Ashes to Embers – Tattoo Ideas, Artists and Designs

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By Ariana West
Pictures of Lindsey Byrnes

Addiction is consuming. Nicholas D. Miller, known to the world as Illenium, knew just how bad heroin addiction can be when he overdosed in 2012. But at rock bottom, he found the purpose of his life: music.

“I was trying to come up with something, not even knowingly,” Miller says. “I was already obsessed with researching music and specifically dissecting everything that goes on in a song. When I started learning more about electronic music, I took that obsession and started using it to produce music. It was just one step at a time to try to be as good as the people I looked up to. It served me very well spiritually and in life, because it became my career.

Miller got sober while living in Colorado, and there he discovered electronic music. Sobriety gave him time to immerse himself in this new passion; he devoted himself to going to shows, discovering new artists and learning everything he could. When the time came, he started making his own music. “I started making music, and for the first three years it was really bad, but I kept loving it,” Miller says. “Then I moved to Denver and met my current manager and some awesome roommates. We’ve been making music together almost every day since.

“I was drawn to electronic music because every aspect of sound can be manipulated, it’s like unlimited creativity,” he continues. “When you are in a group, you are one element among many others. But with electronic music, you can really do whatever you want.

Miller immersed himself in electronic music at a time when EDM was dominating the charts. The once niche genre became mainstream almost overnight, with dozens of fans creating a thriving community around the music they loved. “It was such a cool scene when I was riding too,” he recalled. “The bass music scene in Colorado was really starting to emerge and you could see the community it was building. It was very easy for me to fit in and feel comfortable. Which was not normal for me, as I always felt out of my skin. But electronic music has become this awesome mix of creativity and a community of really cool people.

Miller began releasing music through his own method of trial and error. In the early years, he produced a steady stream of singles and EPs via SoundCloud in hopes of getting his work noticed by the EDM community. He quickly became addicted to the feeling of sharing new music with his friends and strove to be as good as the big DJs on the scene. The way Miller has strived for greatness has been monumental in shaping his now iconic sound.

“I think any musician is really just a combination of influences,” says Miller. “To say that you created a genre out of nothing is quite anomalous. Everyone has influences and that’s what your sound becomes. When you take this and that from different artists, it sounds different and it’s exciting. I think that’s naturally what happened in the beginning and I was doing everything – trap, dubstep, melodic bass music, etc. It started to form in that more specific category that still gets me everywhere.

Miller’s efforts paid off as he began to gain momentum in the EDM scene and released his debut album, “Ashes,” in 2016. “Ashes” put Miller on the map, peaking at No. #6 on Billboard’s Top Dance/Electronic Albums chart. He quickly followed this with his second album, “Awake”, in 2017. The success of these two albums led Miller to join the Astralwerks label for his album “Ascend” in 2019, which earned him his first number 1 spot. on the Dance/Electronic Albums Chart and peaked at No. 14 on the Billboard 200 chart.

The response to “Ascend” propelled Miller’s career into the stratosphere in 2019, but it came to an abrupt halt in early 2020, like all touring musicians. While disappointing, the disruption may have been the opportunity for the reflection Miller needed. “I feel like we took things for granted when it was normal,” Miller says. “Going into my big tour in 2019 and doing bigger venues like Madison Square Garden and Staples [Center], it felt like we were on that rocket and it was really exciting. Then the pandemic hit and I kept thinking, ‘Do I need to do more? Should I do less? Then coming out of the pandemic and doing the stadium show in Las Vegas, that was the highest ever.

Photo by Lindsey Byrnes

It was at this Las Vegas show that Miller first performed music from his soon-to-be-released fourth album, “Fallen Embers.” The record showed just how far Miller had come over the past decade, earning him one of his biggest accomplishments to date – a Grammy nomination for Best Dance/Electronic Album.

“[‘Ashes’] wasn’t even close to where ‘Fallen Embers’ is in terms of production,” Miller says. “Obviously I’ve learned a lot since then and I can do things faster. “Ashes” came one song at a time and today I’m doing 30-50 songs at a time and then narrowing them down to my favorites. Doing ‘Ashes’ was really an amazing experience and a lot of my fans think it’s my best album. I totally disagree with hardcore, but a lot of people have their favorite song or their favorite album because of where they were at the time.

Miller is currently working on his next big project. Whether that will be an EP or an album is currently unknown, but he plans to showcase his work on his biggest headlining show yet. In June 2023, Miller will perform “Trilogy: Colorado,” which will consist of three performances at Denver’s Empower Field at Mile High. This showcase is a moment of closure for Miller and a way for him to thank the community that has supported him from day one.

Unless you know his story, which he only shared publicly in 2018 through his single “Take You Down,” you’d be shocked to learn where his career began. Miller intends to be a beacon of hope for those struggling with addiction and hopes her music can provide them with an escape. It’s a feeling he not only promotes through his music, but a message he wears on his body every day.

“My sleeve is probably my favorite tattoo. It’s a lot of sacred geometry mixed in with what I love — the outdoors, the seed of life going into the flower of life, and then a phoenix,” Miller says. It’s about being reborn and finding myself. The tattoo signifies my journey from addiction to finding my purpose in life. My goal is not just to create music, but to share my story and make know to people struggling with addiction or mental health that it is possible not to be in the deep all the time.There is a way out, and a lot of people go through it.

Often you never know a person’s struggles just by looking at them, but their tattoos can reveal their inner workings. Looking at all that Nicholas D. Miller accomplished, you would never guess that he almost took a very different path. But thanks to his tattoos, he is able to wear his story on his sleeve and show the world that he is proud of how far he has come.

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