If you saw The Orchardist play at The Local Show last month or read “Chris Thile, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Eucatastrophe in Music” at The Rabbit Room, then Drew Miller needs no introduction. But here’s a proper one anyway! I had a chance to talk to Drew about his band The Orchardist’s forthcoming EP series, creative community, and, yep, The Lord of the Rings.
Thanks for talking with me today Drew!
Yeah, I appreciate this. I’ve been a Rabbit Room fan for a long time!
Well, I hear you guys were awesome at The Local Show, so it’s about time The Rabbit Room community officially meet you. So, what’s one thing you want everyone to know about you?
One thing? That’s a hard question. I guess that we’re inspired by a lot of literature, like the Inklings, Lewis, Tolkien… I actually just finished Lord of the Rings for the first time, which is really fun.
Haha thanks. I think a lot of times when people ask me about the influences for our music, my mind starts going to authors instead of musicians, just because conceptually and thematically there’s a lot of rich influence in countless books. We draw a lot from writers as well as singers, and that kind of sets the tone for how we write and what subjects we’re pursuing.
I noticed while listening to your album some familiar turns of phrase and imagery from books I’ve read. I see how the authors influence not just the subject matter, but the poetry and phrasing. That’s a good well to draw from.
Sometimes when people ask about our name, I like to say that’s what happens when a lot of Wendell Berry fans decide they want to play music instead of having a farm.Drew Miller
Yeah, that’s really helpful to hear. Let’s me know it’s working! Sometimes when people ask about our name, I like to say that’s what happens when a lot of Wendell Berry fans decide they want to play music instead of having a farm. We aren’t called to farm, so we might as well hearken to the language of the orchard to breathe life into the vocation we are pursuing.
Planting seeds and nurturing them…
Yeah, totally! That goes a long way. There’s so much rich language in that.
Who else is in The Orchardist, and how did you come together?
Our other members are Janie who sings with us and occasionally whips out her harmonica. Tyler plays mandolin, and Camille plays violin. Janie, Tyler, and I met at Belmont. Tyler was down the hall from me in our first dorm, and we started playing music together. And then we met Janie that semester and became best friends. We’ve gone through several iterations of people in the group… at the beginning it looked very different.
Camille came into the fold a couple years ago. She goes to the church that I went to in high school, so we crossed paths through that. She wanted to join, we welcomed her in… so yeah! It’s the result of collecting people, relationships weaving in and out over the years, and it’s been refined to us four now.
I hope it’s okay to say the first time I listened to your music I was reminded of The Oh Hellos. I got that same sense from both of your bands that you’re just a bunch of people having fun together. I can hear the joy and community in it.
That’s so encouraging!
We love talking about artists in community here, so I’m wondering, how does the creative process go for you four? How do you create music as a collective?
I think Tyler has a really good language for this, because his background is actually composing and film scoring. He has this great mind for arrangements and orchestration. He describes it as all the songs we ever play are an unfolding conversation. And so he wants whatever arrangements we find to serve the song musically, and for there to be fidelity between the theme of what’s being sung about and how the music is expressing that.
In a way, that sounds like we’re loving each other with the notes that we’re playing. Sometimes we’ll pray before the show, and often when he prays he’ll ask, “may we play like we love each other. With every note we play, let it be like we’re sending a gift across the stage to each other.” We try to make that pretty central to everything, because that’s where we find the magic happens.
I really would love to hear the stories about so many of these songs, but I probably need to just pick one.
Well, go for it! Anything you want!
Well, this morning I was listening to the record, and “Quiet, Now” got my attention: “Songs are priceless / Some are just cliche / We sing them anyway / To cope.” Would you say that’s your songwriting philosophy? Do you have any deep thoughts you want to share, because I was like “that’s so good!”
Awww, I don’t know. It’s like a portion of my perspective. Because no song can totally encompass everything, like “this is my manifesto!” But it’s definitely… a sheepish song? It’s a little bit nervous to say what it has to say.
I do own that for sure — there’s the question of the ultimate value of music in a commercialistic culture that wants to sell you something all the time. But then at the same time, we’re so saturated with content and songs that I wonder, what is their value? We have so many. Do we really need more? It’s the double-edged sword of wanting to ascend the value of each song that’s put into the world while admitting it’s kind of presumptuous to think I could add anything to the songs we already have. Does that help?
That makes sense. As a writer and poet, I wrestle with that question too. Does it matter? I’m writing, and it feels good that I’m writing, but it takes so much to psych myself up to share it. Maybe that’s why it resonated with me?
I’m glad it did! I think even the resonance is the proof or legitimizing factor in songs. We wonder all these things, but ultimately when a song, a part of ourselves, is shared in vulnerability, and its received and celebrated, that’s the justification of the sharing. Once we realize we’re all asking these questions and we all feel equally paranoid and self-conscious, the walls come down and we realize the pricelessness of everything we have to offer.
Do you have a personal favorite on the new record?
Oh man, it’s ever-shifting. I think it comes down to two songs right now: “Bleeding Heart” and “People, People.”
“Bleeding Heart” is definitely the most ambitious thing we’ve ever done as a band, and it draws a lot of influence from The Punch Brothers. There’s an essay I wrote about Chris Thile and his perspective on music, and we draw a lot from him, musically speaking. It’s something we’re really amazed we put together.
On the flip side, “People, People” is more humble, and when I first wrote it I wasn’t sure it measured up to the rest of the songs. And now it’s the title track because we realized its value over time. Because it’s the little guy! And you know, it’s such a good little guy. I think a lot of what we’re talking about in “Quiet, Now” applies to that song too.
So the new album is People, People, and it’s coming out soon, right?
Yes, it’s actually releasing in three parts, and each one is going to be four songs. Act 1 is coming out May 5th.
Awesome! Any particular reason for dividing it up like that?
Originally it was purely just because that’s how people listen to music now, in smaller chunks. We can have more fun marketing, making content, and getting more creative with it if we have three opportunities to tell the story and walk through it slowly.
At first we were thinking we couldn’t do a whole album because nobody likes albums anymore, and we were sort of bummed out. But then we realized doing it this way could be fun.
Finally, because this is The Rabbit Room… what was the last great book you read?
Hahaha… well, since I literally just finished The Lord of the Rings a few days ago, that has to be my answer.
That’s true. If you said anything else that would be wrong. Any other great books?
Um… I’d have to think pretty hard about it. The Lord of the Rings took up all of my time for half a year now, so it’s been a long journey. I don’t remember anything before that.
That’s totally fine… it’s so long! Have you gotten into any deep Tolkien yet, like The Silmarillion?
Kind of? I was really excited about the creation narrative in the very beginning, and my friend let me borrow it. So I read the beginning eighteen times in a row, and I didn’t get much further than that. In theory I just want to sit down and slog through it, but man… there’s just so much.
I read it last year… it wasn’t as much of a slog as I expected. It can be done!
Yeah, you just have to get in the right mindset. It almost feels like there’s a Biblical tone cataloging great swaths of history, and it’s supposed to be more informative than immersive. But I want to read it. Someday it’ll happen!
Jen Rose Yokel is a poet, freelance writer, and spiritual director. Her words have appeared at She Reads Truth, CCM Magazine, and other publications, and she released her first poetry collection Ruins & Kingdoms in 2015. Originally from Central Florida, she now makes her home in Fall River, Massachusetts with her husband Chris, where you can find her enjoying used bookstores and good coffee.