Its been a while I know (when is it ever not with me?!) but as always, uni work takes precedent over blogging. I'm back today with another single review and what was one of the funniest interviews and photo-shoots I think I'll ever have the privilege of conducting. This entire experience was so much fun and I hope that comes through in this post, enjoy!
Once again this process began the way it did with Colour Of Spring, with a rather unexpected email. This time from the management behind 19 year old Miller Blue; an incredibly talented artist from Shropshire studying music at Leeds Uni. Just as I do with every musician that contacts me asking for a review, I have to listen to their music before I agree to write about it as I only want to post content on this blog that I am passionate about. Luckily with Miller Blue's music, I was instantly hooked.
Miller Blue is a hard artist to define, his genre is mainly Electronic with splashes of Hip Hop and R'n'B. At 19 its surprising to find an artist with such an evident influence of a variety of genres, especially those of Miller Blue but it only adds to the maturity and strong sense of identity to his music. I was asked to review 'Cold Hands', his first single off his new, entirely self-produced EP 'Persistence' which suited me down to the ground as its my favourite off the EP. Here is my review, if you want to give it a listen, you can watch the new music video here.
In my last single review I spoke about when and where I'd play that song, I quite liked writing from that perspective so I think I'll keep it up for this one too.
On my iPod I have a wide array of playlists with slightly nonsensical names which are a great source of amusement to my flatmates but make perfect sense to me. One of my most frequently clicked on playlists is one called 'Visions', named so after The Maine's wonderful and spooky track off their 'Imaginary Numbers' EP. On this playlist there are many more equally moving songs consisting of complexing lyrics or chilling instrumentals such as Our Last Night's cover of 'The Heart Wants What It Wants', 'Therapy' by All Time Low and 'I'll Be Good' by Jaymes Young.
The time for such a playlist, is late at night once the rest of your house is silent with sleep and you're still awake searching for something though you have no idea what. Knowing that sleep is going to evade you for at least another hour, you reach for iPod and overhead earphones. Then once the first note of those haunting melodies, stories and emotions flood between your ears, you fall into a cathartic state of blue understanding. Amongst the songs on this sits Miller Blue's 'Cold Hands' which evokes a hopeless and yet un-resenting feeling of impossible pursuit.
The track opens with an erie guitar riff that foreshadows the sweet, nightmarish familiarity of heart torn thoughts that we've all experienced at some point. As Miller's spooky vocals begin, the atmospheric direction is set for the rest of the track and goosebumps are instantly raised on your arms. The minimal production allows for a closer connection to the lyrics, giving the metaphors a much more demanding gravity. The words "I open doors, just in hope that you will be there" I'm sure is a feeling we can all relate to, if not I speak for myself at least.
The ascending percussion thats consistent throughout the song rings similar to the sensation of steps upon the ground, as if you were chasing that something from before that you couldn't quite reach. As you're transported deeper into the track, the repetition of the lyrics adds to the apparition-like state of whichever ghost is haunting your consciousness at that late hour. The chorus kicks in and so does the emotion, Miller's raw expression is deepened and we're shown a whole new level of honesty. Lying in your bed in the dark of your room, think of nothing else but those lyrics and everything else will begin to disappear.
As you can probably tell from my maybe too elaborate description, I love this song which made me all the more excited for the chance to interview and photograph Miller Blue. I met Miller one Wednesday afternoon in early March at Leeds train station, Leeds being a handy location for the both of us. As soon as we got chatting I instantly felt like we were friends - I speak on behalf of myself alone of course! Miller is one of the friendliest, funniest and open people I think I've ever met. I don't think we once ran out of things to talk about throughout the whole afternoon. We exchanged so many silly stories about uni, gigs and just random anecdotes which I have no idea how we came to talking about but I didn't mind at all, I hadn't laughed that much in ages!
After leaving the train station we headed towards Starbucks for a cup of tea and shelter from the cold for our interview which went down as such, enjoy!:
Holly: So Miller you produced everything for ‘Persistence’ by yourself?
MB: I did yeah.
Holly: Thats quite impressive!
MB: Thank you very much. Yeah I did it all in my room, I’d only been producing for like a year or so. I think it was because studio costs are pretty mad, especially when you’re not in a band because normally you spilt it in a band and my music was more electronically based as well so I think I just wanted to do it all myself.
Holly: Did you enjoy the independence of it?
MB: Oh yeah it was great! I mean I enjoy writing with other people, but I think because it was my first EP I wanted to be all me from myself so I did all the writing, production, the artwork. I just wanted to do it all myself and just say ‘Its me’ if that makes sense.
Holly: Would you do it again?
MB: Yeah definitely. I think with this next one I am working with other people. My manager wants me to get used to writing and the way it works in a studio with other producers because I haven’t done that before because it had all been done in my room, on my own, other than my Mum downstairs, she’s just like “Shut up!” (laughs) But yeah I’d definitely do it again on another project, I’d love to do that.
MB: Without a doubt, initially I produced mostly hip-hop but realised I’m white and I sound weird when I rap (laughs) its the truth! But I was trying to work out how to incorporate hip-hop in with what I’d started to listen to more recently like a lot of electronic, jazz, RnB, I think I just took a lot of influences from different genres and ended up having this sound, finally. For the first year or two I was writing songs I just wrote songs in different genres without having a particular style. It was more like I was just writing random songs and you couldn’t put them together. So with this I wanted to make sure that throughout the EP you could hear the sound within each song even though there are different genres in each song as well, so you can still have one particular sound.
MB: I think the first EP was more themed based on my view of how the world is; like the universe itself and, if I’m honest, it was a few stories about girls that had gone wrong, I was just pissed off! (laughs) I just thought I’m going to write about this, thats why in the album artwork I drew a girl with like the universe inside because thats what the theme was for the EP and I couldn’t find an album artwork that suited what I wanted. But yeah there’s definitely another side of my music that hopefully people will hear in the future.
MB: The guy who filmed the video I’ve worked with him before doing little videos and stuff so I was pretty comfortable with him so we had a sit down, had a listen to the song, chatted about ideas, because I thought the visuals could really reflect whats being said. I think the idea was that this guy was in a dream, like a dream state, trying to get to this girl that he’s not with anymore but he can’t get to her because they’re not together, so its meant to be a nightmare almost, he keeps following her and he can’t get her. Have you seen the video?
Holly: Yeah I thought it was really good
MB: I think it would be hard to grasp that if you’re not sure of the concept but yeah. I had a lot of input with the ideas of it, but he pretty much directed all the shots, I wasn’t too sure on the shots as I’m not really clued up on videography but yeah it was really fun.
Holly: Where did you film it? The locations looked gorgeous
MB: Do you know where Llanrhaedr is in Wales? its like a waterfall there, we filmed some shots there and then we basically drove around to a few different forested areas and mountain type areas nearby, it was all really nice but so cold, like minus four hundred, it wasn’t! (laughs) But it was so cold, I should have worn make up on the video because watching it back I was stood near the waterfall, freezing, I’ve got rosy ass cheeks, and my ears, I look like I’ve been beaten up!
Holly: No you didn’t
Ben: A little bit, just slightly (laughs) but yeah other than that I really enjoyed it.
MB: It was a lot more personal than the others; it was about a time when I’d gone to a pretty dark place, I moved past it but I knew it was still there so I thought I needed to write about it because when I write music I think it helps me filter things and reflect on them. I wrote it really quick, I think I wrote it in two days, then it was done in like a week. I think I got a lot more involved in this song, in the feeling of it than the others just because of how much it meant. I tried to keep the production pretty basic because theres a lot going on in some of the other songs but the vocal really stands out in this song, like its the forefront of the music I think, and thats because I want people to be able to get the emotion from the words and not from the song, if that makes sense?
MB: I think with all the songs I write I don’t tell people my stories in terms of, complain to them about whats happened, I think once I’d written it I’d got it out of my system so I’d already got past it for me. I think the feeling can reflect through how I’m singing it and people can base their emotion off that as opposed to being directly about what my story was.
MB: It depends, it can either be, sometimes it can be songs I’ve heard before; like listening to how people write. Chet Faker writes metaphorically a lot, I listened to his ‘Built On Glass’ album like so many times, for three weeks straight I was just sat there like ‘I love this song!’ I listened to it again last night for the first time in a while and I remembered why I loved that album so much, it was great. Its normally based off something thats happened to me, and then I try and work out what I’m trying to say, and then how to say that without saying it, and I think of words that mean the same thing without actually saying it.
MB: I really enjoyed it, it wasn’t actually planned because I’ve never really painted before.
Holly: You’ve never painted before?
MB: Well I did a little bit of art in school but nothing where I was into it. I literally went to get art supplies to do this one piece, I only bought one canvas and I was like ‘Right I’m going to do this’ and I just did it in my room one day, finished it. If I’m honest, it looks a lot better now I photographed it and edited the colours a little bit
Holly: Oh did you Photoshop it?
MB: Yeah slightly, well pretty much just a filter if I’m honest. Ollie, my manager, kind of wants me to keep that going so I’ve done paintings for ‘Cold Hands’ and ‘Marigold’ too because they’re going to be the first two singles. I think in the future I still want to have input on the artwork, I think it gives it more of a meaning if you relate to it and why its like that from you, as opposed to someone else drawing it for you. But I really enjoyed it.
Holly: Its really good
MB: Did you like it?
Holly: Yeah I think its really quite reflective of the mood of your EP
MB: Thats what I really wanted to do. I tried different artworks and asked a few people to draw up ideas but in the end I realised I needed it to reflect the theme of the EP and I think it does that actually. I was really happy with it in the end which was surprising because when I was starting to draw it I was like ‘This is going to be shit, it really is. Mum have a look at this’ and she said ‘Yeah it doesn’t look great’ but in the end I was actually really happy with it. I’m glad I took the time to do that.
MB: At the minute I’m just pretty much working out my set up because all I’ve really been doing is little acoustic things here and there, but I want to play it electronically. I can’t really afford to have a band so I think I’m going to end up using, its called a Ableton Push, its basically a little sample pad, a little melody pad that you can play different things on. I’m going to use it for the mini keyboard, so its just a keyboard but you put synthesised sound on it. Basically play my tracks as they are on the EP live using that so you can get the feel of it, because I think acoustically it doesn’t really reflect what I’m trying to do in the music as much. But I will be doing acoustic shows in the next few months, you know SoHo in London? that famous strip of bars, Ronnie’s Jazz Club, the guy who wrote ‘Worry’ with Jack Garret, has asked my manager if I can play there on the 19th of April.
Holly: Wow thats incredible
MB: Which I was like fully taken back by, loads of famous artists have played there like James Bay, Jack Garret, Years and Years, theres quite a few. So I’m really looking forward to that, but I’m going to do an acoustic set with my friend Chris. Its more of a development year this year I think in terms of my playing, because I think production wise and writing wise, I’ve got what I need there, but I’m not ready in terms of live to be pushing things out like labels and stuff like that. Because I think they want a full package these days, they want everything ready to just go.
Holly: Yeah they just want to get it out as soon as they can commercially
MB: Yeah they don’t really want to put time into nurturing people anymore.
Holly: Its good that you want to sort that out now first
MB: Yeah I think you only really get one sort of chance with doing it, like pushing it out properly so I don’t mind spending as much time as possible waiting for it to be ready for that.
Holly: Especially when you’re at uni as well you can’t really jet off all the time.
MB: Its pretty stressful even in first year, trying to balance my time. My time management is so bad, 1 out of 10, I keep trying to sort it; I’ve got to go buy a diary later cause I don’t look at my phone one and I forget. I have a gig in April that I didn’t realise and I have a showcase I’ve got to go to on the same date and now I’ve got to cancel the gig, so depressing. Yeah I’ll be doing quite a few showcases actually, my managers got quite a few good connections with like people in Sony. He came out of nowhere, he rung me up and was like ‘I’d like to manage you’ I was like ‘I don’t know who you are’ (laughs) so we had a good chat and I went down there.
Holly: Where’s he based?
MB: London, he lives in Essex but we normally meet in London.
Holly: He’s not on a label or anything?
MB: No he’s got his own management company but he’s really good friends with two guys who are called MoJam as a production duo, they won a Grammy, they produced on Sam Smith’s first album, Emeli Sandé’s album. Normally they always charge people to record with them or they’ll only record with people who are signed, but Ollie played them my stuff and I’ve been in for like two sessions with them now and they’re doing it for free, they really want to help me with it. It all came out of nowhere, it was like the first week I started uni I got the call just before I got here, like the day before, so I moved into Leeds from a little village and then that week I had to go down to London for the first time, it was just all a bit stressful but its been great.
Holly: So its all moving quite fast then?
MB: Yeah but he’s making sure we do develop properly before he pushes it to anyone.
Holly: Well well done you, thats brilliant!
MB: Thank you very much. I’m really excited for it, I really am, I don’t really say it to anyone because you don’t want to come across as a dickhead, but I’m really looking forward to it.
MB: Sorry I’m just being really manly (Ben reaches into his coat pocket) and getting some lip balm (laughs). Although I try not to look too far ahead, I think you can get caught up doing that and then you forget what you’re doing at the moment, right now I’m just trying to keep making music that I love and hopefully things will come as they’re supposed to. I’d love to get by, just literally get paid for doing what I love doing, thats all I really want. I know a lot of people will say that but genuinely if I could make a decent living off my music I’d be more than happy. We’ll see what happens.
Holly: Well by the sounds of it you’re moving very quickly and very well
MB: Yeah it has come out of nowhere but you’ve got to stay grounded with it all and let things come as they do. My Dad’s a massive, massive help with all these things, he wants to be really involved with it and he’s really helpful and Mum’s the same. My Dad had a similar thing when he was younger and he didn’t quite make it, he had loads of meetings with different reps from big record labels and stuff with his band and they ended up breaking up. I’ve forgotten the band name now, but two members of his band left, joined another band, used some of the songs he’d written and ended up getting in the charts!
Holly: You’re joking?!
MB: No they had one song that went to number one and my Dad heard it when he was in a tent camping on like a lads holiday, and he heard it and he recognised the base line on it because he wrote it with them. I’ve forgotten what they were called! I’ll get back to you on that.
Holly: Thats brutal!
MB: Yeah so I think because of all that he’s trying to make sure that it goes right and that I don’t get too caught up in it all. Its a really hard industry, its brutal; you have to be hard-skinned with it, you have to be able to take both [the negative and positive] from people and not be too put down from it because otherwise you’ll just give up.
After our lengthy but entirely enjoyable chat, we headed down towards Granary Wharf and the canals for the photo-shoot in a sort of improvisational search for a good location. The weather was gorgeously clear, though cold, which made the recently regenerated area all the more charming and the pictures turn out far better than I could have hoped for.
I was quite anxious that the imagery we produced would have to reflect what is already a very stylish aesthetic which Miller has developed for himself, musically and artistically but once we got to the images there was no such issue and Leeds delivered majestically as it always does. Miller Blue was a delightful subject in front of the camera which again made me much more relaxed and allowed us to have such fun with the pictures. Here's my favourite selection, I hope you like them as much as I do:
So as you can imagine, the day was an absolute pleasure and privilege to be a part of. Miller Blue is an wonderfully grounded but undeniable young talent who I suggest you all keep an eye on over the next year or two. I've linked all his social media and Soundcloud at the end of this post so go on and have a nosey. I'd like to say thank you Miller Blue and his manager Ollie for the chance to do this, it really was a really good laugh and joy.
Thats all for today from me, I hope you enjoyed reading today's post and I'll see you at some point in the future - I shan't commit to posting again soon as uni is most likely going to kill me in the next few weeks! But I hope you all have a wonderful Easter and I'll see you soon(-ish).