Like any typical 20-year-old, Maggie Miles paces while she talks on the phone. Back and forth and back and forth on the sidewalk outside of a coffee shop. She gets distracted for a moment by a skateboarder whizzing by, still adjusting to the vibrancy of life in Nashville.
She reflects on what the last two years of her life have looked like in fast forward: Making it through her final year at Woodgrove High School in Loudoun County. Working as a barista around Northern Virginia. Performing her first live show at Jammin Java. Getting signed by Warehouse West Entertainment.
In a somewhat crazy, cascading course of events, Maggie Miles went from Round Hill native to Nashville-based musician and songwriter, wearing a soft-grunge wardrobe and belting out funky pop-rock blends with hard-hitting lyrics across the country.
“I didn’t think I was anything exceptional,” says Miles. “I really got into playing piano and starting to create. All I knew was that it helped me understand myself.”
Miles started to dig into music during her senior year of high school. It was an outlet for her boundless creativity, a way to translate her poetry into something even more introspective and a comfortable spot where she could thrive. She struggled her way through high school otherwise.
“I was literally told by teachers, ‘You’re not going to graduate,’” says Miles. “So, I just rolled through school. I leaned on making people laugh. I leaned on theater. And I believed I wasn’t going to amount to anything because I was apparently not going to succeed.”
Miles grew up as a pastor’s kid and the daughter of a former Celtic band bassist. Her not-so-planned pathway seemed perpendicular to her peers who were working toward goals of studying medicine and law. College seemed out of reach. But when she found music on her own terms, she started leading worship at church, something she was resistant to do years before.
She overcame sickness-inducing stage fright and, in spite of what her teachers had led her to believe, took a chance on applying for a worship school in Fort Lauderdale.
“Somehow, I got in,” she says. “For the first time, I felt like I wasn’t going to be a failure. I was like, ‘I have a plan. I’m going to do worship. I’m going to college. I get to tell people I’m going to college.’ I felt like I wasn’t going to fail my parents, and like I wasn’t a joke anymore.”
But a week before move-in day, Miles got a call. Her scholarships had fallen through.
“It’s not even a sob story. I was just like, ‘Oh, OK. Back to step one, because obviously I’m not supposed to do this,'” she says.
She worked local jobs for an entire year instead. She was a barista, she worked in retail, she even worked at a massage therapist’s office. “I did anything they needed, honestly,” says Miles. But it was in her downtime that she wrote more lyrics than she ever had. She needed music, she says, to get through the confusing and emotionally draining time.
On June 26, 2018, she debuted a handful of songs she had written at Jammin Java for her first solo, live performance.
“That’s the day I decided I wanted to pursue artistry and songwriting,” says Miles.
Not long after the performance, she won a raffle earning her eight free hours in a local recording studio.
“I don’t even know how I won but I did, and I went in and had no clue what the heck I was doing. They didn’t give me an audio engineer. I didn’t even know what a producer was,” says Miles. “It was all over the place, but I released the song. And that’s when everything kind of changed.”
Miles’ dad had recorded her entire set at Jammin Java and encouraged her to upload it on YouTube, where it eventually found its way to the screen of DC-based producer Austin Bello.
“Maggie is a great and rare talent,” says Bello, who works with artists in the DMV with music geared toward television, film and commercial licensing. “She has a mind for melodies and lyrics that are unique yet very personable. Her voice sticks, you believe her and she sounds authentic and real.”
With Bello’s help, Miles wrote and released her EP, Maggie Miles, in March 2019, featuring three songs.
“I feel privileged to have produced her last EP and only see her gaining more momentum and fans with everything she does,” says Bello.
One year after her first performance in Vienna in June 2019, Miles got a call while at work. Her EP had been out for three months and she had been playing local shows here and there.
“I was literally washing dishes, answered the phone with soap on my hands, and I was booked last second for a show in DC. Someone had dropped out and I guess my name got tossed in. But I ended up there and everything went wrong,” says Miles.
Her bandmate was late. She improvised. She performed and got off stage, feeling defeated. But it didn’t matter, because Bruce Gates, owner of Pearl Street Warehouse, had already sent iPhone videos of her performance to his creative director in Nashville.
“She immediately fell in love with her,” says Gates of the creative director’s reaction to Miles.
As it turns out, Gates was also an investor in Warehouse West Entertainment, an independent music and artist development company. On an off-chance, he was at Pearl Street for a meeting and was going to catch the entire show of the night, including soundcheck. When the headliner for the show dropped out, Gates informed the three opening acts (and later-added Miles) that they would be the new headliners.
“I was walking through the music hall when she started her soundcheck. I was about to go back into my office and disappear,” says Gates. “I wouldn’t have even heard her. But when I heard her, I turned around and thought, ‘Oh my god, this girl is a star.'”
Gates admits that he’s a “lyrics guy” and that hearing the depth of Miles’ songs was what stuck with him, so much so that he watched the entire performance. “Hearing these lyrics from her (a 19-year-old at the time), I was blown away by the maturity of her writing.”
Miles had no clue what was in the works behind the scenes—literally.
“So [Bruce Gates] comes up to me after the show, this random bald man, and was just like, ‘Hey, would you ever move to Nashville?’ and I said, ‘Absolutely not.’ And three days later, I got the email that changed my life,” says Miles.
“After the show, it’s not unusual for me to go back and greet the artist,” says Gates. “I don’t know if she was just scattered, but it barely registered with her. She was 19 at the time, and here’s this guy in the back hallway of the music club. She probably thought I was a creep. So I left it alone then, but we kept reaching out to her. She had no idea what was out there for her, or how companies like ours worked.”
Miles moved to Nashville three months later.
“Growing up [in Northern Virginia], which is not nearly as saturated with creativity, I felt wrong. I felt out of the loop,” says Miles. “And then being wrapped up in a little package and tossed into a place where it’s bizarre if you’re not pursuing a creative field, and being accepted … it’s encouraging and it’s really rad.”
In November, just shortly after making the move to the country music capital on her own, Miles released her single “Shiver” and its accompanying music video, filmed at Purcellville’s Bush Tabernacle roller rink.
She has been touring on and off and working on her full-length album (set to be released in just a few months) ever since the big move, and was profiled by Billboard and American Songwriter. She even took a recent, surprise trip to Tokyo, Japan where she signed an endorsement deal with Yamaha, according to Gates.
“She has absolutely blossomed,” in the eight months following the move, says Gates. “And, the best thing about Maggie is that she hasn’t lost any of that originality, but she’s become such a deeper, broader artist.”
“It’s going to be kind of surreal,” says Miles. “I’m excited to play some new songs off the record, and just get to revisit them now, separate from the studio and be able to translate them live. It’s the freaking coolest and no one’s heard these songs yet.”
Stay tuned for Miles’ appearances on local stages and those across the country in coming months. You might even catch her playing the piano (as heard in “There Comes a Time” in her EP), drums, guitar, ukulele, mandolin, banjo, bass or keytar.
“It’s kind of incredible,” says Gates. “To go from a barista in Leesburg to an up-and-coming artist signing an endorsement deal in Japan.”
You can guarantee that no matter where she ends up, Miles will still be caught doing one of her self-admitted favorite things—grabbing a cup of coffee.
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