns behind that track, which we’re happy to premiere in advance of the record’s October 15 release.
COLIN JOYCE: Shortly after the release of Under The Pale Moon, you mentioned in an interview that you had a whole collection of “pretentious” orchestral ballads recorded. Is Cut Yourself Free the result of reworking those songs, or is this something different?
WYMOND MILES: It’s something else entirely. I’ve had a whole set of songs that are their own little world, like Roy Orbison mini-operas. I knew I didn’t have the funds or the resources to make that happen right away. I just felt that was the most pretentious, obnoxious sophomore album possible. The orchestra is the very definition of a sophomore slump. I went into this record thinking I was going to make an EP, and just a few songs into it I thought “Uh-oh, I might be accidentally making a record here.” It was a huge weight off to not worry about the orchestrated album right away.
JOYCE: You released both an LP and an EP last year, as well as the latest Fresh & Onlys album. When did you find time to record this one?
MILES: I think it came pretty quickly, because I approached it as a small work. I was never thinking about making a second record. I just went in musically thinking I was going to make an EP, which felt like a small, concise, fun piece that I could do. And that’s easy to approach. I was halfway through making it [Cut Yourself Free] before I even realized I was making it, so it was a psychological trick. Finding the time to make it wasn’t necessarily hard, but finding whatever trick it is that gets you into the space to be able to do it is harder for me.
JOYCE: Where were you coming from thematically making this record? It can be a little bit hard to make out your lyrics at times, but it certainly feels musically heavier.
MILES: The new one’s much heavier. The last one had a lot of jangly Anglophile acoustic guitar stuff. I didn’t want this one to be based in that world. I threw out the acoustic guitars, except for this one song that’s a blatant [John] Fahey fingerpicking thing. I was playing live a lot with the band I brought on the road, and it made all the songs we were playing a little heavier and a little more intense. I would say musically this one is heavier, but theme-wise I felt a lot lighter making it. It’s not a darker record, it’s a little more dancey. The beats aren’t quite as tribal.
JOYCE: If you were trying to get away from the jangly Anglophile guitar pop, was there something you were specifically aiming toward?
MILES: Yeah, but it was more of a reaction. Seeing what you don’t want to be can help create a work of art. I do that with my personality a lot. I like to engage with people, and I can use the bad habits and traits of others to try to keep myself in check. It was something reactionary to The Fresh and Onlys’ Long Slow Dance, and my record that had a lot of huge sweeping acoustic guitars, things that were very directly romantic feeling. The first song I did is the first one on the record and that has a lot of open space in it, synthesizers, and the timing is a little off. It was more reactionary to get away and find things to get excited about.
JOYCE: This record seems to try to balance that guitar pop stuff with more abstract impulses. Do you consciously try to balance those two different sides?
MILES: It is on my mind. I never think of myself as prolific because I go through such long periods where I write nothing, but there are a lot of B-sides to this record with very catchy, poppy hooks. I was coming from a phase of very straightforward songs. Everyone that heard those said, “Well, there’s your hit.” Even the label wanted to release one of the B-sides as a single, when I played it. But I’m really into bodies of work and how albums have to have a certain flow. A lot of the songs that I really wanted for this record didn’t really go with these more blatantly ‘pop’ structures. I’m a melody junkie, so that’s always going to be there. It’s pretty much all pop. There’s definitely subtlety.
JOYCE: I found that little interlude “Bronze Patina” really interesting. Is that something you had in mind when you started work on the EP, or was it more functional in its origins?
MILES: In my view of things, there’s a certain stately modern approach to the album. I always have to have a proper segue to make something pace feel right. It’s too much to have six-minute sprawling songs. It’s more about creating a full experience of an album to listen to. So that was the inspiration for that track. I needed something short with a certain delicate but otherworldly feel. I did that with the last record as well. I approach it more looking at what the record needs rather than as a song in itself.
JOYCE: I think what I was saying about the heaviness of this record might otherwise be described as drama, which is something that the interlude helps set up. I think that drama might be why people always compare you to like stuff like Echo and The Bunnymen. Is that something that you’re consciously trying to evoke, or do you feel like you’re coming from another arena?
MILES: The first important thing that hits you sticks. I fell into the world right after The Cure and The Smiths. I got the cassettes and memorized the lyrics in high school. Where I’m from everyone was listening to NWA and Metallica, but I’m a Cancer through and through. Those romantic other things drew me in on a core level at that age. I certainly wasn’t trying at any point to sound like those things, but I think music like that is just a core part of how I am and a certain romanticism I may have. It was a big deal in my youth in music, but it’s nothing that I’m actively chasing down.
JOYCE: Can you tell me a bit about the inspiration for “Night Drives” in particular?
MILES: I think the song defines the stately modernism that I was going for and my reaction away from playing these jangly chords. I just grabbed a synthesizer and wrote a song. It didn’t exactly sound like Bowie’s “Heroes,” but it was that kind of approach.
I really didn’t know how to approach it lyrically; I had to wait a long time for it. It was going to be a part of the EP from the beginning, and I didn’t have a single word, but when they came, they all came. That’s how I usually write. I can’t force it. Deadlines can help, but I can usually feel something in the air. When the words came out, it was really sudden. The feeling is pretty universal, looking out on the night sky at sunset, feeling like you’re a part of it and it’s a part of you. Something ancient is there. There’s something in the very makeup of our DNA that we are near to the cosmos. That relationship is something that you can never discuss with words, but there’s a part of you that relates to it and yearns to. That’s what the song is getting at, the yearning to touch and get at that feeling and needing to be healed by it. It’s so free of noise and concerns of religion. What you’re reaching for is even more fundamental.