Welcome back to our second instalment of our empowering artists series – here to shine a light on talented artists who deserve some recognition.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Rascal Miles, an indie folk musician from Sarasota, FL, who now resides in Portland, OR, about their inspirations, musical style and journey, as well as their upcoming album “Tailor-Made”. They describe their music as being like “Belle & Sebastian and Jenny Lewis had a queer music baby that grew up practicing harmonies to “Pet Sounds” and if that isn’t enough incentive to listen what is?
His musical journey started off like many do, in the early days of school. “I got started musically very early on. When I was in first grade (so 6-years-old), my music teacher made everyone in class audition for a solo in the school play. I remember everyone stopped and stared at me when it was my turn to sing… it’s been my secret weapon ever since.”
After this, Rascal began to take singing and piano lessons, later learning clarinet and snare drum before taking on song writing.
“I remember visiting my cousin in NYC for the first time when I was 10, and he had this white Strat that I was immediately infatuated with. I talked about it so much that summer that my parents eventually took me to the local music store in my hometown (Sarasota, FL, US) and I got a white electric guitar. Once I learned a few chords, that was it. Then I learned bass, eventually drums, and was in like 3 different choirs in high school, and since then I’ve gotten into cello and more recently trombone.”
“Anything that makes sound grabs my attention. If there’s an instrument in a room, I can’t keep my hands off of it.”
Who inspires you?
Something I noticed about Rascal Miles is that he has such a plethora of inspiration that is integral in their music. “I find inspiration in lots of people – musically, I’m inspired by anything that keeps me curious.”
“I’m a sucker for lyrics that keep me guessing too, the ones where you get zoomed-in details of a story but don’t see the full picture of what it’s about or what it’s telling you until you’ve listened obsessively a hundred times.”
This curiosity has been nurtured by so many incredible artists that came before him. “I’m forever inspired by Joni Mitchell and her poetry but also the chords she chooses and how they almost always ask a question instead of resolving in the generic way mainstream music tends to.”
“I’m also inspired by Laverne Cox on a regular basis, and more recently Alok Vaid-Menon for the work the both do in the genderqueer/trans/non-binary community. Their resilience and leadership give me a strength to aspire to when I’m having a harder time with walking through the world as a non-binary / trans person.”
The meaning behind Tailor-Made
Tailor-Made is both the name of Rascal Miles’ upcoming album and first single to be released. The music video for Tailor-Made comes out on June 1st, which also signifies the beginning of Pride Month.
“Tailor-Made” is about my experience having gender affirming top surgery, and I tell the story through a scavenger hunt of metaphors. I essentially took the idea of a tailor-made suit as a symbol for feeling at home in my body. This song became my way of taking a lifetime of being told “you cannot exist like that here” and transforming into something that proves them dead wrong.”
“Before I had top surgery, so many cis-het men asked me if I was sure that I wanted to do it, as if I didn’t know myself and was just in some trendy phase that might lead me to regret it, and then they’d ask me again later on, “are you still sure you wanna do this?”… Well, if you sit down and think about that, it’s pretty inconsiderate, and it also stems from a lack of conversation about transgender identities and transgender surgeries. When you’ve spent your life being told that you have to fit into gender “norms” in order to be accepted in society, you go through all kinds of roller coasters that require both internal and external emotional labour, and it makes finding the energy for self-advocating and educating others near impossible.”
“I’m at a point now though, where I want to use my experience and my story to create awareness and provide more trans/non-binary representation in art/media, so the point of this song is essentially to say this:
“Hi. I’m here. I’m a trans man and I had surgery to have the flat chest that I’ve wanted since I was in 4th grade sex-education class looking at diagrams of what my body would become. Am I still sure that that surgery was right for me? YES. Is it anyone’s business to ask me about that? NO.”
From at home production to a fully produced and studio recorded album, the development of ‘Tailor-Made’ has been great. Although Rascal Miles has created this album themselves, he also mentions the incredible help and support he has received from other friends and musicians.
“The song has developed so much since the idea first came to me. I sat on the songs from the album for at least 6 months before making the decision to release them professionally, a decision which we can thank Esme Patterson for. I truly wouldn’t be here talking to you now if she hadn’t encouraged me to pursue this project and see it through, and she’s been mentoring/coaching me through the process as it’s evolved. She connected me with mixing engineer Adam Selzer (M. Ward, She & Him, Laura Gibson, etc) who’s been a total game-changer for me and an absolute delight to work with, and I’ve got Sarah Register (Big Thief, The Shins) as my expert mastering engineer, and working with both of them has just made all the difference.”
What should we expect to hear from the rest of the album?
“The rest of the album is going to showcase lots of different sides of me, both as a person, lyrically, and musically. The whole thing is super intentionally thought out but also as authentic and honest as it can be. There’s a song about being a kid and being forced to try out for the softball team instead of the baseball team; there’s one about how puberty feels like a betrayal but it’s told from the perspective of a soon-to-be-butterfly; there’s another about the dysphoria that happens after gender affirming surgery, which not many people think about.”
“I’m making the album that I was missing when I was a kid, and had I been able to hear it, it might have saved me 30 years of struggling through self-discovery and acceptance. I’m willing to go through the vulnerable process of sharing my personal story and turning it into art because I want to kick down the doors that are still oppressing transgender/non-binary people today. The songs are bigger than me, and we need representation in art and media to see what we don’t know to dream of”.