Who Is…Bosque Brown
There's a white dove flying through Mara Lee Miller's songs — except, it's not really a white dove. Raised in a small Texas town by a very religious mother, who pressed Miller to sing in church, the singer for country-noir balladeers Bosque Brown sees God everywhere in her hometown: in the white horses grazing in the tall grass, in the river that flows around the general store, in the whiskey haze that lulls the Lone Star girls to sleep. On the band's full-length debut Baby, those visions aren't always comforting. Fuelled by dark strains of organs, pedal-steel and hammering piano, these hymns are more book-of-Job than forgiveness-and-light. But Miller's Southern-girl caterwaul weathers them with such courage, you want to wrap her in a blanket afterward. It's no wonder Seattle singer-songwriter and cult hero Damien Jurado has become her biggest fan: after Miller's husband and bandmate Robert Ryan Miller handed him one of her handmade CDs at a show, Jurado was so enthralled by her unique voice that he personally shopped the demo around until Miller found her label, Burnt Toast Vinyl.
eMusic's Melissa Maerz talked to Miller about her progression from shy churchgoer to rock siren.
On why she's afraid of Satan … and angels:
I was raised Baptist, and growing up, it was all hellfire and brimstone teachings at church. So for a long time, I was a very fearful child. Satan, bad spirits, even angels scared me half to death — because I didn't want to think that anything I couldn't see might still be in the same room with me. Even Bible stories scared me. Now that I'm older, the underlying theme in my songs is about trying to get over that fear of the church. But I also cling to the peace and hope that believing in God gives me — “White Dove” is about that. So there's both sides: being tormented from within, but also realizing that some of that is okay.
On learning to love her cowboy town, even though she can't ride a bull:
I grew up in Stevenville, Texas, which has a population of around 15,000. It's known as the cowboy capitol of the world. There's a lot of rodeos there, and it's a big football town, but since I wasn't into sports, I wasn't really accepted. During high school, I hated Texas. But then I moved to Denton for college, and for the first time I heard bands that had nothing to do with the church. This local band Lift to Experience was a huge influence on me. They would just fill the room with a ton of guitars, and they had this shoegazer sound to them, but the lead singer Josh Pearson had such a powerful, soulful voice that had this dark gospel feel to it. And this band really embraced Texas. During their shows they would have a longhorn skull on their amps or a Texas flag in the air. It made me see my hometown in a different way. I learned that I can love something about my state that wasn't riding bulls. Because of that, I felt like I finally fit in. Now you can hear Texas in many of my songs — it's in the lyrics and it's in my accent.
On the dirty river that bares her band's name:
The Bosque river in Texas is the worst river you've ever seen. It's dirty and small and not what you think of when you think of a river. And that makes it a good symbol for my hometown in some ways: it's just not grand. But in my town, everything is named after that one little river. Where you shop is called the Bosque River Center, and there's a street called Bosque Street. I got married at the Chapel on the Bosque and the river runs behind the grounds, so you can't really get away from it. I wrote a song about it called “Oh River.” It's a part of who I am, I guess, and I appreciate that much more now.
On why she sees herself as the heir to Hank Williams, not Cat Power:
People often compare my voice to Cat Power and Mazzy Star, and I really enjoy listening to both of them, but I was more influenced by old country music. I grew up in a town where people played nothing but Country Gold radio all the time. I used to hate it, but when I got older and moved away, I stated to feel a really strong connection to Hank Williams and Townes Van Zandt. Townes Van Zandt is like the Texas Bob Dylan. And there's so much heart and soul in Hank Williams' voice. He writes the same songs over and over again with the same three chords, and they're so simple, but he makes them all distinct. I think that's one of the hardest things you can do as a songwriter.
On getting stage fright at nursing homes:
Playing shows is probably the thing I dread most about music. I don't like to talk a lot between songs, and people always comment on that. I've always been really shy about performing. Growing up, my mom was a music teacher, so she would give music lessons to my sister and me. We'd mostly play songs from old movies and old musicals or church songs — basically anything old or religious. And then my mom would take us to nursing homes or other places where people were lonely or depressed. She would play and we would sing, but we were both so scared. We didn't know those people. I didn't want to talk to anybody, much less sing, and my sister was the same way. But I would never change those times, because I'm still playing with my sister now. Having her up there on stage with me, and my husband sometimes plays with us too, it's a comfort. It makes it feel like I'm doing more than playing in a band. This is my family.