By Martin Bonica
Maggie Miles, a singer-songwriter hailing from Round Hill, has had a prolific year. In March she recorded her debut self-titled EP. In June, she played to a packed Tally Ho Theatre alongside The Duskwhales and Kid Brother. In July, she shot a music video in Purcellville for an as-of-yet unreleased project, and in August she released the standalone single “When You Want To,” a collaborative single with Butler (the moniker of singer-songwriter Nathan Bittner.)
With big plans for the near future, it seems that her whirlwind of activity will not be abating any time soon.
Her latest solo release, an EP titled “Maggie Miles,” is comprised of three dynamic tracks produced by Austin Bello. Its sound is sleek, R&B-inspired pop, anchored by her soulful mezzo-soprano voice. In concert, she has a commanding stage presence, alternating between keyboard and electric guitar.
Her lyrics, which grapple with doubt and uncertainty, add another layer to the music.
“I prefer to have my songs be something that are open to interpretation,” Miles said. “I would consider myself a spiritual person, and a lot of my music reflects those instances and experiences that I have, being a spiritual person, but I never want to be pigeonholed as just making music for people who agree with that standpoint, or agree with that belief.”
Instead, she makes sure to leave room for the listener to project different things onto the subject matter of her songs. “I write it semi-intentionally from a standpoint that you could look at it as a relationship with a significant other, or as a friendship, but it’s definitely metaphorical.”
Miles has lived in western Loudoun County since 2005, and first started professionally releasing music in 2018. She describes herself as having been “a theatre kid” through most of high school years, although her perception of music performance was heavily influenced by her father, who played in a Celtic rock band when she was young.
She kept up a YouTube channel (initially covers), and eventually began writing songs.
”Every angsty teenager goes through some crap when you’re sixteen or seventeen years old, and I wrote my first song start to finish,” she recalls. “I think that was when I realized that music really helps me. It helps me get through things and understand myself.”
Her first opportunity to record original material came by chance. A little over a year ago, as she remembers, she attended the Purcellville Music & Arts Festival. “I was walking around with some friends, and the M80 Recording Studio tent was there. They were having a raffle.” She put her name in, having written only two songs, and having never performed in public. She won the raffle.
The results were her first two releases, the singles “Contradiction” and “Pinned.” The tracks are stripped-back and pensive, a stark contrast to her current sound. “I went in and had no clue what I was doing. I went in and was just like ‘OK, the song goes like this’ and they pressed record. We didn’t play to a click,” she reflects. “The tempo is all over the place.” She stands by her early work. “I wouldn’t change it, because that’s where I started.”
In June of 2018, she played at Jammin’ Java. A video of the show on YouTube brought her to the attention of producer Andrew Bello, who worked with her to create her self-titled EP.
The release is energetic and richly produced, despite having been recorded in a less formal environment than her early singles. “I recorded ‘Pinned and Contradiction’in this huge studio, and I was so overwhelmed and didn’t know what I was doing,” she said. “The EP was recorded in his basement on a laptop, and it’s a way more quality production.”
She cites Bello as a critical factor in her sound. “He’s really taken my true vision as an artist, and the sound I want to portray, and put it on steroids and allowed me to explore that.”
The EP is dynamic, ranging from the rock-oriented “Split,” the funky “Belief,” and the piano ballad “There Comes A Time.”
She often has a fully-realized vision for where she wants a song to go as she composes. For “Belief,’ I knew I wanted it to have lots of layers. When I first wrote it, I wrote it on piano, and it was just staccato cords. Then I thought about it and imagined having brass and very funky bassline,” Miles said, going on to describe how she and Bello sifted through hundreds of samples on a vintage keyboard to find the right sound for the brass stings on the song. By contrast, she explains, “’For There Comes a Time,’ I knew I wanted it super-simple.”
The dynamism of her music translates into her live sound, where Miles and her band prefer to play loud. “Performing is one of my favorite things to do as an artist, and I always feel so connected with the energy in the room. It’s the best thing ever.”
Although she started out on YouTube, her main platform for interacting with her listener base is Instagram (although she does post updates Twitter and Facebook). She has a younger listener base, so she makes sure to account for that when she plays shows. “I played in DC twice now, and both times I had to call the venue and specifically ask for permission, because I’m not 21. My demographic and people who come to my shows are typically my age, maybe a little bit older, but usually they’re 18-20.” Happily, Miles said, “They’re usually flexible.”
Her latest major project has been a music video shot at Bush Tabernacle Skating Rink in Purcellville, in collaboration with Ian Reid, of Distant Moon Media Group. Before the shoot, she put out a call to her Instagram followers, many of whom attended the shoot. The video, intended for a forthcoming single, should be released later this year.
These works-in-progress all tie into her biggest career move yet. On Aug. 19, she announced that she had signed a deal with a management and publishing company in Nashville, and she moved to Music City last month to focus on music full-time. “I’m very, very excited,” she said. “As soon as we get down there, we’ll figure out the release plan and what that’s going to look like.”
Despite the change of locale, Northern Virginia is still a big part of her future plans. “I’ll be back regularly to play,” she said. In the long term, “I really want to tour, and play on a really regular basis, and just continue to make connections at those shows.”
Beyond future tour dates, she looks forward to releasing an album.
Maggie Miles’ self-titled EP can be found on Spotify, Apple Music, and SoundCloud. Her collaboration with Butler can be found on Spotify as well. She shares news and music as @maggerzmiles on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.