On a chilly March evening, a storm is brewing inside.
At Mootsy’s, a downtown Spokane watering hole, a crowd of people are craning their necks to see what all the ruckus is all about. There’s hooting and shouting coming from somewhere. Boots stomp and shake the floor. Cups of beer are thrust into the air.
Close now little ones, I mean no harm to you, a voice buried somewhere deep at the front of the room sings.
And then suddenly, as if that lone singer flipped a switch that controls every one of these people in the crowd, they break into song alongside him.
I’ll guide your boat home… be-fore the raven wakes.
They yell it into the air again and again. They sway and hold each other’s shoulders. They smile at the others who know the words.
And it doesn’t stop there. When the lone fuzzy-faced, bespectacled man leading them — a rosy-cheeked man named Ian Miles — screams “I’ll find your forest and burn down all your pine!” and sings that he’s waiting for “Satan to drag me back to hell,” the people scream and sing that, too.
Miles smiles and giggles nervously between songs. And all those people just smile back at him.
For nearly a decade now, Ian Miles hasn’t just played Spokane stages. He’s commanded them with his epic, passion-fraught tales. And he hasn’t just found casual fans. It’s as if he’s recruited an army — a battalion of happy little soldiers ready and willing to repeat what he says, dance while they’re doing it and sing with so much passion you’d swear they were going to cry as they did it.
The story behind Ian Miles’ success as a musician is simple. This is what he has always done.
He grew up in a home with a musician for a father — the type who was always quizzing him about the songs they heard on the radio. Miles still remembers his first performance. He called The Shop — a coffeehouse in the Perry District — when he was just 13 years old.
“I called … and I was like ‘Hey, I wanna play a show!’” he says. So one afternoon, the young Miles traveled down the South Hill with his guitar and took the stage as people casually sipped their coffee. He played Counting Crows’ “Mr. Jones” with his back to the audience.
Today — 11 self-recorded albums later — the 26-year-old Miles thinks back on that kid who took that risk. And he’s proud. He’s proud of all of his punk bands, the noise bands, the acoustic projects. He’s proud that music has always been in his life.
“One time I had this band that I made, it was just me, and it was called Cosmic Editor and the Post-mortem Submarine Cognitive. I made music on my PlayStation by recording little bits of sound, and then I would cut it up on VHS. And then I would play that sound and walk around screaming through a mic,” he says.
“I’m incredibly thankful that me and my friends were down to just get weird like that. When other kids were worried about standing around and looking cool at a show, I’m not afraid of taking off my shoes and falling down and breaking something while I’m screaming about something. And my friends are there to go ‘Yeah! I don’t get it, but YEAH!”
And by singing songs from his heart and never letting music slip away from his life, Miles has recruited more than just friends to say “YEAH!” to what he’s doing. With these seafaring tales, these acoustic heart-wrenchers, these foot-stomping songs that came from the depths of his soul, he’s actually touched people.
It’s something that he’ll never turn off.
“I think creativity is something that is a really strange force,” he says. “It’s something that’s very happenstance. It’s almost like something outside of yourself that chooses you and goes ‘Here. Here’s something that’s going to come out. And you’re going to have to do it whether you’re ready or not.’”
Ian Miles plays Volume on Fri, May 31 at 8:40 pm at Boots Bakery & Lounge • 24 W. Main • All-ages