Everyone has vivid memories of how their lives changed drastically when the COVID-19 pandemic first hit. Many people began to work from home and avoid socializing, while lockdowns became the standard. But for Sierra Miles, a 20-year-old New Jersey singer, it also meant rediscovering her voice amid all of that upheaval and freely expressing herself without fear or restraint.
For those unfamiliar, Sierra Miles first began her career in bars throughout New Jersey when she was a teenager, performing as CC Miles (her childhood nickname). She experimented with genres and produced radio-friendly pop music throughout her teenage years, culminating in an early industry buzz. By herself, Miles amassed millions of plays and followers on her own and a loyal online following.
However, when the COVID-19 pandemic struck, and lockdowns occurred, Sierra Miles rediscovered a voice inside herself. Sierra collaborated with her producer and created several profoundly personal songs addressing significant times in her life within those sessions. These included her battles with anxiety and depression and watching a friend struggle through an abusive relationship. Inspired by her latest album’s path, Sierra reclaimed her birth name and dropped CC for her new musical identity: Sierra Miles. On this change, Sierra had the following to say:
“I started working with my producer to create this new sound, and it was like a door opened in my mind, and I found all this inspiration I didn’t even know existed within me. I guess it had been there all along, but I couldn’t see it because I was trying to find myself by looking outside of myself. The best part was that I wasn’t trying to be another artist. I was just being myself.”
“I didn’t want to look back 10 years from now knowing that I allowed these negative thoughts and beliefs to hold me back and sabotage my vision for my music,” she says. “These songs came straight from my soul.”
Wanting to learn more about her evolution as an artist, AltWire recently sat down with Ms. Miles to ask her some deep questions. Our interview with Sierra explores these changes and how they’ve affected her as a person and as a musician. Sierra Miles’ vulnerability and openness throughout the interview provide listeners with an intimate look into how she found herself during one of the most trying times in recent memory. Read on below.
AltWire: In your new album, “The Architect”, you touch upon many themes of mental illnesses and internal struggles. It felt like taking an introspective journey and then reflecting on the growth of the conflict therein. How do you think you’ve changed personally due to “The Architect”?
Sierra Miles: The Architect represents my realization of how my own thoughts and beliefs can sabotage me. I’ve struggled with anxious, obsessive thoughts my whole life, and over the course of writing this album I was going through a bit of a spiritual awakening. I was becoming more aware of how my mind works, and I realized that I am not my thoughts but instead the one observing them. This realization and being able to articulate it into my music gave me a sense of inner power and peace.
AltWire: One particular track I noted off the album was “Tainted Memories.” What are some of the influences behind this track and its creation? Lyrically, it stands out as an anthem for survivors of domestic violence.
Sierra Miles: From the outside, it’s easy to look at an abusive relationship and wonder why the victim doesn’t just leave. After watching someone in my life struggle with a similar situation, it became clear to me how skilled abusers can be at creating a false reality in which the victim is the reason for the abusive behavior. When this happens over and over again, the victim ends up blaming themselves and hanging onto the endless promises of things going back to the way they were since abusive relationships almost never start out that way.
I wrote the story in an attempt to fathom why this is such a common tragedy, though I know I can’t truly understand the situation from the victims’ point of view. It is my hope that the song makes someone that has experienced domestic violence feel less alone, knowing that it is a shared experience by many and that their hesitance to leave does not make them weak or dumb, rather that an abuser is not just a physical abuser, but also a psychological one and the mental effects are of no fault of their own.
AltWire: Your lyrical artistry leans into almost a psychiatric type of description of the person’s mind at the center of the song, regardless of perspective. In some songs, you’ve discussed putting yourself in different roles to write from different perspectives. At this point, what kind of writing do you feel has yielded the most growth for you as an artist?
Sierra Miles: Personally, I am very introspective, and I’m familiar with the way my mind works. I know that my anxiety can easily deceive me, and my thoughts can convince me of nearly anything, no matter how far from the truth it is. Because of this, I know that nothing is ever as it seems. I can’t look at someone and judge them because I have no idea what their “unconscious catastrophe” looks like.
Putting myself in the shoes of others has not only allowed me to grow as an artist but also as a person. We all live in different realities based on our individual experiences and minds, and that has made me question my own snap judgments of others and come from a place of empathy and understanding instead.
AltWire: Because of the lyrical content and emotional connection, are there any songs from the new album or in your catalog that you feel may be harder to perform live than others?
Sierra Miles: The most emotional song on the album for me is a song I wrote called All Dressed Up in Lies. I wrote it about a feeling that has followed me throughout my life. The feeling that there is some sort of missing piece that I haven’t found but am constantly searching for. It’s an emotional song about covering up my insecurities even back when I was a kid. It breaks my heart to know that even back then, when I was a pure, innocent child, I still didn’t feel good enough.
AltWire: Whether at a Meet & Greet or perhaps out in public, how do you like to connect with people? What is the most unique kind of interaction that stimulates you as a human being?
Sierra Miles: I love deep, philosophical conversations. I’m interested in talking about everything from relationships to quantum physics. It’s usually conversations like these that inspire my songs and deep connections with others.
AltWire: As human beings and as artists, we are constantly evolving. You are not the same artist you were when you were CC Miles. Where are some places or spaces where you would like to take your music in the future?
Sierra Miles: I’ve explored the very depths of my soul on this record, at least everything I’m aware of, which honestly is probably only like 5% of my unconscious mind. I definitely know CC Miles was completely in the dark about 75% of the things I write about on this album, so I can only imagine how much I still don’t know about myself. I’m sure I will uncover more as I gain life experiences, and I can’t wait to see what that looks like.
AltWire: What was your favorite part of the recording process for “The Architect”?
Sierra Miles: My favorite part of recording was laying down all the harmonies. I sang hundreds of haunting, choir-like harmonies on the songs in all different registers of my voice, so it’s really fun to record like that.
AltWire: Can you describe how your writing process differs between instruments? (e.g., Do you have any favorite guitar tunings?)
Sierra Miles: I typically write from piano because it’s easier for me to see and play random chords that sound good to my ear. On guitar, I feel more boxed into typical chords, and on piano, I can think more outside the box.
AltWire: How involved do you prefer to be in the mixing process?
Sierra Miles: So far, I’ve been present for the mixing process on every song. I like to be there and give feedback in real-time instead of sending my notes over virtually.
AltWire: You’ve mentioned a lot of influences from the ’80s and ’90s, such as Queen, Aerosmith, Pink Floyd, Fleetwood Mac, The Cranberries, Oasis, and Alanis Morrisette, to name a few. What about these and your other favorite artists inspire you musically?
Sierra Miles: I love Alanis because of her unapologetic way of storytelling and raw, angsty vocals. I love Freddie’s theatrical way of singing and performing and all the harmonies and unpredictable chord progressions. I love Aerosmith because of Steven Tyler’s vocals, style, and stage presence, and when I was seven, I wanted to marry him. So yeah, different reasons for different artists.
AltWire: Are some of your influences ones that your parents introduced you to? Can you remember the earliest time a piece of music changed your life?
Sierra Miles: Growing up, my family listened to a lot of post-grunge rock, like Matchbox 20, The Goo Goo Dolls, Third Eye Blind, etc., so that was my introduction to rock music. This genre is still one of my favorites and inspired me to start writing rock music.
AltWire: Branching off of the two previous questions, you have credited Taylor Swift as a critical motivator in beginning your musical journey. What was your first exposure to her music?
Sierra Miles: I was first exposed to Taylor Swift during the Fearless era hearing “Love Story” and “You Belong With Me” on the radio. I became a true fan with Red when I was 11, which inspired me to start writing my own songs and to ask for a banjo for Christmas, which I used once. Taylor inspires me in so many ways, especially by the way she interacts with her fanbase. When my friends and I were chosen out of 60,000 people to go backstage and meet her and her 1989 concert, she was so sweet and genuine and I aspire to always be that way with people that come out to see me play as well.
AltWire: What are some causes that are important to you and where do you personally want to see your music make an impact?
Sierra Miles: Anxiety and depression are both things I’ve struggled with throughout my life, especially after my back injury which inspired many songs on this album, so mental health is very important to me and approaching it from a spiritual perspective has personally changed my life.
I hope that other people realize the impact of their own thoughts and step into their own power realizing they don’t have to fall victim to the way their mind is programmed, and instead they can use what we know about thought patterns and belief systems to become the best version of themselves and live peacefully and free from their internal world.
AltWire: What role do you think genre plays in today’s music industry where it seems every genre extrapolates from another?
Sierra Miles: I know that I gravitate towards certain genres over others, but I also love when two unexpected genre’s are meshed together, like Kacey Musgrave’s Golden Hour. I think the blurry lines around genres today are allowing artists to be more creative by adding elements of other genres that are different from their own to create a unique sound.
AltWire: In your opinion, how do you strive to set yourself apart from other artists?
Sierra Miles: I think all songwriters naturally set themselves apart from each other since we all experience life differently and can draw from our unique perspectives. I do feel that I have many influences ranging throughout multiple decades that have inspired a sound that is uniquely my own, but I think this is true for most artists. Basically, I think being the most authentic version of myself in my music already separates me from others because there is no other me and the same is true for every artist.
AltWire: For young women in the music industry (and rock especially), it’s categorically been much more challenging to break through into the mainstream. Thankfully, this is a trend that is finally being corrected. How do you feel the industry could improve for new and emerging artists?
Sierra Miles: I think the current industry is the best it’s ever been for emerging artists. With social media and artists having the ability to get their music out in front of people without a label, I think it’s naturally only going to get better for new artists in the future.
As for rock artists, I think the same is true. Social media allows us to tap into so many different audiences and there is still an audience for rock even though mainstream music has been void of rock as we know it for many years. I do think that the pandemic has been a catalyst for live instruments returning to mainstream music since people are craving that real, authentic sound and experience which gives me hope for the rock genre.
Sierra Miles’ upcoming album The Architect, is still actively being worked on and thus does not have a release date. However, we will continue to keep you updated as more information becomes available!
Sierra Miles – “Funeral for My Morals”
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