Winner of the Songs for Social Justice Award Competition 2012 Australia:
Steph Miller for ‘The Riverside’
Born in the NSW country town of Goulburn, Steph Miller is a Sydney based songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. Best known nationally and internationally for his work in the bands Roaring Jack and Eva Trout, Steph has been performing his own songs, solo and in bands, for many years. An in-demand session player, Steph is once again fronting his own band, The Winter Station. Bringing together top players from Sydney and regional NSW, The Winter Station started as a fluid studio collaboration. Now a solid and passionate live band, they are currently performing material from Steph’s albums, Strange Sea and Brickwork.
Steph sent the following message after the presentation:
Thanks so much for your well wishes everyone. It was truly an honour and very unexpected. I also got to go to the National for a day and night and saw some incredible players. Huge thanks to a few good friends who reminded and supported me in submitting a song. Also to my good friend Greg Ryan, who quickly recorded my entry in his small studio. I think there was two days before the entry cut-off! Also to the Alistair Hulett Foundation and the judges who were Judy Small, Kate Fagan and Eric Bogle. Cheers! My band, The Winter Station, were rehearsing the song called ‘The Riverside’ prior to the competition and will record it later in the year for our next record. The entry version will be up soon on our facebook page. I was quite overwhelmed at the final concert and stuffed up the last verse (well it was the first time I’d played it live and to such a huge crowd!) Only human after all. Again cheers, love and justice for all.
The following interview captures Steph’s thoughts on winning the Award:
Q1: Steph, congratulations of winning the first AHMT Award for the Song of Social Justice in Australia. How did it feel win and perform at the National Folk Festival?
A Thankyou. It was a real honour and most unexpected to win the Songs For Social Justice Award. As part of the award, I was asked to play at the National Folk Festival in Canberra. It was a bit of a whirlwind trip and quite overwhelming. Very exciting. I’d never been to a National before and was most impressed with the organisation and production of the whole event. I played at the final concert on the Budawang stage to a packed pavilion. It’s the first time I’d played the song to a live audience.
My band, the Winter Station, had been rehearsing/ arranging the song prior to the competition for inclusion on our next record. Very much a highlight of my musical life, I’m very appreciative and quite humbled. I got to see some brilliant performers (even though I was only there for an afternoon and a night) from Flamenco to Cajun. Big thumbs up to the sound production crews in each venue. And thankyou so much to the Alistair Hulett Memorial Fund for the opportunity. In the words of the great bards..’well chuffed!
Q2. Tell us about your winning song and what motivated you to write it.
A The song ‘The Riverside’ started after seeing the disastrous ‘Deepwater Horizon’ oil spill, in the Gulf of Mexico, 2010 unfold. The subsequent loss of lives and untold damage to our natural environment. With catastrophic events events such as this there tends to be a feeling of helplessness ie how do we as a world community make sure this never happens again and why did it happen in the first place. As the song progressed I got to thinking about how to alleviate that helpless feeling and my mind drifted to the powerful Civil Rights movement of the 60s, a film called ‘ Soundtrack For a Revolution’ and the role music and songs play in the greater picture. The Riverside has an element of an old-styled protest song to it. It was never a direct decision for it to go this way but as with a lot of songs, they take on their own personalities. The idea of combined voices, through music, for positive change has always appealed to me.
The use of the ‘river’ as a central image is a powerful one. Cleansing, healing. It has been used over many years by many songwriters. The song is poetic in its intent and I tried to use a driving, shuffle rhythm to hammer home the lyrics, lyrics that in the words of the judges (Kate Fagan, Judy Small and Eric Bogle..thankyou) “show a positive commitment to social justice and change and could apply to many different causes” It is a simple song of the importance of our living environment and the way we treat one and other within that environment.
Q3. You have been involved in and supported various campaigns for social justice over the years. How does you music fit with your support for these causes?
A From a very young age I have been aware of injustice on our planet. Starting as a child with a real concern about our natural world. This progressed over the many years through involvement with like-minded bands and musicians writing and performing songs concerning everything from the wrongful incarceration of individuals to communities searching for freedom and identity. One of my biggest concerns of late deals with depression and anxiety, largely caused by impossible economic structures, a feeling of futility and hopelessness. Again, it’s the idea of feeling helpless in what seems like the runaway train of life.
I have been directly involved with benefit concerts concerning these issues, the most recent being A Concert 4 Life in Sydney for depression and suicide prevention. As a sufferer myself (and having lost a good friend to suicide) I realise the importance of such events and the necessity for communication and combined energies. Songs have always played a huge role in this for me, be it from an observational perspective, offering direct solutions or from the sheer joy and release of being lost in the sounds. All helpful I hope.
Q4. Do you have any tips for budding songwriters out there?
A I think the best tip I can give a budding songwriter is to be true to yourself. I’ve always found songs written for purely economic reasons to be hollow, puerile and very unfulfilling to listen to. Listen to a vast array of different songwriters and musicians, from different cultures and backgrounds. Don’t be afraid to try different ideas. Listen to what those close to you think of your songs (but not to a debilitating degree) play the songs in front of people as much as possible, have fun with it! Surround yourself with good musicians who are willing to help you realise the arrangements. Always carry a pen, paper or small recording device with you. You never know when a great idea will jump into your head. Observe. But most importantly…….have fun with it!!