I had the absolute pleasure of chatting with Sam Miller, lead vocalist for Paradise Fears. The band have a very unique sound in comparison to most other pop-rock artists today. I chatted with Sam about the band's songwriting process, where their spoken word verses came into play, and what music means to him. Check it out!
The band released “Battle Scars” last year, but you guys re-released it, completely acoustic, this year, in addition to releasing an extended version of it last year. What prompted the decision to re-release the album fully-acoustic?
Yeah! Well we’ve been a fan of performing acoustic, plus a few of the songs on “Battle Scars” we felt were pretty connective, and were songs that were written to be personal and understood, easily graspable. In a way, they were sort of “dressed up”, with a lot of production on the “Battle Scars” full album. So we thought that it would be cool to take those same songs, try to reimagine them acoustic, in a way that let people connect with them a little more upfront, let the story really be kind of the guiding thing in the songs.
What was the writing and recording process like working on this album in comparison to Yours Truly, your 2011 album?
The differences are really in the differences in where our band was at, and how we came to appreciate our creative process in a little bit. For “Yours Truly”, it was a lot of getting together in a room, writing some songs and hoping it works out, and then bringing in a producer where they can do what they wanted to it, whereas “Battle Scars” was a lot more honed in on what our specific creative responsibilities are, and then we’d go through the factory that is our band creating parts. So a lot of the songs were written in co-writing sessions, where me and Cole would go in with other writers and write the song, get an idea of the vibe of the song, get all of the melodies and lyrics, and then we’d send it to the other guys to add in their guitars, keys, and all that! Once that happened, the songs started to find a new life from what was written on the guitars or keys or bass, or drums. When that happened, we would then go back and re-polish the songs, just hit the identity of the new parts. It was a collaborative process, but a different collaborative process that doesn’t happen all at once, but rather one that happens where we’re supplying our own creativity.
You guys have built up an incredible following through use of Spotify and YouTube. You could say it’s a very punk, DIY process. What have you learned from working without a label and being successful at it for so long?
A lot of things! It’s a constant learning process, as anything really is. We definitely know a hell of a lot more now than we did fours years ago. There are thousands of things that we’ve learned technically. In terms of guiding principles, I think we have learned that the importance should always be on figuring out how to give people the opportunity to connect with what you do, and creating something that they’ll want to connect with. Those are the two responsibilities of any band or artist, so we tried to start doing these YouTube covers. We thought “people are going to connect with it, they’re going to start watching, and connect with the videos”. And then as we were making them, a large part of the creative considerations were “how do we create something that is uniquely us, that people will want to look at and want to be a part of?” We’ve had a lot of success, and have been very lucky in a lot of ways, in that we have been able to create something, and there are people that feel a part of it, because really, they are.
As a lyricist, where does your lyrical inspiration come from? I can sense that you like writing anthemic songs, just from the lyrics of songs like “Battle Scars”.
Yeah! I think that I really like writing about the human experience from as wide of a perspective as possible. I like commenting on larger ideas, or using narrative to comment on larger ideas. I feel like that’s the kind of thing that, at least for me, has been pretty constant throughout our band. The lyrics have always been something where we’ve wanted to write about something that matters, something that isn’t particularly. This isn’t to say that there is no value to a love song or a relationship song; we’ve written plenty of love and relationship songs. But in a lot of ways, I think we think our place musically involves writing songs that help people to tackle the bigger “what” and “why” questions of being a human being. I see it as a really positive thing if our music is able to help people with those questions.
Where the rapping element come from in your songs? I love it, because all of the rap verses build up and crescendo upward towards the really big, defining moments of the songs.
Thank you! So it kind of started out as an accidental experiment. There was this song “Sanctuary” that we released four years ago that had a huge instrumental break in the middle, and I realized that I didn’t have anything to do live when I was onstage. We weren’t really playing around that much, so it didn’t really matter what we did with the recorded version vs. the live version. So I just started doing this little speech thing that I wrote from leftover lyrics from the song in the middle of it. We noticed that it really reacted with people, and the conclusion that we drew from it was that, much like the acoustic version that I was talking about, is that if you’re going to say something that is more connective than the rest of the song, a lot of the time it’s helpful to strip away other distracting elements. The melody, while super helpful to a lot of things, can also be distracting. We thought that if we wanted to say something and have it be super impactful, let’s just leave the words and do it spoken word.
Since then, I’ve been able to have a great appreciation for spoken word poetry and slam poetry. I never call it rap. I think a lot of the time, rap is about bitches, cars and money. I drive a 2006 Taurus, I’m not bragging about my car. (laughs). Spoken word poetry is a really cool art form that I’ve gotten into, and started doing performance-wise on the side, in addition to our music. And the elements of that have weaved their way in and out of our music, and it’s cool. When we play live, it can be the most connective moments.
The next two questions I ask to every artist that I interview: What kind of message, if any, would you like fans to walk away with after listening to your music?
I think that every song is its own independent art project, so every song should ideally have its own message. In terms of an overall Paradise Fears vibe, I would say who you are is exactly who you are supposed to be. That would be the thing that I want people to see. I think we spend a lot of time as human beings being very uncomfortable, and our goal would be to just help people acknowledge that if we see who we are, it’s what we’re supposed to be. But like I said, there’s a lot of different messages that I hope people walk away from a show with.
What does music mean to you?
Right now, it’s not only my outlet for channeling the things that I am feeling or experiencing, it’s also my way of translating the experiences I have into emotion. I think that’s the job art in general, it’s to connect experience to emotion, and music, for me, is taking what has happened to me and making it make sense in my own head.
Last question for this interview, but is there anything else you’d like to let fans know about, in terms of new music, tour dates, videos, etc.?
Keep up with our social networks, since we’re posting music all of the time, constantly releasing new videos and things. Twitter is the best of what we have for engaging audience reaction. Get involved via social media, and you’ll be just fine from there!
The acoustic version of Paradise Fears' album "Battle Scars" is available now!
This has been another Shameless Promotion.