The Wine and Gold's Music Man

September 20, 2013
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CJ Miles
Brian Babineau/NBAE/Getty Images

Cavaliers swingman C.J. Miles likes to talk hoops. But he loves to talk music. Make no mistake – basketball is his overriding passion. But music is number 1a.

Miles is entering his second season with the Wine and Gold. After signing a free agent deal last summer following seven solid seasons in Utah, Miles averaged 11.2 points and 2.7 boards per contest – shooting 41 percent from the floor and 38 percent from beyond the arc – overcoming a slow start to become the Cavaliers steadying presence off the bench.

The 26-year-old turned around his first season in Cleveland with back-to-back 28-point outings against the Lakers and Pacers and went berserk two weeks later in Brooklyn, going 8-for-10 from three-point range as part of a 33-point performance against the Nets.

This offseason, Miles has been busy honing his skills – working out twice a day in his hometown of Dallas and with teammates like Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters and Jarrett Jack all over the country. But in-between mid-summer two-a-days, C.J. carved out enough time to scratch an itch that’s been there his entire life.

Miles got in the studio this summer and cut and released his debut album entitled “No Camping” under his pseudonym, MasFresco. (More on the album’s title in a minute.) It’s a 12-song mix tape utilizing all the musical influences Miles has accumulated through his life as an aficionado.

C.J. grew up singing in the choir and, by middle school, could play piano by ear. His first instrument was a drum kit – but that was mysteriously lost in a move (perhaps in the same way a misbehaving dog is sent to live on a big, spacious farm).

As a kid, he listened to a bit of everything, but the big musical influences around the Miles household were Michael Jackson, Al Green and a healthy dose of gospel. (Miles dad, Calvin Sr., is a preacher.) But when he got into hip-hop, his musical juices truly began to flow.

Miles was working out at the Cleveland Clinic Courts this week, and cavs.com caught up with the budding artist. And when C.J. gets warmed up and starts expounding on his second-favorite subject, it’s best to ask a few questions and get out of the way …


CJ MilesSo, for fans who had no idea about your passion for music, how did this all come about?

C.J. Miles: If I’m not on a basketball court, I’m usually doing something with music – digging through crates of records while I’m writing. I’ve always been like that, though. I’ve just never publicly put out a lot of stuff.

In Utah a lot of people knew about it just from being around. And I put out a little bit. I always said I would do a first project. And this summer, I had so much music and so much stuff. I wrote a little bit throughout the season and lot throughout the summer, so I just decided to use it.

I would go into a studio a couple times a week and just record. Mostly, I would do two-a-days knowing that Wednesday after one workout I would go to the studio that night and it wouldn’t tax me. I wouldn’t be too tired to do what I had to do. I did a lot of the recording in New York because I was always spend time up there. (Producer) Just Blaze was really cool about letting me use his studio when I was in town.

What are your musical influences and how do they affect your own style?

I’m influenced by everything. That’s why my sounds have so much more live instruments; it was such a compilation of different styles. If I was going to do it, I wanted to show it wasn’t a gimmick.

But as far as hip-hop goes, I’m a big Andre 3000 fan. Lauryn Hill – I’m in love with Lauryn Hill. I’d marry her on sight, just based on music.

Then, there are new guys that are cool and they’re about the same age as me, so I relate to the music more. (Guys) like Drake, J. Cole, Kendrick Lamar. Those guys are really good. Jay-Z’s really influential. And my favorite is probably Nas, just because the writing style.

Like I feel the way that I write, I have a lot to say. So it’s mostly about writing and painting the picture. And it’s not that those guys don’t do it. It’s just that the way that Nas did it was very influential to me.

I mean, I like Erykah Badu, Sade. I listen to every kind of music. I’m a big jazz guy, which is why I think I’m in love with the raw instruments because that’s the way I started in music. I’m going to put another project out next summer and I’m going to try to do it almost like a jazz record.

I’m going to dip into that really cool style and just update the sound, basically; how it would sound coming from a 26-year-old influence by hip-hop – using the pure concepts of jazz. The life concepts – because jazz is a pure concept – love, blues, life. And that’s the way I fit in if you listen to my music.

You’re kind of a music purist.

Miles: I had started collecting (vinyl). I had always been into finding old music. Then I started collecting it. I feel like, the way music is now, with the Internet, it took away some of the value.

Say your computer crashes and all your songs are gone – you can get them back in, like, four hours. There’s no value. You hear stories about people waiting in line or going to three different stores to find this record. Or even with concerts: You had to wait in line all night. Now you can go on the internet and get tickets six months before the show. The story behind the music used to mean a little more. You appreciate it a lot more.

People appreciate it now, but it’s different. And even with making music; you can make a full album on your laptop without having to do all the actual work and grind that goes into a lot of this stuff. And the fact that anybody can put out the music all the time kinda takes away from it.

People are doing it just to do it. Not so much because it’s a passion, but more like, ‘Hey, I’ll try this.’

Have you always recorded music during your offseason?

Miles: Yes and no. I’ve made music every offseason since I could remember. It just wasn’t in the form of making an entire project. It was just a feel-good thing for me. It’s a passion; I love to do it.

The thing with my writing, it’s introspective and people can tell when they listen to it. So it’s almost like I make the music – I do it for myself. It’s an outlet and it’s a way for me to talk to myself, like ‘it’s gonna be OK’ or ‘you’ve dealt with it before.’ It’s almost a reminder. It’s basically a diary for me.

And the fact that people were able to relate to it was crazy to me. People were texting me and Tweeting at me or seeing me and reciting a lyric back to me. It was baffling!

What’s the meaning of the title – “No Camping”?

Miles: (laughs) OK, L.A.S.T. – it stands for Living Above Society’s Tent. And one day, I was being funny and playing tricks on the word “tent” – no camping – like don’t go in the tent. And I said it on Twitter and people were like: ‘What is it?’ And people started reacting to it so much, I just kept saying it because I thought it was funny. And all of a sudden, people were like hash-tagging it and Tweeting it and tagging me.

So I was like: ‘I’m going to call the mix tape ‘No Camping.’

For me, it made sense because of the fact that being in the NBA, with all the people that have been trying to make music, it’s been so …. Iffy. It’s just been iffy.

So, for me, the biggest thing about living is: anything you have a passion about, you should be able to do if you go about it the right way. If it’s something that you really have a passion for, and something you really want to do, no one should be able to tell you that you can’t do it.

And I felt like that’s what the music thing is for me. If I’m out here preaching it, I might as well back it up.

CJ MilesIs there an overriding theme to the album?

Miles: Well, it’s not about basketball. If I was going to put something out, I feel like nobody wanted to hear about what they already knew. Anything you want to know, basketball-wise, you can go look it up. Schedule-wise. You know my stats since I got in the league. You can find out how much I make in a year. You can find out everything.

I feel like there’s so much more. And I started writing because of life. Not so much because of basketball. My outlet for basketball is out there on the court. I take that out, out there.

How has the response been?

Miles: It was crazy how much people related to it. And it’s something I’m always going to do. I’m going to keep doing it. Even if people hated it, it’s not going to stop me from doing it. It’s something that I love to do. I’ve been doing it since I was a kid.

It doesn’t bother me if people don’t like it. I think that was the biggest thing I had to get over. It’s like everything isn’t for everybody. And that’s fine. There’s a lot of rappers that I don’t like. There’s people that don’t like Jay-Z – and that’s baffling to me! Jay-Z’s the most influential hip-hop artist of all-time. There are people who don’t like Nas, which is even more baffling.

For people to say they don’t like me, that’s cool. I’m like: This isn’t even my real job!

Today, everybody hates everything. So the fact that people liked it was the most surprising thing. I was expecting to get so much hate from even talking about doing it that it was crazy to me when people said that they liked it.

And I think I caught a lot of people off-guard because it didn’t sound like they thought it was gonna sound. I used my own mind, I wrote everything, I sang a little bit, I chose all the music. I really went at it the right way. It’s still so crazy to me.