Miles Gannett: “Talent isn’t everything”

There are no guarantees in life or in music. Success can look like a lot of different things. It can be easy to get discouraged if you’ve been doing music for a long time but aren’t where you thought you would be. The most important thing is to love doing what you do and to […]

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There are no guarantees in life or in music. Success can look like a lot of different things. It can be easy to get discouraged if you’ve been doing music for a long time but aren’t where you thought you would be. The most important thing is to love doing what you do and to work hard to find a way to make that sustainable rather than being stubbornly attached to some externally defined idea of success.

As a part of our series about rising music stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Miles Gannett who doesn’t sit still creatively. The Louisiana native, who now calls Maryland home, hears the seamless character of all music, blending and balancing strains of bluegrass with psychedelic folk textures, classic country phrasing with the propulsive notes of acid rock, and earthy blues with spectral ambiance. His inventive lyrics marry the probing meditations of Jason Isbell with the story-song style of Townes Van Zandt and John Prine and the lilting rhythms of Willie Nelson.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I was born in Lafayette, Louisiana, and my family lived there till I was 5 before moving to Maryland. After staying in Westminster for a couple of years, my family moved to Columbia, Maryland. Columbia is an interesting place because it was a planned community, also referred to as a “new town,” founded by James Rouse in the 1960s. Rouse had a utopian vision of people of all races and economic situations living in a community together, which was in direct opposition to the redlining that was happening elsewhere in the country in the ’60s. As a result of its design, Columbia is very diverse, and people who grew up in Columbia often refer to it as “the bubble” because it didn’t give us a realistic picture of what the rest of the country was like.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

When I was six, I saw the movie La Bamba. That’s all it took! First, I learned “La Bamba” on an old organ that was at my grandfather’s house, and then for my birthday that year, my parents got me my first acoustic guitar, and I started writing my own songs. I would sit up in my room for hours on end with a cassette recorder — one of those old boomboxes with a built-in microphone — and I would record “albums” of songs I wrote. When I was 10, the orchestra director at my elementary school heard that I could sing and play guitar, so he put together a band that included a string bass, a cello, and three violins, and we performed “Twist and Shout” at the school’s winter concert. When I was about 12, my dad (who was also a songwriter and guitarist) started letting me use his cassette four-track recorder, which is when I really started experimenting with arranging songs. By the time I went to high school, I was determined to pursue music seriously.

Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

That’s a hard question to answer! One of the weirdest things that come to mind is when I was playing a Halloween party in one of my early bands, in my twenties. The party was hosted at my bandmate’s house, which was a big house surrounded by woods. The band was set up outside, and I was painted gold. Apparently, there were noise complaints, and as the last note of our set was ringing out, we heard and saw police helicopters circling overhead, and police officers came running from the woods. They let us pack up and go home, but it definitely freaked us out!

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I remember getting too stoned before gigs on a few occasions when I was starting out performing haha! I have nothing against getting stoned, and in fact, I’m an advocate for the responsible use of cannabis and psychedelics. I think those experiences can be transformative and healing and can inspire great music and art, but at least in my experience, performances tend to turn out better if I’m relatively sober. The thrill of being on stage and making music with people is enough to put me in an altered state on its own!

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

Well, of course, I’m excited to release Meridian! Aside from that, I’m contributing some electric guitar parts to my friend Eric Selby’s new album, and I’m gathering songs for the follow-up to Meridian.

We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in music? How can that potentially affect our culture?

1. Our culture has historically been racist/white supremacist, sexist, and cis-heteronormative, which in the music industry means that opportunities have been disproportionately given to straight white male artists, while artists of color, female artists, or artists of different gender or sexual identities have often been excluded, had greater hurdles to their success, or have otherwise been exploited, underpaid, and underrepresented.

2. Art reflects culture, and music tells stories. Not only do we all need to have our cultural identities represented in the music we listen to, but I think it’s important that we are all exposed to diverse stories so that varied cultural experience is normalized and not rejected as “other.”

3. Often it is people of color, queer people, and other minorities who are originating cultural trends in America, and music is no exception. Almost everything we consider American music was innovated by Black people, for instance, so it is important that the industry sustain and uplift the originators and innovators, and not just chew them up, suck them dry, spit them out, and synthesize “safe,” whitewashed versions of their creations.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

1. Talent isn’t everything. As a child musician, I was given a lot of praise for my talent. I think that this hindered my development as I grew older because I was accustomed to being treated as special and maybe didn’t have the drive to improve, and because of the myth that if you’re talented enough, you’ll get “discovered.” I learned the hard way that that’s not the case. Pursuing music seriously takes a lot of hard work in terms of both practice and business!

2. Practice should be systematic. I’ve occasionally found myself in ruts in which I felt I wasn’t growing or getting better on the guitar. I was practicing every day, but I was playing what I was already good at, and I didn’t have a method for pushing myself or necessarily know the ways in which I wanted to improve. I think it’s important to set a goal and work methodically toward that goal.

3. The voice is an instrument that needs practice and should not be taken for granted. This is something I had understood much earlier! Having a “nice” natural voice doesn’t mean you have good technique or that you will sing on key in loud situations or poor monitoring situations. It’s important to take care of your voice as you would any instrument and practice!

4. Your friends aren’t necessarily going to be your bandmates forever. It’s a wonderful experience to jam and create music with your friends! But sometimes people want to go in different directions musically, or you may find that a good friend isn’t as serious about pursuing music as you are, and as much as it hurts, you might need to go separate ways. This is one of the hardest, most painful lessons I’ve learned.

5. There are no guarantees in life or in music. Success can look like a lot of different things. It can be easy to get discouraged if you’ve been doing music for a long time but aren’t where you thought you would be. The most important thing is to love doing what you do and to work hard to find a way to make that sustainable rather than being stubbornly attached to some externally defined idea of success.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Getting out for walks in nature and off social media and email is something that I find very helpful. I also try to remember to stay connected to the joy of writing and playing music, when it’s easy to feel burdened by self-imposed pressure to “succeed.” Yoga, meditation, sleep, and good nutrition are all helpful. Rest isn’t an indulgence, but is essential to having a good quality of energy and mental focus. I should take my own advice more, haha.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

This is by no means an original idea, but I think that there should be universal basic income and that the poor and the sick should be uplifted by society instead of being kept in poverty and debt and exploited by huge corporations whose executives make millions.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I’m grateful to both my parents for always being supportive of my creative pursuits. My dad plays guitar, and he got me my first guitar when I was 6 and taught me my first chords. My mom would sit with me and listen to the songs I wrote, and she would encourage me to keep trying when I would get frustrated. I’m also grateful to my sister, Chancey, who is a great videographer and photographer, and one of my best friends. She’s always helping a brother out.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao.
The name that can be named is not the eternal name.
The nameless is the beginning of heaven and earth.
The named is the mother of ten thousand things.
Ever desireless, one can see the mystery.
Ever desiring, one can see the manifestations.
These two spring from the same source but differ in name;
 this appears as darkness.
Darkness within darkness.
The gate to all mystery.

-Lao Tze, Tao Te Ching

My dad gave me this book when I was 12, and I puzzled over it for a long time. The way I interpret it now is that there is a profound and deep mystery at the heart of existence, and we miss that mystery when are focused on desires and objects. Being in touch with that mystery is a consistent source of song inspiration for me.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I’d love to have breakfast with Willie Nelson! His music and life have been an inspiration to me, especially on this album, and I am sure he would have some great nuggets of wisdom to share with me. 😉

How can our readers follow you online?



instagram: @milesgannett

twitter: @GannettMiles

This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!

Thanks, Edward!

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