Nicole Millar On Songwriting, Genres & New EP ‘Communication’: Interview
Nicole Millar first made waves as the ethereal voice of Peking Duk’s 2014 breakthrough hit, “High.” The Sydney, Australia-based singer then stepped out on her own earlier this year with “Tremble” and casually dropped one of 2016’s wildest electro-pop anthems. (Wait for the concussion-inducing drop!) The online popularity of that song caught the attention of label execs in America and her new EP, Communication, will be released via Casablanca Records on December 2. It’s spearheaded by effortlessly cool single, “Signals.”
I recently caught up with the newcomer while she was in LA on a writing trip. (She’s collecting songs for her debut album). Nicole opened up about the transition from working in a juice store to being a pop star and spoke about the differences between the Australian and US music scenes. She also talked finding the right balance between pop and weird and wonderful indie music. Get to know the Aussie diva a little better in our Q&A below.
How did you get discovered?
I was just doing collabs with pretty much everyone. I was so excited to make music. I’d never done sessions or anything like that. I was just getting beats online and writing to them. When I did a session with Peking Duk, they contacted me, I think on Instagram, which is pretty funny. I met up with them, and we decided we wanted to make a song about a breakup. We wrote that in two sessions, which was really cool.
That started my career. I was working in a cold pressed juice place in the city and living at home, and the song came out. I didn’t have a manager. I didn’t have anything. I didn’t even know that you could make money from music. I was just doing it because I loved it. Then I got a manager from that. Another song of mine got on the radio with Golden Features. Somehow they all came out at the same time. It was really weird.
Did you have a musical background?
Not really. When I was growing up, I did singing lessons, but that was pretty much because I was super shy. My mum was like, “My daughter doesn’t talk to anyone, she needs to do singing classes or acting classes.” It actually really helped. My singing teacher pulled my mum said and was like, “She should continue doing it.” I just kept doing it and fell in love with it.
How did you feel when you first heard the song on the radio?
It was weird in a good way. I remember when I first heard it, I was driving near my house, like on the bridge. Then this song comes on, I’m like, “Oh this is familiar. I know this song!” When I heard my voice, I thought it was epic. It got to the point where I’d walk into a juice store and it was playing. You almost want to grab the person, and be like “This is me!” It was really exciting.
What did you do after the song blew up?
I quit my job at the pressed juice place because I didn’t have enough money to support myself as an artist then, but I wanted to do this full time. In order for me to be creative, that’s all I need to do. I was finding myself getting too tired and not inspired. I found a manager, and he suggested that I take a year off. I still performed with people, but mostly just wrote. I was writing some really crap music. I wrote a song called “Soy Latte.”
That’s amazing. How did it go?
Pretty sure it was like, “Being in a café, and you see a guy that you used to know, and you’re drinking a Soy Latte.” It’s the worst concept ever.
I want to hear it.
Maybe one day, I’ll go into a session and be like, “Guys, I’ve got a hit here!” I’ve got a classic that has been sitting on my laptop for years.
“Tremble” was your first solo hit. What’s it about?
People can interpret it two different ways. One person said to me, “Oh my god, Tremble is such a sexual song.” I was like that sounds really gross. It’s a love song really, just said in a different way.
You’re about to release your second EP in less than a year. That’s fast!
I signed with this label EMI, and I worked with this guy called Mark. He really understood that I was the type of artist that writes a lot of music and wants to put it out. I hate waiting. I’m sure every artist hates waiting. I just get really excited about a song, and I’m like, “I got to put it out.” EPs are just the way to go. It’s like a small bundle of songs. I put one out in February. When I came back to the states in April, I pretty much wrote another EP, so it made sense.
Your new EP, Communication, has an amazing cover.
One of the guys at my label said, “It’s too pink.” I’m like, “No, it’s not. Pink is cool.” I found an image on Tumblr. That’s kind of embarrassing. I liked how they used the yellow font at the bottom of the pictures. I just wanted to do something old school.
Who did you work with on the EP?
I worked with this producer from Perth. His name is Sable. He’s this little guy that stays in his room and loves producing. He’s such a genius. He makes computers.
Did you know “Signals” was going to be the single?
That was just my favorite from the EP. I’m surprised that my label allowed me to put out my favorite first, because I know that sometimes you’re meant to put it out second. That was my favorite, and it was just so fun to write. I wrote it and two hours or something. It’s about being in a relationship and you’re fully committed, and this other person is being a bit of a dick.
And isn’t putting their whole self into it, and you’re like, “If you don’t do this now, and I don’t get my signal, I’m going to go.”
When did you start getting bites from the US?
I think it has a lot to do with Spotify. I was getting play listed before “Tremble” got played on the radio. It just wasn’t getting added to radio because you have to play it cool. Spotify, I was getting play listed and all of these things, and then charting on Hype Machine. All of the stuff online was helping to create a bigger audience. I guess because I come [to LA] so often now to write, the word just gets around.
Is breaking America the goal?
Oh my god, I’d love to. One of my biggest goals for next year is to do shows overseas. I’ve only performed in Australia. That would be really cool.
You’re here to do sessions. Who have you been writing with?
Jesse Saint John and Leland. I’ve also been working with these girls, which I found really cool. You never get to work with girls when you’re a female artist. They are called Lyia. They’ve got this cute little house in the valley. I was there all weekend. They know how to produce and write. It was really cool. The vibe was really fun and, as the time went on, we were so comfortable with each other. We were like, “Let’s go to a yoga class.” Typical girl things. That’s never what happens after sessions.
Are these songs for your debut album or another EP?
I think the plan is to keep on writing. The goal’s probably an album. But who knows when that would come out. I’m just going to keep writing and keep putting singles though.
What are your plans for 2017?
I really don’t know where this year has gone. Thinking about next year, I hope that I can continue touring. I want to tour overseas. That’s the main goal. I really want to play a festival that plays in every state. I think that would be really cool. For next year, I’m just going to keep writing an album. That’s the main thing. It would be cool if I could come back to LA and hopefully get more of a name out here. Also in Europe. I love Europe.
What’s the difference between the Australian and US music scenes?
You have to be pop or super indie in Australia. Like band music or folk or a female artist who sings with a heavy Australian accent or a producer. It’s hard when you’re first starting out because you’ve almost got to pick one. At first, they thought, “Oh no, she’s too pop.” I think once you start getting a fan base, you can go a little bit more pop and expand to commercial radio while still being cool. I think it takes a while for an artist in Australia because you don’t want to be stuck in the middle of the stations.
Then like over here, in writing sessions, no one wants to make the weird songs. They want a radio hit. When I go in, and I’m like, “Oh I want to write a song about this,” they’re like, “Oh, let’s write a single.” Which is good. Singles make more money. It’s definitely a lot more chilled out with sessions at home. No one’s like, “Oh we have to finish this song today.” It’s more like, “Let’s make a sick beat.” I don’t know it’s just very different worlds. I liked it here. I like the hustle. That’s why I come here to work because I come here with a purpose.