John Miller’s an impressive cat. He’s only 21 years old—still young enough to speak about his formative years vividly—yet he gives an interview with the confidence (yet fortunately without the exasperation) of a touring veteran. Luckily, he has the back story to match that zeal. Despite being just a few miles east of Watsonville, Aromas is the kind of community that feels like it might as well be light years away from Santa Cruz. Nowadays you can find Miller working at New Deal Clothing right in the heart of Downtown Pacific, but that feels like a far cry from the singer songwriter’s home town he left as a teenager. It was during those years when Miller first started composing music, playing with a few nondescript bands during high school. Conversely, such experiences probably pushed him toward his future solo foray. “That was when I got my first taste of other musicians and working as a team on musical projects,” explains Miller. “It’s really hard forming chemistry with other people.” In one sense, then, some of the folk rocker’s influences and analogs aren’t surprising—Elliott Smith, Jeff Buckley, Conor Oberst—and Miller willingly admits to projecting a similarly downtrodden aesthetic. Still, it’s lyrically relevant to the younger generation, and musically relevant to anyone who enjoys smart, modern acoustic guitar-led songs. In fact, trying an album out won’t cost you a dime, as Miller has made his year-old debut full-length, Shades of Autumn Everywhere, available for free on his website, john-miller-music.com. Not that he’s necessarily thinking big picture, but the 21-year-old has admittedly done this as a marketing strategy. “As long as I’m breathing, I’m open to whatever comes my way,” says Miller about his next move. “Anything that comes at me, I’m not going to disregard it."
INFO: 9 p.m. Friday, May 20. Crepe Place, 1134 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz. $7/adv, $10/door. 429-6994.