During an interview on Outisider’s podcast, “The Road You Leave Behind,” Marty Smith sat down for a virtual interview with one of country music’s most prolific songwriters. Together, they discuss the country music wave that transfixed the 90s and how that changed the genre’s format forever.
Enter: Mark Miller.
If you’re not aware, Mark Miller is anything but average when it comes to country music quality and output. Since starting his career in Nashville years ago when he founded Sawyer Brown, Miller has proven himself to be an unwavering fixture in an ever-evolving musical genre.
For many artists, staying power in the industry is the elixir of country music life. Many want what only a few can claim. For Sawyer Brown, they claimed their spot as a band to be reckoned with years ago. After they released eighteen studio albums and charted over fifty times on the “Hot Country Songs charts,” which included three No. 1 singles (“Step That Step,” “Some Girls Do,” and “Thank God for You”), they quickly proved to have the endurance — and talent— to last multiple lifetimes as a country music deity.
Mark Miller On ‘Impact Of 90s Country: ‘It Was A Wave’
When asked about the impact of the era on the country music format, Mark Miller incorporates a metaphor— like any real songwriter.
“It was a wave,” Miller says. “It was so cool of a time for us because country music was always kind of the stepchild of the genres. Then all of a sudden, we’re the number one music forum in the world. We’re all selling out arenas, and it just felt like a huge wave.”
Miller’s colleagues such as Garth Brooks, Shania Twain, Brooks & Dunn were heavy hitters in the country music wave of the 90s. Don’t take Miller’s word for it: the evidence is in the sold-out arenas, the platinum-selling records, and most importantly, the durable themes in their lyrics.
“Everybody was affected by it, we sold a lot of records, we filled arenas, but also what we did, and the reason I can do 100 cities a year to this day, other than last year of course, is because of that wave and the impact that it had.”
For Miller, the crashing wave that the tides could never pull back, can be attributed to country music’s diversity.
Miller: ‘The ’90s Haven’t Stopped Being Hot For Us’
“There was still that common core of these messages in the songs that really resonated with this massive audience. So you have Sawyer Brown, the country-rock guys, you’ve got Randy Travis, the traditional guy, you’ve got Alabama somewhere in between, you’ve got Garth Brooks who is this cowboy rockstar, but if you look at exaclty what it was, it was these songs that resonated and I just think that the ’90s were really good economically for everyone. I think we celebrated that with our music. I think that has lingered on, the ’90s haven’t stopped being hot for us.”
Taking a page out of the late Charley Pride’s playbook, Miller began his career by learning Pride’s craft in songwriting— something he still puts on a pedestal today.
“When I came to Nashville as a songwriter writing for Charley Pride, we learned how to craft a song. I still believe that the core of anything impactful, musically, is a great song a great lyric.”
Mark Miller’s love for the craft is clear as day. Look at any of his songs, and you’ll find the invaluable sincerity so many claim to have. Despite country music’s dynamic, evolving ecosystem, Miller has found the treasure at the end of the rainbow that will keep us singing his lyrics long after he’s gone.
Keep on riding the wave Mark.