Music News wanted the scoop on all the exciting things to come. We sprinkled Mica with questions and she found the answers.
In this Q&A, the Manchester singer talks about everything from the meaning of her latest single, the upcoming debut album and the songwriting process.
Millar also tells Music News how a serious back injury and Covid restrictions helped shape both his personal and professional outlook.
Could you tell us what inspired your last track Preacher Man?
Preacher Man is all about taking a “leap of faith.” I think as human beings, under capitalism, we’ve somewhat lost that sense of spiritual purpose; the joy of doing what you love and making your dreams come true.
I was thinking about the spiritual encounters I have had in my life (whether personal interactions, conversions, books, emotional experiences, synchronicities) that led me to search for something more . I really wanted to personify/embody those experiences in the form of a ‘Preacher Man’.
The song sounds like old school soul, what were your influences for the track?
I love old school soul, RnB, blues, jazz and gospel so those genres definitely had an influence and impact on my approach to producing Preacher Man.
As a musician, how difficult is it to tap into your favorite inspirations while maintaining your voice and fresh perspective?
When I write and record, I try not to listen to other music – you know what they say about comparison.
I think if you write from the heart and then build the instrumentation and production to “serve the song”, no doubt the music you love and have listened to throughout your life will find its way into your ideas and s will impose.
For me, it’s all about these songs, and they will always be representative of me, my voice and my point of view because I wrote them.
In terms of production, both for “Preacher Man” and for the whole album, I really wasn’t actively looking for some kind of “new perspective” or trying to come up with “the next trend”, it was rather to serve the songs and create something with a “timeless” quality. It was an intention that had been set at the very beginning.
Preacher Man seems to want to ignore the rat race and live life to the fullest. Did you manage to achieve this? And do you have any advice for us?
Big question! …and I’m working on it.
I’m definitely in a rush right now with all the work that needs to be done around an album campaign, but I love what I’m doing. Undertaking this journey has been a huge leap of faith for me and creative freedom has been the result.
But we all have to do what we have to do to eat and pay our bills, so it’s hard.
I wouldn’t give people advice on how to “take the leap”, but I think during Covid a lot of people have been reflecting on their lives looking at things like work/life balance.
I think a four day work week course has also been introduced recently to test if people are more productive (I think a pilot like this should focus more on its personal impact on mental health people, but that’s another conversation). I guess capitalism in its most basic form is trading your time for money.
I think we need to think about what our time is worth and what kind of things we want to trade it in and how we can best do it on our own terms – you can’t always be satisfied or enjoy every aspect of this what you are doing, but deep down, does it bring you joy? Are you growing? Are you realizing your potential? Does it lead you to anything of emotional value?
Otherwise, it’s something to think about I think. You (can only) get one life.
Your new album Heaven Knows is on the horizon, what kind of themes and music can we look forward to?
“Heaven Knows” is a soul album that draws inspiration from classic and modern soul, blues, gospel and jazz. The songs explore themes of human nature, spirituality, love, oppression, inequality and empowerment, so I think “Preacher Man” kinda sets the tone for what is coming, although each song has its own identity.
Regarding your first album, how did you find the creative process? What state of mind is there between the creation of an album and the creation of singles?
I approach each song individually, much like I would a single, but of course I was thinking about the whole thing holistically and how each track would fit together to form a body of work.
Putting together the tracklist at the end was a particularly difficult creative process. The order actually has nothing to do with what I had in mind while writing and recording.
Creating that journey for the listener is definitely an art form, and it was a really cathartic process to go through.
Preacher Man is a very catchy song and I’m sure it will catch people’s attention. How much thought did you deliberately write the song to make the single? What made Preacher Man the right fit for you?
I never approach songwriting with an “end goal” in mind. I write everything that comes out and sometimes they go in the trash and other times they stay with you and you hum them the next day and you think “that’s really good”.
What is your number one priority when creating a song? Are they catchy lyrics, expressing a message or just an engaging sound?
When I played this album to Kwame Kwetan, he said to me, “You wrote this album for yourself, didn’t you? “. It really made me smile. The priority for me is always, how does it make me feel when I listen to it? Where is this leading me?
The process is always about expressing or processing something. Sometimes you know what it is and other times you don’t and it comes out in the song. I know a lot of people who write songs collaboratively have to come up with themes and consider how catchy something is. That’s not really how it works for me.
Each artist is unique in their approach. Do you come up with certain themes you want to write about or do you wait for inspiration to hit you?
My process is different each time. Sometimes I use a method of writing called “stream of consciousness”. This approach is basically to record and sing what comes out and it’s an approach I used a lot on the album.
There are songs like “Down River,” for example, that are written entirely as a stream of consciousness from start to finish.
For other songs, I take the same approach, then listen and select words or phrases, then build on the themes I find.
Artists like Taylor Swift have used Covid lockdowns to unleash creativity. Did you find it as helpful or did it just frustrate you?
Covid definitely created a lot of challenges for me to complete this record.
I was halfway through and had to do a recording session which was first canceled due to a spinal injury and then couldn’t be rescheduled due to Covid.
In many ways, the impacts of Covid and the shift to remote recording (which I did a lot for this record), really allowed me to think outside the box as a producer, which made me brought me to work with people that I had always wanted to, in other parts of the world, especially in the United States.
The album was then mixed by Brian Malouf (Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder) in LA – we did the mixing sessions live on Zoom. Then it was mastered by Geoff Peshe at Abbey Road – it was December 2021 so I was lucky enough to be able to be there in the session and work alongside Geoff.
With this being your debut, how important is it to drop a punchy message or unique sound? In other words, how important is it for you to create a distinct brand?
I think it’s artistically important to present your music with a visual that aligns with both the music and who you are as a person.
I’ve always had a very strong preference and vision for how I wanted my artwork and music videos to look. I worked with an amazing and creative team to bring it all to life and I can’t wait to share what we’ve been working on.
What part of the album process do you enjoy the most? Is it writing, recording or broadcasting to people?
When you oversee all aspects of a release, from writing, organizing and producing the record, to creating all the visuals, and then overseeing the marketing team, they’re all enjoyable and stimulants to the same extent.
For me, it was really important to compartmentalize (as much as possible) these very different creative processes. You need to be in a different headspace for each aspect, so music first, then assets, then promotion.
At the moment, we are in the promotional phase, but I am still developing creative elements in the background for upcoming releases, as well as setting up the live show.
I think I’m probably one of the few artists who loves every aspect of a musical release – it’s exciting and challenging for different reasons.
But at the end of the day, making music and playing it live (which I’m about to start doing soon!) is what’s close to my heart.
I understand from reading your biography that you suffered a fairly serious back injury, could you tell us a little more about it? If you’re not comfortable with it, don’t feel the need.
Thanks, yes I had a spinal injury in January 2020. I broke my back and had emergency surgery followed by two years (so far) of recovery and rehabilitation. It was difficult, but I was very lucky not to be paralyzed.
I have been determined not to let my injury or Covid affect my view of the album and I am happy to be able to continue doing what I love.
How has the experience and the battle to get back on your feet changed your outlook on life and your musical profession?
A lot changes when you have an accident or experience a trauma like this – you realize your fragility and your life can change in an instant.
I thought a lot about people who have had similar experiences to mine and ended up in wheelchairs. I remember this possibility that occurred to me at the time.
My perspective would probably have been very different if that had been the result – I have a lot of respect for people who find light in the darkest places. I tried to maintain this attitude as much as possible.
As for music, it has always allowed me to go through difficult times. I appreciate it even more now.
As life slowly returns to normal in the UK, are you planning on touring in the near future?
Yes, I will be announcing a UK tour very soon. I am currently preparing for the live show with my amazing band and tour dates are planned as we speak.