Mica Millar first came to our attention through her show on Reform Radio, the manchester based station that plays good music 24/7. It was only after seeing a video of Mica performing live that I realised I had to chat with her. Lets say, the girl has pipes, and I was completely blown away by the soulful and poetic voice that came out of such a small human. We chatted with her about what it means to be a woman in the music industry at the moment, and the best advice she'd ever received.
Firstly if you could intro yourself and tell us a bit about your background that would be brilliant?
I’m Mica Millar. I’m a singer/songwriter from Manchester (born and bred). I just released my debut solo single “My Lover” on International Women’s Day (8th March). I’m also part of the duo Mica & Kardanski, and I used to be the front woman of a band called Red Sky Noise.
Talk to us about your new single my lover?
The song originally started off as a poem about a fleeting romance I had. Usually, I write on a piano and I write the chords, lyrics and melody at the same time. With this song, I wrote a poem and then developed it into a song. It’s probably one of the only songs I’ve written like that.
It’s based on a real situation. I don’t tend to write songs that are fictional. They’re always based on something real that’s happened to me, but I suppose once it was developed into a song it became about more than just that one off relationship. To me, all songs have layers of meaning. And those layers are there to be interpreted by the listener. The narrative changes according to people’s personal experiences. Hopefully people hear something that relates to them when they listen to it.
Who are your main musical influences?
Always a difficult question. I think influences are very much a subconscious thing. I don’t set out to write a song in a certain style so I think what comes out is just an amalgamation of things I’ve been listening to over the years and my own emotions and experiences.
In terms of people who inspire me musically, I’d say Stevie Wonder is a big inspiration.
When I was about six, my auntie gave me a record player and my mum gave me a Stevie Wonder album, I used to play it on repeat – over and over. I still have his album in my car all these years later. I never get bored with his songs - Lyrically, musically and vocally. I saw him live for the first time last year and he was just amazing.
I think I’ve always been a person who listens closely to voices. If a voice on a record doesn’t connect with me, then I’m not interested. It could be amazing instrumentally but if I don’t like the vocal, then it’s not for me. There are some voices that just authentically connect, there’s nothing contrived about them, like Stevie, Aretha Franklin, Joni Mitchell, Lauryn Hill, Donny Hathaway. They’re not trying to sing, their just communicating their emotions and you can feel that when you hear them. That’s what really inspires me I suppose.
More recently though, I’ve got into production so my ears have started tuning in to kick drum sounds and bass lines. Again though, I like classic production. I’m really liking Anderson Paak at the moment - Another guy who is amazing live. I managed to catch his set at The Ruby Lounge a little bit before a lot of people started to get to know about him so it was a really intimate gig. I don’t think there’ll be an opportunity to see him like that again.
You live in Manchester, describe the music scene there at the moment?
I think Soul music or “soulful” music is really coming through at the moment. Whether that’s in Hip Hop, Grime, Singer-Songwriter stuff or anything, there’s a lot of Soul and Gospel influence in the music coming out of Manchester. It’s amazing to hear. It always annoyed me that people just paint Manchester with this “Indie Brush”. Hopefully in time, those old perceptions of Manchester Music and the scene will change. I play a lot of soulful music on my Reform Radio show and I call it a “Manchester Music” show – hopefully I’m playing a small part in shifting those perceptions, though I think some people still think I play a lot of Indie music and rock bands from the 90’s.
There are some great artists on the Manchester scene; some of the younger ones like Layfullstop, Cul De Sac and IMDDB are really starting to make an impact. Then of course you’ve got the veterans like The Mouse Outfit, Honeyfeet etc. and Levelz who are getting a lot of attention for all the right reasons.
We're a magazine all about inspirational women, who are your most inspiring women and why?
Musically, I’d say, Aretha Franklin. I remember years ago listening to “I Never Loved a Man” and a light bulb came on in my head. It’s kind of hard to explain but when you listen to her sing, it’s like she’s just talking really passionately – like preaching, and it comes so naturally to her. And her words connect because every word, phrase and note come together in honesty – that’s really inspiring to me.
But in general, I’m inspired by a lot of women in my life. I think it’s really important that women build each other up. I’m lucky to have a lot of female friends who support me and inspire me in their own way - whether that’s creatively, though being successful career women, great mums or good friends.
What's the best bit of advice you've ever received?
Probably that life is all about balance. It’s something I find myself saying about everything in life - whether it’s work/life balance, balance between your spiritual beliefs and functioning in the “real” world, balancing your emotions or balancing your books. You always need to find a balance. I still don’t manage to balance things that well but I think it’s a constant journey. I’m not very good at being healthy and looking after myself – I work all day and forget to eat! It’s always my new years resolution to get more balance in my life.
I suppose it’s kind of the same advice but I hear this is lot…that you need to enjoy the journey and live in the moment – again it’s a balance of knowing where you want to get to, what your end goal is but also appreciating where you are, what you’ve achieved so far and taking the time to enjoy that moment and give yourself a pat on the back every now and again. My dad gave me that advice and it’s definitely stuck with me.
Tell us about your show on reform radio?
As I said, it’s all about Manchester artists and soulful music. I usually have a guest in for an interview and a live session, which I love. We don’t have any reverb or pre-records, it all live and raw. I love just hearing artists performing in that kind of stripped back environment. I had a female artist from Manchester called Shoa on the show a couple of weeks ago and her voice was just amazing. I’ve also interviewed some more established artists who I’ve either met at festivals or who’ve been gigging in Manchester like Natty or Akil the MC from Jurassic 5. It’s great to meet different artists and connect and Reform Radio is a big family and a great network of artists and socially conscious people who are all brilliant to work with.
What's it like being a female in the music industry in 2017?
That’s an interesting question. Firstly, what’s it like being in the music industry – hard work. I’ve released stuff on an indie label in the past but I decided this time to put my music out independently and promote my own shows. It’s all about building I suppose - everyone I know, who’s been at it for years, says the same thing. People think you can get overnight success with a great song but it doesn’t work like that unless you’re a pop writer, working with a major label, and even then there are no guarantees. The hardest thing is obviously that there isn’t an awful lot of money to be made anywhere. 0.00002p from a Spotify stream and 0.99p for an iTunes download minus their commission and your PayPal fees. You have to sell A LOT of music to make things financially viable. And it’s only people who really want to support you as an artist that will actually buy your music these days.
Obviously, it’s not all about money but you have to put a lot of your time in and ultimately, you need to be able to afford to make and market your music and live as well. I’m lucky in that I work freelance in event marketing so I understand marketing and can do a lot of it myself. I don’t do a 9-5 job – I don’t know if it would be possible to self-release properly if I worked full time.
In terms of being a woman, I think in Manchester, female artists have a lot of respect and time for each other. It’s still male dominated but I’m pleased to say, my debut single “My Lover” has had an almost all female team behind it – it was mixed by Yvonne Ellis (Simply Red/Corinne Bailey Rae), the video was shot and directed by a good friend of mine who’s a Manchester filmmaker called Zoe Mclean and the images and branding I've worked on with a female designer called Gian Grainger. That’s why I wanted to release my single on International Women’s Day. It also gave me a good reason to put some of my favourite female artists on a line up together – Layfullstop, Mali Hayes and Family Ranks (fronted by Ruby-Anne Patterson) all played and were absolutely amazing. I don’t think it’s often that you get to see so many top artists on one bill and the feedback from the event was really positive.
Describe your sound in 3 words.
Soulful and honest…that’s three.
If you could have one wish what would it be?
If it was a wish for humanity – then I wish there was more balance, less greed, more kindness, less of a focus on money, more of a focus on people and caring about each other. Just to live in a world where things weren’t so hard for people.
If it was a selfish wish, I wish I could just make music and create without having to operate in an industry that’s dominated by major labels and “catchy pop songs” that don’t have any longevity. Our generation have got a lot more to give musically but it seems like that manufactured sound is going to be what this era is remembered for musically, and I think that’s a massive shame.