Millie Turner on Abstract Songwriting and Creative Control
Millie Turner - the voice of an angel, and a persona to match. You’ll probably fall for her music first - captivating, catchy and high-energy - and then you’ll fall for the girl herself; the eclectic style, visual eye and playful art, all expressed through an Instagram filled with music videos storyboard-ed in scrapbooks, photos of herself scribbled over with her own art, and stripped back piano sets paired with bits of poetry.
It feels like she’s right on the cusp of something incredible, and standing at the brink of 19, I can’t help but feel the whole world’s at her feet. She sat down with us to chat about how she’s been adapting to life since she finished High School, her abstract and feeling-based songwriting process, how her art and music intertwine, and how she maintains creative control in an industry determined to tell young women who they should be, before they even know who they are.
There was a lot of hype about the first few tracks you dropped being instant ‘club classics’, which I think is funny because you were writing and releasing them at just 17 and 18! Did you intend for them to turn out that way?
No, it just happened; it just felt right to the track! I think I definitely have electro influences like William Orbit, faithless, and fat boy slim, but it wasn’t on my mind when I wrote it at all. It just happened.
You finished college last year, just as things were really starting to take off for you — was dropping out ever on the table? Why did you end up choosing to finish?
I just love learning things, to be honest, and really value it. I feel like it’s a privilege to have an education and I knew I would’ve regretted it if I hadn’t finished. It was also respecting the amount of time and effort I’d given my subjects, as well, because I loved them so much. Honestly, I think it’s actually helped a lot in my music as well. I’d love to carry on studying in the future, and even now I love reading stuff and keeping in the loop in other industries apart from music!
You’re turning 19 soon — are you finding yourself starting to settle into the rhythm of this career, or is it all still really new and overwhelming and exciting?
It’s true, it’s been weird adjusting from a formal, regulated life in education, to being in a completely creative industry where you have to be really sporadic and chaotic. But I’m such a chaotic person that honestly adjusting has suited me really well.
“I think when you overthink the process it becomes too formulaic and
not honest. Overall, every song’s going to start differently.”
What’s your songwriting process, usually? You put up a lot of beautiful short snippets of poetry on Instagram — are they ever the beginnings of whole songs?
Yes! I think it always starts with a mood, through a single melody, a lyric, some chords, whichever way captures the mood of the moment; that’s what you have to try to capture in the song. From then on it just begins to grow, as you add lyrics, melodies, etc. I think when you overthink the process it becomes too formulaic and not honest. Overall, every song’s going to start differently.
What do you try and achieve most through your songwriting? What feeling(s) are you trying to channel?
I just try and capture a moment and elevate it into something! Passion, and the diversity of emotion. This could be from a conversation, an idea, a drawing, but also observation. Like, I love making characters and building abstract ideas that don’t make total sense but are still an insight into how I feel about something. I hate making it too straightforward.
I saw a bit of a quick sketchbook flip-through on your Instagram story a few days ago — was that storyboarding for a music video? Do you usually have a lot of creative control over the visual elements of your music?
Yeah! I think with my songs comes a whole visual element for me. Usually, I have pictures in my head when I write a song, or I have to draw the ideas out to get the idea out, so it makes the visual part really important to me. I try and have as much creative control over the visuals, because they are such a source of inspiration from me in the first place.
How easy or difficult have you found it be maintaining creative control over your music and image, particularly as a young woman starting out in the industry?
It’s so hard, I think. As a girl, it’s easy to be patronised by people, or constantly feel outward pressures to fit into a certain image. You have to be so many different things at the same time and I think you are definitely your worst critic and then some!
I think for me I’ve been able to have a lot of people backing up my ideas and protecting me from the more critical and harsh side the industry. So lucky to have them, because at the beginning it’s really hard to find that initial confidence when you’re constantly bombarded with ideas of what people want you to be, talk about, look like, behave like, especially when you are exposed to so many different opinions. As a girl, I think this pressure can be sometimes more exaggerated in certain areas, where you need to really make an effort to fit in, otherwise you get shamed. I was lucky to have people around me who were supportive and constantly encouraging me. I definitely don’t think I would’ve found the confidence through the industry to do what I have done so far. This is ridiculous — music should be a scene that is encouraging everyone, but it does tend to be very male-dominated.
“As a girl [in this industry] it’s easy to be patronised by people, or
constantly feel outward pressures to fit into a certain image. You have
to be so many different things at the same time.”
Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe you do this thing where people leave their address with you at the merch desk of shows, and you send them a postcard with a unique drawing by you? How and why did that start? I think it’s the coolest thing!
Yes! I was trying to think of a way to engage and stay in touch with people I meet at gigs, and also use different areas of my creativity! It’s been great, engaging and connecting to people on a personal level. Each one is unique which I think is important and empowering for people. I’m glad it’s been taken so well because it really hurts your hands after a while.
Do people get in touch when they receive them? What’s been the best and weirdest reactions?
Everyone’s just so touched, and so surprised; I don’t think they take me seriously when I talk about it at gigs. But one of my favourite responses was from this young girl and her mum who’d received theirs just after they got back from the hospital. They said after an emotionally draining day, how it really uplifted their mood, which I was so touched to hear! It made my year I swear.
Do you find your art and music cross over? Does one end up influenced by the other?
Definitely, I think both are so interlinked. I draw when I listen to music and I make music inspired by a drawing. They’re both interlinked and a part of what I love to do, and how I express myself and talk about things I don’t know how to say any other way.
Are you interested in pursuing your art further in the future, as well?
Definitely! It’s what I originally planned on pursuing, but I do think I’m already pursuing it. There’s so much I’ve been doing through music, it’s been incredible.
“I draw when I listen to music and I make music inspired by a drawing.
They’re both interlinked, a part [of how] I express myself and say
things I don’t know how to say any other way.”
What would be your dream festival to play, and the dream lineup to have around you?
I’ve always wanted to play at Glastonbury, and my dream lineup would be a mix, with D’Angelo, Dolly Parton, Noname, and Pussy Riot.
When was the last time you listened to an album all the way through?
It was Kate Bush, the Dreaming, incredible. I hadn’t heard it in a while but it made me cry. Also listened to Led Zeppelin “Houses of the Holy,” which was quite transcending.
Make us the perfect playlist to cook breakfast too.
I’m thinking a good filling English breakfast with some……
Pancakes - Jack Johnson // How d’ya like your eggs in the morning - Dean Martin and Helen O’Connell // My baby just cares for me - Nina Simone // I say a little prayer - Aretha Franklin // Amor de Loca Juventud - Buena Vista Social club
What are you focusing on over the next few months? And can we expect any new music anytime soon? Your hints on Instagram are driving me crazy!
I’m working on a couple of new single releases! Trying to make sure they are creatively what I want to show to the world, which is really exciting! It’s so hard not to show too much on Insta, I’m so desperate to reveal what I’m doing to the world!
Any last thoughts you wanna throw out there for our readers?
Flamingos are only pink because they eat shrimp.