Even though Luzius Stone — the music project of WNC-based artist Justin Miles — is new to the Asheville music scene, Miles has been gearing up for years (decades!) for the release of his forthcoming album, Electric Dream. “There’s a lot in there about dreams, and leaving your dreams,” Miles says.
The record is in its final stages of mixing at Echo Mountain; audio engineer Evan Bradford has been helping Miles with production. But the genesis of Electric Dream dates back to a year that Miles spent in Regensburg, Germany (an hour and a half from Munich), working with producer Nicholas Balachandram of Elephantom Studio. “I met Nicholas [in ASheville], spring of 2010, when he was working with a band called Paper Tongues, based out of Charlotte,” says Miles. Balachandram also knew Asheville rockers The Enemy Lovers — it was that band’s front man, Tim Scroggs, who introduced Miles to the German producer.
Miles grew up in Etowoh, N.C. and has been friends with the Scroggs brothers (Tim and Steven) since their post-high school years. It was a close enough friendship that when the Enemy Lovers decided to move to Germany to work with Balachandram, Miles convinced his wife to sell their belongings and make the move, too.
“I had plans of going there and recording an EP and doing some touring,” the musician remembers. “I got there and recorded an EP and really got into the producing side of it. I kind of sat in a little home studio and had and wrote and produced and created for 10 or 12 hours a day.” It was Balachandram who told Miles to skip the EP and forge ahead with a full-length. Balachandram also introduced Miles to some a producer who has been working in the Eastern Europe electronic scene for 25 years — that pairing resulted in the track “DNA.”
“We did the whole album there and I eventually got to the point of, ‘alright, I’m probably not going to have money to start touring in Europe,’ so we decided to come home,” says Miles. He describes Asheville as a great base from which to start.
So, in a way, this is the beginning. And, in a way, it’s been a long time coming. Miles says that the name for his project, Luzius (pronounced like Lucius) Stone, came to him at age 20. “I really wanted to give my first-born son that name,” he says. “When this project started up, I needed a name.” That one, which has been with him for years now, works for both a solo project (which it has been — with the contribution of Miles’ close friend/drummer Rob Elzey, of metal band Telic) and a full band (which it will be, for live shows).
So that’s all by way of introduction, but what really matters is how Luzius Stone sounds. Advance tracks, from the previously recorded EP, are hyper-charged and driving, percussive and in your face. Miles sites influences like Beastie Boys, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Beck and Wu-Tang Clan; but songs like the the edgy neo-power rocker “Go” and electro-pop noir track “Past Life” nod as much to the pre-mainstreamization of Spearhead and the the dark post-punk of Joy Division. All underscored by an unrelenting positivity — not in the sense of cloying hooks and world-beat grooves, but in how the music and lyrics both seem to rise from past wounds, from brokenness, from a sense of loss into a place of determined purpose.
“Aqua Dance” is a lyrical jump rope, words skipping over rock beats while melodies swirl and scatter across the track. And “It’s On” opens with organic percussion and nature sounds stitched smartly into a song that, were it an instrumental, would be as much math rock as dance. Miles deftly pairs industrial churn with delicate instrumentation, willing electronics into soft iterations that balance the force of his voice. And the powerful vocal is an apt match for the muscular drumming that completes the yin-yang helix of Luzius Stone’s sound. Dance to it, chill out to it, think to it, dream to it.
Perhaps even more important than the musical influences of Miles’ projects are the real-life influences. Topping that list is the musician’s father, who passed away while Miles was still a teen. That loss led Miles down a pretty bleak path for a number of years. “A lot of the music I make is based on pain and things I’ve gone through,” he admits. And of his father (a man disfigured by burns during childhood, who went on to be very successful in all of his endeavors) Miles says, “to grow up seeing that really taught me a lot about not letting things that happened to you, control you.”
He adds, “I want to tell the story. There’s hope in that. Hope, for me, is a huge part of of this album’s theme.”
Miles plans to launch Electric Dream with an album release party in Asheville later this spring.