Purcellville’s Bush Tabernacle roller rink was a frequent childhood hangout for 20-year-old musician Maggie Miles, and thus it was her first choice for the backdrop of her debut music video, “Shiver.”
But the video, despite the ostensible whimsy of its setting, is unshakably eerie. The lights are dimmed to a minimum, the camera often floats around in ghastly fashion, and Miles spends a chunk of her screen time reclined in a pit of faceless, bisected mannequins.
Upon meeting the singer — a Round Hill native and Woodgrove High School alumna — one might find her involvement in such an ominous spectacle rather surprising. Miles’ demeanor is consistently optimistic and bubbly, and while the corner of her mouth occasionally forms a half-sneer that fans of her video might recognize, it always comes off as harmless, even friendly.
But the most remarkable thing about Miles is just how quickly her music career is taking off. She released a three-track extended play in March and is currently working on a full-length album. Yet until recently she detested singing in front of people, so much so that she often refused to participate in school musicals.
“I loved acting, but I didn’t want to have to sing during my audition,” Miles told the Times-Mirror. “So I just did straight dramas and comedies.”
Still, music was integral to Miles’ upbringing. Her father once played bass in a Celtic rock band, and though he’s been out of practice as a musician since becoming a full-time pastor, he passed his love for classic rock and hair metal — namely The Cars, Metallica and Van Halen — on to his daughter.
“I listened to a lot of the classics. That definitely, I think, whether it was subconscious or not, poured into what inspired me later in life when I was creating more music,” she said, though she allowed that listeners probably won’t find Metallica’s signature abrasiveness anywhere in her catalogue.
When asked why music was her expressive outlet of choice, her answer was simple. “I’m not good at anything else,” she said before cracking up.
Miles began writing songs around age 16 or 17, much later than one might expect of a full-time musician. She found she could best cope with the trials of adolescence by “turning to words,” a method that would sometimes yield poems but more often resulted in songs.
“I was going through a lot. Nothing extremely traumatic necessarily, but it was just like being 15 or 16 years old, not understanding myself and being affected by my life. I felt like it was the most terrible thing ever because, you know, you’re really young,” she said. “I just loved making songs because it was something that I could control, that I could understand.”
It turns out more people connected with Miles’ songs than she might have expected. Her first single, “Belief,” has accrued more than 100,000 plays on streaming service Spotify since its January release.
Miles called her response to the song’s success “mixed, because it was gratefulness but it was also, no pun intended, disbelief. It was like, ‘This is so cool, this is what I wanted,’ but it’s also like, ‘Oh my gosh, people are listening to this, that’s weird.’ But it was mostly just excitement because I felt like I had done something right. It was like validation.”
“Belief” hardly sounds like your typical debut, boasting richly layered electronics and an undeniable sheen of professionalism. Miles did much of that track’s instrumentation herself, using equipment enabled with Musical Instrument Digital Interface — or MIDI — technology, a skill she picked up by experimenting with her computer’s GarageBand program and shadowing producers.
She changed up her instrumental approach for “Shiver” by incorporating live drums, guitar and bass while playing keys herself. The tune, befitting its music video’s retro aesthetic, is a shimmery, swing-time disco jam infused with razor-sharp percussion and a warm bass line.
A band accompanies Miles for her live performances, but she was left to her own devices for a gig earlier this year at Pearl Street Warehouse in D.C. — a gig that later proved a major turning point.
“One of my bandmates showed up 45 minutes late, which was fine, it wasn’t his fault, but that obviously stressed me out,” she recalled. “I had to kill time, so I was onstage trying to see if I could stall. I was just out there playing stuff I was working on, alone.”
Her bandmate finally arrived — “We killed our set, and it was awesome,” Miles said — but it was those opening minutes of improvisation that caught the eye of venue owner Bruce Gates, who co-runs Tennessee-based Warehouse West Entertainment. He approached Miles after the show with an audacious question: “Hey, would you ever move to Nashville?”
“I was like, ‘Absolutely not,’” she said. “In my head at that point, Nashville was country-ville. I don’t make country music, why would I move there?”
She relocated to Nashville two months later.
Her first visit was packed with meetings, both with Warehouse West officials and potential attorneys to aid in the signing process.
“That was a really crazy four days that we spent running around the city, meeting all these people,” she said. “The next time I went was when I moved in.”
Signing with Warehouse West in September helped kick-off a series of big steps for Miles. She and her band completed a short tour, her debut album is in the works and the “Shiver” video, which premiered last month, has received attention from Billboard. Mainstream success appears well within within the young artist’s reach.
But whether or not she becomes a household name, Miles’ primary goal is that she continues to prioritize the most important things to her and her music, notably her Christian faith.
“My relationship with God is everything to me, and it’s one of the biggest drivers in my writing,” she said. “The industry is a dark place and I’ve only seen a glimpse of it, being such a green member. I’m really ripe, I’m really young. I think, honestly, I want to bring light to that.”
Moreover, Miles wants to stay as enthusiastic as possible for her craft, no matter what success might lie ahead.
“I want my music to be still the most important reason why I’m doing this,” she said. “I have to make music. I know it sounds kind of cheesy, but it’s like something inside of me is driven by the fact that I have to make music. Whether it’s something that’s successful, whether it’s something that’s just for myself, I know that I’ll always make music.”
Maggie Miles will perform at Jammin Java in Vienna on Feb. 12, 2020 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are available at bandsintown.com/e/1018310648.