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an interview with Terry Miles by Matt Dornan / pictures
On his second album, 'The American Scene', Ashley Park mastermind Terry Miles subverted the 60s stylings of his debut 'Town and Country' by introducing a contemporary slant that mirrored the alt.country/indie world of Grandaddy and Sparklehorse, further seasoned with some distinctly Euro-friendly synths, confirming suspicions that Canada absorbs a more diverse array of musical flavours than most. Miles' continued search for what he calls 'Canadiana' sees him hard at work on a follow-up, potentially a sparse, more traditional affair that seeks inspiration from the wide-open spaces, captured in the confines of his Vancouver home studio.You seem to treat each album as a separate entity; the first two records have their own identities. Do you approach an album by recognising a theme in the tracks you are writing and then gearing your subsequent writing to fit within those parameters? Or is there an objective from the outset?
Definitely the former. I attempt to track down the theme. Following the flow of these songs forces me to discard many right away - often leaving a great many 'rawk', 'pure country', and 'ambient' albums sitting on the cutting room floor for later - and work the best parts of others into form. For example the songs that make up the demo recordings for the brand new - soon to be recorded - 'Secretariat Motor Hotel' are the songs that sounded like a Country House just waking up... like that first morning on the day you moved out from the city for good. Still hunting down the sound of our 'Canadiana'. [A Letter to the Mounties, featured on this issue's covermount, originates from the new demos]What inspired the 'brand new sound' of the material you're working on now?
A need to take Ashley Park out to the country. Back to basics. Let the songs breathe... warm country air, cool water, fences, horses... sometimes the songs were getting stifled by their own arrangements. I believe these new tracks will find life a lot easier... I love singing them, and there's a lot more close harmony singing as well. What are the pros and cons of working mostly alone?
The cons are easy... you miss your friends. The pros are the lack of a jury. Nobody to answer to. That really speeds up creativity in the studio, but it can also be beneficial to have other points of view, that's why I'm planning on asking some friends to help me out with this new one. I'm still writing the songs, but I'm hoping to have more help with the drums, piano, even some of the production. Do you find the limitations of home recording add to the creative process?
They certainly can! Time can be just as valuable as money in the studio. If you can spend one week getting everything right for the same price as one day in a bigger studio you can try many more things. On the other hand, if you're the type to plan ahead, 2 inch tape sounds really big and sweet. I'm going to try to do a bit of both on this new one, take a couple of days in a big studio - Abbey Road for instance? - then mix down to a 'home studio' format for some overdubs... then it's back into a bigger studio for the mix. I've grown so accustomed to the home recording process that I'm hoping some bigger studio stuff will 'shake it up' a bit. Do you harbour a desire to record live with a band?
Yeah, that's what I'm thinking of doing in a larger studio... live to tape, a few overdubs -mainly solos and vocals - then to the mix. How much of a surprise was it for you to get picked up by Loose Records in the UK, a label associated with Americana/alt.country etc?
I was headed in two directions during the recording of the record - it was initially going to be two separate EP's. On the one side '60's Pop style numbers', and on the other side 'Laid-back Americana/Canadiana style Country meets a bit of 60's pop'. I was very certain about exploring the Country sounds I had been hearing in my head, but most of the folks I knew kept expressing a love for the pure pop stuff... Nobody wanted to see Ashley Park change so soon. When Loose picked Ashley Park, I knew I had chosen the proper path. 'The American Scene' provides a glimpse into what's coming next...stay tuned... How many labels did you approach here and is it important for you to release records outside of the US and Canada?
I approached only two, and - thankfully! - both expressed interest in doing the record. It is extremely important for me to release records in Europe. I was raised by English musicians, brought up listening to the sounds of that country. When I finally had a chance to visit I never wanted to leave. Ashley Park will be heading over for a, hopefully lengthy, tour very soon. When did you visit the UK/Europe and what aspects made you want to stay? Any cultural differences that you felt particularly in tune with?
Kelly and I went to London and Paris last March, and from the very beginning I felt very 'in tune' with the architecture, history, and the people. My great grandparents were from Britain, and I guess the European countryside, trains, everything brought back a sense of history that hasn't been written here in Western Canada... especially Vancouver, where buildings are up and down every 5 years. There is a throwaway mentality at work here, where folks don't seem to care about building a lasting foundation. I can't wait to get back to Europe, to feel that sense that something might last.You added a few extra songs to the CD-R of 'The American Scene' you sent me, including tracks recorded specifically for singles. This is a very 60s thing, separating the single from an album...
It was my intention to provide singles for a couple of compilation albums and EPs that a few of my friends were doing. I am almost always writing an album at once. I rarely sit down to write one song, and if I do it's usually the first song from the new album in my head. By writing and recording two songs in two days, I tried to re-visit the old ways... Phil Spector, Mickie Most, those amazing sounding songs recorded, usually, two at a time. You also expressed an interest in film and literature. I wondered how these factors manifested themselves - if at all - in your music and lyrics. Do you draw directly or act as a 'filter'?
Everything I write is filtered through music, literature, television, and film. My parents worked a lot, so I ended up being - practically - raised by [those things]. Sid and Marty Kroft...yikes! There is absolutely no sense of 'literary snobbery' - Kevin Smith's 'Mallrats' is just as influential as the latest Haruki Murakami Novel... Manhattan Murder Mystery carries the same weight as 'John Wesley Harding', and The Kids in the Hall VS. Dante Alighieri...you see where I'm headed... Can you name specific movies or books that have influenced your songs?
There are really no specific instances of influence, but there are a few veiled references, perhaps hidden in the quiet places between words... Haruki Murakami's A Wild Sheep Chase, Paul Auster's The Locked Room, maybe a touch of Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead... The Old Masquerade [from 'The American Scene'] is the tale of a Snake Oil salesman... only his Snake Oil is a very useful product... I'm intrigued as to where the Auster influence shows itself...
That imagery is buried in the songs that are upcoming...a track called The Ballad of Mad Cameron Howard, and another untitled song I think... You also name-checked Red Dwarf to me once. What is it about that series that appeals? The combination of humour and science fiction?
I love Canadian comedy, and believe that we have some of the best in the world, but Red Dwarf must be the greatest television program of all time. The writing and the acting... just so spot on... Jennifer Saunders is also one of my all-time favourites. I can't wait for the Red Dwarf Movie!
CWAS #9 - Winter 2002