Singer/songwriter Dan John Miller is bringing his preternatural capability for engaging an audience through serenade and storytelling to the Ferndale Area District Library on Tues., July 11 at 6:30pm. This will be part two (of three performances) for the library’s annual Summer Concert Series. This is a free, all-ages music program presented by the Friends of the Ferndale Library.
At the start of our interview, Dan John Miller remarks, fondly, of the evolution of the public library’s role as a 21st century community center. There is art and photography on the walls, there’s engaging activities for a Children’s Summer Reading Program, and a book-club is about to meet down the hallway; not to mention the two dozen patrons perched at public access computers getting work done. It’s much more than just a building with books.
Dan John Miller, if you haven’t heard, is an esteemed icon of the Detroit music scene, with famous tenures in groups like Two Star Tabernacle (with Jack White), Goober & The Peas, and Blanche. He composed the Grammy-nominated score for the documentary “Johnny Cash’s America.”
He has several acting credits; in fact, you would have seen him in the Oscar-nominated Johnny Cash biopic, Walk The Line. But his latest venture is as an audiobook narrator.
Miller is an Audie award-winning performer for voice-acting and audiobook narration, including 10 Earphones awards, 3 Publishers Weekly “Listen Up!” awards and being named “Best Voice” by Audiofile magazine 5 years in a row.
He has narrated over 200 books. So while you can read about Miller’s more musical sides this weekend in the Oakland Press, we decided to talk all about BOOKS with this blog post.
Dan John Miller on books (and reading books!)
So, what is it like to perform a book…
The simplest answer is, when it’s a good book, it can be really fun! And, if it’s not a good book? It’s not that fun…! (laughs)
But, you get cast for a reading part by a publisher, so you never know what to expect. There’s a lot of power given to the audiobook narrator, especially if it’s fiction! You’re coming up with all the character voices and just basically getting to make them up on your own.
So, if you’ve gotta make one guy really nasally and another more raspy, or some people like it more over the top, in moderation, or sometimes more subtle, as though you were just telling a friend a story, in person. I record some book readings at my studio, at home, this kid of cabin-y, cottage-y, garage-y building in our backyard.
Characters are your forte… So it’s no surprise you enjoy fiction. What about non-fiction?
Sometimes I’ll take on a non-fiction book that I would never pick up to read on my own and find the subject or the writing really fascinating. It’s interesting to perform non-fiction. And that’s another fun aspect, to be surprised in that way by something you weren’t expecting.
How did books, literature, authors, influence you overall… In terms of your music, your acting, your outlook on life… Any authors stand-out?
I’d say Roald Dahl… I think that that darkness with that humor has always played a part. But I think also, just the fairytale thing in general, for me… I was just talking to a neighbor about that, like Hansel & Gretel, and reading that and being terrified about it when I really thought about it as a kid. It seems like some of the fairy tales have changed to a safer resolution, these days, compared to the real classic ones.
I was at an Audiobook awards ceremony in New York and I got to meet (famed Harry Potter books narrator) Jim Dale. My daughter’s completely obsessed with Harry Potter; last night we turned the living room into Hogwarts–she’s on The Half-Blood Prince right now. But, anyway, I met Neil Gaiman at this ceremony and we started talking: he said that ‘Kids aren’t stupid…they believe in the boogeyman. They know the boogeyman exists.’ But, that it’s good to have that bit of fear, cuz that’s the full life. Thinking about a boogeyman can be a dark horrible thing, but we talk to our kids about that, and not to terrify them. Frances is 8…, and we talk about (the Harry Potter books) and ask if it’s scary, or if she’s okay. She’s doing okay! She likes it!
What’s your most formative moment or influence, from reading…?
The first book, I can’t remember which grade we were in, but it was Of Mice And Men; that was just a mind blowing experience for me. The darkness of it, how simple the story was, but had all this concentrated emotion. One thing that’s always surprised me was how many of my friends who are creative, who are artists, actually don’t read that much fiction…. It’s just something so savory about the experience of being in the middle of a great fiction book and not wanting it to end! I think, also, maybe with the music I’ve always loved to listen to, there is always a storytelling part of that. That probably plays into the narrating of books.
What did literature show you, when it came to the way you would approach your own crafts, be it songwriting or performing…
Keeping things simpler (like with Of Mice And Men) … Cuz you can always tell when you’re adding too much stuff. The best ideas are really simpler. You can overwork a painting or re-write a scene in a book too many times. You can’t overwork (a certain piece of art) if it’s just not meant to be…
….from there, are conversation drifted toward all-things-MUSIC. You can read that in the Oakland Press, soon!
See you on Tuesday evening for our Summer Concert Series