Interview by Scott Preston
Born in a musical household in Long Island, New York, Sheri Miller grew up listening to her mother, an opera singer belt out beautiful arias in the night, while playing classical Debussy piano. Sheri’s uncle, an accomplished recording engineer in Los Angeles, educated Sheri with his hand-made mix tapes of Pink Floyd, Hungarian Gypsy Music, Diamanda Galas and Etta James.
Sheri began playing the piano at an early age, but rebelled by composing her own wild and fantastical original songs. “I remember playing this one song I had made up on the piano, ‘The Lost Tribe,’ about buffalo, sunsets and gypsy wandering, so many times my mother almost killed me.”
While at the University of Pennsylvania studying literature and poetry (in the same class as r&b singer John Legend) Sheri began to sing with a local Philly blues band, while secretly sculpting her own songs, tucked away in her tiny bedroom. But one Sunday afternoon, something magical happened to Sheri, completely changing her life.
“I had been writing songs in my room for months, which was a 20-minute walk from the Penn jazz music room, which had all the practice pianos. And I knew I was definitely not writing enough each day because it was such a big hassle to walk those long blocks downtown. Over the next couple of months, I started dreaming steadily at night about keyboards, about buying a used keyboard. I clearly remember one Saturday night in particular, I had an extremely vivid dream about this small black, white and gray Casio keyboard. The next morning I woke up with the image of the keyboard still clear in my mind, and took a different, more scenic route that day, through an underpass of green trees. So I’m walking, and there’s this one-day church sale, where they had the exact Casio keyboard I had dreamed of the night before. I quickly ran to the ATM, bought the keyboard for $20 and started seriously writing my songs on that sweet, broken-keyed Casio from that day on.”
“Since then, I believe coincidences are just visible lines in our destiny.”
After college, Sheri moved back to New York to Park Slope, Brooklyn, and made steady rounds at local open mics like The Raven, while practicing her acoustic guitar and keyboard for hours in her basement apartment. She immersed herself in the poetry of Charles Bukowski, O. Henri, Marcel Proust, Margaret Atwood and Maya Angelou. She melted into Ella Fitzgerald, The Beatles, classical music, Etta James, Stevie Wonder, Joni Mitchell, Otis Redding and Billie Holiday.
Brimming with inspiration, Sheri developed her own sensual soundscape of hypnotic bluesy American soul meets classic British melodic-pop, bringing it to the stages of The Bowery Ballroom, Joe’s Pub, World Cafe Live, The Bluebird Cafe, The Canal Room and The Living Room. She has had a song featured on the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame Compilation, Volume 4.
“I feel extremely lucky to be able to create music. I only hope to keep becoming a more honest, genuine, deep, and authentic artist and songwriter, so that people can glimpse a spark of truth in my songs.” (from sherimiller.com)
Cincy Groove: What are some of your earliest musical memories?
Sheri Miller: Well listening to my mom sing various arias (she is an opera singer), I could always hear her down the stairs, she also played classical piano. When I would be put to bed, I remember hearing the sound just walk up the stairs. A lot of the classical music became embedded into my earliest memories.
Cincy Groove: What kind of music did you listen to when you were growing up?
Sheri Miller: It really varied, my uncle would send me mixed tapes in the mail that would have just about everything on them. A lot of Pink Floyd, Muddy Waters, Etta James. Then he would also send tapes with this gothic classical music, Hungarian gypsy music, really all kinds. He really exposed me to a world of different types of music. He sculpted my tastes early on.
Cincy Groove: I was reading about that Casio keyboard that you used early on in your music career, do you still have it?
Sheri Miller: Yes I still have it, although its not sounding as good as it to. When you turn it on, the buzz that comes from it is almost as loud as the music that is being played. Its missing half the keys, because I’m sure its been around a while even before I got a hold of it. I’m not materialistic, I mean I don’t usually attribute too much significance to things. It was just one of the more simple things that changed my life. I look at it as the physical manifestation of where my life was going to go.
Cincy Groove: So I understand you released your very first cd earlier this year.
Sheri Miller: Yes it is my first EP “Mantra”, it came out in February of this year. I feel really lucky to have it out there and people are really responding to it. I hope to put out many more albums, knock on wood (laughing).
Cincy Groove: Was there a moment you can recall when you decided you were going to be a full time musician?
Sheri Miller: Well, I knew early on I wanted to be a songwriter and an artist. I lost touch with the idea for a while when academic pressure was present. I think unless you are going to a performing arts school, the arts and music aren’t supported as much like they are in Europe. It really was a spiritual awakening when I first got that Casio keyboard. I never looked back after that. Like any artist will tell you, there are periods where you will have self doubt. Music is really what I feel like my calling is, and I responded to it.
Cincy Groove: What is your songwriting process like? Do write a lot all at once or a little bit at a time?
Sheri Miller: Well, its different every time, there really isn’t one answer. Sometimes I will have a bunch of ideas come all at once. I try to get them all down, then I have to pick and choose. It really took a while to put together the collection of songs I have now. But I’m really happy with this EP, and I’m really looking forward to making the next record.
Upcoming Sheri Miller tour dates:
Sep 7 2008 Evolve 2012 Music Festival Augusta, New Jersey
Nov 20 2008 World Cafe Live in Philly- NY Songwriter’s Circle Philadelphia, Pennsylvania