“I wasn’t really a very good singer when I was a kid. That’s the truth of the matter. But I had passion. I had a very loud voice, I liked screaming really loud when I was having tantrums. I could project for a very small person.”
Our conversation with Mica Millar might be open and honest, but after hearing just one bar of her work you have to wonder how accurate those early memories are. And then think about how much that achingly beautiful voice has developed over the years dedicated to honing her craft.
Speaking from her home studio, the South Manchester-raised artist exudes that forthcoming, down-to-Earth warmth this city is known for. She wants to talk, and speaks from the heart. Meanwhile, her output as singer, songwriter, and musician reinforces the region’s reputation as a breeding ground for incredible sounds. As her debut album, ‘Heaven Knows‘, proves.
Born into a Withington household that had tunes running through its bloodstream, the environment — created by a musician father, and a mother who worked for record labels — meant exposure to great tracks from a very early age. Their love for classic-era soul imparting a stylistic passion that has stayed with her to this day, notebooks filling up with poetry and lyrics while still at junior school.
“There was one song I wrote, probably when I was about 19, and I thought that’s a good song, actually. I played it to a few people who were musicians I knew, and they were like: ‘That’s really good’. I put it on SoundCloud, or MySpace probably back then, and things kind of evolved from there,” Millar says, explaining there was no specific ‘moment’ when music became a career goal, but instead this has been a life-long journey.
A little later, she joined Red Sky Noise, a drum & bass project for which she lays claim to several writing and lead vocal credits. The outfit turned heads, not least with tastemakers at BBC 1Xtra. But, despite burgeoning success, a yearning to record work that felt live was impossible to ignore. A need to lay down tracks with the kind of timbre dance music production processes rarely deliver.
Perhaps ironically, though, she’d find this through one of the UK’s all-time electronic music legends. While working on her single, ‘The Defender’, seminal drum & bass producer Goldie introduced her to Grammy Award-winning, Devon-based engineer Lewis Hopkin. At which point, seeds were sown.
“When he heard the song, he rang me up and was like, you know, this is amazing. Have you got anything else? What are you working on? I’d love to engineer some stuff for you,” Millar tells us. “I was like, OK — here we go. So we liaised on that, which is how the album started coming together, I suppose.”
That was then, this is now, with said album, ‘Heaven Knows’ finally unveiled. In between, we’ve had three singles — ‘Girl’, ‘Preacher Man’, and the record’s title track — all of which packing “quite heavy-hitting topics”.
The first, in 2017, coincided with a sold-out, 80-capacity show at The Castle. A go-to Northern Quarter haunt for anyone looking to get a lead on stars of the future, Millar describes the gig as her “unveiling”, presenting herself as a solo artist in full control.
Subsequent dates at The Whiskey Jar and the institution that is Band On the Wall are exemplary of her growth as an artist. One global pandemic and a spinal injury set work on the record back, and go someway to explaining why the full-length feels like it’s been a long time coming. Suffice to say, it’s more than worth the wait.
“It’s a concept piece in many ways. The title, ‘Heaven Knows’, is a good summary of my journey. There’s a dual meaning, it can be an affirmation, like everything’s gonna be fine. Or it can be that nobody knows — I don’t know — what’s gonna happen,” Millar says.
“The topics on the album kind of fall under that umbrella. There’s songs about spirituality, about love, about empowerment, about breakups, oppression, city living, all that sort of stuff,” she continues. “It’s about human nature, you know? My interpretation, how I see things. Inspiration from other people’s stories, emotions I’ve experienced. It’s emotional, I guess that’s the general vibe.”
One listen to the finished product is enough to understand what she means. And winning over fans from BBC Introducing to John Robb’s Louder Than War speaks volumes about the universality of her music and words. That stop-you-dead delivery, the definition of timelessness, ensures every piece on the tracklist lands with maximum impact.
An ideal combination for one of Manchester’s most iconic large venues, Millar’s eyes are now focused on Sunday 25th September. Then, she’ll take to the stage for her biggest hometown performance to date, at the illustrious Albert Hall. A space already used for both the video to ‘Heaven Knows’ and the artwork, on the night an eight-piece band she describes as “the creme de la creme of players” will join.
“You have to take a risk. I think you have to push yourself. I also think that my experience of life and of the music industry is basically what you put in, you get out,” she responds when we ask for thoughts on a date that’s set to be a pivotal moment in her career. And a stage long-since cemented in the pantheons of UK music. “I feel Albert Hall is quite representative of the amount of time, energy and passion that has gone into this record.”
Mica Millar ‘Heaven Knows’ is out now on her own label, Golden Hour Music. Follow her on Facebook.
Mica Millar plays London’s Jazz Cafe on Saturday 17th September — advance tickets are available.
Mica Millar plays Manchester Albert Hall on Sunday 25th September — advance tickets are available.