#BlackAltBae: Miles Strand

I stumbled across Miles Strand on TikTok when he did a metal cover of "Unholy" by Sam Smith. You may have notice I repost him a lot on Instagram. So when he answered my call for allcomers, I was ecstatic. I reluctantly concluded this awesome interview on June 27th, 2023...but I had to let the man get back to his life.

Miles!!! Your version of "Unholy" ruined all other versions for me, including the original (I accidentally heard yours first, and after that, no one else came close). How long have you been making music?

HAHAHAHA, oh man, I love that! Well, I started my first (real) band in high school, and that was the first instance where I started trying to actually write and perform my own stuff, so I guess it's been about 23 years that I've been making music!

How many instruments do you play and when did you start? 

In elementary school I started playing cello, but that ended when I got to middle school because the teachers were abrasive and I couldn't read Bass Clef. I got a guitar when I was 6 from a family friend but I didn't really do anything with it until I was 8 and started trying to teach myself how to play the thing - because back then guitar teachers wouldn't take you on as a student if you played lefty.

I think it's a shame you didn't get more support as a child. Did you ever find an open-minded instructor or did you just have to go solo?

It was a different time when I first started getting into guitar - left handed guitars were super limited and cost more unnecessarily, and there weren't many places to go for lessons like there are today, and Youtube certainly wasn't a thing for some time, so my only go-to resources were the radio, my dad's CD collection and MTV or going to live shows. I'd listen to the songs and try to match pitches I heard by sliding my finger up and down the low E string and would try to memorize the pattern before the song ended and when I'd see live performances, I'd be the weirdo kid in the crowd intently staring at the guitarist's hands trying to figure out what they were doing.

Eventually I started taking lessons at the Rockland Conservatory of Music. By this point I was in high school and I could only afford to attend after my parents got a scholarship for me to go. The teacher I had for the majority of my time there was Adam Falcon and he deserves a purple heart for putting up with me, because by that point, I was an awful student who was convinced he knew all he needed to about guitar, hahahaha. Although once I actually started listening to him, I found myself learning a bunch of valuable information that I find myself recalling present-day occasionally.

You're a little different from most of my usual subjects. You're an actual music teacher! How long have you been teaching and how many students do you typically have?

Yes! So I've been teaching in varying capacities since around 2008. The number of students I have varies a lot as of recently, but that's mostly because of the summer and everyone going on vacation. During the school year my schedule at work will be pretty packed and then I also teach privately out of my house and over zoom.

Is music a full-time job for you, or do you have a day job?

Music at this point in the capacity of teaching has been my day job, as far as what I do with my band (Our Fears) and the stuff I post online through MILES DOES MUSIC, it's more passive income at this point but I like the fact that I have a say as to when I work on and put out that stuff, because for me if it feels too much like work to be creative I eventually won't be.

The saying goes that when teaches, two learn. Do you find yourself still learning and evolving as you instruct others?

Oh absolutely! Truthfully, I've never heard that saying before but I love it! When it comes to teaching, I know when I finally took guitar lessons in high school, if I had a teacher their answer to a question I had about a song or guitar solo or whatever guitar-related topic was "I don't know" my first thought was "well then who DOES know?" and I never want to be in that position as a teacher myself because for me, if I have to answer a student's question that way, I walk away feeling stupid and so I'm motivated always learn more and expand on my technical repertoire so that any theory/songwriting/etc. questions that come my way, I can have at least some semblance of an answer to offer.

Do your students listen to your music or attend any of your shows?

Sooo, it was a funny happening when I first started teaching at my previous place of work. I went into that job as just myself, rather than Miles from Our Fears - I figured the music videos and subject matter I was writing about were not going to come off as "kid friendly" early on. I kept it a secret for like 2 years and didn't even think about it, until one day, one of my students (literally) ran into the school and was like "DID YOU KNOW MILES IS IN A BAND??? THEYRE AMAZING!" and so then EVERYONE started looking the band up and I just figured I was going to get fired after that. Like, when student's parents would see me and say "my son showed me your band", I always braced to be scolded or yelled at hahaha, but surprisingly everyone was really into Our Fears and so they would start coming out to shows regularly, buying and wearing merch to the school, (even covering my songs in their own bands!). That stuff still happens today only now most of them after some time also discover I'm on Youtube and TikTok and flip about that. But yeah, the reception overall has been surprisingly good in those cases, so I've learned to embrace it.

Now, every time I click on one of your reels, I have no idea what I'm going to hear. What all genres do you perform?

HA! Yeah, I've had that problem for a while, even my RA in college freshmen year would walk past my room and ask stuff like "...are you really listening to Frank Sinatra right after you played 'Job for A Cowboy??'" I have an appreciation for all types of music and I also see the potential that exists to adapt different styles/genres to a piece of music that's already been established in its genre. With all that said, I do most of my work within the rock / blues / metal / R&B realm. I also know I have the potential to go a bit too far with certain mash-ups that kind of go over everyone's heads, like my video where I did a Djent version of Stevie Wonder's "Sir Duke" - no one got it, hahaha.

I really respect your level of creativity; I'm noticing that the modern Black alt musicians don't really care about limitations. A Djent version of anything Stevie Wonder sounds like the work of a mad genius. How does this insanity even occur to you?

Hahaha, I can't be tied down to parameters because my mind just doesn't work that way. Even with previous bands I had formed, we'd go to the studio and the engineer would ask how long a song was and then would shoot a look at me like I was crazy when I would say it's about 6 minutes long. Pop music initially was in short durations because of the medium people played music on - that being 45's and you only have a small amount of space on either side of a record, so songs had to be structured around that - these days there's no limitations like that; it's just that pop music has always been these small treats that come in strong, stay strong and then 3 minutes later, are gone.

Beyond that, I managed to be inspired by a lot of people I met in college who were doing weird things musically. Battles performed at my school along with GirlTalk, who basically was making entire albums of these super intricate mash-ups, and then I just met other students who were writing pieces for "prepared piano" where you specify placing things like paper/nails/etc. over strings inside the piano, and so it got the ball rolling for me on the idea of repurposing songs in different environments. It's not really that unique of a thing anymore, you can find a lot of people doing it online, but it's a good way to stay creative and keep your wheels turning.

How often do you perform live (either solo or with your band)? What's that like for you? Do you still get nervous after all this time?

Lately, I haven't been playing out much, but that's only because my band is currently looking for a drummer. I play with another band called Full Disclosure, but that's a realm of cover songs specifically from the 80's. Although, I stream on my TikTok every Tuesday and Thursday, and I'm playing through a bunch of songs people request, and I have no time to rehearse them in that moment, so it's a very hectic environment for me but I really enjoy the intensity of it and all the new people I've been meeting because of it. As for getting nervous, it's not in the form of stage fright because that ended years ago. It's really sort of evolved into an anxiety leading up to a performance where the night before, I'll change all my strings, I'll test and check all my cables to make sure there's no shorts to worry about, and I'll spend most of the day of a show pacing around and not talking to anyone and being easily irritated. But once I'm done, I'm all smiles again, hahaha.

And upcoming projects or performances we need to know about?

I believe I'm playing an acoustic show August 19th for my former student's band, Bride Riot, in Rahway, NJ, but I'm not sure of the venue just yet. But yeah, every Tuesday and Thursday at 10pm EST you can catch me on TikTok and Our Fears will be putting out some new music this Halloween, which has been an ongoing tradition for years now.

Who has inspired you musically, both in the past and the present?

Well, my dad plays guitar so that was a contributing factor early on, and he really helped me get into it more and more by taking me to see acts like The Rolling Stones, Living Colour, Public Enemy, Sheryl Crow, Mya, etc. and always being there to take me to the music shop for strings or repairs and driving me back and forth constantly to rehearsals and shows and whatnot. As far as inspirations over the years, staples have been guys like Vernon Reid (Living Colour), Tom Morello (Rage Against The Machine), Paul Waggoner (Between the Buried and Me), Daron Malakian (System of a Down), Omar Rodriguez-Lopez (The Mars Volta), The Weeknd, but I find inspiration from lots of places - I've always had an odd affinity for classical music and opera, and the places where those sorts of elements mix with more rock-centric music, like with something like Evanescence, but I also remember being super excited when I first discovered BABYMETAL's first album.

Which Black alternative artists do you recommend?

It's hard to say because I'm a pro at being late to almost every musical discovery, hahaha. I will say though the recent records Sevendust have been putting out have been spectacular. Additionally, thanks to a videographer friend of mine, I discovered the band Zulu - blew me the f*** away. I immediately got a vinyl copy of their record and started tweeting at them on twitter - they probably think I'm a psycho now, but I'm a psycho who's willing to support them financially, hahaha.

After 23 years in the gamelonger than some of these younger artists have even been alivewhat are your overall thoughts on the Black alternative scene/community?

It's probably a hot take, but it's interesting to me because for as unique as the individuals within the scene can be, it's just like any other where there's unnecessary gatekeeping, people who once they get a little bit of clout let it go straight to their heads and start acting funny and the genuine people tend to be the ones most likely to be taken advantage of. I know that's not that cheery of an answer but I think it's important not to look at the scene with rose-colored glasses. For example, a great thing that happened years ago was Vernon Reid starting the "Black Rock Coalition" which served as a resource for upcoming artists as far as networking and finding opportunities. You don't really see things like that anymore, but I know the main reason why that is is because there's so many people making music and videos and general media for consumption. So maybe some of the gatekeeping/favoritism/etc. is warranted, but who can really say for every single instance.

What can people like me (the bloggers, etc.) do to be more helpful? Because here's how I feel the Black alt scene SHOULD be: it's the family house. And by that I mean this...when things go wrong in your life—divorce, lay-offs, etc.—you should be able to return to your parents' home or the home of another relative to get back on your feet. Our scene should be the same for the artists. Record deal falls through? No problem. Racists don't want to share a stage? No problem. Gatekeepers trying to dictate what is and is not "alt"? We don't care. I feel Black artists should always have a united, consistently thriving community that is always there for them (as long they themselves are not problematic).

I completely agree with what you are saying on this topic. I also understand that the overall music realm is super congested with so many artists trying to just be seen/heard. So with all that being said, I don't truly know what the next step forward would be for bloggers and otherwise. I think there's certainly a place to continue to promote artists that are more visible/mainstream just to maintain visibility in your position as well, but there should also still be an effort to spotlight smaller artists that are coming up. Like, for example, you take a magazine like one that I'm super familiar with like Guitar World - they will offer sections to artists that have new material coming out or that are making a splash on social media or whatever, but the biggest issue I see people complain about is their insistence on still putting most of their focus on the same group of well-established guitarists (Steve Vai, Zakk Wylde, Metallica, etc.), and while there's nothing really wrong with that, they do it to a level where it's almost like they're trying to only serve those people rather than expose their audience to something new in any real capacity.

We also exist in a time where outlets offering promotion to smaller artists are really just looking to make a buck and then will post about these smaller artists but it's not actually being seen by any significant audience because their 35.6K Followers on Instagram are either bots are users that are simply not seeing the profile's posts. So, I really don't know. I think any and all outlets that exist with the objective of lifting up smaller artists should try to remember that that was the initial goal in building the platform they have. Growth is obviously important to all parties involved, but the way certain outlets carry themselves after reaching a level of visibility makes their platform seem insincere...if that makes sense.

What are your plans for the future?

I do want to look into playing out more with OF, but I also have some solo material I want to give some attention to, because it's been on the backburner for some time between the band, work, and then the Youtube and TikTok stuff. I also want to further develop my abilities as far as production both with audio AND video so yeah - proof that you never truly stop learning.

Once more, thank you so much for doing this, Miles. I was ecstatic when you're reached out to me and you every bit as wonderful as I imagined you would be.

Alliyah, thank you so much for offering me the opportunity to tell my story and share my opinions. I really enjoyed what you asked and the whole process has been super easy and fun so thank you thank you thank you! 


  1. stacyb139@yahoo.com7/1/23, 5:48 PM

    I enjoyed this article so much! Not only because it's well-written and about music and the creative process, but especially because it's about Mr. MILES STRAND, my beloved friend and guitar teacher!! Let me assure everyone that Miles really IS as wonderful and amazing as he seems in the article! This man's musical talent is off the charts, his teaching approach should make him Teacher of the Century (so kind, so patient, so thorough), and he not only writes his own music, his stage presence will leave you with your mouth hanging open! He really is that good. Thank you @blackaltmag.com for putting your spotlight on a truly wonderful and talented person.


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