Roughly three years ago, Memphis singer-songwriter Chris Milam's life was stable. He was an up-and-coming musician with two albums under his belt, and he was engaged to be married. But, as the saying goes, life had other plans.
"I don't want to air dirty laundry," says Milam, referring to the break-up of his relationship. "But it's a jarring, lonely, and embarrassing thing to build a life with someone, then lose it. It's not uncommon, but it's hard."
To add insult to injury, Milam — newly single and semi-homeless — then lost everything he owned when his car was stolen at a gig in Jackson, Mississippi. Nothing, including Milam's guitar, clothes, and possessions, was ever recovered.
"I mean, I put everything I had into a car, and then the car got stolen. It's almost funny," he says.
Milam jokes about these things now, but it was clearly a trying time for him. Gigs had to be cancelled; new plans (including one for a place to live) had to be made. The silver lining was that the events influenced Milam to write the material for his new album, Kids These Days, his strongest collection of songs to date.
"When you've got that many questions, you're desperate for any answer," he says. "I didn't have any, and I realized that these songs all dealt with one question in different ways: What now?"
When he had enough new cuts to start recording, Milam sought help from Toby Vest of High/Low Recording. Vest not only helped shape Kids These Days musically, but also encouraged Milam to continue to work on the project.
"After Jackson, one of the first people I talked to was Toby," says Milam. "We'd started the record but had a long way to go. He said, 'You're out a tour. You're out everything right now. Let's make a record and not worry about anything else.' He and Pete [Matthews, Vest's studio partner] opened their doors, gave me a purpose. I won't forget that."
Milam and Vest hired the ace squad of backing musicians quite often associated with High/Low — including Vest himself, guitarist Luke White (Snowglobe), drummer Greg Faison (the Bulletproof Vests), and string players Jana Misener and Krista Wroten (the Memphis Dawls). The end result is both a more natural and atmospheric sound than Milam's previous efforts.
"It was important that the listener could hear a real performance by the folks in the room — intimate, vital, idiosyncratic," says Milam. "Toby and Pete have an extended family of musicians they call in for different projects. They're all killers. They understood what I was going for and filled the songs with life — beautiful, weird life."
This Thursday, Milam will officially unveil Kids These Days at a release show at Loflin Yard. After that, he'll spend most of the year promoting it on the road, hopefully with a bit of better luck this time.
Chris Milam's Kids These Days release party is at Loflin Yard on Thursday, April 6th at 8 p.m. Admission is $5.