NEWBURY community venue Ace Space has scored a coup this month by securing the services of cult singer-songwriter Chris Mills for a night of hard-hitting Americana on Friday, September 16. Catriona Reeves spoke to him at the start of his eight-date UK tour, bringing his highly-regarded music over from Chicago
Catriona Reeves: You started off at school in a speed metal band - when did you discover that folk/alt country was really more to your taste?
Chris Mills: I don’t know that I would say that any genre is actually more to my taste than any other. But as I got into my late teens I started to really appreciate great songwriters – starting off with Dylan, as we all do, and then moving on to people like Randy Newman, Harry Nilsson and Lou Reed.
Looking back , I think that was what I was always after; even in my high school metal bands we played things because we liked the songs. There is a big difference between good speed metal and bad speed metal, and we only played the good stuff.
CR: Your current album, Heavy Years: 2000-2010, is a career restrospective - can you tell me a couple of your favourite songs on there, and why you're so fond of them?
CM: That’s like choosing between your kids! I really like all of the songs on the record, but I think I’ll always look back on the songs from my Wall To Wall Sessions album (Farewell To Arms, You Are My Favorite Song, Escape From New York) with particular fondness. The three days I spent making that record, in one giant room with 16 other people all playing at the same time, is one of my favorite memories of all time.
The closing track, Signal/Noise is also one of my favorites. It was the first high concept track I ever did, the first one where I pushed the production side of beyond anything I’d done up to that point. And I’m really proud of the writing on that one, as well.
CR: Is there anything you enjoy particularly about touring in the UK? How does it compare over here with the Chicago scene where you started out, or US audiences in general?
CM: I’ve always loved playing in the UK. People there have a real appreciation for songwriters, and when they go to see them, they actually take the time to listen and find out what’s really going on. The States is a great place to be from, but I definitely think it’s more difficult as a solo performer to gain traction there. Chicago and New York both have amazing music scenes, but the country as a whole is so big it can make it difficult to reach everyone.
CR: Are there any other European/worldwide countries where you are particularly well received? Anywhere that you wouldn't have necessarily expected?
CM: I’ve actually been spending a lot of time playing in Scandanavia, teaching school kids about American political folk music. The fact that that’s become part of my regular musical life was definitely something I never expected. But it also gives me the opportunity to play my own music in a lot of clubs and at festivals there, and has allowed me to slowly nurture a pretty devoted fan base over the years.
CR: What are your plans for the future? What can we expect from the album 2010-2020? More Heavy Years?
CM: I’m currently recording an EP with some guys in Oslo that may see release sometime next year, and I’m building a library of other new songs that I hope to record sometime in the next few months.
As for the next 10 years: who knows?
* Chris Mills will be supported at Ace Space, St Nicholas Road, Newbury, on Friday, September 16, by Pete Gow and Jim Maving playing as Case Hardin Acoustic, and other acts to be confirmed. Doors open at 7.30pm; tickets cost £6 in advance from Hogan Music in Craven Road and Jacqui’s Shop in Blenheim Road, or on the door while still available.
- First published in Newbury Weekly News on Thursday, September 8, 2011