Shaela Miller: The big hair beauty and small city pride of Lethbridge, Alberta

When Shaela Miller whips up a hairdo, she really knows how to do it well. Not a problem for the dedicated stylist who works at the design-fresh Catwalk Salon in the downtown charm of Lethbridge, Alberta. Beautician by day, honky-tonk queen at night, and hard-working mom 24/7. 

For herself, Miller’s preferred bouffant has a distinct ‘70s flair to it. A shaggy mass of black waves that falls far past her shoulders suited for any occasion – summer dress, jeans and T-shirt, or the purple and gold jumpsuit. Ah, the jumpsuit. A bit hot under the stage lights, nevermind the heat dome, but what a crowd-pleaser. 

“In the summer, it’s kind of insane,” says Miller, talking about her big hair and custom-built outfit. “To pair it up with putting on my purple suit, like I’m gonna die of a stroke. We did play a Calgary backyard private thing, and I put it on for my second set. I surprised everyone, they were happy when the sun went down. I was like, ‘Okay, I can do it’ but I didn’t tell anyone I brought it. It’s so funny, this suit is so wild and that it brings people joy, brings me joy.”

However big hair fits your inventory, whether it’s ‘80s metal, runway chic, a bold Afro or the sulty Ms. Amy Winehouse, one thing for sure, it comes with a loud and proud, out-on-the town, Hollywood or bust personality. In Miller’s case, that town is Lethbridge. The sunbelt city and beloved home base for family and business is her centre of the music universe with no desire to change a thing.

“I have such a supportive community here. In general, the Lethbridge music community to all artists is very supportive of one another. It’s better to be somewhere where everyone loves you and respects you, comes to your shows and helps out with this or that. Or what? Go somewhere that you know nobody and there’s tens of thousands of people trying to get to the same place. So why leave? Stick where it works.

Big hair, small city, Miller is ready to dig in and kick up her heels. 

Her brand of country music has a definitive tone, style and taste to it. While there are many different variations and sub genres of sub genres with country, MIller and her band have narrowed in on a sweet spot that spanned from the late ‘60s to early ‘70s when the music still had its vintage swing and grit, full of organic sounding instruments with au natural production values. Honky-tonk is one way to put it. Miller, however, weighs in on the tougher side more along the lines of what she affectionately calls, “honky-raunch.” 

“Oh man, there’s so much stuff I can’t listen to. Like soft country, that soft roots stuff just doesn’t do anything for me. I need to feel like I’m being punched in the face, in the gut and the vagina. I just want to get punched in all the good spots and really feel it, you know. I’ve always been into heavier more intense music, whether it be lyrically, the vibe, feel or whatever, all of it. So in country, that’s all I want. Really intense feelings like, ‘Oh, that’s good. That’s sexy, that makes me feel good.’ The easy listening kind of rootsy stuff is not up my alley. I can listen to it and enjoy it, but it’s not something I put on my record player, or in the car and blast. It just doesn’t do anything for me.”

Intense, enthusiastic and constructive. Miller’s a doer, juggling all that comes her way including the chaos and explosion of emotion expressed in the song 700.

“With 700, I was with my friend and just kind of ranting,” explains Miller. “ Someone was upset at me for whatever reason, and I was like ‘God, man, I got fucking 700 deaths!’ It just came out as 700. I don’t know why, but I got 700 mouths to feed and 700 fucking chores to do! I was just going for it. Then he laughed and I laughed and thought, ‘That is a good song.’ Because I mean, gosh, we’ve all felt like that. You don’t need to have two kids and a full-time job in a music career to feel like you’re overwhelmed with life, like everybody in their own way feels that way.”

Big Hair, Small City is not a whirlwind of hardcore honky-tonk and wild rollercoasting throughout. Even when she’s on a tear, Miller’s storylines are thoughtful, articulate and honest. The track Poor Man takes the tempo down a bit allowing her the opportunity to convey some down-to-earth Dolly Parton sensibility where money is never the big prize in the sky and the revelation, “I don’t want to be a rich girl when I die.”  

“I just had an experience,” says Miller, “of knowing people who value money to be so important to their lives. And it’s never been something like that for me at all. If I can just have 40 bucks to go to the thrift store, I’m happy… There’s being paid and knowing what you’re worth, of course, but the point of life isn’t money. That’s just like the biggest turnoff to me. I don’t want to be around that because it brings out the ugliness in somebody when their life is so focused on money. It’s just gross.

 “When I sing the line, ‘I don’t want to be a rich girl when I die,’ it’s like, sure I can have money, but I don’t ever want anyone to think of me to be rich, even now. It doesn’t mean I don’t want to have any money. If I get some along the way from being authentic and making it or whatever, then that’s great, but it’s not my focus. And I think people get lost in that a lot.”

When Miller moves deeper into more heartfelt territory and shows all her cards, as she often does, it’s not hard to feel the intensity also change direction and tears start to swell. There’s a few moments in the country noir of Shaela Miller when crying inside or out really takes hold. 

“Always a lot of heartache in my music,” says Miller without hesitation. “It’s like my main topic, for sure. With Big Hair, Small City, the song and thematically throughout all my music, even before this record, it’s female empowering stuff. Yes, I can cry the blues a bit, but it’s not really gonna keep me down, but here I am processing it. And I hope you like that kind of thing, you know, here’s my process.”