She earned her stripes on the underground club scene, but following the release of her critically acclaimed ‘Vultures’ EP, Jess Mills is predicted to take the music world by storm. Exuding an emotional, euphoric dance-inspired pop sound, the north London singer-songwriter is on course for mainstream success…
MTV’s Vanessa Laker recently caught up with the rising star to talk new music, playing at Glastonbury, growing up with Ms Dynamite and why old skool garage doesn’t need to make a comeback.
Vanessa: Earlier this year, you released your ‘Vultures’ EP – which was very well received. Were you overwhelmed by the positive reaction towards it or did you feel that this was your time to shine?
Jess Mills: I don’t think you ever know that at all. You just have to believe in the record yourself. You always have to put your best foot forward and, when you’re making music, there’s always a sense that you’re jumping off the edge of a cliff and you don’t know whether you’re going to fly or fall. If you’re lucky, the wind catches you and you sail off – but there is never any guarantee. It’s just really exciting when people do listen to it and they seem to be genuinely getting into it.
Vanessa: When a new artist comes out, they’re automatically compared to a similar artist that’s already out there. But that hasn’t really happened with you, as you’re pretty much going in your own path. How would you describe your musical sound?
Jess Mills: I find it hard to categorize my music, as I’ve never set out to particularly follow any genres. I wanted the music to have a strong dose of freedom of spirit to it. My music is more of an emotion than an actual genre itself. Someone recently described my music as ‘wintery emotive electronica.’ I thought that was a pretty good description.
Vanessa: You’ve been doing music for quite some time now – mainly on the underground club circuit. How does it feel to finally be getting the right type of recognition, which many would say is so rightfully due?
Vanessa: You never think of it like that. I’ve never put a timeline on it. I’ve always known I’ll be making music ‘till the day I die. What’s happened now is a really amazing opportunity to make an album that people really have the chance of hearing. I’m just so lucky and extremely grateful. Even though I write the material, making a record is such a collaborative effort – from the producers, your managers that are working all day, radio pluggers, etc. This is definitely the most exciting part in my career so far, but I have to acknowledge that it is a team effort. When a record is successful, it’s not just down to the artist, it’s a team effort and I’m working with such an amazing team.
Vanessa: Although your music doesn’t necessarily follow any particular genre, which artists and sounds have inspired you?
Jess Mills: As a songwriter, I’m very influenced by The Cure – both in terms of songwriting and sonic landscape. They made some of the most seminal crossover electronic music of all time. Also, Thom Yorke and Radiohead. On a lyrical level, Joni Mitchell. Fleetwood Mac, too! There are just so many.
Vanessa: You played Glastonbury this year, right?
Jess Mills: Yeah, with Breakage.
Vanessa: Playing at Glasto is what every musician hopes to do. What was it like playing at such an iconic event?
Jess Mills: It was amazing! We played a late night, dirty, mosh pit set, so it was wicked. I’ve been going to Glastonbury since I was nine years old, so to now be the one performing on stage was quite a moment.
Vanessa: You and Ms Dynamite are childhood friends. Will we be seeing a Jess Mills/Ms Dynamite collaboration in the future?
Vanessa: When me and Niomi (Ms Dynamite’s real name) get together, we don’t even talk about music. When you get together with your friends, you rarely talk about your professions. You talk about what you’ve done over the weekend, or say, ‘Let’s go out to this party.’ We just generally have a good catch-up.
Vanessa: And what’s this I hear about you and Dynamite doing dodgy dance routines at assembly…
Jess Mills: (Laughs) Me, Niomi and a group of girlfriends would always find a way to embarrass ourselves. We were definitely partial to some dodgy dance routines in assembly. We did ‘Here Comes The Hotstepper’ (laughs).
Vanessa: We now know you liked doing dodgy dance routines in assembly (laughs), but how did you get into music? How did it all start for you?
Jess Mills: I’ve always played music. I’ve played classical piano since I was 5 or 6 and I started singing gently to myself when I was 12 or 13. I was quite private about my singing, although I always took it serious. Even when I was at university, I always knew that music was my chosen path.
Vanessa: Growing up, were you a fan of garage?
Jess Mills: Yeah, I was. I was out at the clubs on the weekends, and obviously Niomi was doing her thing. She first started MCing when we were in our teens, so we’d bolt around London and support her wherever she was playing – sometimes going to three clubs in one night. Back then, garage was a movement that was so specific to London in those days. It was really exciting and everyone involved in that whole scene loved the music so much. A lot of good music came from it. It’s funny, when you listen to garage now, it sounds so retro.
Vanessa: Yep! It sounds really old skool now (laughs). Do you think garage can make a comeback or is it strictly music of the past?
Jess Mills: I think the genre just evolved. You have to allow music to evolve. I think it’s important not to try and take something from a point in history and try and position it in the present. Everything’s got its own context as to why it had its moment at that time. I don’t think it needs to make a comeback. It’s birthed life into so many other forms of music.
Vanessa: True. It paved the way for grime, funky and all of those other genres.
Jess Mills: Exactly! Now you kind of look at garage in a nostalgic way. I don’t think it needs to make a comeback, it just needs to be loved from a far (laughs).
Vanessa: And lastly, tell us a bit about you debut album. What can we expect from it?
Jess Mills: The album will be out next year. ‘Vultures’ and ‘Live For What I’d Die For’ are a hint of what the record is shaping up to be. It’s not all epic-sounding electronic tracks. There’s an electronic spirit laced throughout the whole record, but there are much more kind of spacious, downtempo and introspective moments. Lyrically, it’s drawing on my life – from tracks about deep loss, to tracks about the biggest heartbreak you’ve ever felt, to the best love you’ve felt, to just having a good time. Emotively, I’m covering a lot of ground and that’s very reflective and representative in the sound and tone of the record. I’m still writing, but I’m really looking forward to finishing it and putting it out for everyone to hear.
Stay up to date with Jess Mills on Twitter – www.twitter.com/JessMillsMusic
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