LSU graduate Walter Miller’s “Dark Clouds Over Suburbia” came from a five-year climb through personal strife and artistic growth.
The album, released in November 2019, tells a story spanning from his freshman year at St. Thomas More High School in his hometown of Lafayette to his junior year at LSU here in Baton Rouge.
Miller started writing it when he was 14, at which point he was in an abusive friendship from which he was not able to remove himself until almost two years later. He said the combined pressures of that relationship and his journey of coming out as gay created a near-unbearable emotional burden, one which he conveys clearly and poignantly in the songs.
Miller said writing “Dark Clouds Over Suburbia” was one of his only outlets to process the complex bag of emotions he dealt with at that time.
“I needed a means of getting my story down,” he said.
And at first, that was all the songs were—means of getting the story down, of getting it out of his head and into a form by which he could meaningfully express it. But, when he brought some of his work to his guitar lessons at Guitar Acadiana (now called the Music Academy) with teacher Tim Benson, Benson urged him to make use of the shop’s in-house recording studio.
And that’s when the process of recording “Dark Clouds Over Suburbia” began, and several years later Miller arrived at the finished product he felt accurately portrayed his story.
But Miller also said there was some serious emotional weight that came with grappling with that same story and same emotions for as long as he did while writing and recording the album.
“For some songs,” he said, “it was so painful that I just had to mentally distance myself from what was happening.”
In particular, he pointed to the songs “Downfall,” “Talk’s Cheap” and “My Confession” as instances of that. With those tracks, he said the emotion was so intense he felt at the same time overwhelmed with the memory of what he went through and determined to channel that memory into a meaningful piece of music.
And nowhere was that emotion more overwhelming, he said, than with the final track, “Outro.”
The song took him six months to write. He felt it needed to both fully encapsulate the emotion expressed throughout the preceding songs as well as give an impression of what he learned from it all and where he’s going moving forward.
And another aspect of what made writing the outro such a trial was that he intentionally waited to write it until a good while after he’d penned the rest of the album. He said he wanted time to process everything he’d experienced and everything he’d learned through writing about it before he could make a final song that properly sealed his story.
“I was just having to dive headfirst back into that world,” he said, which, he added, was an uncomfortable but ultimately fulfilling endeavor, both personally and artistically.
And then one day, after writing and recording was said and done, Miller sat on the porch of his parent’s house overlooking the picturesque suburban landscape and was struck by the contrast between the idyllic scene on the ground and the storm clouds rumbling overhead. And that’s when the name “Dark Clouds Over Suburbia” came to him; it perfectly reflected his life at the time, he appearing an average, comfortable kid, with good grades, a good family and plenty of friends, but with a storm raging just outside everyone’s view.