The joke is that Wymond Miles, the guitarist for San Francisco’s the Fresh & Onlys, is more famous for his hair than his strumming skills. Miles’s voluminous mane, which puts the girls in the Herbal Essences commercials from the ’90s to shame, even has its own parody Twitter account something Miles laughs about, along with the general attention reaped by his raven locks. That’s the thing about Miles: He’s unassuming, a staple of San Francisco’s music scene and, on stage, a force to be reckoned with. And though he’s got a couple of solo releases under his belt, Cut Yourself Free is set to be the album that gets people talking about more than Miles’s stint as Rodriguez’s touring guitarist and what kind of shampoo he uses.
The album comes on the heels of a particularly productive 2012 for Miles: He released full-length Long Slow Dance with the Fresh & Onlys, as well as Under a Pale Moon, his first album under his own name. Where the Fresh & Onlys oscillate between marauding garage and, lately, gorgeous, folk-informed jangle-pop, Miles’s solo work skews darker, drawing from the same bleak well as doomy-but-tuneful bands like the Sound, the Chameleons and early Echo & the Bunnymen.
Hilary Hughes talked with Miles about making broth, touring with Rodriguez and that luxurious head of hair.
On the “alchemy of water and bones” — or, making broth — every week:
When you start having kids, you have to start finding really cost-effective ways to make nutrient-dense food and have some time to have a life, and a broth is the staple of that. You really can’t half-ass broth. You gotta get the best quality bones you possibly can. Chicken broth is really easy; you just have to be like an old witch and put some chicken feet in there. If you can find a chicken head, all the better. We always have a big cauldron with water boiling and various animal bones in it. I’ve only been at it less than a year, so I’m hardly an expert, but it’s fun. You gotta roast the bones first, and make sure those bones are pasture-raised, too. You can’t be messing around with some confined animals. There are just no good nutrients in those bones, period, and pasture-raised bones have a better flavor anyway. Grab those bones, brown them first, boil them, and throw that water away, and then that second batch of water you get, it’s going to bring out all those gelatinous, nutrient-filled qualities in those bones when they start to break down. Another interesting trick is to char a whole onion over a flame or just in your oven. If you char that and blacken some ginger, and you put them in with that — yeah! That’s a nice starting point to make sure you got a quality broth going.
On hair as microcelebrity:
It kind of outweighs me or my music, this head of hair. I think it was the L.A. Times in one of the reviews of the Rodriguez shows that said the “guitarist had very eccentrically coiffed hair” or something like that. I thought it was a really good play on words, “eccentrically coiffed.” They didn’t print my name or who else I played with, just my eccentric hair [laughs]. For shampoo, I just use whatever hippie, made-in-the-forest-by-elves stuff my wife gets for us, or whatever’s in the free sample bottles in hotels while we’re on tour. I’m very indifferent with that. There’s just so much [hair] that it doesn’t even matter. It’s a cowlick. It’s my mom’s thick head of hair and my dad’s receding hairline. It’s just genes.
On the gentrification of San Francisco:
San Francisco is kind of pushing all artists and musicians out. No one really lives here anymore. It’s become so expensive with the tech class moving in that the cultural foundation that was appealing to a lot of people is being dismantled. It’s a different kind of gentrification, because it’s happening so fast and only certain kinds of jobs were brought in here. I live on the outskirts — I’m not even in a hotspot in the city — but Whole Foods moved in six months ago and my landlord is selling the house I’ve lived in for the past seven years, and I’m in a desperate scramble to make a new situation happen. The class divide is so in-your-face here. Everyone’s deciding whether they want to be a part of that anymore. It’s hard to rationalize it. The landscape itself, that’s really the core of what keeps me here. Twice a week, I go to the ocean with my son, and with the densest redwood forests you can imagine and the fog — the landscape around here is pretty phenomenal, and that’s the core of what pulls me here. I’ve been here almost 10 years now, and I have a child born here and lots of best friends here. This is my place, and I feel like it should be my home, but there are a lot of people who say, “If you can’t afford it, it’s time to move on.” I have family here. I can’t just “move on.”
On touring with Rodriguez and watching his rise to fame:
I played with Rodriguez on and off for six years. I’ve always been his West Coast guitar player. With the Fresh & Onlys, we were asked as a young band to be his backing band as mutual friends of his label, Light in the Attic. We did that tour early on as a band, and I think it really made the Fresh & Onlys a better band by learning somebody else’s record backward and forward. It really brought us together. We could see when he really hit his top. I was at Sundance with him, and [parts of] the documentary were made on an iPhone, so we didn’t think that much was going to come of it. And then it got picked up by Sony, and it just blew up into this whole other thing. I toured with him again, and suddenly the documentary was in every suburb everywhere. Everyone knew Rodriguez, and audiences were twice as big at his shows — and twice as mad about how loud the band was. [Laughs.] Lots of “We can’t hear the lyrics!” and pointing fingers at me. They didn’t like the young rock ‘n’ roll band around him. That was certainly a very odd trip to be on and witness, his whole world blow up. To go into a realm of minor celebrity is a strange art.
On Cut Yourself Free‘s confidence:
I feel like Cut Yourself Free is a really confident work. It was made really quickly as well, but I think it’s a really concise piece that took a lot of chances. There are songs like “Night Drives” where it’s got a synthesizer base, without a guitar in sight; or the opener, “The Ascension,” where there’s so much dead space, and I have a five-minute opening before I say a word. It was a huge risk to have so much space between the notes and to just have my voice be at the forefront there and going in places it shouldn’t be — up in those high falsetto octaves and things. I felt safe and confident to go there. There’s a certain amount of challenging myself here, and I think it’s a pretty confident progression from the last album.
On the differences between Cut Yourself Free and the live performance of its songs:
I really think that [the studio and the stage] should be different environments. With Pale Moon, a lot of people were surprised at how loud it was — it’s a lot more visceral. I’ve always recorded [a song] before I play it live; it’s the way I’ve been doing things for so long. I’m recording most of it myself, so once I have my friends come and start to play, and they have their own subtleties that they’re putting in, it’s pretty exciting.
I had done the song “Passion Plays” live two or three times now, but that’s really hard, because my expectations are both very humble and also far more grandiose than you could ever put into words. There are things in my head that are pretty grand in scale, and [Cut Yourself Free] kind of evokes that space. I get pretty lost in that stuff, but often, when I go out on tour, and I’m out in that world, and there are maybe 14 people staring back at you with their arms crossed, it’s been very humbling. I’m going to try and make this tour the one where I only play the new record, but we’ll see how that goes.