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Interview with Millie Mason
By Deniz Ataman
Sure, New York City never sleeps, but oftentimes, if you listen close enough you'll hear the right notes that can soothe even the busiest New Yorker. When singer/songwriter Millie Mason (real name: Emily Pickell) gets on stage at her favorite Brooklyn bar or just her backyard, her delicate voice is strong enough to shush the loudest, rowdiest crowd. Her music may break your heart into pieces from her honest and raw lyrics but soon enough, it's pieced back together with her sweet, soprano vocals. I had a chance to interview the creative Millie Mason (also an actress and a model for Elite Models) about her inspirations, musical style and New York City in this exclusive feature for Quail Bell Magazine.
Quail Bell Magazine: You grew up in Knoxville, TN and San Francisco, CA and now live in the bustling New York City. How does each city inspire your work?
Millie Mason: I grew up in Knoxville, Tennessee singing in church where I learned the Irish/country fiddle at a young age. So, my musical roots are found in southern country/folk music. I moved to California when I was 14, when I was just starting high school. My brothers and I went to a lot of shows, and also created our own all-age music venue called ‘The Ramp’ in Berkeley, CA. Really amazing bands like Deerhoof, Why?, Danielson Famile, Animal Collective, and Half-Handed Cloud were mainstays there.
Living in New York has taught me good work ethic. It’s sort of do or die here. It’s a place where I’ve felt the most heightened emotions of total depression, as well as self-confidence to pick myself up from a really low spot. New York is where I have written my truest music, because it’s where I feel the most alive and inspired. And it’s where I have come into my own as a performer.
“In Town” has a bit of sass to the broken hearted protagonist. Where do you draw your lyrics from?
“In Town” does represent a specific break-up I went through, but it also represents most relationships I’ve had, and I think that my friends have had. It expresses my frustration at dating when I feel a deep connection with someone and it's not reciprocated. And deciding not to wait for when that person calls me up a week or a month later. You snooze, you lose.
Who are your artistic inspirations?
My biggest artistic inspiration is Dolly Parton. Growing up in Knoxville, TN, we always had summer passes to Dollywood. To me, there is nothing like Dolly’s voice. It’s crystal clear and pure. I also love her lyrical style. It’s just good country music. It’s straightforward, real, and heartwarming. And nobody can beat Dolly’s fashion sensibilities. I’m a sucker for cheesy sparkles and bright pinks. Other big influences are Allison Kraus, Emmylou Harris, Rosanne Cash, and Gillian Welch. I was obsessed with them as a kid and still can’t get enough of their unique individual talent and style. My other influences range from old country like Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, Townes Van Zandt, to Americana Rock like Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, and contemporary folk/indie rock artists like Sufjan Stevens, Elliot Smith, and Courtney Barnett.
What do you hope to evoke with your songs? How do you wish to inspire your listeners?
I like my lyrics to tell a story that speaks the truth about my life experiences. Also, it’s everything to me when lyrics can evoke a feeling of nostalgia. And it’s great to be able to write something that a lot of people can relate to in regards to life and love.
“Starry Eyed” is a bit more do-woppy than your other tracks. What inspired this piece?
This song breaks out of the melancholy and expresses an ironic and lighthearted sadness. I also freaking love 50’s and 60’s doo-wop music and wanted to give the song a dance-music vibe.
What are you working on at the current moment?
I am currently writing music that is a little pop/rock doo-woppy but still staying in the country/folk vein. It would be great to really rock out on stage with a three piece band consisting of drums, bass, and electric guitar. I’m curious what I can do with that, because I’ve always been more of a singer-songwriter.
How do you tie in modeling, acting, and fashion with your music? Or are they separate entities?
Modeling/fashion/acting is completely tied to music. I am obsessed with fashion and image. I always make an effort to evoke a certain image and feeling in my posters, as well as what I wear at shows. And without my acting skills, I would not be as comfortable as I am on stage.
With a slew of musical genres, subgenres, and subsubgenres, how do you stay focused on your musical style, yet allow yourself to grow?
I guess this is the hardest aspect for me about creating music. I can be picky. I am also getting to know my strengths and weaknesses as a writer and performer. So I can only do what I do best at this time and moment. I try not to stress about the innumerable possibilities! Sometimes I dream about other music projects and try to collaborate with friends on other genres, like electronic music for instance. But, I know that Millie Mason is folk/country, so I stick to that image for this project. I see myself expanding beyond that genre with Millie Mason in the future, but if I decide to get too crazy, like do a rap album, I will probably do it under a different alias.
What do you love about performing in New York City?
I love that venues in NY are so open to new acts. This is a performance oriented city and most people are very welcoming. It's also much easier to play professional shows around the city since most venues have great sound.
As an avid performer around New York City and other cities, what’s your most memorable show?
My most memorable show was at a place called Palisades. It’s a dive-bar/venue located in Bushwick. It just so happens, the line-up was good and the crowd was amazing. A good show is not always about the venue, it’s more about the vibe and the crowd.
Click here to listen to Millie Mason's full album.
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