Life On The Road / 29 July 2020

Adam Miller talks guitars, moving to LA and new album ‘Unify’

Australian guitarist Adam Miller

For guitarist and songwriter Adam Miller, resting on his laurels is not an option.

The Australian virtuoso has toured internationally for almost a decade and has released six albums to date. In 2013, his album “Delayed” made Acoustic Guitar Magazine’s Top 10 Albums of 2012 and he was also named one of the Top 25 Future Legends in Australian Guitar Magazine. 

“Delayed” (2012) by Adam Miller

But it doesn’t stop there. In January 2019, Adam and his wife, singer Holly Clayton, pursued their dreams even further and moved to LA — diving headfirst into the city’s thriving music scene and immersing themselves alongside some of the best in the business. 

Come 7th August, Adam Miller’s seventh album, UNIFY, will be out on all digital platforms — a record inspired by his travels throughout 2019. This is also Adam’s first album recorded in LA.

We speak to Adam about his music style, his gear, his time in LA and what listeners can expect from his new body of work.

How would you define your approach to music?

I guess I’m pretty old school.

I am an instrumental guitarist first and foremost, so everything starts with the guitar. I usually just work on material and songs with my instrument until it’s really worked out. My songs are equally inspired by life situations and other music.

I’ve pretty much devoted my life to the guitar, so without really trying, things can become fairly complex, technically speaking, but I’m always trying to create beautiful melodies with good grooves.

I’m heavily into improvisation and letting the environment I’m playing in influence the song and performance. Because of that, my songs are rarely played the same way twice!

Who are some of your inspirations?

My love of instrumental guitar music really began when I first heard a Tommy Emmanuel cassette as a kid in the early 90s. His albums were more electric guitar and band orientated then, and I guess that’s really stuck with me.

My major influences are pretty much all guitarists – the likes of Bill Frisell, Charlie Hunter, Julian Lage through to the incredible songwriters like Blake Mills, John Mayer, & Madison Cunningham.

After almost a decade of touring, you decided to move to LA. What prompted that decision?

Australia is relatively small population wise, and it’s not easy to sustain a career playing music that isn’t in the mainstream.

The USA is just so much easier to tour through as there’s almost another city within an hour or two drive. Plus, all the big music & guitar media is based over there.

The move to LA

It was also just for the adventure — a time for a change. I was really excited to meet and play with new people, as well as having the opportunity to connect with many of my musical heroes. It ended up being an incredible time, but unfortunately my flight back from Australia was a few weeks after everything shut down, so it looks like quite a while before I’ll be returning to the USA.

What were some of the challenges you faced moving to a new city in a new country?

Ha, most of it was the normal life stuff – unrelated to music! I already had my visa sorted for touring, and that is a huge process for the US. But just simple things like opening a bank account, finding places to live, and balancing all that with a fairly hectic touring schedule straight away. It resulted in a lot of couch surfing and living out of a suitcase / MONO Club bag!

One actually fun thing was navigating Los Angeles on public transport (because I didn’t buy a car) – something most people think is impossible! It actually connects really well and allowed me time to do work on my phone. At certain times of the day I’d get places quicker than if I drove – even after three trains and two buses!

What adjustments have you made to further your career as a musician in a time when live events are unable to take place?

I’ve been able to practice way more than I usually would whilst touring. It’s been really great to focus on different areas of my playing and composition. I’ve also learnt a lot about video capture – lighting, focus, colour, editing – which has been both challenging and really fun. Also working out the quirks of live streaming and trying to make it sound as good as possible.

“Leaving”, the latest single off the album, UNIFY

Not having to tour has meant I’ve even been able to take on some recording, mixing and mastering projects for other people. There was a time where producing was my main focus, but as my own music took off, I’ve had less time to do it.

You’re often seen with some incredible archtop guitars. Tell us about them.

My main instrument is a Nik Huber Rietbergen Adam Miller model. Nik is based in Germany and builds amazing guitars with a small team.

Adam and his Nik Huber Rietbergen Adam Miller model

My guitar is almost a giant 335 sized Tele. It has an arched, carved Californian Redwood top with a Mahogany back & neck. It has a Fender scale length and actually has two single coil pickups in it – Lollar Goldfoils.

It’s very versatile and can go from sounding like a tele, to a jazz guitar, to almost an acoustic very easily. It was never meant to be a signature model, but people started ordering them after they heard mine.

Last year I was also very lucky to have borrowed a guitar built by Ken Parker. Its name is ‘Lucky’ and his instruments really are musical engineering pieces of art.

Adam and ‘Lucky

Their acoustic sound is like nothing you’ve ever heard. I thought the box was going to explode the first time I strummed it! They’re very rare and expensive. He can only build between four and six a year with the amount of work that goes into them.

When you’re able to start playing live shows again, what gear will be going in your MONO case?

I love the MONO Club and Tick cases for sorting out my gear on the road. The Club gets loaded with so much! My small electric pedalboard, my Grace Design acoustic preamp, a tool kit, spare strings, cables, strap, portable recorder, about 40 CDs and four to six vinyl to sell!

Adam’s #MONOFits with the Club case

I use the Tick to carry a small recording rig, or swap things around to just take my pedalboard to a show or small session.

Another #MONOFits with the Tick case

It has a Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 interface, small Bose Soundlink Mini II speakers (one of the few portable speakers that are actually stereo), a SE Voodoo ribbon mic, a Beesneez Isobel condenser mic, headphones and associated cables. This usually goes in my suitcase when traveling. I’ve been packing it with bubble wrap and cloths, but I think in the future I’ll fit it out with some foam cut for each unit.

What inspired the new record?

UNIFY was really inspired by my moving and traveling throughout 2019. The songs are all based on that adventure, and the people I was around.

Adam Miller and Joel Gottschalk
Adam and bassist Joel Gottschalk

Seeing as though it was inspired so much by Los Angeles, I decided to record it there in early December 2019. Evidently, this is my first album not recorded in my home town Newcastle, Australia. I enlisted my great friends and band for most of the year, Joel Gottschalk on bass & Justin Glasco on drums.

Adam and drummer Justin Glasco

We recorded the bed of it in three days at Justin’s studio in Eagle Rock, CA. I did some more guitar over Christmas in Australia.

What can listeners expect from UNIFY?

At its essence, it’s a guitar trio record. Guitar, bass & drums. But most songs get treated with a bit of an ambient soundscape which is predominantly created in the real world with my guitar and amp effects. I’ll just augment it a little with some delay & reverb in Cakewalk to get the stereo spread.

The Adam Miller Trio (left to right): Justin Glasco, Joel Gottschalk, Adam Miller

My music gets categorized as jazz due to the improvisational instrumental nature of it, but I think one of my major strengths is as a songwriter. I love how with instrumental music, you can be directed emotionally with a title, but then take so much more of it.

Follow Adam Miller on Spotify to listen to more of his guitar mastery and receive updates on UNIFY

UNIFY debuts on all digital platforms on 7th August, 2020. You can also preorder the album on vinyl, CD, or via digital downloads here.

Update: Listen to UNIFY here:

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