Around here, meaning Nashville, you often here people say, “It’s all about who you know.” That generally applies to artists trying to get a break in the music business. I would agree knowing the right people definitely helps, but if you can’t sing, play an instrument or write a good song, it doesn’t matter if you have God’s number in your phone, you aren’t getting a record deal. For me, I’m a firm believer in simply being in the right place at the right time. Not being a complete jerk and having built up a little bit of good karma over time helps a little too.
Of course, I’m not an artist, but I do write about them, some of them I know a good deal about before I write about them, others, I go in with a blank slate. The famous ones are great. No need to push anyone to read those articles. The up-and-coming stars? Like pulling teeth getting anyone to look at those pieces. Then, there are those that I have in my own little category. I file them under, “What Rock Have I Been Living Under?” After this is published, that’s the file that Jason Charles Miller will live in.
Is Jason Charles Miller an up-and-coming star? Nope. Is Jason Charles Miller a famous guy? Hmmm…. Let me tell you the story from the very beginning and I’ll let you decide. If I’m going to start at the beginning, I have to go back to being in the right place at the right time, and maybe not being a complete jerk.
On March 23, 2019, I attended an event at The Local in Nashville. It was a benefit to assist the family of the late songwriter, Randall Clay, with the enormous costs that pile up after someone passes away. Most people would say they didn’t know Randall Clay, but many people would know his music. Even if you never heard any of his own songs that he recorded, if you’re an Ashley McBryde fan, and these days, most people are, you’ve heard his work. He was a frequent co-writer with her, as well as a very dear friend.
There are so many incredibly brilliant songwriters in this world and they all have their own style. Randall’s style, however, came from a brain that was wired in such a different way that nothing could ever come close to it. You know how there are billions of fingerprints and none of them are the same? At a glance they look alike, but they aren’t. All you need to do is hear one song by Randall Clay and then you can listen to twenty more songs by male songwriters. Without knowing which of those twenty songs is a Randall Clay song, you’ll pick his out. He was the one scoop of butter pecan mixed in with a gallon of vanilla, and that was just talking about his songwriting. Apply that same analogy to him as a person, and it works the same way. It was no wonder the benefit sold out and was a huge success.
Things hadn’t quite got rolling yet as far as the entertainment, and I was just standing outside The Local, when Cheley Tackett, crazy good artist, as well, introduced me to Jason Charles Miller and said he would be playing later that evening. She described his music as “Metal meets country rock or something like that. Just wait until you hear this guy’s band!” I was really excited. I was always a fan of country rock and I grew up on rock, so it sounded like something right up my alley. We chatted for a few and I told Jason I would listen to his record and write something up about it after. He was very appreciative and said he hoped I liked his set. I told him I knew I would. I just wasn’t prepared for how much.
Photo courtesy of 90 East Photography
The problem with seeing a band perform songs live before I’ve heard the recorded version is, it has the potential of ruining things for me. I am, and always have been, all about the live show. There’s nothing like it. Some people prefer to sit in the comfort of their home and relax with the album. I love that too, but the live performance is an experience for me. It’s interactive. I can see each instrument contribute to the sound I’m hearing. I can see the artistry behind the music as it’s happening. That, to me, is the grand prize for having bought the album and become familiar with every aspect of it, going to see the songs played on a stage. I’ve had a few records disappoint me after going this backward route. I just had to wait and see.
One thing I was not about to do the night of the benefit was take notes on the live show. There was no way. I was there to enjoy myself and support a good cause. I was reviewing the album anyway, the show was just a bonus, but in hindsight, I probably should have taken a note or two, just for a few key things. I remembered the most important details that I wanted to include, so I’m good, and I’ll get there shortly, and I’ll get to the review too, but before that, I thought I’d share some of the homework I’ve done on Jason Charles Miller with you. Hold on while I push this rock that I’m underneath out of my way. There. Now I can see daylight.
I won’t tell you what year he was born, but all of you are big kids, if you want to know, you can Google it. If you want to buy him a birthday card, Jason Charles Miller was born on a random January 5th and lived most of his life in Clifton, Virginia.
In the early 2000’s he packed up and moved to Los Angeles. He’s been doing a few things since then, first as lead vocalist and lead guitarist with the industrial band, Godhead. For over a decade, he and Godhead toured the globe with the likes of Disturbed, Rammstein, Marilyn Manson, Linkin Park, Ozzy Osbourne, Slipknot, Black Sabbath and Jonathan Davis of Korn. Yeah, I know, smaller artists, but he did get to see parts of the world he may not have had a chance to see otherwise. We take our chances when we get them, right?
In 2009, Miller released his first solo EP, Last to Go Home. In 2011, he moved up to his first solo album, Uncountry and in 2012, a full-length, studio album, Natural Born Killer.
Miller owns a recording studio in Los Angeles, Central Command Studios. He works as a recording artist, writer, producer, voice-over artist and an actor. His music is featured in the pilot of the HBO series, Hung. His first single, “You Get What You Pay For” (Jason Charles Miller, Jon Nite, Dave Rivers) was featured in the HBO series, True Blood and the music video for the song includes appearances by Felicia Day and Greg Grunberg.
I know. You’re already feeling sorry for him and his lack of things to do. I’ll continue. The video for his song, “Uncountry” (Jason Charles Miller, Randall Clay) features guests such as Robert Picardo and Grant Imahara. His songwriting talent can be heard on the WWE theme song, “Hangman”, which was recorded by, and co-written with the band, Rev Theory.
Video courtesy of Jason Charles Miller and YouTube
Bored yet? I hope not, because I’m not done. Miller’s voice can be heard in countless animated productions and video games. His endless credits include World of Warcraft, Wonder Woman and Hellsing. As for his film credits? The 2008 remake of Day of the Dead? Yep. He’s in it. Sci-Fi Channel’s Battle Planet? Check. In that too.
His songs can also be heard on The NFL Today, Dateline NBC, Critical Role (main theme) and the Disney Channel movie, Teen Beach Movie, where his song, “Cruisin’ for a Bruisin’” was nominated for a Radio Disney Award.
He’s opened as a solo artist for folks like Eric Church, Alan Jackson, Toby Keith and .38 Special, to name a few, and since 2017, he’s been part of the duo, The Deadly Grind. He’s co-written with a wide range of artists, including, Marilyn Manson, Driver Williams (Eric Church), Ben Moody (Evanescence), Rickey Medlocke (Lynyrd Skynyrd, Blackfoot), Charlie Starr (Blackberry Smoke) and even the man who wrote the Frank Sinatra megahit, “My Way”, Mr. Paul Anka. If that list doesn’t impress you, there’s more, trust me.
As you can see, Jason Charles Miller isn’t hurting for work. I only scratched the surface of what he’s doing right now. Again, if you really need to know more, look him up. In the meantime, back to our regularly scheduled album review. I just thought I should bring you up to speed as to who this guy is, and why you might want to give him a chance. He doesn’t have much experience, but I think he’s got something, don’t you? Wow, that was hard to even joke about!
In the Wasteland (Red Music) was released in 2018. It was produced and mixed by Matt Hyde and co-produced by Stewart Cararas and Jason Charles Miller, and if I hadn’t been living under that rock, I might have heard about this sooner. I’m glad I didn’t though. This was the right place and the right time to learn about it. I know that now. I happened to be standing in exactly the right place, at the right time, in the right environment, with the right people nearby to be introduced to this artist and his music. You can’t buy that kind of luck.
While talking outside The Local about the record, Miller mentioned his latest single was co-written with Randall Clay and I asked him what the title of the single was. As soon as he answered, “Hundred Pound Hammer”, both Cheley Tackett and I just laughed and said, “That sounds like a Randall song.” I think the usual line in Nashville, by anyone introducing a song penned by Randall Clay is, “If you needed a good murder song, you called Randall Clay.” This wasn’t assuming that “Hundred Pound Hammer” was a murder song, but with a title like that, it certainly could have been, and with that, let’s start there. It works because it’s also the very first track on the album.
Miller and the band he had playing with him at The Local, did “Hundred Pound Hammer”. Not only was the song Miller’s current single, it was a Randall Clay song and it was a Randall Clay benefit. How could he not play it? Bracing myself for what I knew was bound to be a good song, it sure had all the elements, great title and co-written with Randall, but guess what? It wasn’t a murder song. At least not in the usual way of thinking. The live version had me conjuring up visuals immediately. Would the recorded version do the same thing?
Here I sat, with the best Bose headphones we have in this house on my head, and Track One, “Hundred Pound Hammer” ready. Here we go. It starts off with a slow, steady drumbeat and some strings. A little eerie. Like being in a canyon and hearing the echoes of far off hammers. Then in come Miller’s vocals in a rough, delicious, “told you so” fashion.
“You wouldn’t believe the news, you had to see it for yourself
So, you walked right in and lo and behold
She was in there holding someone else
Now I know, we’re all sitting around thinking how this won’t happen to us
But brother I’ve been where you are and believe me when it does…”
Then, just exactly like the live show, I went from being that guy in the song, looking through a crack in the doorway and seeing something I didn’t want to see, to hearing the tempo of the song suddenly change. That “told you so” voice morphed into a loud warning that comes from years of Hellish experience.
“It’s gonna hit you like a hundred pound hammer
It’s gonna burn you like a five-alarm fire
It’s gonna hit you like a hundred pound hammer
It’s gonna cut you up ‘til the day you die”
The visual of that hammer is inescapable throughout the entire song. It’s not just heavy. It’s old and rusty. Some giant, demonic-looking creature just pulled it out a raging fire before they lifted it high over their head, and sent it crashing down on this unsuspecting victim’s head. This isn’t about actual physical violence, at least in my interpretation. This is about the worst kind of mental pain imaginable. This song has Randall Clay written all over it for sure. If this is the caliber of Jason Charles Miller’s writing, sign me up for more.
I’m not about to give away the whole song, but I love the use of the instruments, especially the drums. What Miller has done is created a theatrical experience in a “regulation size” track. That’s kind of unheard of these days. I didn’t even need to listen to the rest of the record, I could have written an entire review on this one song. Phenomenal.
Video of “You Get What You Pay For” and “Hundred Pound Hammer” courtesy of Patti McClintic and YouTube
In my normal life (please don’t actually believe I have a “normal” life, because I definitely do not), I listen to an album in track order, but because I had seen Jason Charles Miller play live first, I was looking for the songs I remembered seeing him do at The Local to kind of compare the studio version with the stage version. I know. Cheating. I was particularly interested in one called, “Running”. It was really well-received at the benefit, and it was written with the songwriter and overall great guy, Blue Foley. Foley also organized the benefit and did a Hell of a job with it. “Running” was also co-written by Jason Charles Miller and Danny Worsnop.
Again, Miller created fantastic visuals with this song, at least for me. Think of those 60’s surf songs by groups like The Ventures. That’s just how this song opens and that’s the musical vibe, at least in the background, with cool guitar licks slip-slidin’ in and out around a great bassline. I was so intrigued by this one I did something that’s probably against the rules of good, ethical reviewership (yeah, that’s not a real word, I made it up), I went to the source. I do have an out here though. I met Miller at a benefit for a guy that’s close to many of our hearts and I think that’s enough to allow me to bend whatever the “rules” are. Here’s what Miller had to say about “Running” when I presented him with my non-musician guesses about the song:
“No, you’re right! It has that vibe for sure. There’s fiddle, dobro and a tremolo pedal on the guitar. Fun times! I co-wrote that one with Blue Foley and Danny Worsnop from the rock band Asking Alexandria. It’s about an angel who chose Lucifer’s side and then changed his mind!”
So, there you have it, straight from the artist’s mouth, or keyboard anyway. I also found out that a video for this one was just filmed and the director was none other than Bob Wayne. Yes, THAT Bob Wayne, of Bob Wayne and the Euro Carnies. If you’re unfamiliar with him, please look him up. A whole new world of wonder if about to open up to you, I promise.
Photo courtesy of 90 East Photography
Another song performed at the Randall Clay Benefit was a saintly little number entitled, “Trunk Full of Bibles” (Jason Charles Miller, Quinn Loggins). It’s not a ballad. How’s that for a description? It parks itself at Track Five on the album and it brings out the heavy artillery right out of the gate. No trickery here, no slow starts, the listener immediately knows it’s no ballad. The very first line of the song throws a belt around your neck and drags you in. You NEED to hear what this story is about.
“She stole a motel bible…”
I don’t know about you, but that’s something I’ve never done. I don’t even know anyone that’s done it. Storytelling genius. Line one, give ‘em something they’ve never heard of anyone doing before and they’re more likely to listen on. Of course, I did watch The Dirt the other day, so there might be at least four guys in this world that stole a motel bible or ten in their heyday, but that’s another story.
The entire song is exactly why it doesn’t matter if we’re talking about old school country, going back to the simplicity of Hank Williams and Patsy Cline, or Miller’s brand of country rock that infuses all of his influences, from metal to Merle Haggard, it all comes back to the story. “A Trunk Full of Bibles” is a story song. You can add in all the guitar work in the world, Miller’s voice is still very clear and easy to understand and if you stripped this down to an acoustic version, it could be played on any songwriter round in town. Don’t ever accuse this artist of not being country. His brand might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but he knows what the main ingredient in the recipe is, and that’s the story.
The title track, “In the Wasteland” (Jason Charles Miller, Gary Joseph Potter, Jr.) is a hard hitter too, and if you’re into solid country rock tunes with lyrical depth that give you plenty of room for your own interpretation (now don’t go looking up the meaning of this song before you listen to it) this is a good one. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t the fastest or the craziest track, but it requires some heavy lifting, utilizing Miller’s power vocals, which are, again the main focus, and easily understood over every instrument crashing and shredding in their midst.
What I adore about “In the Wasteland” is the imagery. Miller takes us to a barren desert. Is it really a wasteland? Or is it a thing of beauty? He uses the word “desert”, which anyone might interpret differently. I love deserts. I find them to be amazing places, void of the distractions just about anywhere else, but he also uses words like “lost” and “madness”. This is where one begins to wonder if the person telling the story in the lyrics is actually in a real desert. I tend to think not, but that’s the sweet thing, one can open themselves up to be anywhere. For me, as I listened to the whole song, I knew exactly where I was if I put myself into the story.
“Oh, in the wasteland, you can’t believe anyone
Just make a break for it, turn tail and run
In the wasteland, you can’t believe your own two eyes
And the darkness always lies…”
No doubt “In the Wasteland” made for a cool album title, and I think many times, that’s how record titles get picked. Whatever song has the best-sounding title that will make an impact on the end-user, gets chosen. Whatever the methodology for making “In the Wasteland” the title of Miller’s latest album, I’d say it was correct. Of all the songs on the album, and I’ve listened to every one over and over, this one gives the listener’s mind a blank canvas to take them wherever they need to go. Anyone who hasn’t been “in the wasteland” at some point in their life, in my mind, hasn’t done much real living.
This is one record where I could go on and talk about all 11 songs. It would be so easy, but I’ve already gone on long enough. It ranks among my few “unskippable” albums. I listen and don’t skip to the next track at all. Once it’s on, it’s on. I will mention there is a ballad-type song at the very end, “Finding My Way in the Dark” (Jason Charles Miller), so don’t think this whole thing is a skull crusher, it isn’t.
Video courtesy of jasoncharlesmiller.com
In fact, none of it is actually a skull crusher. This is a very well- done piece of musicianship. It combines the best songwriting, production and artistry, with genres that have always gone together, country and rock. The only thing that makes this different is that it’s truly rooted in years of experience in all of those things mentioned and a genuine love for all of it. In my mind, that makes this project better.
Once again, I just happened to be in the right place, at the right time and I wasn’t a complete jerk, or at least I always try not to be. It’s how I get introduced to the best stuff. Don’t chase things. Let the planets line up and stand in the right spot.
Photo courtesy of 90 East Photography
Jason Charles Miller can be found: