• John McGary, Woodford Sun Staff

WCHS grad drummer for Sturgill Simpson


Miles Miller has traveled many miles since graduating from Woodford County High School in 2011 – some of them to New York City three weeks ago to perform on NBC’s Saturday Night Live. He’s the drummer for Sturgill Simpson, a critically acclaimed country and roots rock artist known when he was attending WCHS as John Simpson. (Sturgill is his middle name – Miller says members of his band call him “Stu.”) Miller met Simpson in the summer of 2012, three years after Dave Cobb, who’d produced Simpson’s first solo album, saw him play drums on YouTube. “(I) came down to Nashville and just played some songs for him, and nothing ever really came of it until three years later, when Sturgill had just finished his first record and was trying to get a band together. And Dave had remembered me, saying that I was from Kentucky and whatnot – he didn’t know what town it was, but they ended up finding out it was Versailles …” As it happened, Versailles is where Simpson’s family had moved to from Jackson, Ky., and where Simpson, 38, graduated from high school several years before Miller. “Sturgill called me, with Dave, and asked me if Kyle Fannin still taught social studies at Woodford County High School. And I said, ‘Yeah, I’m sure he probably does,’ so that was our first meeting,” Miller said. A few months later, Miller began playing drums and adding back-up vocals for Simpson, and the two Yellow Jackets have performed together ever since. Miller played on Simpson’s “Metamodern Sounds in Country Music” and “A Sailor’s Guide to Earth” albums – both Grammy-nominated – and has spent much of the last four-and-a-half years touring. The Jan. 14 SNL gig, during which they played two songs, wasn’t the first network television appearance for Simpson and the band, but Miller said it was the most exciting. “That was probably, without question, the most fun I’ve ever had on any of our TV appearances. It was just intense, and we knew what we were going to do, so it was go time. It was fun; it was a lot of fun,” Miller said. Part of the fun came began when, during rehearsals, Miller had a bit of trouble on the countdown to the first song. “I’ve got a little microphone that’s got a little button that I can push with my foot that just goes to the band, so nobody in the audience hears it, so I can count them off. … So I’d count it off and I kept doing it a little too late for the stage director’s liking …” Miller said. “When it was go time, it was live television, we go in there and he comes over to me and says, ‘Keep it short. As soon as they say his name (Sturgill Simpson), the audience starts clapping, that’s your go time to start counting.’ I said, ‘Alright,’ and he started walking away and he came back over to me and whispered in my ear, ‘Don’t (mess) it up!’” Miller said he saw Alec Baldwin and guest-host Felicity Jones and, when the band was on its way to the set to say goodbye at the end of the show, cast member Keenan Thompson stopped to speak with them. Sturgill Simpson’s second and third albums made “Best of the Year” lists. Miller said sometimes, he’s almost too consumed by helping make the music to understand why fans and critics like it so much. “He’s one of, if not the greatest songwriters of all time. It’s simple, but it’s powerful, and his message is just there – there’s no hidden messages. He just says it like it is, and he really brings that out of us, to be able to portray that, what he wants in the song. That’s something to be said in itself, is to take people and to find people that help you further that message and whatnot. That’s a talent in itself,” Miller said. “He’s got a mission and he’s going to set out to do it, and he’s taking us along for the ride.” That ride includes plenty of time away from his home in Ashland City, a town an hour or so northwest of Nashville that’s about half the size of his hometown. He said he returns to Versailles whenever he can, though tours, a new rental house and five acres of land to look after keep him from coming home as often as he’d like. “It is equally rewarding and equally tough. Tough for the reason of being away from people you love, family and friends and all that – you miss some stuff. But you get paid to play shows and go on the road and make music, so it’s not too bad, really,” Miller said with a laugh. “At the end of the day, it’s a pretty good job.” Miller’s the only original member of Simpson’s backing band, and due in part to their shared ties, is probably the closest to the singer-songwriter. “We have a lot of the same things in common, music-wise and family-wise, and we just love the state of Kentucky, really. We definitely bond over that,” he said. Asked if, in high school, he’d imagined his life turning out the way it has, Miller paused for a moment. “I didn’t know specifically what it would be, but I always knew from an early age, and I think a lot of my friends and family knew, that I was going to do something having to do with music. But this is beyond anything I think anybody has thought of from our little town, Sturgill included.” Miller said. “You can’t make up stuff like this. You just go along with the flow, I guess.”

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