Discovering new local music during the pandemic has been… different. Challenging, really. But once the word spreads about an outlet for local music discovery, the flood gates open up and it’s fantastic! I used to think being the person at a record label that listened to submissions would be a fun job, in hopes of discovering music that would move me to the point of wanting to make sure everyone else knew about a particular artist. Instead of getting to shows early to check out the opener, having folks come up to me at shows to tell me about a friend or neighbor’s new project, I’m now that person going through submissions. Keep them coming! Jordan Miller reached out to me last year, to tell me about a band he had helped form in 2019 called Highway Natives. He also shared his solo album, Mountain Side River Dream, released as Jordan Miller Sounds; it became one of my most played records of 2020. While there’s a distinct sonic difference between the two, the rich vocals, imagery and musicianship are equally spread throughout both. Highway Natives release their self-titled debut ep today.
AnaLee: Congratulations, Jordan! I know it’s been a long time coming since Highway Natives first started to take shape in early 2019. I shared a couple of links to the first two singles you released as Highway Natives, and I picked your live performance of “Better Man” from East Nashville’s 5-Spot because you get to see the band and hear and see who’s behind those vocal harmonies, guitar layers and solid rhythm section. I get more of a southern rock feel from Highway Natives as opposed to a songwriter-folk singer vibe with Jordan Miller Sounds. Did one inspire the other or had you always planned on a band and solo thing?
Jordan: Thank you, Ana Lee! It’s always a pleasure hearing our music on WMOT. It has been a long time coming. When I moved to Nashville in July of 2017, my initial goal was to concentrate on songwriting behind the scenes, and off the stage. At the time, my songwriting was heavily focused on my personal experiences, and I just couldn’t hear anyone else singing them. So that lit a fire in me to want to go out and continue singing my own songs. It wasn’t two months later that I met Brandon (Moore) at a local studio in town for a co-write. We immediately hit it off, talking about our favorite bands, which then turned into a vision of what style of band we would love to be a part of. We shared a lot of similar tastes in bands, such as The Wild Feathers, Eagles, and CCR. We agreed to give it a shot and see what happens. No pressure, just have fun with it. Things started moving over the years, the other three joined the group, and now here we are putting out our first EP. Kind of crazy to stop and think about it for a second.
AnaLee: Would you introduce us to the band and tell us about making this ep?
Jordan: Highway Natives is a five piece; Matt Drummey on Lead Guitar and BGV’s, Artie Scarazzo on Bass, Arthur Stover on Drums, Myself (Jordan Miller) on Acoustic Guitar/Lead vocals, and Brandon Moore on Rhythm Electric Guitar, who also sings lead on a lot of our material. Every member in the band is from a different state, which is pretty cool. It gives an unspoken meaning to our name. We all met here in Nashville though.
If we start at the very beginning, the making of this EP took quite some time. Probably longer than it should have, but at the end of the day you just have to trust the process. The songwriting was mostly made up of Brandon and I crammed into a spare bedroom at one of our apartments just writing for hours. We’d meet up, write for a couple hours, take a break and go eat, pick up a 6-pack, then head back to keep working. We did this for about a year and a half. When we finally felt we had enough material to go through and narrow it down to an EP, we booked a weekend at Gnome Studios here in Nashville, and tracked the foundation of eight or nine songs altogether live, then chiseled those down to four. From there we overdubbed solos, pedal steel, dobro, and vocals. Being such a young band, this was the first time some of us had tracked live before, which was truly an awesome experience. We wanted to capture the atmosphere and vibe of what it would be like to be at one of our live shows. I definitely feel we did a good job of staying true to that.
We sent the tracks to Ryan Lipman out in LA and he mixed the record, and just did an incredible job at keeping the sound consistent with what we were after. Once he finished up, Adam Chamberlain (Adam C Mastering) put the final touches on. Adam Mastered my solo record, Mountain Side River Dream, and the guys were really into the work he did on that. It was an easy choice to have him Master the EP.
AnaLee: The other single you released ahead of the ep is “Bad News”. Talk a little about that track.
Jordan: “Bad News” has been there since the beginning. I want to say this was the first song Brandon and I wrote together. This one originally came from an idea that showed up out of nowhere for Brandon, but we just started saying the phrase, “Bad News”, over and over again on random occasions. You could pretty much say we were forcing the song into existence by overusing the phrase so many times! It’s an upbeat, rocking tune, that comes in heavy with a crunchy guitar riff and big drums. Brandon and I switch off verses, which is a lot of fun. The bridge slows down the dynamics of the song, before Matt comes in with a roaring guitar solo that bounces off the ceiling. The first time I heard the master back in the studio, it just felt right.
AnaLee: How is 2021 looking for Highway Natives? I know everyone is more than ready to get out there and see and support live music. How are you guys feeling about things starting to open up and about staying safe out on the road?
Jordan: Things are looking fairly positive for us at the moment. We lost a lot of dates in 2020, as everyone did, so we decided to launch a Kickstarter campaign to try and get some of that revenue back to make another record. Thanks to the help of our friends, family, and fans, we were able to successfully meet the goal last month. That was such a huge relief for us after the year that we all just had. It not only helped us fund this new album financially, but it really gave us a little boost of confidence that we needed having live shows cancelled for quite some time. But things are starting to open back up, and we’re ready. We just had a sold out, socially distanced show at The Burl in Lexington, KY and it was so great to get up there and see some familiar faces. The venue and staff did such a great job ensuring everyone felt safe and taken care of. It’s really inspiring to see folks eager and ready to get back out to a live show. It may be a bit longer before we get the feeling of what it used to be when it comes to live music, but I believe it’s coming and will be more appreciated.
Highway Natives, “Better Man”
Highway Natives, “Bad News”