Updated: May 3
Three months ago, I hadn’t heard the voice of Mia Millar, fast forward to now and hers is one of the first names that I would add to any playlist. If you’ve not heard the name yet, then chances are you’re going to be as captivated by the power of this young woman’s voice as I was. Soul music isn’t just a clever play on words, it’s music that fortifies, the emboldens, that offers hope. Mica Millar’s music is the kind of music that does just that. Whilst her last single ‘Girl’ was inspiriting, latest single ‘Heaven Knows’ picks up where the last single left off and takes it up a level.
I was lucky enough to catch up with Mica last Monday, just before title track to her debut album Heaven Knows was released at the end of a busy day for this DIY artist.
Her voice is very much new soul or nu-soul if you prefer, but her education in music which came from her parents is very much rooted in the masters of the genre. In fact, we can thank her aunt for a gift when she was young, “I always tell this story, but when I was a kid, my auntie gave me her old record player and my Mum and Dad collected vinyl. They took quite a while in deciding what vinyl they were going to give me. They gave me a Beatles album and few others (I can’t remember) but they also gave me some Stevie Wonder. I listened to them all, but Stevie Wonder was just always on repeat. He's the root of me exploring soul music initially. I think a lot of people my age would come to soul music later by R&B, but for me it was iconic soul music first but then I found Aretha Franklin, which led me to listen to gospel music and then I discovered more soul music and then it just expanded from there”.
You can hear those influencers in her debut sole single, 2017’s ‘My Lover’ (one which makes it onto the album) “That was the first single I released solo, so I felt like it needed to go on”. Doffing a cap to those greats who she first fell in love with, writing rather than singing was her first love from a really young age, “I was always a bit of a poet. When I was a kid, I started out writing poetry. I've got a songbook from when I was eight years old, I found it the other day and it was quite insightful. I think from that young age, I always just really wanted to express myself and that's kind of how my song writing's come about. I don't think I was a particularly good vocalist at that point, it was more that I wanted to express myself and I think that's the thing about soul music is that it’s so heartfelt, a genuine authentic expression, so for me it’s kind of a natural thing for it to come out soulfully”.
I can relate in so many ways, writing poetry in middle school English was when I first fell in love with language and writing. There’s a real beauty and escapism in writing on your own something that comes from the heart, “When you're trying to express yourself, it's not necessarily about this but it's always been for me sitting in solitude and trying to kind of process my emotions. I don't write with other people; I always do it alone. It's because it's a sort of a meditative process of understanding my own thoughts and feelings”.
Something I’ve become aware of on my own journey with spirituality, is flow states or getting into a state of flow; you’re so lost in what you’re doing you’re in a creative flow. Something Mica was not only aware of, but she also explained to me a concept I hadn’t heard of prior to the interview, one that lends itself to a track that will appear on the debut album, “I'm always trying to find it (a state of flow). I’ll sit down with a keyboard just playing some notes, until I feel something that resonates with me. If it sort of invokes me to express something, whether it's meaningful or not; noise, words or whatever. It's very organic in that way, but that's how I get into a flow state and everything I've written has very much been in that way. Another process I’ve used is called Stream of consciousness song writing. I don't think about what I’m writing I just write, you don't think about what, basically just let it happen for you. For example, I create a soundscape of some sort, with piano going through and then run that on a loop and then just sing whatever comes out. One of the songs for the album ‘Down River’ was written entirely like that, the whole thing from start to finish”.
Singing didn’t come straight away to Mica, it took a good few years for her to find her voice. “I was upstairs for months, spending hours and hours just exploring my voice and there was a point I remember, I would have been probably about 16 or 17. My older sister used to shout up from her bedroom to my bedroom, “Shut up please”. I remember at one point her coming up to my room after a lot of months of being like, “Be quiet” and really frustrated with me, coming up and being, “That's amazing can you play it again”? if I look back on that now, I think that was the moment where I found my voice”.
‘Heaven Knows’ is by far her most accomplished single to date and the perfect title to her debut album - it’s been a long time coming and sometimes that can be a blessing. It allows times for things to mature, to be polished, to be tuned into something truly remarkable. From their infancy to their ending, they take on new meanings a fact not lost on Mica, “I love the fact that songs are so open to interpretation even with that song, because I wrote it quite a long time ago now actually so even to me it's had different meanings. I've really listened to it at different points along the journey of making the album and I want you experiencing in your life and I think it's one of those kind of like multi-dimensional sort of themes isn't it you know heaven knows we can all relate that really it's like totally you know not a lot but I like the fact that spot this sort of dual meaning as well you know it can be like heaven knows like heaven knows universe knows all or God knows all or whatever you want to call it or it can be like **** knows, so I think I think this an element of that going on in there as well but it's got this hopefulness to it hasn't it that definitely sort of yeah makes you feel like I got that like this.”
The title Heaven Knows may lend itself to thoughts of religious leanings and if you look at her back catalogue she’s also released ‘Preacher Man’. It goes beyond anything that’s derived from a belief in an omnipotent being, “You know some think I’m religious because obviously ‘Preacher Man’ and the title track of the album is called ‘Heaven Knows’. I might not have traditionally religious views, but I believe that we can manifest things. There's a great story I’ve heard this guy tells which I absolutely love. It’s about a glass jar. If you put fleas in a jar and put a lid on it they’ll start trying to jump out. But any fleas they birth in that jar, once you take the jar off the fleas they can only jump as high as the jar - I think that's a great metaphor for the way what we think about the world. Iif you look around at what you think is achievable, I suppose you are limited by that aren't you? By what your surroundings are or what you think is realistic. I like to be unrealistic and dream big and I think when you do that you, you start to find a level of faith. For me anyway I have found a level of faith that's quite spiritual. I think about what I'm going to achieve, I think ‘Heaven Knows’ is a great example in my own life of manifestation through faith. When I finished the track, I decided I wanted to shoot the sleeve artwork in The Albert Hall. A friend of mine works there and we managed to get a photo shoot in there. ‘Heaven Knows’ has a dual meaning and I wanted to create slight illusion with the photo flat on the floor. When you look at it upright as opposed to down on it, it's a slightly different. I'm lying on the floor but I'm looking at you or I'm looking up at the sky”.
The video which Mica creatively directed is shot in one of Manchester most stunning venues The Albert Hall. “It’s an amazing space. The truth of video production is that the track has been recorded long before we filmed that video. So what you’re doing as you’re performing it in the video isn’t like performing it to the track. You don't quite get the same acoustics for periods when you're filming a music video, as it looks like when you watch it back. There’s a bit of video trickery of course, when you’re filming music videos so you know; but it's amazing just being in the middle of that space - belting it out and what you get back, but also just the feeling in there”.
If you’re a fan of the video then you’re also going to love the fact that Mica’s homecoming album launch party will be at the same venue, it wasn’t always planned but it’s amazing what can happen when you manifest, “I wasn't intending to necessarily do the album show at The Albert Hall because it's big venue. Even though you know I'm from Manchester and I've been building a live show in Leeds and Manchester. When we shot the music video in there I just thought, I’ve got to do it here, I’ll just have to make it work somehow because it's just a beautiful space - it just makes sense to me”.
Mica has had to work hard to get to where she is now, she’s started her own label so she can have control over her art and her vision. She does a lot of it on her own, promoting, marketing, directing, writing. I asked her how she managed her time and kept her motivation over the last few years and in the hectic period post-lockdown. “The way that I've had to approach this whole process has been to sort of compartmentalise everything. Obviously music always comes first, when I was making the album I it took three years to make the album. To write and record the album of the songs were written prior to that the process, editing it, and presenting them, then mastering took three years. So, during that time, I kind of took a step back from releasing music, from doing live shows and just focused solely on the music. Once I've done the music it was like, OK, now we’ll do the music videos and then we spent three months shooting music videos and now we're kind of in this pre-release phase. I think it’s the only way to manage it, because there is so much to do at each stage. If you’re gonna try and do it all at once it’s gonna be impossible, it would feel like craziness”.
In taking the time to compartmentalise the whole process she’s been able to produce something that feels like it's all hers. It fits in with the vision she had prior to the process starting. She didn’t have it all figured out when she started neither, but her background in marketing has helped massively. “I love it all you know, it's so creative, each part of it. From setting up the label and publishing company it has been a really interesting process; and you know learning how to sort out tapes, videos and how to market and all that stuff, it's great I absolutely love it”.
Being an artist with your own label and publishing, makes it sound like you have it easy and to a degree Mica has more control – but there are also challenges with it comes to the distribution side of the music as the EU and US sale of music brings – something that artist on the bigger multinational labels don’t have to worry about.
Will Mica ever work with new talent on her label? Maybe one day, “It's kind of all a really well-oiled machine at this point. Everyone knows what they're doing and how, what jobs people are doing and stuff. I think the priority for me will always be my own music, recording music and performing. Should there be a time where that would become something that would be enjoyable or not? If I had the time for? I would love to do it you know”.
Setting up her own label, publishing, marketing and all the other stuff normally taken care of may seem like a daunting task (especially when it almost forced upon you), but the one blessing in taking on this master task on your own is that you’re the person driving the presentation of the art. “I kind of always intended it. I had discussions with labels prior to me decided to put it out independently. Without going into too much detail, I have a very strong vision for what it is that I want. Take the music videos. I creatively directed all the music videos. Having those music videos in my head, I knew what I wanted them to like, I've got a really clear vision; How it spans, from what the music sounds like, all the way through to how is this marketed and presented to people – It’s also really important how you engage with people. I feel very strongly about that, and I suppose if you work with a major label then you can lose some control.”
There’s also the loss of revenue, future earnings, and creative control you get with being independent – a fact not lost on Mica, “It’s potentially problematic and you can't really tell how that's gonna go in advance of doing it. Once you've signed, you’re locked in for a time you know, with percentages taken and all of that stuff, so I think for me, it just kind of ended up being like, I'm gonna give this a go do it myself let's see how we do you”!
Doing things your own way gives you control as an artist, but with a big label comes support and a defined path. Self-writing, releasing, and publishing differ as there’s no real one way to do it, it’s a path that at times can be lonely and lead to self-doubting or questioning of oneself, but as Mica puts it you must have empathy and patience when you’re doing it all on your own, “It’s like an impostor syndrome thing. It sounds so ridiculous, but I always thought musicians know how to do things, they do them in a certain way and it all comes to them naturally. It takes me a while to get where I'm going, there's no common process that I follow to do things, so I found a lot of self-critique. I think it's important to recognise when we're being super hard on ourselves isn't it? Be compassionate, self-compassionate and think what your friend would tell you?”
‘Girl’ was mixed by none other than multi-platinum producer Brian Malouf (Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder) and mastered by Geoff Pesche (Ed Sheeran, Adele) at Abbey Road Studios, credited by him as “his favourite Abbey Road project of 2021”, continuing “watch out for this one. I said the same about Adele when I did Chasing Pavements' here”. So in terms of collaborating, she’s already worked with some titans in the industry. Aside from the those there are more she’d love to work with, “Stevie Wonder to start with first of all obviously that would be like the top of the league, The Holy Grail of collaborations - I think I'd love to work with D'Angelo or Anderson Park. Female artists though Little Simz or Tems would be amazing and H.E.R. as well”.
Mica is such a talented lady and like everyone she has hidden talents too, the one she shared with me surprised me and I’m sure it will you too, “I can make balloon animals. My favourite is slightly complicated it’s a poodle, I love doing the little thing on the end of it the tail. I taught myself how to do it for my nephews”.
If you’re a new artist who’s starting out on your journey in music whilst it can seem daunting there’s one golden nugget Mica shared for you, “The music always comes first and you have to stick to with all of your might, your own vision. Believe in yourself”!
Since her debut single ‘My Lover’ Mica has grown into an effervescent force whose magic will beguile even the hardest hearted of listeners.
Her debut album Heaven Knows is out on 6th June 2022 – you can pre-order it here
Her album launches are two shows with the first at Jazz Café Album Launch, London – 17 September and then her homecoming gig is at The Albert Hall Album Launch, Manchester 25 September you can get tickets via this link
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