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Musician Ashley Miller wants to build recording studio for at-risk students

“The kids there are awesome,” musician J. Ashley Miller said about the children he worked with at Gillis.
“The kids there are awesome,” musician J. Ashley Miller said about the children he worked with at Gillis.

J. Ashley Miller has been an active and ambitious member of the Kansas City music and arts communities for years, as a musician, an artist, a composer and performer.

Miller’s latest project involves residents at Gillis, a center for at-risk children and their families. He is raising funds to build the Gillis Booth, a recording studio for the residents.

The fundraising includes a benefit concert Sunday night at the Ship, 1217 Union Ave., featuring performances by Miller, Shy Boys and Peter Schlamb & the Electric Tinks with Hermon Mehari. Donations are also being accepted online via Chuffed, which raises funds for nonprofits and charities. The Gillis Booth site: chuffed.org/project/gillis-booth

Miller recently talked to The Star about the project, how it got started and where he wants to take it.

Q: How did you get involved in this project at Gillis?

A: I’d done recording sessions with kids for maybe five years at the Garrison Community Center in Columbus Park. I took a break from that after my daughter was born. I have a friend Theo (Bunch) who is an artist who works at Gillis. He invited me to do a residency there.

We did one record with the kids over the course of about six weeks. We recorded 20 to 30 tracks, which got reduced to 12 for a record. It went really well, and I realized I wanted to do it again, but for real. The kids there are awesome.

Q: Are there other music components at Gillis?

A: They have a music therapist on staff, but I was doing something different. I was working independently making tracks with kids after hours.

Q: How many students did you work with?

A: Maybe 25 to 30 kids. It’s an interesting, multifaceted place. They help a lot of at-risk kids and families, too. They have a school, and some go to school only, plus they have a full-on residential treatment center, too, with kids who live there.

This project will be primarily with the residential kids. The studio will serve kids who live there full time. It will be a studio for them exclusively, not through the school program.

Q: What was that first recording at Gillis like?

A: It’s funny how the music was all over the place. One person will only want to work on beats and nothing else. Another kid will only want to be behind the mic. Some kids are so prepared and will have the whole piece scripted out and be ready to come in and get it on the first take. One kid wrote everything but didn’t want to perform at all and wanted other kids to perform his writing.

It’s all over the place, like any other music community. You never know who’s going to come in and shred it and blow your mind, which is exciting for me on a producer level. It’s really fun to be there.

Q: Do you have a space for the studio?

A: Yes, there’s a room waiting for me. I want to rally the funds to buy the gear and build it out proper and put a real studio in.

Q: What gear did you use for the first album, and what kind of gear do you want to buy?

A: I brought everything myself: a laptop, microphone and some speakers — a total mobile rig. We want to buy a computer, some control surfaces, some digital drum pads, a great sound system and a good microphone. We are going to focus on electronic music. The kids really seem to gravitate to that. It’s more lightweight and easier to do.

Q: Will there be any live instruments?

A: We have drums and they have a lot of acoustic instruments on site. But given the choice, the kids choose electronic.

Q: Will you release physical copies of the recordings or go digital only?

A: That’s the other part of the fundraising. We want to put out a CD a month. If I’m doing three days a week, we can get about a record done in one month. So we’re hoping to keep that going.

Timothy Finn: 816-234-4781, @phinnagain

Sunday

A benefit concert for the Gillis Booth starts at 8 p.m. Sunday at the Ship, 1217 Union Ave. Shy Boys, J. Ashley Miller and Peter Schamb & the Electric Tinks featuring Hermon Mehari will perform. Admission is $5.

To donate to the Gillis Booth and learn more about the project, visit chuffed.org/project/gillis-booth

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