New York is an important place for singer-songwriter Tor Miller. It’s the place of his birth, and, when his family left to relocate to New Jersey, the place he always dreamed of returning to.
Miller’s breakout indie single from 2015, “Midnight,” is all about New York. The song evokes imagery of the 1970s New York punk scene, along with a timeless sense of roaming the city streets and feeling its history—something Miller does for inspiration.
“At the time I was writing ‘Midnight’ I was reading Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk, and Patti Smith’s book, so I was getting super inspired,” Miller says. “New York, I think, plays into everything I do. I draw a lot of inspiration from the streets and the places I go, and everything that the city has to offer. It’s tremendously important to the music I make. The artists who have been here and have performed here are all very inspiring to me.”
As important as New York is to him, it was in New Jersey that he stumbled upon what would take him back to his beloved city in the end: music. At the age of 10, new to Jersey, Miller started taking piano lessons. His teacher encouraged him to not just play other artists’ songs, but to write his own.
“He was the catalyst for a lot of those things. Around that same time I was listening to Ziggy Stardust [and] Elton John’s Greatest Hits. I was finding my musical tastes that coincided with the writing,” Miller says.
On Miller’s debut EP, Headlights, which he released on Glassnote Records in early 2015, his Bowie and Elton John influences are prominent, as is a subtly dark, gritty vibe. He cites Lou Reed and Tom Waits as being important influences. The four tunes on his EP are all earnest piano ballads sung with emotion and catchy hooks. There is polish to the recording, but they aren’t without a flawed human element.
On Glassnote Records, Miller shares a roster with groups like Chvrches, Mumford & Sons and Phoenix. Miller was signed by Daniel Glass himself, the owner of the label, about a year before the release of Headlights. Glass caught Miller playing at the Rockwood Music Hall in New York, where he had a residency.
Currently Miller is putting the final touches on his debut full-length album, due out later this year. He’s already released one song off the record, “Carter and Cash,” which is a little bit of a departure from the piano-driven sound on Headlights. The song has a full band, with elements of ’80s synth-pop/New Wave.
“This new album will have much bigger arrangements—a lot of the same sort of ballads, the vulnerability, and talking about the same sort of things as the EP—but just on a much bigger scale,” Miller says. “When I was making that EP we didn’t have much money and we didn’t have much time. It’s not as if all my artistic ideas could be fulfilled. This record is a bit more of what my imagination has. We have strings and horns, there’s a lot going on. It’s a much bigger sound.”
Miller has already gotten some heads turning from the EP and hopes the full-length will do the same. It’s a much more diverse record and represents the great scope of his creative vision, pulling from his repertoire over the past three years as a songwriter. (Both “Midnight” and the song “Headlights” from the EP will be on it.)
“They signed me to be myself. I picked my producers, I picked everyone around me,” Miller says. “I’m pretty excited to get it out there. I’ve been sitting on it for a long time. I tried to imagine this album as a live set: You want your fast, high-paced moments, and the low introspective ballads. I didn’t want to have an album that was flatlined, my musical tastes are broad. I hope it comes through.”
INFO: 9 p.m. Feb. 6. Crepe Place, 1134 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz. 429-6994. $10.