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Prince Edward Island, 140 miles long and 40 miles wide and perched off Canada’s eastern coast at the gateway to the St. Lawrence, is an extraordinary place where people have always had to make their own entertainment. Just as they have made their homes, handicrafts, and celebrations utilizing the Celtic and Acadian traditions handed down, from father to son, mother to daughter, from the lands their ancestors were driven from by spirits of famine, politics or adventure. Only in the last decade has it been physically linked to the mainland of Canada. This is a place where imagination is as crucial as a warm fire in the winter. This is where Brooke Miller comes from.
Just as Ontario still whistles through the soul of Neil Young, no matter how long he’s been transplanted to California, Prince Edward Island informs every moment of Brooke Miller’s album, You Can See Everything.
Brooke Miller’s parents were eclectic artists and musicians and music simply “soaked,” as Brooke describes it, “into my pores,” in an environment that literally thrummed with all forms of creative self-expression. “I grew up with a lot of kitchen ceilidhs,” she says“kitchen parties–essentially just lots of food, wine and music that would go ‘til six in the morning playing.” Although she was not necessarily inspired to play traditional music, the musicians themselves provided role models that very early on, influenced the choices and direction of her life. “No matter what they did on a side job–some of these people were counselors, teachers, fisherman, farmers, lawyers, medical doctors–these were all people who lived and breathed music. So, to me, it was a lifestyle thing and it wasn’t just looked at as a job or a thing that you did to make money, it was something that people did to feel good–and alive.”
In third grade, Brooke’s elementary school’s music teacher, Gerard Ruttan, gave her an instrument to play and she never put it down. She was soon traveling to competitions around the Maritime provinces and as far as Halifax where the band would come away with gold and silver medals. Not until the ripe old age of 10 or 11 did she contemplate writing her own songs. Her parents bought her first electric guitar, a drum machine and little 4 track Tascam recorder, on which she would do all the drum, bass, guitar and “create these records. I wish I still had them!” With two boys, she formed a trio called Bleek that soon owed more to punk, and by 12, was touring the Maritimes, opening for bands like Sloan, Modest Mouse, Mad Hat and Eric’s Trip.
But a musician of Brooke’s gifts and range soon outgrew the three chord confines of punk and began exploring more sophisticated and challenging techniques and genres–from the intricacies of finger-picking to the more colorful palette of jazz. “I remember listening to a lot of Bruce Cockburn. As a young person who was already into playing, I just thought this is the coolest thing in the world to hear. I had heard him all my life because my parents were both huge Bruce fans, but I really just started sitting and listening to his music, then people like Leon Redbone, Rickie Lee Jones and the Police. I really started experimenting with what I could do with the guitar, tuning things differently and wanting to get certain sounds and do something that felt really different from what anyone else I knew was doing.” She also began to take her own voice seriously, rather than, in her words, “scream my head off. We had a real angsty outlet as a punk band, and that was our way to kind of thrash and get all this energy out of our systems. By now I had kind of simmered down a little bit.”
And with the more refined simmering that only a few years and intense devotion to perfecting serious craft, we now have You Can See Everything. She attributes that to recording with great musicians, working with producer Peter Lubin, who has produced the likes of Peter Gabriel, Jules Shear, The Pixies and the Everly Brothers, and to her husband and co-producer, Don Ross, an award-winning fingerpicker and recording artist highly respected in acoustic music circles for the last two decades. “You Can See Everything” sounds so intimately directed to him, she might be whispering in his ear. “That was the first `I love you’ kind of song I’d ever written,” she admits. “I was basically thanking Don for such good strong love. Just that feeling that things seem really clear at times if you know that your heart is safe.”
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