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Surviving Through Experimentation: Musician Ashley Miller

Paul Andrews

Connecting to musician Ashley Miller as a performer, when he's on stage or when you're listening to one of his albums, is easy.

The frontman for Kansas City-based indie band Metatone started out in a band called Pewepin the Formats, back in the early 2000s, when he was just a teen.

Credit Paul Andrews
Ashley Miller, pictured here in his recording studio, is obsessed with cube octahedrons. He builds them in two and three dimensions.

His projects have ranged from electronic dance music to "gray metal," with his newest band,Quadragarum, constructed entirely around an instrument called the chariot (Miller built the instrument himself out of an old wagon wheel).

Even so, there's been a distinctly identifiable Ashley Miller sound all along.

It's video-game-meets-barbershop-quartet, with rhythmic vocal stylings that double as melody and percussion. 

In live performance, all of Miller's body is visibly attuned to his music and his audience. He's a living conduit. He winces at the high notes, and bends to the low. 

In casual conversation, communication becomes a little harder. Abstraction and metaphor tend to intervene.

"It's body armor. It's like chain mail. It's verbal chain mail," he acknowledges. "I'm just puttin' it on."

Interview Highlights:

On goals:

"My goal is to survive as a human being, I think. It's just to survive. Life is hard. It's very complicated, being an emotional human being. 

Suffering is inherent to existing, and how it's experienced, [songs are] tools for experiencing the suffering myself without distracting myself or projecting it onto some other thing, but just experiencing it in a really undiluted, raw way."

On family: 

“You know how you have an exotic animal that you have to feed, like ... an ant puree and mango skin or something like that for them to not die? It's like that. They just meet my really esoteric needs.”

On what it’s like to be him:

"There is no me. There is actually no me. There's no me to hold onto if you actually get close and start getting close to it. That's a very liberating thing to say, though. It's not, like, a bummer."

On meditation:

“I think meditation is totally artistic and ritual practice is a very creative thing. It's forgotten because there's so much fundamentalism and dogma that the forms can't change when actually, it's imperative that the forms change all the time. ... Religion is an improvisational art form, ultimately.”

On parenting:

"It returns this urgency to everything because it's so easy to stay in one place or do something fantastic and then repeat it, but the kid is just relentlessly growing up constantly. And so it kind of, it's scary too. It's a reminder, stay on top of it, 'you're only funky as your last cut' kind of thing."

Portrait Sessions are intimate conversations with the compelling personalities who populate our area. Each conversational portrait is paired with a photographic portrait by Paul Andrews

People don't make cameos in news stories; the human story is the story, with characters affected by news events, not defined by them. As a columnist and podcaster, I want to acknowledge what it feels like to live through this time in Kansas City, one vantage point at a time. Together, these weekly vignettes form a collage of daily life in Kansas City as it changes in some ways, and stubbornly resists change in others. You can follow me on Twitter @GinaKCUR or email me at gina@kcur.org.