Born Julie Griffin in 1956, in Dallas, TX; married Buddy Miller (a guitarist, producer, performer), 1981. Addresses: Record company--New West Records/Los Angeles, 9215 West Olympic Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90212; Media Relations: Traci Thomas, phone: (310) 246-5766.
Julie Miller is among the most critically respected songwriters and performers in the alternative country genre. Her solo albums and collaborative efforts with husband Buddy Miller are praised for their songwriting craftsmanship, spirituality, and vocals that range from the ethereal to the sultry. Her songs have been covered such notables as Buddy Miller and Emmylou Harris, and her vocals have been compared to those of Victoria Williams, due to what some reviewers have described as the "little-girl-lost" quality of her delivery. Critics have noted that Miller's harmonies with her husband are among the most distinctive in contemporary music. Initially categorized as a Contemporary Christian Music singer and songwriter, Miller broke out to unanimous critical acclaim, with secular songs that retain a distinct Christian empathy.
Miller was born in Dallas, Texas, and spent much of her youth in the musical hothouse of Austin. Her adolescence was marred by a sexual attack, which contributed to severe depression. "I had this longing, but nothing I did would make it go away," she told No Depression journalist Bill Frickics-Warren. "I tried to be a good Christian---I prayed, I read my Bible, I went to church---but I only got more depressed. Finally, when I was sixteen or seventeen, I said to God, 'You know I believe in you, but I don't know how to do this. So goodbye. Whatever it takes to bring me back to you, do it.'" She was singing in the Austin band Rick Stein & the Alleycats when future husband Buddy Miller auditioned for the group. "Julie was the chick singer and I was the almost-not guitar player," he told Frickics-Warren. "She told them not to hire me." The two moved shortly thereafter to the band Partners in Crime.
In 1980 an opportunity to advance Buddy's solo career prompted the Millers to relocate to New Jersey. The move exacerbated Miller's depression. "I would stand onstage and pretend to be this sexy, cool chick-singer and about halfway through the set I would switch channels," she told Frickics-Warren. "I'd wanna go hide in a closet or under a staircase or look for a garbage can to crawl in." Her depression led Miller to several stays in mental hospitals and an unsuccessful suicide attempt. "All my life, even when I was twelve years old, I was depressed," she told Frickics-Warren. "A question burned inside me but I didn't know what it was. ... and no one around me seemed restless inside or hungering."
A personal spiritual epiphany led Miller back to her Christian roots, and she left the Buddy Miller Band in New York City. After Miller departed, she was replaced in Buddy's band by Shawn Colvin. Miller returned to Texas, but kept in touch with Buddy, and the couple married in 1981. They became members of a religious community in Lindale, a town in east Texas, and then later moved to Seattle and then to San Francisco. Producer, performer, and fellow Christian T-Bone Burnett heard a demonstration tape of Julie's, and through Burnett and former Plimsouls member Peter Case, Miller met Case's wife, singer-songwriter Victoria Williams, who would contribute her distinctive vocals to subsequent recordings by both Millers. The Millers moved to Los Angeles, and Julie embarked on a career as a solo Christian singer. She recorded her first two albums, Meet Julie Miller and He Walks Through Walls, before financial considerations prompted the couple to relocate to Nashville.
The move to Nashville began a heady time of songwriting and recording for both Millers. Buddy built a studio, called Dogtown, in the couple's home. In Dogtown, Julie recorded Orphans and Angels in 1993 and Invisible Girl in 1994. The couple's circle of musical acquaintances had expanded by this time to include Emmylou Harris, Lucinda Williams, Patty Griffin, Steve Earle, and Mark Olson of the Jayhawks. Harris performed a duet with Julie on Miller's composition "All My Tears," which Harris later covered on her critically acclaimed 1995 album Wrecking Ball. Miller revisited the song on her second album for the HighTone label, 1999's Broken Things.
After the release of Invisible Girl, Miller began to feel that writing exclusively Christian lyrics was too limiting. She began writing songs that were spiritual, if not specifically Christian, and contributed several of these compositions to Buddy's solo efforts as well as to her debut on the HighTone label, Blue Pony, in 1997. "It was a precious thing, going around the world and meeting believers," Miller told Tennessean staff writer Peter Cooper in an article quoted on the Buddy & Julie Miller Web site, about her tenure as a Christian music performer. "I'd sing for forty-five minutes and then stay and talk to people for three hours. ... But ... it always seemed kind of silly to me to sing all these songs in churches. You're really singing to the choir. And while every other music is categorized by the music part, Christian music is categorized by the lyric. A time or two, that was constricting." While ostensibly a secular album, Blue Pony contains several songs with strong Christian themes, including "I Call on You," in which she prescribes God as an antidote for life's cruelties. In other songs, Miller presents characters who have experienced mental illness or abuse. For Broken Things, Miller enlisted Victoria Williams, Patty Griffin, Steve Earle, and NRBQ bassist Joe Spampinato for assistance on another strong batch of songs, including "Strange Lover," a song about cocaine, in which she duets with Earle.
In 2001 the couple released their first official duet album, Buddy & Julie Miller, to nearly unanimous critical praise. "Buddy and Julie's phrasing is utterly unique," Emmylou Harris told Frickics-Warren. "They do tricky little things that sound so completely natural. I'm not sure if they work them out in advance or whether it's something about the way their phrasing comes together." Buddy described their talent for harmonizing to Frickics-Warren: "I think it comes from growing up together musically. ... We know each other so well that we have a kind of telepathy going on. Whenever we do something together it becomes something else. It's kind of like a third thing." Standout tracks on the album included the "Wild Thing" invocation on "You Make My Heart Beat too Fast," on which Miller lyrically addresses the subject of physical love by purring, "Come on baby, take me to school."
Detroit News critic Tom Long wrote: "Julie is the stronger force here. She provides the majority of the excellent songs, and her ragged Lolita vocal style is uniquely affecting. ... The duo can make achingly beautiful music. ... Together, they achieve the kind of rare balance that only real lovers and musicians can." Sonicnet.com critic Geoffrey Himes, quoted on the Millers' website, also gave the effort high marks: "Here is a country-rock fashioned not from particular guitar styles but from the fundamental attitudes of ancient, fatalistic country music and anything-is-possible rock and roll. Buddy's hillbilly guitar may summon up a storm that's as implacable as it is biblical, but Julie's folk-rock wail refuses to run scared. It's an album that could have come from 1925, 1965 or 2005."
Because Miller's touring and recording efforts have been hampered by fibromyalgia, a disability that causes chronic pain and fatigue, she makes infrequent live appearances with her husband and the band. In 2005 Miller was writing and recording material for an album to be released as her debut on the New West label. Her musical partnership with her husband also continued, with her contribution of five songs either co-written or written entirely by her for Buddy's 2004 release, Universal United House of Prayer. Also in 2004, HighTone Records released an anthology of Buddy and Julie Miller duets, Love Snuck Up, taking songs from the couple's seven releases for the label.
by Bruce Walker
Julie Miller's Career
Performed with bands Rick Stein & the Alleycats and Partners in Crime, mid-1970s; married former Partner in Crime bandmate Buddy Miller, 1981; moved to Nashville and released Orphans and Angels, 1993; released debut secular album, Blue Pony, 1997; released duet album Buddy & Julie Miller, 2001.
- Selected discography
- Meet Julie Miller Myrrh, 1990.
- He Walks Through Walls Myrrh, 1991.
- Orphans and Angels Myrrh, 1993.
- Invisible Girl Street Level, 1994.
- Blue Pony HighTone, 1997.
- Broken Things HighTone, 1999.
- Buddy & Julie Miller HighTone, 2001.
- (With Buddy Miller) Love Snuck Up HighTone, 2004.
- Detroit News, October 26, 2001.
- No Depression, September-October, 1999.
- Wall Street Journal, February 3, 2000.
- "Julie Miller," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (April 15, 2005).
- Buddy & Julie Miller Official Website, http://www.buddyandjulie.com (April 15, 2005).