An Interview with Chris Miller of The Faux Paws

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Image credit: Louise Bichan. Courtesy of IVPR.

Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking with the talented Chris Miller of The Faux Paws. Among other things, we touch on what he’s been up to during the lockdown, the group’s newest music, his opinion of the music scene today, and what he’s looking forward to the most once COVID-19 breaks.

If you’re interested in learning more about the work of The Faux Paws, you can head over to the group’s website and dig in. Enjoy this interview with Chris. Cheers.

Andrew:
Hello, I appreciate you taking the time today. How have you been holding up over the last year or so? What have you been up to?

Chris:
Not so bad, the break from the road really forced me to find a routine at home and after the first few hard months, I started to like it more and more. Got really into baking and deeper into cooking, the garden, fermenting, etc. And spending time outdoors biking, kayaking, hiking was crucial for my mental health. I wasn’t feeling creative musically but I did get back into the fundamentals of my instruments, which I hadn’t made time to do over the last few years.

Andrew:
Before we dive into your professional career, let’s go back a bit. What first got you hooked on music?

Chris:
My parents love music and my dad would take me to concerts when I was pretty young. I grew up in South Florida and all we had was often pretty cheesy smooth Jazz “On the Green;” basically, they would take over a golf course and put on a big festival a couple of times a year. The other side of the coin was I had family in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina so I got exposed to Bluegrass and old-time music there, especially the great Doc Watson. I remember before I understood much about music, I felt the magic feeling of experiencing it live along with a crowd and I’ve been chasing that energy ever since. If I can give other people a taste of that feeling I felt as a kid, I’m satisfied.

Andrew:
Who were some of your early influences?

Chris:
Béla Fleck & the Flecktones (the first time I heard a saxophone with banjo), Nickel Creek, lots of classic Jazz and Bluegrass, and lots of Indie Rock/Folk/whatever. And my dad was a Deadhead so I was exposed to all the various strands of that world and started playing with all kinds of Rock bands shortly after I joined my school band. I was all over the map and I still love playing many different kinds of music that are increasingly hard to pin into a genre description.

Andrew:
Let’s talk about recent events first. The band’s debut record is coming out soon. Tell us about how The Faux Paws came together. How about the new record? What can we expect?

Chris:
So the brothers have been playing together their whole lives. I met them at a fiddle camp in upstate New York when I was living in NYC and we just clicked. I joined a band they had recently put together that was playing some of their original stuff in a highly arranged 7-piece ensemble, and over the years we continued playing together in various configurations including a lot for contra dances, which is where they were primarily making their living. We started playing in a trio right away too (they already had the brother-duo thing down and I plugged into it as a third wheel on occasion.) Over the last decade, we’ve kind of honed that in and shed some of the extraneous stuff to what I think is now a pretty cohesive (though super wide-ranging) sound.

We waited a while to make a record as The Faux Paws and I’m super happy with the maturity of it, while it still feels fresh and exciting to us. You can expect a bunch of instrumental tunes that include some jaw-dropping virtuosity on the fiddle and mandolin, and the hard-driving dance influence is always present. People say they have a hard time sitting still through it, which I take as a huge compliment. There are a lot of virtuosos out there, but how many of them have you dancing in your seat? That’s Noah. Mixed in with the tunes are original songs where we take a variety of approaches on how to compliment the story of each song including some three-part harmony singing which has been really fun to dial in. I’m most excited about the songs because I’m just a sucker for a good song and this record has a bunch of them, but the tunes tend to catch people’s attention because it’s a pretty unique sound and instrumentation. Kind of something for everybody.

Image credit: Louise Bichan. Courtesy of IVPR.

Andrew:
What lyrical themes do you tend to explore with your music? Is your music intensely personal, or are you only telling stories, so to speak?

Chris:
Andrew and Noah do all the lyric writing at this point and I can say it’s mostly personal, though it’s a range. Andrew’s recent solo record is even more intimately personal, exploring themes around his own sexuality and religious upbringing, but with this record, the themes are a bit broader and skewing more towards stories with themes buried in them. There are two songs based pretty squarely on friend’s experiences (“She’s Not Looking for You” and “AnyElseWhere”) one based on a classic movie (“Montauk”) and a hypothetical road trip that didn’t exactly happen (“Racing the Sun.”) I love the song “Child of the Great Lakes” because it explores some of the complicated feelings a lot of us have about where we grew up, but it also paints a really beautiful picture of the place Andrew and Noah grew up, a place that doesn’t get a lot of love in popular American folklore. As for the instrumental tunes on the record, that’s a whole different thing and I think people can interpret them however they need to! The only underlying theme for everything we do is that groove is first and foremost.

Andrew:
How about the production side of things? Do you self-produce, or do you bring in outside voices?

Chris:
We met for a week in Central New York in February 2020 for the bulk of the tracking, just before the shit hit the fan. For this record, the three of us were mostly recording live in a room together which is my favorite way to record. When I was playing sax I was in an isolation booth but we could all still see one another. I think we managed to capture some of the powerful energy and dynamics of our live shows. But we also allowed for whatever we felt best served the songs, including some overdubs and adding some friends on bass, drums, and pump organ. We mostly self-produced this record though we had a lot of input from our recording engineer and drummer Dana Billings, who has worked on most of the Great Bear records projects over the last decade. Andrew has done quite a bit of producing work on other folk’s projects as well so he’s got a lot of knowledge and knows what he wants and how to get it.

Andrew:
Are you into vinyl? Cassettes? CDs? Or are you all digital now? What are a few of your favorite albums, and why?

Chris:
I’m still into vinyl and I am really excited we’re putting this album out on vinyl. I love the ritual of a physical medium and flipping from Side A to Side B. I’ve mostly given up on CDs, though I still buy them to support artists. I stream for convenience despite how terrible the current state of it is for our industry.

Andrew:
What other passions do you have? How do those passions inform your music, if at all?

Chris:
All three of us genuinely love to travel and the things that travel brings with it: culture, food, beautiful places, meeting new people, and connecting with old friends. Places seem to be a running theme in this record both with the instrumental tunes and the songs, and that makes sense. Along with that, personally, I’m just really passionate about building community, and the tools I use to do that are music, dance, and food primarily. The culmination of that is a week-long immersive camp I’m involved in each year called Blackpot Camp, among some other organizing endeavors.

Image credit: Louise Bichan. Courtesy of IVPR.

Andrew:
In your opinion, what is the state of the music business these days? Should artists be hopeful? Scared? Both?

Chris:
I think it’s all a matter of perspective and coming out of the pandemic, I’m choosing to take a view of abundance. Hopefully, everyone has had enough Netflix for one lifetime and is excited to go out and support live art.

Most of my musician friends I’ve talked to lately feel similarly to me that we don’t want to go back to the grind the way it was. The system was already broken before COVID and the shutdown sped up a lot of what was already dying a slow death. I’m hopeful we can build a healthier and more equitable industry from the ashes, but then again, humanity never really learns much do we?

Andrew:
Last one. We seem to be nearing a light at the end of the tunnel in terms of COVID-19 restrictions. That said, what’s next on your docket? What are you looking forward to most in the post-COVID world?

Chris:
Yeah…we’ll see where things are at when this gets published! As I said, we’re looking to tour smarter, not harder. I can’t wait to get back to playing for live audiences again, but I’ve realized I’m just as happy playing for a room of 50 people as I am playing for 3,000. We weren’t planning on doing much traveling for the rest of 2021 but a few things ended up coming in which feels fine. We’re touring the Northeast in late August and playing our album release weekend at a great festival near Woodstock, NY called The Hoot. And we’ll be down in Louisiana for the Blackpot Festival at the end of October. Mostly, we’re looking ahead to 2022 and getting back to sharing our music out in the world as much as we can, but we’re in this for the long haul and that means taking care of ourselves first so we don’t burn out. We’ve been playing together for 11 years and I’m looking forward to the next 30 more!

Image credit: Louise Bichan. Courtesy of IVPR.

Interested in learning more about The Faux Paws? Check out the link below:

Dig this interview? Check out the full archives of Vinyl Writer Interviews, by Andrew Daly, here: www.vinylwritermusic.com/interview

About Post Author

Andrew Daly

Andrew has always felt himself to be a "jack of all trades, master of none" type of person. With an immense passion for music, a disposition for writing, and an eagerness to teach and share both, Andrew decided to found Vinyl Writer in 2019 as a freelance column under the column Stories from the Stacks. Over time, the column grew into a website which now features contributors who further the cause of sharing both a love of music and the art of journalism with the world through articles and interviews. While Andrew enjoys running the website, his real passion lies in teaching and facilitating others to do what they do best, and giving them the opportunity to explore their passions in the process.
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