INTERVIEW: DJ Miller "A Little Naughty Is Nice"
“You can’t be the only one having fun,” Miller explains. “You have to interact with the crowd. You want them to be wondering what’s gonna happen next. If you just stand there and sing your songs and play your music, you might sound really good, but if you don’t give your fans a real show, then they may not have a reason to come back and see you again.”
Bev: Tell me about the beginning of your career. I know you are still working on the album, but tell me about your childhood. How did you know that you knew you wanted to pursue singing as a career.
DJ: I grew up in the country, about twenty five minutes from town. The nearest neighbor was a mile down the road, so as a child I was real isolated and I had plenty of time for my imagination to take over. I got started in music because of my dad, who had his own country and western band for about thirty years. He was lead singer and played rhythm guitar. Any time I was able to, I went along to their shows. I started getting on the stage when I was about two. I was really big into Garth Brooks at that time and I would video tape his TV concerts so that I could watch them again and again. I studied his movements and his personality and how he bonded with the crowd. I even tried to apply that when I was two years old on the stage with my dad. I would take off my hat and wave to the girls, mimicking Garth Brooks. I had my cowboy hat, my cowboy boots and a little plastic toy guitar that I would plays on. My microphone stand was actually a toilet plunger with a plastic microphone duct taped to the top. I think the other guys in the band probably dreamed it up for me. So that is how I actually got my start as a kid. I also was in choir from Elementary School through High School. The dream just kept building for me. I continued to admire Garth Brooks and then when Brad Paisley became a star I also got into his singing as well. My dad took me to my first country concert when I was about fourteen at a large county fair near where we lived. Brad Paisley was performing that night. We got tickets for the middle of the ninth row, and right away I fell in love with Brad Paisley! He bonded with the crowd amazingly, and his talent on the guitar really caught my attention. I had always been really interested in guitars. So that started my admiration for Brad Paisley. I have been to about five of his shows since then. He does not have all those crazy light shows and the smoke like Garth does, but you find yourself having a great time at his shows because of the way he bonds with the audience. Therefore, I have combined the attributes of Garth and Brad and put some of theirs into myself.
Bev: You mention the guitar playing; is it self taught or did you have formal lessons?
DJ: My dad started me on the guitar so I guess you can say I had formal lessons. He got me started with the basic guitar chords and then I went off by myself and learned how to use the internet and started figuring out some stuff on my own. But I still go up to him and ask for advice on certain songs.
Bev: I know you have been out touring. Are you opening for anyone or are you doing the fairs and small circuit? Where are you performing at right now?
DJ: I do a little of both actually. I have been doing a lot fairs and small festivals this summer. I have also had the opportunity to open for some stars. In 2008 I opened for Jeff Bates, in 2009 I opened for Jason Michael Carol. In the past month and a half I have opened for Bucky Covington twice. The first time was while I was in Michigan doing a radio tour. It was not really planned, it was a last minute thing. The radio station arranged it.
Bev: When something like that happens that you are not prepared for, what goes through your mind? Is it panic mode or are you just very comfortable doing something like that at the spur of the moment?
DJ: I was thrilled. I have never let nerves get to me probably because of my being on stage at such an early age. I am used to a crowd looking at me. Even during my school years, I was the first to volunteer for solos. When I started playing guitar, I learned my first chord New Years Day of 2005; the first day of April I did my first solo for our spring concert in high school. I feel like if I am going to make a mistake then I just make a mistake. If I am going to mess up, I will mess up. I will learn from the experience.
Bev: Let us talk a little bit about the song writing. You are working on your album, getting ready to get that out. You have written some of the songs and co-written some of them. Do you have a preference?
DJ: When I started out ,I wasn’t a very strong writer. I wrote my first song three years ago. One of the songs on the album is mostly all my song, one that I wrote before I came to Nashville and then I got together with some Nashville writers and we fine tuned it. We changed a couple of words in the verses. As for the choruses and the melody, I am happy to say, they were all mine. I really get a thrill from that, especially when I perform it and can say it is mostly my song. That alone pushes me to want to write more. There are also some songs on the album that I have co-written, which I also enjoy doing. Sitting down with my writers, Don Goodman, Charlie Black and Brad Wolfe, is awesome because of their ideas. Watching those ideas come to them and pop into their heads, they take it to a new level. I learn from that.
Bev: Who are some of the songwriters that you look up to and would like to emulate?
DJ: Charlie Black is an amazing writer that has numerous hits and I would like to follow in his steps. He is in the songwriters Hall of Fame. A lot of his songs pretty much says it all. He does a lot with just ideas. For instance, we can be just sitting there talking and he takes a word out of my sentence and says we can make a song out of that. I guess that is what every songwriter tries to do but he is excellent at it and I admire that. I would like to learn to do that as well.
Bev: Do you choose songs that remind you of things you have already lived through or can relate to somehow?
DJ: There are some songs that the first time you hear it you know immediately that they are going to be a hit. To me if it is not a personal experience, then I try to make it one. I prefer songs that are a personal experience for me. For example, the song that I wrote, called “The Little Things”, talks about sitting at McDonald’s and getting a dollar meal and a Big Mac with your girlfriend; or tunes about driving around in your jacked up Chevy. That is me, all the way. Then another song, like “Snowman in Birmingham”, one that will be released in October, is about losing your father. I have never lost my father but while we were recording that song, I really had to put myself into that position in order to imagine how I would feel if I did lose my father. You basically have to have a music video in your head while you are recording it in the studio. Actually I pictured my farm in the winter time and what it would feel like to lose a father.
Bev: Have you ever had a fan come up to you after a show and tell you that something you have sang about has related to them personally?
DJ: Yes, we have had a lot of people tell us that “Snowman in Birmingham” reached out personally to them. “The Little Things” also relates to a lot of the younger crowd. Some say “that is me and my girlfriend all the way”. That song describes the common relationships. For instance the girl is afraid of a fish.
Bev: Where do you find your fan base is, male or female or a certain age span? Because you are young do you have mostly younger fans?
DJ: It is starting to even out as far as male or female. A lot of girls like to look at me. I do not want to sound conceited or anything but at our concerts we usually have fifty to seventy five girls lined up in front of the stage. So even though there also guys at the concert, I would probably have to say that we aim more at girls than guys.
Bev: When you are choosing the songs that you are going to perform, do you think about who is in the audience?
DJ: You definitely have to adapt your set list to what kind of crowd you have. If you have an older crowd you do not typically want to do crazy rocking songs. You can throw out a few to see how they are received but mostly the older crowd goes for calm and more relaxed songs. A younger crowd goes for the fun up-beat tempo rocking songs.
Bev: What about the social networks? Are you into Twitter, My Space and Facebook?
DJ: I have had a personal Facebook page for a few years now. As for Twitter, I am new to that one. My local radio station told me that I should start Twitter. So I went home and started it. I put eight tweets on it that same day and I never did it again. Recently when we were on our radio tour I kept getting asked about Twitter and I thought I should probably get into it. It is not that hard. You just have to tell what you are doing.
Bev: Are you comfortable with that?
DJ: I am. But for me, there is not really that much to tell. I am usually just sitting in a truck headed for the next radio station. I try to have fun stuff on there like “I just got Papa John’s. Tastes great!” I am kind of adapting to it. Lately I have not put much on it because we have been working on professional things. I am a big fan of Craig Ferguson’s and I started following him on Twitter. So it helped me to become adapted to it. I found myself getting on Twitter to look at his Tweets and then I started following Brad Paisley. I realized I could follow along with all these people I admire. It was exciting to get on and see what they were up to. Then I started watching how the number of people who follow me started to go up. When I have time to get into it I will no doubt do more of Twitter.
Bev: If you were to do a duet, who would you like to collaborate with? I obviously know the two males, but what female would you choose to sing with?
DJ: Taylor Swift is a big one. And not just for her looks. We are around the same age and have probably had similar experiences. We are from the same generation so we could probably relate to each other well.
Bev: Being as how you are still new to the industry side of music, what has surprised you the most or what is harder than you thought it would be?
DJ: The radio tours were a surprise to me. Getting in my truck and driving from one station to the next every day and traveling to different states, I didn’t realize that happened. I had heard of music tours, but I was not aware there was such a thing as a radio tour. Everything has happened pretty fast for me. Everyone tells you that reaching your goal is a real slow process. They say it takes years and years for an artist to get signed. But for me, things have been going great! So I was pretty surprised at how fast things have been moving along.
Bev: Has anything been extremely hard for you to adapt to? Such as being on the road a lot?
DJ: I get a little homesick at times. I am slowly having to say goodbye to my friends and not being able to see them very often. It is also tough for me being only twenty years old and all my friends are still hanging out regularly and being in college, calling and testing me, wanting me to come over and hang out. I have to tell them I cannot, I am in another state. It does not mean that I want to take my success back, I have had this dream since I was two years old. I can actually say nothing is going to hold me back from it. I think the most challenging thing is letting go of my life as I knew it. I am excited for when I do get to go home and have a day or two to spend with friends. Actually I have learned how valuable it is to be able to just sit on my own couch or sleeping in my own bed. That is probably the only challenge I have actually found.
Bev: Because I am a photographer, how about the photo shoots and that sort of thing? Are you comfortable with being in the public eye? Do you enjoy it or are you camera shy?
DJ: I am actually pretty comfortable with the camera. The photo shoot was a different experience. I have done senior pictures etc. but this was more of a purposeful shoot. It was a little overwhelming because it was for my actual music career. We went different places and had a lot of different wardrobes, and when I saw how they turned out it looked like it was a Brad Paisley photo instead of me. We did a few street shots like alleys, and I was pretty comfortable with that. Then for half of the shoot we were out in the country. That is where I am most comfortable. We went out to some old barns, and to the middle of a grass field.
Bev: Your single “A Little Naughty Is Nice” is on radio now. Is it available for download online as well?
DJ: The single is available to down load now on I-tunes and Napster. So far we are getting great feedback from it. We are promoting it on the radio stations and doing real well so far moving up the charts. Music Row and indicator charts have me labeled as new and active on Billboard. So that is really special and exciting. You can actually hear a lot of songs that are going to be on my album if you go on my website. It is www.djmillercountry.com. We have a lot of pictures, some videos and five or six songs that will be on the album. So you can actually get a sneak peek of what will be on the album.
Bev: Do you have a release date yet?
DJ: Sometime by the end of this year we will be releasing the album. By the end of October is when we will be releasing my next single, “Snowman in Birmingham”. So keep your ears open for that.
Bev: DJ, this has been the most enjoyable time getting to know you and I hope to see you again very soon.
DJ: I have enjoyed it as well and look forward to seeing you again.