Patience is a virtue. Life can throw the biggest challenges your way, and how you react is up to you. You can give up behind the first door and let the pain take over, or the second door offers you clarity and patience. The choice is always yours.
Manchester-based soul musicianMica Millarchose door number two. After suffering a serious spinal injury in the middle of working on her debut album, Millar persevered, and despite having to learn how to walk, ‘Heaven Knows’ became a token of hard work.
From an early age, young Mica Millar remembers always being surrounded by music, as she used to observe her dad writing songs in their kitchen. Watching from the sidelines, fast forward to today; Mica Millar is ticking things off her vision board more quickly than she can even grasp.
‘Heaven Knows’ is a result of Mica Millar sticking with her vision, not following any trends. It is a collection of vintage soundscapes of soul, blues, gospel, and jazz. All written and arranged by the songstress; Mica Millar has done everything independently, driven by pure talent, patience, and hard work. “I wanted to communicate through the album – spirituality, love, empowerment, oppression, human nature.”
‘Heaven Knows’ is out now, and Millar’s phone has not stopped ringing, with upcoming dream shows at Jazz Cafe, London, on September 17th and Albert Hall, Manchester, on September 25th. Don’t miss out.
What have you been up to in the last couple of months besides preparing for your debut album release?
There’s not been much time to do anything else at the moment – I’m an independent artist and I’m releasing the album on my own label ‘Golden Hour Music’, I do a lot of the work myself with a small team so it’s been a huge undertaking. Aside from music and preparing for the release, I have been working with an amazing designer and close friend called Dominic Milner on the outfit for my album launch shows, we had a final fitting yesterday and I’m in love with it.
How do you feel about it being open for everyone to hear?
It’s been an incredibly long journey to have this finished body of work. ‘Heaven Knows’ is self-written, arranged and produced and has taken me just over three years to finish with a spinal injury and Covid in between. At this point, I’m very much ready to share it with the world!
Were you surrounded by music when growing up?
I was. My dad is a musician and my mum used to work in PR for EMI and Piccadilly Radio in Manchester so there was always access to a lot of music in my house including a huge vinyl collection of Soul records. My dad had musicians over a lot, they would be writing and singing songs in our kitchen playing guitars or down in the basement in his home studio.
I remember going to watch him performing live a lot as a kid, it was very inspiring.
When did you know you wanted to be a singer?
I was always a songwriter before I was a singer. I wasn’t really a great singer when I was younger. I had a lot of passion and power in my voice but I didn’t really have the control or skill that comes with practice over many years. I found my voice through songwriting. I would sit in my room on the piano for hours on end, writing songs and my approach to writing requires a lot of repetition – I go over the lines I’ve written until I find the next line for example. It was really through that that I developed my voice.
As a debut album, what does ‘Heaven Knows’ represent to you? What main themes are you touching upon?
Heaven Knows is an album about human nature and it represents my journey and my life experiences – experiences I think a lot of people will be able to relate to. I thought very deeply about the messages I wanted to communicate through the album – spirituality, love, empowerment, oppression, human nature – I love the duality of ‘Heaven Knows’ as a sentiment – it’s either an affirmation and a feeling of empowerment or an abandonment of control. And I think all of the themes can all be summarised under the title – all our experiences have duality or plurality in the way we experience them.
From a production perspective, I think it represents freedom. My aim with this album was to capture the rawness and beauty I find in organic ideas, to “serve the songs’ and present them with musical and sonic integrity. Ultimately, to create an album of music that I wanted to listen to as opposed to considering ‘what the market might want’ or following a particular trend, which I think artists can get trapped in these days. That required a very delicate and considered hand and a lot of patience. It was a sea of exciting yet endless challenges but I really wouldn’t change the process or the outcome for the world. I’ve grown so much through it and I’m really very proud of it.
You released ‘Girl’ on International Women’s Day, a track about inspirational women close to you, who are they?
Girl was inspired by my backing singers Angeli Sweeney, Ellie Hulme and Tsana Osborne. I wrote Girl at a time when I was feeling quite overwhelmed with things. I had been recovering from my spinal injury and I was in a lot of pain and I still had a lot to do to finish the album and was feeling quite overwhelmed. Through music, I’d built such a strong friendship with these women who are all incredibly inspiring in their own ways. Tsana is a working mum of two, Ellie has a heart of gold and works with children with severe speech and language difficulties and Angel is a social and community worker and racial activist. I think I needed something to lift me at that time and it was reflecting on how inspired I was by these women and how much their support had meant to me throughout our friendship that resulted in me writing this song.
‘Heaven Knows’ was mastered at the iconic Abbey Road Studios, how was that experience for you? How did all come about, as well as working with Geoff Pesche?
Working at Abbey Road on mastering the album with Geoff was a real career moment for me and knowing that all the work that had gone into it would culminate in a finished album at the end of the day was quite a magical feeling!
When I first arrived, Goeff said to me something along the lines of ‘you won’t get anything out of me about the content, all I’m doing here is assessing the sonics’. The first song he fell in love with and by the end of the day he was struggling to choose his favourite track and making suggestions for the running order. It was really quite special to be in a gold standard mastering studio and have someone really fall in love with the album in the way he did. It was after that that he chose my album as his favourite mastering project of 2021 in Abbey Road’s annual round up and he’s since used a couple of tracks from the record as ‘mastering room references’ for other artists’ sessions which is a huge honour.
Besides Covid, you also struggled with a traumatic back injury, what kept you going? What was going through your head when you had no idea what the future holds?
Yes,I had an accident in a trampolining class in 2020 which resulted in me crushing one of my vertebrae and severely damaging my spinal cord. I was very nearly paralysed so I’m incredibly lucky. It’s a long-term injury so it’s a lot to come to terms with but I’m definitely getting there.
Going through something so traumatic in the midst of recording the album was a real challenge but honestly, I just really didn’t want my injury to define me or impact what I had been working towards creatively. When Covid hit, it felt like one thing after another for me, I just thought, the universe is telling me to take some time out now. There were nine months where I was learning to walk so it wasn’t really feasible to work on the album, but I think that period of time did give me some perspective and when I was able to get back into my studio, I had a much clearer vision for how I was going to approach finishing the record and I’d redefined what the end result would be.
Covid, in many ways, opened up a lot of opportunities for me to work with people I’d always wanted to work with in the US. Given everything was online at that time as we were in lockdown, recording some of the album remotely meant sessions could happen anywhere in the world. I’m glad I was able to take such a difficult situation and to make something really positive out of it.
What would you advise other people going through a similar thing?
I think everyone’s experiences are very different so it’s really challenging to answer this. Particularly with spinal cord injuries, I have learnt that every single person’s injury and their symptoms are very unique to them – this makes the whole thing quite isolating as it’s challenging to connect with anything relatable. Many people who have had the same injury as me are paralysed. On the one hand, I feel incredibly lucky and on the other hand I’ve had to learn not to devalue or invalidate my own experience and my own injury which has and continues to have a huge impact on my life.
Aside from the physical symptoms, with a trauma like this, it’s quite a natural response to have PTSD and I had a particularly difficult time with flashbacks and feeling like I was falling for example. I’ve had an amazing therapist over the last year who has guided me through re-processing what happened and coming to terms with the limitations I have physically and it’s been so beneficial. So I think my advice is to seek help, even if you feel like other’s might be worse off than you. Up to now, I haven’t really talked much about my experience but I’m also finding that it’s very good for me.
How do you think experience changed you?
Definitely. I’m a very different person now than I was before my accident. I think I connected with myself both mentally and physically in a way you don’t until you have to. I also learnt a lot about my resilience – those are positives. I’m also much less of a risk taker these days – I’d have loved to have done a skydive for example, I never have but it’s been on my bucket list for many years. Sadly, I don’t think I’d risk doing something like that now but maybe that will change in the future – you never know!
As an artist only at the beginning, what are you manifesting for yourself?
My vision for the future is in continual development but I really do believe you have to live what you want rather than just wish or hope for it. For me, manifesting is all about having a vision and then making that a reality through tangible and dedicated action every single day.
I have a vision board in my studio at home and Albert Hall and The Jazz Cafe are both pinned there from before I booked these shows, as are Abbey Road Studios, Radio 2 and Jazz FM. There are lots of other photos too… as for the rest, we’ll see!
Do you have any fun plans for the summer?
In the summer I am hoping to take a few days off and lie on a beach somewhere as I haven’t been on holiday for about three years! It’s very difficult to book anything or plan anything at the moment as things are getting busier in terms of opportunities coming in, lots of exciting announcements are coming!