Miles started playing acoustic guitar in middle school, as an eighth grader in 1992. Born left-handed, he learned to play right-handed on a classical nylon string guitar in Mrs. Plunkett’s class at Field School in Northbrook, IL.
He was initially skeptical as to whether he would ever develop functional skill playing guitar but the low barrier to entry on the instrument combined with his instructor’s willingness to teach him familiar oldies and modern pop songs unlocked his passion for making music. He soon combined playing guitar with singing and fondly remembers performing “The Wreck of Edmund Fitzgerald” at his 8th grade graduation. It felt amazing to be the center of attention as the featured vocalist and set Miles on the course towards a lifetime of music making.
After graduation, Miles bought his first guitar from Guitar Center: an Ibanez EZ-120 electric guitar in Midnight Blue. Chosen because it was the only thing he could afford and wasn’t a Stratocaster, which were everywhere at the time. Miles took lessons at Minstrel Music in Niles IL for a year, where he learned to play “Dust in the Wind” but eventually lessons trailed off in favor of independent study.
In high school at Loyola Academy in Wilmette, IL from 1992 through 1996, Miles continued to play and sing classic rock and folk songs by the likes of the Beatles, the Grateful Dead, John Denver, Harry Chapin, Gordon Lightfoot, and Jim Croce. No public performances but he would add an Epiphone acoustic PR-120 (also the cheapest guitar in the store) to the guitar closet. He continued to experiment with electric guitar throughout high school, albeit with very low budget equipment. That Ibanez electric was eventually combined with a 5″ Crate solid state amplifier that sold for under $90. There was also a time towards the end of high school where Miles bought an FX processor, the Zoom 505 pedal to add new sonic textures to his playing and mimic the playing he heard on his CDs.
He also delved deep into the world of acoustic and electric blues music. His favorite bluesmen at the time were Blind Willie Johnson and T-Bone Walker but that eventually gave way to a deep connection with the music of Stevie Ray Vaughan. That led him away from folk strumming and into focusing on learning the fretboard for the melody playing of lead guitar. Miles also saw this as a sign to upgrade his musical equipment. In 1995, Miles and his sister Eve went to the Music Gallery in Highland Park to jointly purchase a Gibson Les Paul Studio in Wine Red, which he still has today.
When he started his 4 years at Williams College in 1996, his study of the instrument accelerated and deepened in two ways: First, he learned as many Dave Matthews songs as he could find (it was a big deal at the time!) but also continued his exploration with blues music, focusing on bottleneck slide and lap steel guitar. He learned his pentatonic scale boxes up and down the guitar neck, playing along with his favorite blues CDs. This provided countless hours of amazement for Miles, as he was interacting with others and creatively choosing music of his own for the first time.
In January of 1998, Miles made the conscious decision to explore writing full songs of his own. For the month of January, Miles participated in an intense singer-songwriter study program where he spent 4 hours a day in a group of songwriters supporting and trying out new songs for each other. While the only song Miles produced out of this was a forgettable doo-wop knock off called “Kelly Marie,” the die was cast, and Miles would never stop writing music.
Also in 1998, Miles joined his first rock band. It was called “Ray Brower” after the body found in the Stephen King book and Rob Reiner Movie “Stand By Me” and began at Williams College. The band played songs by the Beatles, Phish, Pink Floyd, the Police and the Grateful Dead. Miles played rhythm guitar on his Les Paul and was grouped with Phil Groth on Bass, Jeff Lisciandrello on Guitar, Mark Adams on drums and Luke Sundquist on Lead Guitar. Miles was in awe of Luke’s considerable skill, who had seemingly endless improvisational ideas for every song, despite not knowing them particularly well. Miles did his best to learn every chord change on every song so he could be relied on to hold down the song’s foundation so Luke could showcase his abilities to improvise guitar solos. Luke would set the standard for Miles’s aspirations as a guitar player for years to come. Miles continued to sharpen his skills in playing and singing during his junior year of college, while also diving deep into a new style of music: Jazz. In the second semester, Miles traveled to Norwich, UK where he studied Blues and Jazz Guitar performance at the University of East Anglia.
When he returned for his senior year in 1999, he was ready to make music a priority in his life and auditioned for a senior level jazz performance class with Professor Andy Jaffe. He passed the audition, despite being a remedial sight reader and saw tremendous improvements in understanding of music theory and arrangement as well as developing new skills in harmonization. Miles felt that gaining a clear understanding of jazz would inform and improve his own songwriting and looks back at that experience as his secret system for creativity in composition.
That’s not to say Miles was completely lost in the niche instrumentals of Jazz. Miles still played and enjoyed music with lyrics and met two important people that would shape his musical path for years. First, Miles met Matt Stankiewicz, a freshman from Dalton, MA who played football with Miles at Williams but was also a drummer. Miles and Matt had overlaps in taste with a common affinity for classic rock and so plans were made to play together. Soon after, while hosting an Open Mike night at the campus coffeehouse/bar called The Log, Matt and Miles heard Stephen “Slim” Oliver perform. He was large gentle man with a chin beard, playing a bright red acoustic guitar, and singing with a kind and approachable voice. His lyrics were poetic, cryptic, funny and captivating. His song “Chorus of Missing Persons” would become a favorite of Miles’s for the rest of his life. The three of them would join to form Slim Smiles, a college band featuring primarily original songs written by Miles and Slim.
That winter, Miles would again join the winter singer-songwriter study program and out of it would be the first two songs that Miles still plays. “Emersonian Love Song (Transparent Eyeball” and “I Need the World to Slow Down” were written by Miles. Both came out of the program and combined with Slim’s songs “TV Generation,” “Wasteland Wilderness,” “Typhoon” and “The Weather’s Fine (But I’m Sure It’s Raining Somewhere)” to have a setlist they could play for audiences. Shows at Perry House (an old Fraternity house converted into college owned student housing) and Spring Fest, where Slim Smiles opened for the nationally known group Dispatch, were highlights for Miles.
After college, Miles moved back to Chicagoland but longed to rejoin the band he had left in Massachusetts. Instead, he worked to create music right where he was at. He went to work at Gand Music and Sound in Northfield Illinois to be close to the industry and to learn how to record music. He wanted to learn all about the equipment, the process, and the business, although he was eventually fired for skipping work. He also hosted open mikes and performed at happy hours as a solo acoustic musician to strengthen his skills as a performer and entertainer. In style, Miles returned to the folk music and singer-songwriter style, as he felt it best suited his vocal style and emotion of the music he wanted to make. Big inspirations at the time were Steve Goodman, Wesley Stace and John Prine.
During Thanksgiving in 2000, Miles got a job offer to move across the country to Sacramento, California. He spent over a year there, playing and writing songs with his friends Joe Malmberg and Trey Krueger, and going to see live music from local and touring acts at music clubs like Old Ironsides. It was there that Miles and Joe would see a band that would change Miles’s music direction forever.
Forever Goldrush was an Alt Country band that was truly huge in that area in 2000. They were following in the footsteps of bands like Uncle Tupelo, Whiskeytown, Ryan Adams, Jayhawks and the Bottle Rockets. Miles was instantly enamored with the sound. It was a fascinating combination of the stark poeticism of outlaw country with crunchy guitars. It had adrenaline, emotional vulnerability, musical prowess and swagger. Miles wanted to do that. He wanted to be that. He learned most of Forever Goldrush’s songs and posted them on the internet. He brought a personal cassette recorder to shows and taped bootlegs to study. He drooled over their equipment (a walnut Gibson 335 and a Matchless Chieftain amp!).
2000 also marks Miles’s first experiments in recording music. In the latest repetition on the theme, Miles once again went cheap on equipment. He used a gateway laptop and Syntrillium Cool Edit 2000 with an 1/8” input and a Best Buy dynamic microphone to record his song “David.” The recording had acoustic guitar, Bass, vocals, and pads from an Oberheim OB-8 synthesizer he borrowed from his boss.
As things happen though, the job in Sacramento went away and Miles once again returned to Chicagoland in late 2002. Inspired by his time on the west coast, Miles took a job at Guitar Center in the pro audio department and started two new bands. His goal was to once again take a run at a career in music, this time with a stronger focus on recording music. He became friends with his work manager Gary Zimmer and set about collecting professional level equipment to start a recording studio and label, North Side Noise.
First, Miles joined with his cousin Don Shea to form an acoustic comedy duo called The Pubic Hares. This was highly derivative of the reigning champs of acoustic comedy, Tenacious D and played a few shows around town featuring songs like “Sacagawea,” “Check my S**t Out,” “Rock Your Frock (Into Interstellar Shock)” and “Circumstances,” all co-written by Miles and Don.
Second, Miles answered a Craigslist ad to write and perform music with relocated Michigander, Tari (pronounced “Terry”) Follett. She was a productive songwriter, decent acoustic guitar player and immense vocal talent. Miles helped arrange her songs and teach her his songs, complementing her with his 10+ years of experience playing guitar, weak vocals and growing skill in recording and performing.
They formed a band called Righteous Truth Pail (named by playing “adverb-adjective-noun” bingo) that had a folk and singer-songwriter vibe that fit perfectly. They wrote and recorded Tari’s songs like “Home Again,” “Bull Fed,” “Fly,” and “Time.” They also introduced a slew of new Miles songs like “Charlie,” “Intentional,” and “A Simple Life.” The band played a dozen or shows and finally released an EP with some of those songs on it.
Before long though, Miles was caught up in a new romance that pushed Reckless Truth Pail to the side. In 2004, Miles went into a long musical hibernation as love and marriage, a career in marketing, and a family of his own pushed music to the background.
In late summer 2017, thirty-something lead singer/guitarist Miles Baltrusaitis hadn’t played an original note of music for an audience in nearly a decade. Surprising everyone around him, he went on an intense songwriting flurry fueled by a broken heart and a suburban life rattled out of cruise control. After a month’s time, 9 deeply personal chapters of a complete narrative emerged in need of a band to bring the eclectic story songs to life.
After a chance encounter, he enlisted the help of fellow Williams College football teammate and drummer Matt Stankiewicz and his keyboardist brother Dan when their neo soul band My Blue Valentine split. The three agreed to launch the band Miles Maxwell (using Miles’s middle name) when they met bassist Steve Kingwell – a veteran of numerous suburban Chicago cover bands – through a mutual friend and the lineup was complete.
Genre-wise, the members have a wide range of influences including everything from pop-folkies Steve Goodman and Harry Chapin, alt-country rockers Uncle Tupelo, and the Americana legend Steve Earle. As a songwriter, Miles is a graduate of the Williams College Singer Songwriter program that also produced Molly Venter of Red Molly and Caitlin Canty.
Matt and Dan’s father was a music teacher in Western Massachusetts where he encouraged them to pursue an education in music. Matt completed his degree in percussion at Williams while Dan inherited his father’s passion for vintage electric pianos.
In 2018, the band released their debut album “Red Ghost” and supported the release with over 50 shows throughout the Midwest. Their music incorporated Miles’s growing mandolin and banjo skills and maturing sense of self in his songwriting.
With Covid in 2020 came the end of the Miles Maxwell band and its performances. Miles continues to write, record, and release music on the North Side Noise record label, via his Spotify channel, and on his website, https://milesmaxwell.com.