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A Curious Calling: Alex Mills

The songwriter tells Xanthi Barker how it is

Written by . Published on July 12th 2011.

A Curious Calling: Alex Mills

SPEWING out of speakers everywhere and sticking in your head like internal Tourette’s, pop songs give shape to relationships, dance moves and entire generations. With X Factor taking over a serious proportion of Saturday nights and Lady Gaga the subject of critical debates among pre-teens and university professors alike, whoever is responsible for these musical brain-worms deserves interrogation. Songwriter Alex Mills is currently working with producers who have written for the likes of Kylie Minogue and Paolo Nutino. She is also working on projects Bassment Jaxx and Rollo from Faithless’s protege Michael Mallinson. After our meeting, she’s off to the studio to work with Danny Weed from Roll Deep and his collective, who wrote the recent number one ‘Green Light’. In a noisy cafe behind Hackney Central, the Leeds-born, 28 year old singer cackles her way through telling me why she can’t stand the nine-to-five.

How long have you been writing songs?
I wrote my first song when I was sixteen. My mum still says to this day that it was the best song I’ve ever written. Probably because I’d had sixteen years to write it. It’s called ‘Crying Over You’. It’s not the best song I’ve ever written. But she was really proud, so. I’ve not actually got a copy of it anymore... it’s somewhere on a tape.

‘People don’t inspire me; songs inspire me’. I get inspiration from songs, not the artist who’s risen from the ashes and into this amazing butterfly or whatever.

Do you remember how it goes? Can I have a rendition?
No way! It was a bit cheesy. The kind of song a sixteen-year-old, first time songwriter would write. Actually, for that age, it’s probably got a bit more depth than your average.

After you wrote your first song did you know that’s what you wanted to do?
Well, I wanted to be a singer but my mum said, ‘Honey! there’s no money in singing – there’s money in writing songs, so start writing’. When I was at university I did a couple of drum ‘n’ bass tracks and they ended up being on Andy C’s compilation album and I thought ‘actually, this might not be so bad!’

What’s the difference between writing for yourself and for other people?
For commercial pop it’s not about deep, think-y lyrics you go away and mull over for hours. It’s about cheesy lyrics and catchy hooks that stick in people’s heads and make them buy the record. I get to exorcise all my pop demons. We’ve all got a cheesy side. For example, Lady Gaga. I hated her at first, but it is actually hard to be that shit.


B14_Alex_Mills _S2_0775

Do you find it frustrating that pop music is more acceptable to people than more diverse stuff?
Not really. But with my own stuff I don’t wanna bullshit people. I want people to like it cos they really, really like it, not ’cause it’s thrust upon them by some great machine. I mean, “I’m Blue (Da Ba Dee)” got to number one for christ’s sake.


How about X Factor?
As a songwriter, it’s great. If I can write a song that’s gonna go to Christmas number one then I don’t need to ever work again. As an artist, it’s difficult. You’re competing against the machine. But I don’t hate X Factor. I think if it was a fair competition – which I doubt it is – then in principle it would be cool. If there’s people who for whatever reason didn’t sacrifice everything to go and chase their dream – then it’s a good opportunity. But for artists who want to say something – not fucking start a revolution or anything – but say this is what I represent in the world then X Factor’s probably not the lick.

What about the fact there’s so many artists right now - is that intimidating or inspiring?
There’s so many now with Youtube and Twitter, people being able to self-promote, downloads - the gates are open and every man and his dog wants to be a singer-songwriter. It doesn’t mean that every man and his dog is necessarily good at it.

Have you ever had any other jobs?

Were they really embarrassing?
Oh God. It’s just that I’m not cut out for it. I used to have a suit job at college. But every job that I’ve had I’ve just thought ‘right, I’m quitting’ and not even called. I’m not a morning person. I’m not grumpy, I just think ‘fuck-it’. I like to wake up and collect my thoughts and then proceed with my day. But thank God some people do because they keep the world together.

Any advice for prospective songwriters?
Don’t do it! Nah. Listen to other people. That was one of the best bits of advice I got from a singer-songwriter that I love, Monique Bingham. She said, ‘People don’t inspire me; songs inspire me’. I get inspiration from songs, not the artist who’s risen from the ashes and into this amazing butterfly or whatever.

To read about more curious callings, please click here

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