Chris Milam Reflects On Adolescence On His Rocking Forthcoming Album “Orchid South”

By Ezra Wheeler

Acclaimed Memphis singer-songwriter Chris Milam is back with a new single, the title track from his forthcoming album Orchid South. In anticipation, we sat down with the artist to discuss “Orchid South,” his upcoming listening event at the Memphis Listening Lab, and the key to writing an enduring song.

1. For anyone who may not yet be familiar with you or your music, give us a quick rundown of your musical career thus far.

I’m from Memphis, but started my career when I went to college in Nashville. I moved to NYC from there and, once touring started ramping up, I wanted a cheaper homebase than Manhattan. So I came back to Memphis and have been a touring artist (plagues aside) for several years now. I have two albums out (Kids These Days in 2017, Meanwhile in 2020) and a third on the way (Orchid South 5.10.24). All 3 are different–I try not to fax a fax.

I’ve been lucky enough to have some really kind press over the years, but that’s because I shamelessly bribe music writers with Dunkaroos and frankincense.

Andrew Trent Fleming

2. You’ve just released your new single “Orchid South,” the title track from your upcoming album. Tell us about the song, and how it fits in to the album.

The album’s about my teenage years, but it’s also set in that time and place. So I wanted it to draw on the music that I fell in love with–and fell in love to–back then. Memphis powerpop, 90’s alt rock, a pinch of psychedelia. Everything feels so heightened when you’re a kid, so I wanted big, layered songs to match those big, layered emotions. “Orchid South” is a natural single–it introduces a lot of the sounds and sights and lyrical themes of the album, and it’s got that big anthemic chorus. I think it’s cathartic.

3. You’ve really made a name for yourself as an exceptionally gifted songwriter, earning high praise from national publications and fellow artists. What do you think is the key to writing an enduring song?

That’s kind, thank you. Enduring’s a great word, because that’s exactly what I focus on/obsess over when I write. For instance, I spend a lot of time and energy making sure my songs have layers. I want the listener to enjoy the first listen, I want the listener to enjoy the millionth listen, and I want the listener to enjoy every listen for potentially different reasons. All of my favorite songs have grown with me over time. I hear something new, a lyric’s meaning might evolve with age, etc.

One song can say a lot of different things.

Tommy Kha

4. You’ll be hosting an album listening party at the Memphis Listening Lab on March 14th. What should fans expect from Orchid South, both musically and thematically?

It’s a rock and roll record! Big, summery rock songs.

Music’s the only thing that has always made me feel like I’m not alone. This started in childhood, but it became the love of my life when I was a teenager. I wanted to make the album that Young Chris would’ve clung to like a life raft, constantly playing the CD in the car, driving nowhere. So, I’ve wanted to make this album since I picked up a guitar–it just took me a while to feel ready.

Also, a lot of the things I saw or experienced in adolescence feel especially relevant now. 2024’s a tumultuous time to be an adult, and it’s always a tumultuous time to be a teenager. So, I hope these 11 songs tell stories from my past in a way that still speaks to the present.

5. Even before hearing the album, I was struck by the excellent band that you put together for this project, including many hometown heroes. Tell me a bit about your musical collaborators on this project and the process of creating it.

Like Kids These Days and Meanwhile, Orchid South was produced by Toby Vest and recorded at High/Low Recording here in Memphis. I really can’t overstate how much working with Toby and Pete Matthews at H/L has meant to me: artistically, professionally, and personally.

I knew that this album’s scope would be bigger than the last two, and that it’s a rock album that deserves a rock band. It was really important to me that, as much as possible, the songs were built around live takes–the band all playing together in a room. That takes time, planning, rehearsal, but also buy-in from the musicians. People record this way less and less because it’s harder. The upshot is that some people love recording this way. Musicians playing music together–who knew?

So I think the band was excited by the process. And everyone had a fondness for the music Orchid South‘s inspired by. If I tell Luke
White “what if the lovechild of [Tom Petty’s] Full Moon Fever and [Big Star’s] #1 Record grew up in the 90’s,” he already knows. I think the band started from a place of shared influences and kind of a musical shorthand. The full credits for the album are at my site, and I’m enormously grateful for every single person who contributed to the album. These songs couldn’t have been in better hands.

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