When Rob I. Miller (Blues Lawyer) found that the records he’d once leaned on to help him through heartbreak weren’t working for him anymore, he wrote his own. The result is Companion Piece, a collection of heart-on-sleeve songs building on the classic guitar pop tradition of pairing melancholy with melody, out May 12 on Miller’s own Vacant Stare Records.
Primarily known for playing in bands, Miller has released solo music before, but Companion Piece is his first album under his own name; a choice that reflects the vulnerability underpinning these 11 self-recorded songs, each one representing a different stage of post-break-up grief from the shellshock of rejection and rumination over the past, to fantasies of a future that never came to pass and the cautious blooming of feelings for someone new. It is, he says, “my attempt to contribute to the canon of break-up albums.”
First single “Wedge” is a damaged pop song featuring sampled drums and heavily distorted guitar about the feeling of being an unwitting pawn in an emotional game played by the other person. “Borrow” and “Wrong for Us” use sunny alt-rock and downcast late ‘90s indie touchstones to excavate the heartbreaking awkwardness of situations like having to explain to your friends why someone doesn’t come around anymore. On “The One” Miller wonders over an anthemic chorus if a new fall (as in falling in love) “will be the one from which I die”—a mix of morbidity and sanguinity unabashedly lifted from the Teenage Fanclub playbook. “I was really inspired by that song ‘Norman 3,’ how ballsy it is to just say ‘I’m in love with you’ for three-and-a-half minutes,” he says. “It’s seemingly so unafraid—I’m just going to be as sensitive and vulnerable as I want to be right now.”
Companion Piece started taking shape when Miller set himself a goal of writing and recording a new song every week in his East Bay apartment while working through two break-ups: one romantic and one with alcohol. Without the emotional filter of booze and or the expectations of playing with other musicians, Miller found himself “interrogating ideas that I had about myself as a songwriter,” he says. Where he once would attempt to obfuscate his feelings with obtuse lyrics, on Companion Piece “there’s not really any distance. I feel like I’m under fluorescent lights.”
After a month of uploading his songs to Bandcamp, it became apparent that a theme was emerging, one Miller was interested in expanding on via the album format. He enlisted recording engineer and musician Andrew Oswald (Marbled Eye) to play drums and mix the home recordings, and Miller’s Blues Lawyer bandmate Ellen Matthews contributed guitar to two tracks. Otherwise everything you hear on Companion Piece is Miller himself, providing the most honest portrait of the musician we’ve heard so far on a record that fits perfectly into the canon of break-up records that exist because the maker needed them to exist—and maybe you do, too. –Mariana Timony
5/27 Oakland, CA – Stork Club