By Conor O’Neill
37-year-old Lisburn born singer/songwriter, now London native, Nathan Dusty Miller’s debut album is due out on January 20, 2022. He spoke with CultureCrush NI on song-writing, early influences, his love of the harmonica, a life changing meeting with a ‘jawsy hellhound’ and his hopes in the music world.
For the LP review go here: https://culturecrushniblog.com/2021/11/30/dusty-album-review-november-30-2021/
When did this encounter with the dog happen?
“I was about 23. I was helping some friends move from England to Spain to start a new life; we were travelling by car and all their stuff and the dog were in the back. The dog was a bull mastiff. The dog was fine with me until we got to France and we stayed in a hotel, the next morning I reached into the back of the car to give it a pet and the dog just took a big whack out of my hand, it had taken the tip of my wedding finger and ripped my hand apart.
“We went to the emergency room and I got it stitched up. To be honest I didn’t think I’d ever play the guitar the same way again. At that point I started becoming a bit frantic and was putting thimbles on the tip of my fingers like Tony Lommi from Black Sabbath. Finally I decided, ‘right, I’m going to become a slide player’.”
So what’s with the Dusty pseudonym? Is that to reflect your blues/country feel?
“It’s something I’ve had for a long time. With the family surname I was called it as a kid and I liked it. I was in Clasksdale Mississippi travelling about maybe two or three years ago and a harp player called Deek Harp suggested I call myself Dusty Harp. That’s the name of my website, I just go by Dusty, it’s goes well with my sound.”
From memory when we were younger and used to occasionally jam together I always remember you being into heavier music. When did your style develop into the bluesy, country sound of this LP?
“My first passion is the blues, and harmonica is my first love. I grew up in a Baptist household but there was one cassette in the house called Juke Joint Blues and it had Mississippi delta players like Robert Johnson on it. That stuck with me. When I was about 13-years-old a fella called Jed gave me an old beaten up harmonica and I carried it about with me everywhere all through the years. I used to make money with it as a kid in the bar like the Morning Star in Belfast, so I’ve always played harmonica and had a love for the blues.”
And what did travelling around Mississippi do for you musically?
“I’ve always loved delta blues. When you hear blues you normally think of the Chicago City sound, that electrified sound like Muddy Waters and the big full band sound. I prefer old style players like R. L Burnside or Robert Johnson, he’s your go to man. Those players would go to Chicago to make their fortune but they all really started playing that delta blues, the soulful and lonesome blues which I really adore.”
And would you sell your soul to the Devil like Johnson?
“If he’d meet me there. Like a lot of musicians I’m really interested in that story. I’ve been to many of those crossroads near Clarksdale that are supposed to be the crossroads. I actually carry a bit of dirt and cotton from those places when I’m playing, just because it’s interesting and so intertwined with the blues and folk music.”
Dusty the LP only has eight songs on it, what’s the reason for that? Do you think those eight tracks represent your sound or was there time or money constraints making the LP?
“It’s my first solo album. I’ve created albums with people which have had longer songs. I’ve played in heavy rock bands that had 10 minute songs but with my LP I wanted to have an album that was all killer and no filler, just like Jerry Lee Lewis. I thought, ‘let’s make it snappy’. I wanted to get melodies down, make them quick and snappy and good. All of the songs on Dusty go so well together. Some of them are older, some of them are newer.”
Tell me about your song writing process. Do you start of with a riff or a chord progression, or is there a lyric that’s the jumping off point?
“I start of with a melody. I consider my an idea person. I’ve played in a lot of different bands and different roles; I’ve been a drummer, a bassist, sometimes just a harp player but what I like to do is just get a melody, I then take that melody and turn it inside out, change the leading notes, reverse it and basically just play with it until it’s locked in.
“I like to go into a bit of a trance and then I’ll find myself humming the melody. That’s usually just playing along with a guitar which is usually open tuned. A lyric will then come along. I think it’s an unconscious thought that’s in your mind and just pops to the surface and becomes a lyric. Then I try to decipher what the lyric is really about and go about making a story around it.”
Do you write alone or like to collaborate?
“Mostly I write alone. All the songs on the album are mine. Sometimes some of them might get their origin when I’m playing live, when I’m playing a second or third verse and I’ll improvise and go into a mad riff. It’s more interesting for an audience if you’re playing on the tips of your toes and playing something new. With open tunings you can generally come up with something that’s a bit gnarly and dirty. If it works I keep it in the back of my head and then play it over and over until I can get a song out of it.”
How did the first single Pound By Pound get received? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=92jgymtUGDw
“Yeah, I’m pretty happy with it, I just need to continue to push it. In this era of music you really have to continue to push your stuff online and on social media. I’ve been playing it live in the different blues bar in London and it’s been getting a good response and I’m happy with it. I know that after releasing this album the real work will begin. I’ll be pushing it as much as possible.”
And what’s going to be the next single?
“The next single is called Changed World. I wrote it quite a while ago and it’s about someone who just shuts the world away, who just wants the world to stop turning. I wrote it about nine years ago but it makes sense right now. I’m going to get it out there and make a decent video for it.”
Is there any interest from labels yet?
“I’m happy pushing it independently and having complete control and making my own videos at the moment. That suits me fine. But I’m definitely open to seeing if there’s an independent label I could work with. I now there are some great labels based in Germany, so maybe in the future I would look to do that. Right now I’m just looking forward to put the album out and let it grow organically and let it get some interest.”
Is there a song on Dusty that maybe hints to the direction your music will go next?
“It would have to be Heavy Heaven. That song has more instrumental slide guitar work and I’m becoming a lot more obsessed with blue grass at the moment. Players like Jerry Douglas and Rob Ikes. Most of the Dusty LP is in open D but I’m looking at open G now which is much more a blue grass country sound like Bill Monroe who is considered the godfather of blue grass music. I’m trying those sort of tones and the more intricate style but still with strong melodies at the core. I’m basically writing the new album when I’m out playing live and jamming on some improvisations, from that I’ll get the seeds for the next LP.”
Speaking of live music, what the blues/country scene like over in London?
“There’s a couple of different main venues. It’s mostly the Chicago City sound, the distorted harmonica and the driving full band sound, definitely less delta more Chicago stuff, and to be honest it has influenced me a bit. Now what I do with my harmonica, which I didn’t used to do, is I use an old telephone earpiece from the 1960s. I put it into my harmonica holder and then run it through a distortion pedal and it makes a real gnarly sound just like a Chicago harp player called Gary Primich. The sound that’s in London is really the Chicago sound which is a lot of fun to play and to hear. You hear that sort of sound in The Blues Kitchen or in a bar I like to play called Ain’t Nothing But The Blues. I also play my country delta blues there and it does make a difference to the onslaught of the Chicago sound.”
When you play live improv sessions is it with a set line-up or do the musicians change from gig to gig?
“I’m a solo musician, I’ve came to the point where I like to be a one man show. I’ve made a one man drumkit which I work with one foot so I can stand up live with the guitar that is slung in the dobro style, the harmonica through the distortion pedal and a kick drum, a snare and a high-hat that doubles up as a crash cymbal. Anything you hear on Dusty I can create live on stage, basically it’s a full band sound. It may look a bit crazy but it works.
“Otherwise I just do open blues jams and either sit in with the guitar or maybe just the harp with other people just for the fun of it. I like to play balls to the wall. If I made no money from this I’d still be doing it simply for the love of it, it’s what I’ve done since I was a kid.”
Dusty is available on January 20th, 2022 and can be bought from http://www.distrokids.com
For more on Dusty Miller visit http://www.dustyharp.co.uk
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