Small Million Talks Muses and Inspirations at 2023 Treefort Fest
From March 23 to 26, the 2023 Treefort Fest brought together over 450 bands to festival-goers. With 60 venues across downtown Boise, Idaho, the event hosted an inclusive and diverse space for artists and attendees to come together, discover new music, and celebrate creativity and community.
The festival takes pride in showcasing an impressive lineup of independent and emerging artists from various genres, including indie rock, electronic music, hip-hop, and more. Additionally, local artists and businesses are featured in the lineup and partnering with local organizations to highlight the city’s culture and diversity. So, festival-goers were able to discover new artists while enjoying the charm of the town.
Small Million was one of the many artists invited to perform this year. An indie pop band from Portland, Malachi Graham and Ryan Linder have been writing music together for nearly ten years, exploring themes of intuition, inhibition and unexpected experiences. Their music seeks to combine emotionally powerful production with thoughtful lyrics, encapsulating emotions that range from joy to pain. In their latest project, the duo has expanded the band with drummer Ben Tyler and bassist Kale Chesney. The new synergy has allowed the band to go beyond their synth-pop roots and incorporate more organic, indie rock sounds into their music.
“Burnout” is the band’s newest single, released last week alongside old favorites “FOMO” and “The Overkill.” Already, the track has been deemed a fresh indie find. Listeners will be glad to hear Small Million is set to return to Oregon for the Cascade Equinox Festival this September. Check out the setlist for other artists and consider showing up for an experience.
M: Hello? I’m talking. And then if I go over here, Ryan is talking.
R: I’m talking.
M: I can go like this, I can go to like this.
A: You got options.
M: I feel like I’m getting, you know, one of those on-the-street interviews on TikTok where you’re like…
A: What’s the building on the street? For $1!
M: Do you know who Steve Carell is? That’s him right here.
A: Oh, my God. Sweet. Awesome. Well, yeah, let’s just get started. I don’t want to take up too much of your time.
M: Let’s chat. Let’s chat. Yeah.
A: So, as always, you got to start off. How’s it going?
R: It’s going all right.
M: It’s going pretty good. We just had lunch. We’re feeling ready rock. Saw lots of music last night. Playing music tonight. That’s the important thing.
A: And how are you feeling before the district set tonight?
M: I’m excited. I think it’ll be fun. I’m manifesting our best Treefort set yet. I think it’s going to be fun. We played two years previously at other venues, but District seems really cool and I’m excited to rock out.
R: A little anxious but excited.
A: So for people who are not like me and didn’t have access to your bio before this interview. Just tell me a little bit about yourself, about the band’s history, [and] how you guys formed Small Million.
M: So I’m Malachi and this is Ryan, and we were both musicians and sort of randomly crossed paths from very different genres. So I played more Americana and folk music as a songwriter and a lyricist. And then Ryan is a producer and a guitarist and a synth player. So we sort of joined forces. He just asked if I would be interested in playing in a totally different genre, and I was like, “I don’t know, why not? You seem fun.” And it’s years later now.
R: Did we mention Portland, Oregon?
M: Oh, we’re from Portland. Portland, Oregon.
M: That’s an element [of] the bio too. So we put out two EPs in the past and we’re in the process of releasing new music on Tender Loving Empire Records and the two of us are the originators. But we also have two new bandmates at this point who are fantastic and joining us for this new material. So Ben Tyler plays drums with us and Cale Chesney sings harmonies and plays bass with us. And that has been a blast like expanding the band. We’ve been a little bit more kind of like synth-pop, straight-up synth-pop in the past, and we’re evolving into a little bit more indie rock at this point. Still has synth, but with a lot more guitars, [and] a lot of rock.
R: A lot of drums.
M: Drums. We just try to make very emotional music.
A: And actually going in, did you guys meet in Portland? So when you were coming from Americana and when you were coming from everything at home, would you say the Portland scene kind of helped shape what became Small Million?
R: I mean partially. Malachi’s from Portland, moved back after college and I’m from L.A. originally and listen to a lot of music that came from Portland. So I guess that not only informed my musical tastes and preferences, etc. but also my decision to move to Portland was for the music scene as well, as well as, you know, cheap rent at the time. Comparatively.
M: Californians just coming up to Portland. I’m glad, though. I’m glad you did.
R: So I would say it was. Yes, the Portland music scene did…and now I forgot the question!
M: It shaped it!
R: An influence? Yeah.
M: Yeah, I think it definitely shaped it. I think the cross-genre pollination feels very possible in Portland. A lot of people play in a lot of different projects and wear a lot of different hats and it just seemed doable. I wasn’t too intimidated. I was like, “Sure. Synth-pop? Okay!”
R: It was interesting actually. At the time, there wasn’t a lot of electronic music, I would say that venues started cropping up and more and more people were, were playing it.
M: There’s definitely a bigger pop scene in Portland now than there was when we started, I think, which is great because people are sweethearts The pop scene [is] some of the nicest people in Portland. Everybody’s so supportive and making really cool music.
A: That’s awesome. What does the creative process look like for you guys? Has it changed over time? Like you’ve added two new members? Has that changed the dynamic a little bit?
R: So far, I would say the creative process has stayed kind of the same. But the process itself is there’s not one way that we do things. So, yeah, it’s like we’ll do everything from like, you know, I’ll have a piece of music and then Malachi will write to it or come and improvise over it, or vice versa. She’ll have something that is a part that’s written or a couple of parts of like, “Here, what do you think of these?” And then like, I’ll take this and we perform it from there. Sometimes, some things come out from the improvisation or sometimes it comes out wholly formed. I don’t know. It’s weird.
M: Yeah, it’s funny. Sometimes [there will] be a backing. He’s building a lot of the chord structures, making a lot of the kind of sonic worlds and then those things develop over time once there are lyrics and melody over that. I think earlier on, we would just sort of send things back and forth to each other and then some of my favorite songs are just like, “Woah, an entire idea just spilled out to that like thing you had written! That all came together very quickly.” And then some things take a lot longer of a process and a lot more of Ryan convincing me that there’s something there and he’s right. He’s always right.
R: Sure, I’ll take it.
M: You know, sometimes I’m right. But you two were both right all the time. That’s the secret to a good creative relationship. Both be right always.
R: Lot[s] of revisions, refining.
M: Yeah, but things start there, and we’ve gotten better at it. Like, we’ve developed a really fluid language over time of how to collaborate, how to trust each other, you know? I think we know at this point that we have a solid baseline of respect and liking each other’s taste even in the ways that they differ. And we can always we can build from that, which is have been great. And then adding these new members to the band is really fun to start in the composition process with the two of us. And we have, you know, we have the song a certain percentage of the way there. It’s like 60% there. And we’re like, This is something, let’s bring them in now. Let’s add new beats. Let’s add harmonies that are different than the ones I would write because Caleb can write these incredible harmonies, and then sometimes that will redirect it even, you know? It’s like as, as with the two of us, it’s like we hand it back and forth and then it’ll change the direction that it’s going. The other two definitely are influencing what we’re writing too. Yeah. Yeah.
A: Nice. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Go ahead.
R: The writing could evolve. There [are] just so many ways to approach it. And like, the more we play together. Yeah, it could. Maybe it could start off with the drums. Or maybe you could start off with them singing together. I don’t know. You know, there [are] many ways to skin a cat.
A: That’s true.
R: I skin cats for a living.
M: No, no he doesn’t. Some living, Ryan.
R: I had a taxidermy place, but we specialize in cats.
A: Fair enough.
A: Actually, in a sick, twisted way, I’m going to move onto–
M: We’re coming back to taxidermy. Great.
A: –our next question. The next question I had written for you guys was who or what is your biggest muse right now? Would that be the taxidermy cats, Ryan?
R: Yeah. I’m getting a little tired of the skinning. Ready to move on.
M: Oh my gosh. Biggest muse?
M: Muse. Like a cat.
M: Okay. Oh.
R: There we go. There we go.
R: I got too into the cat show and now I forgot.
M: Now you forgot? Your muse. Your biggest muse right now.
M: Do you want to do a cat joke?
A: Like literally just anything that’s inspiring you to create right now.
R: Yeah. Oh, my God. Yeah. Other music, other films. This process of writing together, the process of collaborating with Ben and Cale. There’s so much to be inspired right now.
M: We’ve been writing an album recently. Hold on. I know. I make music. I think about it. I have intentions around it.
R: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
A: It’s a very broad question.
R: Do you get inspired by other music more? Listening to good music. I think that’s my number one.
M: Listening to good music. Have you heard anything you really like lately?
M: Oh, man. That is also a tough one because there’s just so much good music coming out. The last really big one? The Smiles album I like. Yeah, it was so good. And then getting to see them live was amazing. I mean, obviously like Radiohead and Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood, they’re all fantastic. But like I was inspired by the album, but then seeing what they can do in a live context was incredible. We got inspired last night at that show.
M: Yeah, that was really cool. Super inspiring. So this was some Son Rompe Pera and it was just such a good show of a band I had never seen before and really like visceral. Like we were dancing really intensely and like a great build to a show is so much fun. That is so cool. I listen to a lot of folk music and my day job is in the folk and bluegrass world, so I get a lot of kind of that influence. But a record I’ve been listening to a lot is this duo, Mama’s Broke. They’re from Halifax, the Canadian folk duo. But they have just like this incredible, dark folk album and they’re both incredible instrumentalists and the creepiest harmonies. And I’m just like, “Yes, eating it with a spoon.” I love it. Yeah.
A: So you have singles coming out. Remind me again of the records. The label name.
R: Tender Loving Empire.
A: So you have singles coming out through this year. This is a very long explanation [of] a question. Do you know what Twyla Tharp’s concept of the spine is?
A: Oh, no. I’ve read her book on creativity about, like, throwing things in a box. Yes.
A: Yeah, it’s–
M: Is it spine related?
A: So the box part is like…I don’t know if it’s the same chapter, but it is somewhere in the same book. I don’t remember which.
M: Talk to me about the spine.
A: So I wrote it down because I figured I would forget it. The spine is the statement you make to yourself, outlining your intentions for the work. You intend to tell this story. You intend to explore this theme, you intend to employ this structure. The audience may or may not infer it, but if you stick to the spine, the piece will work.
M: Oh, I love that. That’s really cool.
A: Would you say that your upcoming singles have a spine? Individually or as a collective?
R: I feel like it’s one of those things where when you write about art or, you know, if you have with making any sort of art in general, you have a bunch of pieces and then you’re doing it in a certain time period and then you start to see a three line. So, sonically there [are] three lines. But then also, I mean, lyrically, obviously that’s the thing that kind of guides the theme. So she would look for is like, “What is that? What is this?” But yeah, she finds the spine, I guess.
M: And it’s funny, sometimes that comes on you later or sometimes you’ve written four songs. Then all of a sudden you’re like, Well, there’s a spine. Look, let’s keep following the spine all the way up to the headwaters. The skull? Yeah, I definitely feel so. Even though we’re releasing this a lot in that sort of like, singles format, I’m definitely thinking of it as a cohesive chapter of work. And I think that comes together. All of it feels collective: the artwork, the visuals.
R: The lyrics, the artwork, the sounds.
M: For me, I think when I’m like, “How is this next chapter different? What has changed in the spine?” Funnily enough, my actual spine…I’ve had a lot of chronic pain and sciatica stuff and have at various points over the last five or so years been more or less able to move through the world at all. And one thing I’m hearing in a lot of the new music is what that has done for me, what that has held me back from like my, my changing relationship with my body as [the] pain comes in and out and like all the benefits of like when you’re in pain. You have to pay a lot of attention to your body. And I think I’ve skated through a lot of my life, not? Before you have pain, you don’t really have to think about it at all, and I think I should have been thinking about my body more. And so I hear a lot of this stuff about the body, stuff about intuition.
R: Is there a line in the last track?
R: The last track
M: You can’t talk about that.
A: But do you talk about the spine?
M: Oh, “remembering the spine”. You’re right. There’s actually we say the word spine in the album.
A: That’s cool. I wasn’t sure if you wanted me to bring that up. How are you feeling now?
M: The future stuff, the rest of it that’s coming out? Or how am I feeling about my body?
A: I meant your spine.
A: Yes, I’m feeling a lot better. It takes a lot of work, though. That’s the thing. You know, having a body, you continue to have it every day and you have to keep it strong or something. I’m over it. I’m pretty over it. Just kidding. I’m grateful for my relationship with my corporeal self.
A: We already actually answered one of the questions that I had, which is, “What are you listening to right now?” But has that actually changed over the course of the last few months? Because I know you, Ryan brought up The Smiles, which was [in] July of last year.
M: He stays obsessed.
R: I don’t know if I would just think of some of the more like Nick Hakim. There’s a track called “Happened” that I’ve been listening to a lot and I’m sure. It’s weaving its way into my brain and might come out somehow in newer material, I don’t know.
M: Even my album, I [refer] to the little Older. What do I listen to? I listen to stuff. I mean, I’m in a beautiful, sleepy sun patch right now.
R: The Nick Hakim album also came out a while ago. But there [are] songs from his that I listened to more in the past, but I’m just getting into this track now for some reason.
R: I like when you listen back to a record where you got obsessed with two tracks and then you listen back to it later, [and] you’re like, “Track six rules! Why didn’t I connect with this the first time?”
R: Part of it, actually. He played in town recently, so that was part of the reason why I was getting back into it too. So sometimes, different cycles.
A: I actually had that happen with Bon Iver’s “22, A Million.” I listened to it the first time and I was like, “This is so strange.”
M: Is that the one with all the, like, symbols in the song titles?
A: Yes, and I went back and I was trying to point out to someone what I didn’t like about it. And this was the second listen, I was like playing all these songs. I was like, “Wait, this one’s really good. Wait, this one’s really good too.”
M: Oh my God.
A: Oh, God. What is happening? When I got to “Creeks” I was like “This album is actually really good. Why did I not like this?”
A: It’s just flipped.
R: Sometimes it takes a second. I was trying to think through my playlist that I add to and stuff. And there’s this artist– have you heard of Gordi at all?
A: I have not.
R: But she does a cover of the tracks off that album that is just all acapella basically. It’s so good. That’s funny, I was about to say that but, you got a Bon Iver song.
A: Yeah, that’s awesome. And you said “Gordi”?
M: How do you spell that?
R: G-o-r-d-i? I might be pronouncing that incorrectly.
M: He’s looking. He’s looking for his references.
R: Oh, I’m looking.
A: I don’t know how you would say that.
M: Zero, zero, zero, zero, zero million. It’s like a small million.
R: Oh, yeah. That’s funny.
R: Yeah, there’s plenty on here. New M83 just came out, but I didn’t listen to too much.
A: I haven’t gotten to it yet.
R: I haven’t gotten to it yet either. Oh, is it Widow’s Peak or is it Widows Speak?
A: I don’t know about that because I’ve only seen it on the screen.
R: I’ve been getting really into them as well. Super amazing vocalists and awesome guitar player. I highly, highly. recommend them.
A: I also see “Belinda Says”.
R: That album was heart-wrenching.
A: Can you send me the link to that if you want?
A: Yeah, yeah. Totally. Totally.
M: All of Ryan’s influences.
M: I would love to see them. And I guess I have two left. The first one is, “Do you contend with audience expectations when you’re creating music?”
R: [I] try not to. mean I don’t even know what the expectations are, to be honest.
M: I’m going to… No. I would need a bigger audience to contend with their expectations.
R: I guess it could come on because there are certain songs that are more popular than others, whether that be algorithmic or what. I don’t know why.
M: That is true.
R: You could get wrapped up…
M: Making more of the same. I think we try not to. We’re not referencing making another one of that song[s] that was the most successful.
R: But after the stuff is written, when you look back, you’re like, “Oh, maybe this one will be more successful because it’s more like that track.”
M: No. And I think we have a lot of fun, like pushing into new kind of genre things or new textures. And there’s definitely stuff in our new material that I’m like, “Cool, we haven’t tried this before. Like, fun.”
A: And really, just kind of wrapping everything up. How can we as a collective, as a publication, as whatever, how can we best support Small Million?
R: Listen and spread the word.
M: Put us on your playlists. Just as Ryan has a playlist. If you like our stuff, put it on a playlist. Yes, we are streamable everywhere. And we’re on the Internet. But listening is the best way to support us, I think. We have some cool sweatshirts too.
R: Yeah, some videos up there too. I guess. You can watch us.
M: Yeah, watch us.
A: Cool. Yeah, That’s awesome.
M: Now we’re supported? Okay, great.
A: Thank you, guys.
A: I feel like a TikTok queen right now.
R: I’m going to start with that taxidermy shop.
R: No, Ryan is getting too carried away with that joke. It’s great.
A: I love it. That was amazing.