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Painted Black: For Wymond Miles, Darkness Is the Daily Norm 

Wednesday, Nov 6 2013

Wymond Miles' home is haunted. The 35-year-old solo artist and guitarist in pop romantic outfit The Fresh & Onlys moved into the three-story Balboa Park unit in 2007 with his wife, Sarah. In 2009, she gave birth to their son, Julian, inside the home. The living room is mood-lit a pale orange and Miles' new solo album, Cut Yourself Free, spins on the turntable. Suddenly, a clamorous crash from upstairs disrupts the listening session. Miles bounds up toward the noise and returns with a sheepish grin. "Sorry, we have a ghost," he says. "It's okay, though, we know who it is." The phantom apparently sent some window blinds to the floor. "Sarah and I were just up there laughing about it," he says. "It's a significant day for us, so we're not surprised it's acting up."

Miles has a piano in the basement recording studio, and a family and a ghost upstairs — and he looks comfortable sprawled out on a couch in the middle of it all. His notorious hair arches up several inches over his skull before swooping down his back, like the path of an elegant high-dive. He's 5-foot-8, but the blow-dried coiffure boosts his stature to over 6 feet. For the moment, he's ignoring the "For Sale" sign outside, but new landlords will almost certainly mean a rent increase Miles can't absorb on a musician's income.

As our conversation veers between fatherhood, astrology, and dark music, it's clear that Miles the songwriter is the same Miles who courts ghosts at home. The ponderous romantic who pens lofty odes to liberation found a school for his son that upholds a similar disciplined creative scheduling as he follows himself. His songwriting persona could rightly be described as mystical, but Miles looks to the cosmos to explain everyday matters too, like why there's a ghost in house. (His sun and Pluto square one another, which attracts tension and darkness, he says.)

The opening track on Miles' new album, "The Ascension," floats atop palm-muted guitars and ominous keyboard lines until Miles wearily declares, "As I climb and look over the void/I know now my destiny." The lyrics throughout express a father's resolve and commitment to stare down difficulties. Comparing Cut Yourself Free to his 2012 debut, Under the Pale Moon, he says, "I'm going with less purely abstract watercolors and instead forming landscapes with implied stories," which means that he sharpened the grooves, muted the glistening guitars, and wrote lyrics about characters rather than free-associating. It broods and nods to the tightly wound aggression of '80s post-punk artists like Echo and the Bunnymen, but positive affirmations lay beneath the surface of despair. For Miles, even satisfaction is painted in black.

Miles studied painting and philosophy in college in Colorado, but moved to San Francisco to pursue music in 2005. He says the city instilled a renewed sense of purpose, a transformation to which Cut Yourself Free seems to speak, with a cover depicting the vast Pacific beneath a stormy sunset. "Everyone visits the ocean to shed themselves of some notion or another," Miles explains. "I'm fascinated by its churning violence. ... It's the breathing of the tide and earth and all of history."

Explaining how Julian's birth affected his career, he reverts to second-person, like it's painful to recall four years ago when he feared playing music wouldn't generate enough income and nearly quit: "The first thing you do is realize you live in San Francisco and there's no god damn way you can continue to play music," he recalls of the time. "Then, you start becoming moody and angry. Then, the people around you say, 'What are you doing? This is your moment. Don't let what you're supposed to do dictate what you need to be doing.'"

The decision to continue was fortuitous. His four years of fatherhood have paralleled a career ascension. His solo debut and EP last year met critical acclaim. Earlier this year, the rediscovered '60s legend Rodriguez invited Miles to tour with him as lead guitarist. Meanwhile, The Fresh & Onlys tour frequently, and release records for vaunted New York imprint Mexican Summer.

Of course, Miles has worked hard for it. "There's nothing I've committed myself to as a discipline as much as playing music," he says. "Discipline" also means what he calls the "daddy schedule": Earlier that day, Miles mixed an upcoming Fresh & Onlys album with Phil Manley at Lucky Cat Studios from 9:30 in the morning until 2:30 in the afternoon. During this time, he also writes, records demos, practices instruments, and handles press obligations. Then, he picks up Julian from school and later attends group rehearsals.

Julian attends the Waldorf School, a private institution guided by the teachings of Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner, whom Miles deeply admires. On the school's unconventional teaching methods — which include banning all screens, prioritizing playtime, and "letting the child come to reading" — Miles explains that "it also emphasizes rhythm. Rhythm itself is one of the greatest tools of discipline." In many ways, Julian's school imparts the credo Miles lives by himself.

And so far, that credo seems to be effective. Cut Yourself Free will likely further raise Miles' profile as a solo artist. After our meeting, he and his wife found a smaller home for rent elsewhere in Balboa Park. Moving wasn't really a choice, but, typically, Miles paints the relocation as another instance of liberation — this time, for the ghost itself, a female, apparently. "We needed to leave that place," he says, "to allow her freedom from its grasp as well."

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Sam Lefebvre


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