Lins Honeyman talked to the hip-hop artist, actor and film director CHAZ MILES
Colorado-based hip-hop artist Chaz Miles has many strings to his bow. Aside from being a skilled deliverer of deft wordplay as a rapper, Miles' ever-burgeoning back catalogue shows that he is just as comfortable singing a melody whilst recent times have seen him flex his creative muscles as a screenwriter, actor and director in a brace of films that deal with some of the harder aspects of relationship life. Add to this a stint as a worship leader, the ability to run his own music business and his membership of multi-state evangelistic band Run51 and it's clear that Miles is a man who wears many different hats - or, more accurately, baseball caps given his trademark headwear of choice. But things could have turned out very differently for the multi-talented renaissance man.
Whilst Miles became involved in music from an early age by singing gospel music in his pastor grandfather's church in Pueblo, Colorado, his most obvious talent lay in sports with football, basketball, track and field being particular areas of prowess for the young Chaz during his spell at Pueblo Central High School. After graduating, Miles would continue to play football whilst studying speech communication and religious studies at Colorado State University in Fort Collins before a knee injury sadly put paid to any chance of forging a career as an NFL player.
Thankfully, Miles had maintained a parallel interest in music and began to turn the dedication and sheer hard work he had previously applied to sports towards music. From 2008 through to 2011, he served as worship leader at Fort Collins' Iasis Christ Fellowship. That period saw Miles release the live worship album 'Daddy' with the church's worship band before venturing out as a solo artist with the albums 'The Difference' and 'Showcase' in 2010 and 2012 respectively. The tongue-in-cheek 'A Very Chazzy Christmas Vol 1' EP saw the light of day in 2013 whilst the original soundtrack to the first of his two Love Me films emerged two years later. Miles' most recent EP - 'Dream Season Vol 1: The Faith' - was released last year and spawned the infectiously upbeat single "Love His Name" which has become something of a calling card in terms of communicating the man's obvious love for God with characteristic enthusiasm and sincerity.
I caught up with Chaz on a WhatsApp video call to be advised that he was trying to keep warm ahead of a snow storm that was due to hit his native Colorado. Despite his discomfort a wide smile filled my smartphone screen and, from the word go, it felt like we were picking up as old friends. I began by asking Chaz about his "Love His Name" radio hit. "A producer buddy of mine called Tone Jonez produced that track and it struck me as soon as it dropped. Sometimes in music, you hear stuff and you think I've got to do this NOW and that was one of those songs. I wrote the lyrics right there on the spot and I was excited about it. It ended up being the lead single from the 'Dream Season Vol 1' EP and we did a video for it too. I love feel good music and 'Love His Name' just felt good to me. It was something I wanted to come back with because I hadn't been working on solo projects for a while due to working with my band Run51 and a whole bunch of other stuff."
The popularity of that particular track extends to the EP as a whole. "I think my core fan base really loves the EP. I'm still getting a lot of messages about it. The funny thing about being an artist is you never know how things will hit people or how it will relate to them - you just make music that you think is good and authentic to yourself. You put it out there and let people consume it however they want to. I'm just so grateful that I have the opportunity to just do this for a living and I'm thankful that I have a core fan base that appreciates what I do."
I wondered why Chaz chose to give the EP the title 'Dream Season'. "Well, I had been an athlete all my life growing up. I played college football and did three sports in high school and, to this day, I still think like an athlete. When you're an athlete, you have this whole concept of being in season and out of season. When you're in season, it's full-go and you're trying to do the best you can on the field or court and then there's an off season where you're in preparing for the next session. The 'Dream Season' concept came out of that way of thinking but to also let people know that it's time to go after things once more. Life can beat us down sometimes and we stop pursuing things. I wanted 'Dream Season' to be this catalyst for saying whatever has happened in life, let's nail it and press on and let's dream again. You can hear that theme in the project with tracks like 'Wake Up' and 'Rumble' which are songs that ignite you for the fight."
Given the EP's numbered title, I suggested that Chaz Miles fans can expect at least one more 'Dream Season' instalment in the near future. "You spotted that, did you?" laughed Chaz. "There are actually four more 'Dream Season' volumes planned. The first was one called 'The Faith' and I have one called 'The Love' which is also the soundtrack to the second Love Me film. Another volume will be called 'The Heartbreak' which is when things don't go right and you go through a tough time then there's another one called 'The City' which will be an ode to where I'm from. I don't have a title for the fifth volume yet. It's going to be straight up high energy music - stuff you can put on before a game or when you're working out. As I said, I'm an athlete at heart and I still like making that kind of music."
I suggested that what separates Chaz's music from much of today's hip-hop scene is a permeating sense of optimism that can be found in almost everything he does. "That's right," he agreed. "Positivity is one of my core values. But I'm not one of those artists who just wants to highlight the good times - I also want to communicate the hope that can be found when you're going through tough times. When you make music, there's an opportunity to be real and I think people connect to realism in art. I do believe in God and I do believe that things will get better but things suck right now - things aren't that great in the world at the moment. I have to be real with that - I can't skip over it. Sometimes in the faith, we teach people to put a brave face on it. That's not where I'm at. We have to acknowledge the problems but we're not going to stay in that place. We have to do our best to make things better."
As a conveyer of truths, his music genre of choice evidently gives Chaz the opportunity to be up front and direct with his views on life. "As a craft, hip-hop started as a way of telling the truth," he commented. "It started with artists painting a picture of their reality - of what they were going through. As a result, I feel a responsibility to be authentic. A lot of people get into the game - whether it's hip-hop or rock music - of making music that they think people will want to hear or will sell but ultimately they're not being true to themselves. If what you do is true to you, then people will feel that - real recognises real, if you will. For me, it's burdensome only because I feel a responsibility to not shy away from reality. Even when I want to shy away from speaking the truth - when it might ruffle a few feathers in the church world - I have to be true to myself. I feel a responsibility to do my best and push the genre and culture forward and you can't do that if you're comfortable all the time. I have a lane that I run down but I know that, if I'm not running at my full capacity, then I'm doing myself, God, my fan base and the culture a disservice."
It seems that music has been a part of Chaz's life for much longer than his back catalogue suggests with gospel music especially playing a formative part in the young Miles' musical upbringing. "I grew up in my grandfather's church in Pueblo where he was a pastor," recalled Chaz. "I grew up singing in the children's choir then I got into the real choir when I was old enough. I was always engulfed in music and, for me as a kid, it was exciting. There's something infectious about gospel music and being in a choir environment. For me, church was never boring because I gravitated towards the music side of things. I grew up doing that and then kept doing it through my teen years.
"My mom and dad are music people so music has always been a part of my life," he continued. "I started trying to write my own songs when I was 12 or 13 but it was always just a hobby or an escape because sport was my ticket. I knew sport was going to get me to college and hopefully one day pay the bills and I worked relentlessly towards that dream. I ended up playing college football - it was all going to plan and this was what I felt I was supposed to be doing. However, when I left for college, something started stirring in me. I got more and more passionate about music and, when I wasn't training or studying, all I wanted to do was make beats and me and my cousin had a little home studio where we would record. It was so cool to make my own music and find my own voice and that passion began to grow.
"As that passion started growing, I got told that I couldn't play football anymore because of my knee injury. Obviously, I was devastated because sport was something I thought I was going to be doing for a long time but, at the time, I had done some spiritual work and I knew that sport wasn't my identity per se and that my identity was in Christ. I kind of asked God one day what he wanted me to do - why was I here? I thought I knew - I thought he wanted me to be a pro football player and I was going to use that platform to glorify God. That obviously didn't happen so I started to use music as a therapy. When I had to retire from football, I had more time to go harder at my music and eventually started to try and do it for a living and here we are."
Chaz's life as a recording artist began during his tenure as worship leader at Fort Collins' Iasis Christ Fellowship with the release of the live worship album 'Daddy' in 2009. "I used to write worship songs and the cool part was that the church leadership allowed me to test those songs in church and people liked them and started to ask where they could get a hold of the songs," he elaborated. "We decided to take these original songs and make a live worship album and that was the first recorded piece of work apart from a couple of mix tapes that I had done."
I questioned why, after the album's release, he decided to venture out as a solo artist. "I was still asking God a lot of questions about what I should do and, around that time, he started dropping answers and I knew that my gift wasn't necessarily best served inside church walls," Chaz stated in matter of fact fashion. "Back then, there was no opportunity to pursue hip-hop within the church so it was a conscious decision to branch out, really express myself and find my identity as an artist - and in Christ - in the newfound calling that I had. I felt God was calling me to be like a spiritual paramedic and that he wanted me to go out to the people instead of working from inside the hospital as it were. Music can go places that pastors can't, you see."
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