John R. Miller

Key to the Highway: John R. Miller

Interviews Key to the Highway Series

John R. Miller photo by David McClister

Americana Highways’ Key to the Highway series

Fans always clamor to learn more about their favorite, most beloved musicians and those who travel with them. There’s such an allure to the road, with its serendipity, inevitable surprises, and sometimes unexpected discomforts. This interview series is a set of questions we are asking some of our favorite roots rock Americana artists to get to know more about them and what they’ve learned and experienced on the road. We are sure they have key insights to share and stories to tell. Here’s one from John R. Miller.

Americana Highways:  How do you like your coffee or other morning wake-up beverage?

John R. Miller: Black coffee, with fresh-ground beans and a pour-over… But I also keep a jar of it pre-made next to my alarm in the morning so I can slug it down before I have a chance to shuffle back to bed. When I’m home I get up around 5:30 AM to get a rhythm going before the day starts, and I’m not naturally an early-riser, so having a jar of yesterday’s coffee helps shock me back into it. Doesn’t taste good, but after I get my eyes open I’ll make another pot, or brew some tea. On the road I prefer red eyes when I can get them (black coffee with a shot of espresso).

AH: What’s the most interesting or strangest motel/hotel or place you have stayed (while on the road for music?)

JRM: There’s a place in Dubuque, Iowa called the Canfield, which feels like stepping back in time about 70 years… It’s well-kept, but the furnishings are antique & the rooms are not uniformly decorated… Old rotary phones, floral wallpaper and vintage ceramic bathroom tile intact, an old-school bar on the ground level called the Rainbow Lounge, and perhaps most odd and disconcerting of all: two full-size Native American mannequins sitting on a couch in the otherwise-unassuming lobby. The place has some serious haunted vibes, and the scoop on it (as far as I remember) is that it halfway burned down back in like the 50s or 60s and was rebuilt. Some folks died in that fire, and there is a palpable eeriness to the place that seems almost deliberately maintained. My buddy William Matheny has a great song called “Down at the Hotel Canfield” which I think fairly well sums up the feeling of being a traveler at that place… Feels a bit like being stuck in time, at a hotel at the end of the world.

AH: If one CD is stuck in the player in the van for the entire tour, what do you hope it is? And why?

JRM: J Dilla’s “Donuts” comes to mind. Every time I listen to that record I hear something new. Generally for long drives I like mostly instrumental stuff anyhow – stoner/doom metal, beat tapes, drone, jazz… Music without lyrics is easier to put on loop and get lost in. Good for getting into the zone if you’re doing a haul.

AH: What’s one personal item you must have with you on your road trip?

JRM: A stockpile of nicotine gum and an e-reader and I’m groovy.

AH: What is your relationship with food? How do you handle this on the road, and what’s your favorite dish on the road, (or restaurant, and what do you order there)?

JRM: I’m vegetarian, with a few occasional exceptions, and we mostly eat plants at home. When I first started traveling back in 2007 or so this sort of thing was fairly difficult to maintain, (especially playing bars and bbq joints), but fortunately these days it’s become pretty easy to find stuff off the highway in most places. Hard-won lesson: if you’re gonna be traveling for more than a day or two, you gotta eat a lot of vegetables and drink loads of water. Fiber is more important than sleep! As far as a favorite dish goes… I am a pretty curious eater and love trying new things, but I also could probably eat spicy pad kee mao every day and be happy, preferably with a cold bottle of Topo Chico… I’m obsessed with spicy food and we carry a small variety of hot sauce in the van.

AH: If you could pause your life for a few weeks and spend some time living in a place you only have passed through, which would you choose, and why?

JRM: There are so many places I could fill in here… But I wouldn’t mind spending some time bumming & hiking around the coast of northern California and southern Oregon. Coastal redwoods, cliffs over the ocean… the grass might actually be greener there too.

AH: What quote or piece of advice have you gotten from someone on the road that has really stuck with you?

JRM: Once a long time ago, when I was venting about a difficult tourmate to another musician buddy of mine, he said to me, “you’re not the only one out there, bud.” I used to pride myself on my willingness to adapt to an often-uncomfortable, often-broke lifestyle, but I didn’t make many allowances for how well others may or may not cope with those conditions. Obviously it’s not for everybody, but a little patience, empathy, and knowing when to shut the fuck up goes a long way to surviving weeks in a van with the same few people. Also, oatmeal!

Find all things John R. Miller, here:

Find his tour dates here:

See other Key to the Highway interviews here: (click here for: Jimmy Smith  Ben Nichols Bruce Cockburn Charlie Musselwhite Nicki Bluhm Jim White Danny Barnes  Patterson Hood Jerry Joseph BJ Barham Rodney Crowell Todd Snider Elizabeth Cook Tommy Womack Eric Ambel, Dan Baird, Robbie Fulks, Malcolm Holcombe Jon Langford Steve Poltz, Lilly Hiatt  Sarah Shook & the Disarmers Sadler Vaden )

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