Memphis Music Feature: Chris Milam
Memphis Music Month continues! Each Tuesday and Thursday in October, we will share a Q&A with a local artist—so you can discover new music and get to know the amazing people making that music. See all the features here.
I’ve partnered with my friends at Memphis Music Hub for this series, so the ‘MH’ you see below stands for Music Hub.
“Memphis is full of true characters, ghosts, and soulful weirdos.” – Chris Milam
Q&A WITH CHRIS MILAM:
MH: In one word or phrase, what about Memphis inspires you creatively?
Chris: The people. Memphis is full of true characters, ghosts, and soulful weirdos.
MH: Who in Memphis do you love to listen to?
Chris: My love for Tiger High’s Myth Is This inspired me to find Toby Vest, his brother Jake, and their studio High/Low Recording. Toby has since produced my last two albums. Working with High/Low permanently changed the trajectory of my career.
Finally, I want to shout-out Music Export Memphis, which helps Memphis’s music community directly, meaningfully, and sustainably. They walk the walk.
MH: Which place gives you that Memphis vibe?
Chris: Sometimes in the summer you can see heat waves visibly pulsating in the air. To me, Memphis vibrates like that all the time.
MH: Can you give advice for a young artist getting started, lessons you have learned.
Stay nimble. Don’t invest too much money on any one project, place, or plan––especially in the middle of a pandemic. Nobody knows what music will look like in the next few years. Be adaptable. I spent too much money on early releases before a) I’d found my voice as an artist and b) worked with people who understood it. Create, create, create. If and when you finally invest in an album, make sure it’s right.
Find your community. It’s hard and you need some luck. But if you find yourself in an artistic community that inspires and challenges you, hold it close. If you don’t, look elsewhere.
Bomb. Fail. Try stuff that probably won’t work, especially live, in front of people. It’s one thing to be “flawless.” It’s another thing to be great. The only way to become great is by taking risks, failing, then learning.
MH: Do you have a quick story that changed you as an artist?
The worst show I ever played was an official showcase at SXSW 2017, a few weeks before Kids These Days came out. The album was already getting great press, the venue had a big crowd, and I knew there were some VIPs in the crowd. I had some tech issues that threw me off for the whole set and had a massive panic attack when I left the stage. The result? 4 positive reviews of my set from major blogs.
I promise this was a bad set. It also didn’t matter. The rest of that album’s cycle––the fruit of 18 months of hard work & planning––forever changed my career. I toured across America and into the UK. I collaborated with a few heroes, shared the stage with some fantastic artists. I was able to make a living through music at a level I hadn’t before.
What I’m trying to say is this: I got good reviews at SXSW because I had good reviews going into SXSW. The music industry is full of nonsense. Don’t sweat gatekeepers who don’t know what they’re doing or talking about. Love your work and let that be its own reward.
MH: Where can we hear you?