Some of the best music we know comes from those who have lived full lives in all its dimensions – including hardship, pain, and brokenness.  The Illinois-based band Jen Miller Music Collective is making music rooted in vulnerable stories, and their songs have offered hope and encouragement.  They are currently crowdfunding to release their sophomore album The Architect.  We’re grateful we were able to interview Jen Miller to learn more.

UTR: How did the Jen Miller Music Collective form?

Jen: Kind of a crazy story… I began writing and playing music in high school and opened for Caedmon’s Call and Seventh Day Slumber in the late nineties.  But it was always in my heart to be a teacher, and, after a trip to Africa in early college, I heard the Lord tell me to come back to the cornfields in Illinois and teach.  I felt him promise that if He meant for me to do music again, He’d bring it back at the right time.  I got married to a townie (also a musician), became a middle school and then high school English teacher, and played music for our local church.  Many years later, after the births of our three children, I experienced intense postpartum depression and anxiety, and God did bring songwriting back into my life–He used it to heal me.  My first songs, which became the basis of our first album, Brave is One More Step in the Dark, formed as stories about women artisans around the world helped me through my own darkness.  And the Jen Miller Music Collective then formed as a rotating crew of local artists and musicians who now help me bring these projects to life.  Central to the Collective are my husband and my dear friend, Gail, also a local teacher.  Because I intend to stay a full-time educator and believe so strongly in the power of the local church, I plan to continue to collaborate with local artists on our projects.  In fact, this next album, The Architect, is both about what God is building in me, as He ties many of these pieces of my life together, and about how He is weaving us together in community, through the healing power of art and our collective stories.

UTR: What are some of the excitements and anxieties involved in launching a Kickstarter campaign for your sophomore album?

Jen:  The excitement comes from knowing what God already did with the first album and trusting Him again for this one in all the places we cannot see.  I learned so much about Him through the first project – His faithfulness, His light, His power – and He used it to move our eyes off of ourselves and show us how much we need each other.  I’m so excited to see what He has in store here… Who does He want to share it with?  What will the songs become?  How much deeper can we go with Him?  Of course, I have anxieties, daily, about whether or not we are even good enough to be doing this work, but we just keep taking it one little brave step at a time.

UTR: Besides downloads and CDs, you also offer a few unique reward tiers. Can you share a couple?

Jen:  I’m a sucker for a cool tee, and ours comes as a bundle with a physical CD, an Architect Album sticker, and a digital copy of the album at our $60 tier.  But the really sweet thing about the merch that will come with any of our tiers, including the tee, is that the architecture image that will be in the logo is of under-construction, blue-print lines in a criss-crossing pattern, since those who contribute to the Kickstarter are helping us “do the building.”  Down the road, our other merch will feature the already-constructed city skyline imagery… so these early pieces will always be exclusive to the Kickstarter community.

We’ve got a really cool tier at $100 that is called, “Coffee and Songs with Jen and Keith.” It includes a limited-edition, Architect Album mug and coffee (you choose a bag of beans from Jen’s favorite coffee truck, Open Door Coffee, in Genoa, Illinois). Then, Jen & Keith will schedule a 30-minute Facetime/Zoom coffee date with you. They’ll also perform a song off the album just for you. That tier also includes a physical CD, sticker, and pre-release of the digital album.  Basically my favorite tier.

UTR: Assuming that the project is funded, what can we expect from the new album The Architect?

Jen:  Our first album was pretty laid back musically, with either a piano or acoustic guitar as the basis of each song.  I am pretty excited to be incorporating percussion into this album for the first time. I believe it will offer us more room, more depth and complexity, to tell the melodic, hope-filled stories we are known for.  It’ll be a full-length, eleven-song album, which tells an overarching, thematic story as a whole, even as each track has its own story.  We plan to bring back the layered harmonies, piano, bass, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, strings, and slide from the first album for this one as well… with some fun surprises.

UTR: Can you share how well-crafted music engages with your heart, mind, & soul?

Jen:  Music is truly how I connect with Jesus and with others, and I believe it has power to reach places inside of us that few other mediums can.  Artists like Sara Groves and Andrew Peterson paved a road in my heart for my own storytelling, and I was blessed to be able to learn directly from Sara at her Songwriter Retreat at Art House North when I was working on the Brave Album.  She modeled for me what it looks like to use creativity in the local context to shine the light of hope, to invite others in, and to call that artistry out in others.  I hope I can be a good student of hers and somehow do the same in my local community in the coming years.  On that note, I’m currently reading and loving Andrew Peterson’s Adorning the Dark and Makoto Fujimura’s, Culture Care.

Jen Miller Music Collective hails from the west suburbs of Chicago.  Their Kickstarter Campaign ends on 4/24/21.