North London hailing electronic singer/songwriter Jess Mills is hotly tipped by many to become one of 2012’s biggest breakthrough acts and earlier this week, LozzaMusic got a chance to catch up with the Island Records signee to dig deeper into her music as it is today, influences, future plans and advice for upcoming artists trying to make a name for themselves. Here is what she had to say!
For those who are reading this and don’t know who Jess Mills is, give us a brief introduction to yourself and your music.
I am Jess Mills. I am a singer and also a songwriter. I write all my own material and to describe my sound in the loosest form, I make electronic music but in terms of what I’m writing for this album, I guess the sound oscillates between the more pacey adrenaline moments of electronic music – stuff that could be played in a club – down to stuff which is more spacious and downtempo and is a bit more immersive.
Your music seems to draw influence from a lot of places; who have you listened to growing up and how has your taste developed?
I guess I first got introduced to house music when I was really quite little because my older brother was a house DJ. As a teenager though, I tended to be really into the UK garage scene at that time, in terms of the stuff I was going out to party to.
But also in my own time, I was listening to a lot more immersive kind of music; from Radiohead to The Smiths to The Cure, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, to even Nirvana so you know, I guess it was all juxtaposed to everything! Also bands like Massive Attack and Portishead were massively inspirational for me. There’s a big ol’ medley of music in there, forming my whole writing process!
How has signing to a major label so early on in your career affected your music and is it something you would recommend?
Maybe for some people, it does happen too soon but for me, I was in a perfect place myself to write and deliver an album so no, it didn’t feel too soon.
I have to say, my experience so far working with the label has been incredible. They’ve just really been amazing in every way; really supported me and invested a lot of belief in what it is that I want to create.
What advice would you give to upcoming artists trying to get their music heard?
I think there’s so many formats now for you people to discover you but I think, no matter what your situation, whether you’re in a deal or making music independently, if something’s really really good, it has its way of rising to the top. It just has its way of cutting through the rest.
Essentially, I think what’s really important if you’re an up and coming talent is to really focus on what you feel your strengths are – Is your strength songwriting or is it performing? Is it vocals, is it dance, is it rapping, is it that you can do all of those at once, is it the fact that you’re a producer as well as a singer? – and really to just hone the part of your craft that you feel is your exceptional talent and try and cultivate that.
You have to also be prepared to be pretty dogged about it as well, especially in all the adversity that comes up when you’re trying to make it. You have to have quite a steely sense of belief and work ethic to get to the point where greater opportunities will open up to you.
What is the deepest song you have ever written?
There’s a couple of songs; there’s a song called See-Saw that is another track I did with James Breakage and I performed it when I did my first sold out headline show in London, just before Christmas, which would’ve been the first time anyone heard that song.
The opening line says could you ever find light at the bottom of the ocean, where the sun won’t shine? and it’s about really having to dig as deep as you possibly can within yourself, in the moments where you can only see darkness but just believing the light will come.
So that’s See-Saw but I guess maybe Silent Space too which is also up on YouTube – there’s a little viral video just for that. That song was about a lot of the personal payment people go through in their own hearts and own minds that goes completely unsaid and quite often, it’s what people don’t say that really tells the full story.
What can we expect from your debut album?
You’ve heard 4 pieces of music from me in the past year: there was Fighting Fire with Breakage, there was Vultures, Live What I Die For and now Pixelated People. I guess between those 4 tracks, they mark out the benchmark for the sound quite well. There’ll also be some more stripped back, spacious, more introspective moments and of course some more in your face, adrenaline, uptempo moments as well.
And what about the new single, Pixelated People?
It’s out on the 12th February. That song is basically about what I kinda feel is the corrosive and wear and tear that the city can afflict. The overworked, overplayed, partying too hard, working too hard, doing everything at the maximum of your capacity to the point where you just feel like you’re running on empty. And worse than that, just as you feel like you’re running on empty, you go out and wreck yourself just to deal with it. I guess there’s an undertone of disenchantment in that song but it’s also about so many young people I know who are just under so much pressure to achieve their dreams, and the pressure we put onto ourselves to get to the top and the toll that pressure takes.
There seems to also be a lot of symbolism in Live What I Die For, do those themes relate to you on a personal level?
The title of the song really sums up the whole meaning of it. Live What I Die For basically means trying to live with a pure heart through the things that would also die for in the same breast; only living for the things that mean so much to you that you’d also die for them.
It was also inspired by and written from the heart to a dear friend of mine who passed away ten years ago. I guess it’s also a message about living for someone that you’ve lost; living at the max of your capacity for someone that isn’t here anymore.
What is your opinion on chart music right now and how do you see it changing in the coming years?
I think on the whole, these things go in cycles. There seems to be different types of music that dominate the charts at different points. I mean 10 years ago, there was a big sort of indie movement that moved into a more kind of contemporary R&B/hip-hop phase and obviously the whole electronic/dubstep movement has just been huge in the charts for the last couple of years as well.
I think what’s in the charts is usually quite representative of what kids want to be hearing and you’ve got to give respect for that; at the same time though, creating something musically that you believe will have longevity beyond the moment.
I guess I’ve always wanted to make an album that could stand the test of time and whilst still having relevance now, still sounding interesting and fresh in 10-15 years time, like the records I’ve already mentioned like Portishead and Massive Attack. Radiohead as well are another one.
Lastly, what does the future hold for Jess Mills?
In the next 5 years, I hope I’ll be onto my third album and again, have extensively toured my music and continued to work with really exciting, creative people across the board, whether it be musically or moving into all the other stuff that music opens up the possibilities to: working with people in art and fashion and all the other amazing creative avenues that suddenly unfold when you’re making music. Also, to just to keep making music that I believe in and that I love and people still genuinely respond to.
Any final shout outs?
I always have to give a shout out to James Breakage, Maya Jane Coles who I’m about to be doing a lot of work with and he’s also just remixed my new single, Pixelated People, and to Sam Frank who produced Pixelated People!
Pixelated People is out on 12th February and if you want to know more, get in touch or keep up with Jess’ music and life, here are her links:
I’m sure we’ll be hearing a lot more of Jess Mills as the year progresses and before you go, take a moment to check out her stunning remix of End Credits, originally by Chase & Status and Plan B.