A BURST OF INSPIRED SONGWRITING AND A COLLEGE FOOTBALL TEAMMATE REUNION FUELS CHICAGO POWERHOUSE MILES MAXWELL’S AMERICANA ROCK INFUSED DEBUT ‘RED GHOST’
In late summer 2017, thirty-something lead singer/guitarist Miles Baltrusaitis hadn’t played an original note of music for an audience in nearly a decade. Surprising everyone around him, he went on an intense songwriting flurry fueled by a broken heart and a suburban life rattled out of cruise control. After a month’s time, nine deeply personal chapters of a complete narrative emerged in need of a band to bring the eclectic story songs to life.
After a chance encounter, he enlisted the help of fellow Williams College football teammate and drummer Matt Stankiewicz and his keyboardist brother Dan when their neo soul band My Blue Valentine split. The three agreed to launch the band Miles Maxwell (using Miles’s middle name) when they met bassist Steve Kingwell – a veteran of numerous suburban Chicago cover bands – through a mutual friend and the lineup was complete.
With his new songs giving him the courage to resurrect his early passion, he sought out the best available collaborators. While the band recorded all the tracks in Miles’s home studio, mixing duties were handled by renowned Fall Out Boy and Plain White T’s Producer Sean O’Keefe. Now, only six months after debuting their blues and country infused vibe at Silvie’s Lounge, the constantly gigging band has released its multi-faceted debut album Red Ghost.
Genre-wise, the members have a wide range of influences including everything from pop-folkies Steve Goodman and Harry Chapin, alt-country rockers Uncle Tupelo, the Americana legend Steve Earle, and the Jazz Rock of Steely Dan. As a student, Miles studied jazz guitar at Williams, dug deeply into the Chicago Blues tradition and took a few years to learn American Primitive fingerstyle guitar a la John Fahey. As a songwriter, he’s a graduate of the Williams College Singer Songwriter program that also produced Molly Venter of Red Molly and Caitlin Canty. Matt and Dan’s father was a music teacher in Western Massachusetts where he encouraged them to pursue an education in music. Matt completed his degree in percussion at Williams while Dan inherited his father’s passion for vintage electronic pianos.
The nine compelling tracks on Red Ghost are lyrically witty and decidedly quirky, but also have a heartfelt confessional intensity that Miles never could have shared back in his 20’s. The band’s chief songwriter had to live the pain of falling for someone outside of marriage and watching that “girl become a ghost” (a lyric in the rumbling, Prince-styled country rocker “Something New,” which colorfully weaves the basic story) to write brilliant tunes about it. Another gem is the tight, edgy blues-rock ballad “She Says (Whiskey Down at 4 am),” which chronicles a sleazy confrontation in a Vegas bar where secrets are revealed, true feelings are exposed and a conversation unravels a larger story.
Title aside, the first release “Terrible Song,” is a mid-tempo pop/rocker with an irresistible guitar hook that examines how it feels to compromise a marriage pursuing a fling that shouldn’t have happened and couldn’t last. Though it’s the final song on the album, the Fender Rhodes, organ and guitar-driven blues ballad “Red Ghost” is the album’s emotional centerpiece. As Miles says, “It’s a song about trying to close the chapter on a story that is blurry and fading in the rear view mirror. Trying to make sense of the unknown, like why didn’t things work? What was wrong with me? What was wrong with her? Where do I go from here? It’s not a happy ending but an ending nonetheless.”
When speaking of the recording process, Miles added “I love the dynamic we have where I can bring in a crazy idea, riff, lyric or story to Matt and Dan and they instinctively know how to give shape and structure. They’ll improve on it with extended vocal harmonies, or use their deep understanding of tempo and change the rhythm scheme to make it just right. Then we put Steve on top of that and we’ve got something pretty amazing.”