Wednesday, 2 October 2013

BECKY MILLS

Interview

Becky Mills talks about her solo album Dandelion

Yorkshire lass Becky Mills is a 38-year-old single mum, a passionate professional gardener and whimsical woman who is content living in her cottage in Pickering on the edge of North Yorkshire with her five-year-old son Louie.

Becky Mills who will be releasing her new album Dandelion
Yet this image of the northern idyll seems at odds with Becky the singer/songwriter whose first solo album Dandelion has cost her her relationship with her son’s father - album producer, Dave Creffield, around four years of her life and tested her sanity.

“It was quite a turbulent time, I was literally tearing my hair out. It was so frustrating, there were so many tears and Dave and I kind of split up half way through it. We had a go at living together and tried recording a bit of the album and then split up. There was a lot of falling out and bad feeling but we’re the best of mates now.

“But it was a very turbulent time and of course every time we would fall out I would think ‘Oh there goes my album’ which sounds awful I know .

“There were many, many times when I thought this just isn’t worth it. And I would just think ‘Fuck it, I am not going to be a musician any more, I hate being a musician. It’s not worth it for my mental health’.”
However, an almost lifelong love of music has been deeply embedded in Becky and proved to be strong enough to overcome any of the trials of putting Dandelion together.

“I cut my teeth in the music world when I joined my dad’s rock band, Midlife Crisis, he was a real rocker and he was a massive folky as well so he took me to folk clubs and he really liked his prog-rock, which I love as well because you like what you were brought up on. But then there is quite a big link with prog-rock and folk.

“I have done singing and song writing for years. I joined Waking the Witch (WtW) in 2004 which is when I started doing it professionally. The reason the girls asked me was they had known me for a while because I was on the scene like they were.

“I was based in Pickering, where I live now, and I would play in Scarborough and in pubs around the area. I also did support for Fairport Convention and things like that. I just started getting better known and then the girls from WtW asked me to join them.

“Then when the band split up, mainly because I was pregnant with my son Louie, I took quite a lot of time out and then started up again when he was about two or three, something like that. That was when I was writing the album and putting it all together and agonising over it, writing a song and then scratching it and writing another one.”

Becky Mills
Becky admits to being one of her own harshest critics and likes to get things right rather than just get things finished no matter what.

“I am quite self-critical, I don‘t like to put anything I don’t feel one hundred percent about out there. We’ve all done it, where you just put in one tiny bit of a song and then you can never bear to listen to it again, it just annoys you for the rest of your life. It’s just not worth it. I would rather get it right.”

“Most albums I have been involved in have been bish bash bosh, get it out get it done and then it’s a case of ‘Ooh why didn’t I just insist on getting that note right?’ But with this one I have had to learn to let go of so much because I have torn my hair out over it.

“I am not a perfectionist but Dave is, so there have been times when I have been screaming ‘Oh my God will you just do it, just finish it!’ and Dave has just said ‘No, good things come to those who wait’ and he’s so right.

“He has been so right, I could have punched him in the head sometimes but he’s just so laid back he’s almost horizontal and he was right and I have had to tell him so, which he liked.”

The process of putting the album together has not only been something of a trial for Becky but like many of her contemporaries it has also been done on a mixture of a tight budget, great demands on time and home life and the goodwill of friends .

“One of the reasons it took so long writing it and then recording it was getting people together because we were doing it for nowt . We didn’t get the people to work on it for nothing but we were paying them peanuts. That means you can’t demand they turn up at a certain time when you are only giving them £50. So you have to do a lot of waiting for people.”

Fortunately the budgetary restrictions have had little effect on the quality of the songs and music much of which is very much a reflection of what was going on in Becky’s life while the album was being created.

“Most of the album is whimsical but much of it is very much what was happening at the time, such as Monkey. Dave won’t mind me telling you this, he loved that song but he didn’t realise at the time it was about him until I did a gig and he heard it live for the first time and then he got it.

"He was sitting with all my friends at the front and there was this big silence after I had finished and one of my friends went ‘Poor Dave’ and there was this look of realisation on his face. But he was like ‘Oh fair enough’.

“Some of the songs on the album are fairly cathartic, it took me a long time to actually sing any of them all the way through without crying, such as Family because it was basically me feeling sorry for myself. Everyone else I knew had the husband, children and were going on seaside trips and things but there was always just me and Louie. And it was just a kind of ‘Oh I’ve got no kind of team’. But now I am a lot more numb to it.”
In spite of all the turmoil Becky is pleased with her own efforts and of those around her who helped put the album together.

“I am happy how the album turned out, Dave had to tell me quite often to just shut up because I would be saying ‘I don’t want anything else on it’, but Dave is a really great producer and I just ended up trusting him and I actually love it now. It’s the only album I have been involved in that I listen to in the car all the time. Because everything else I have ever been involved in I get too pernickety about it and start pulling it to shreds and say ‘I can’t listen to it’.

“Although this is my first real solo album, I do have a couple of others floating about in the ether but they are just teenage angst stuff and one actually has Princess and the Pea so that’s a resurrection song which, I thought, would be a shame to just get lost and never be heard or recorded again so I decided to put that one on. Patsy Matheson and I did a duet for a while and we did that live and it went down really well.

“My favourite track from the album changes all the time but most of the time, I love Amy Sharpe the way it just bangs in with the guitar chords, Frank Mizen’s playing on that is just amazing, he’s the most awesome player ever. I am hoping to bag him when I go out playing live and get him on tour.

“Amy Sharpe was a whimsical song and was based on when I lived in Pudsey, we looked out over the Roker woods and there was an old cart track and apparently poachers and thieves lived down there. I just liked the thought of some kind of love story going on but it was just a boy girl love story and I thought this was so boring, so I changed it into a lesbian love story.

“It’s this lady who’s married but is really skint and so she gets sent off to work with a travelling fair, Billy Corrigan’s travelling fair. She doesn’t get on with any of the company and one day she bumps into this Amy Sharpe in the woods and they start an affair but she only sees her when she is on tour.”

The turbulent period which moulded the album is, hopefully, unlikely to be recreated so any future offerings, and Becky is already putting together tracks for her next album, are going to have to be forged in perhaps a more conventional way.

“I think it would be a difficult process to make another album but it would be worth it, I really love this one I am really proud of it. Especially because of all the blood, sweat and tears which have gone into it.

“I always try to go onwards and upwards and I have always written quite quirky songs and I don’t think that will change. I have already started writing songs for the next album. There is a period where you rest on your laurels for a bit and you sort of go ‘Aaah, I don’t have to do anything for a while now, but then naturally you can’t stop writing. So I already have a couple of weird songs for a new one.”

With the recording and production done Becky now faces the worrying about how it will be received out there in the wide world.

“I am really nervous about the release but so far Mike Harding really liked it and a few other people we sent it to have asked me to go on their show when it comes out.

“I am kind of nervous also because I know it’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea because this is the first time I have actually put anything out there solo. I know some people aren’t going to like it because it’s mostly about me, apart from tracks such as Pretty Young things which is about prostitutes in Huddersfield.”

That particular track contains the “F” word and is also a source of apprehension for the singer.

“The swear word,” she says quite ominously, “that’s offended quite a lot of people. It’s a bit controversial. I asked a lot of people and I also asked Mike should I keep it in and he said absolutely. He actually said ‘If they don’t like it they can fuck off’.

“It’s very rare to get swear words in folk especially from female folk singers. I don’t think I know of any of them writing anything with a swear word in. So it was a real risk, but I don’t just want it to go out to folk people, I want it to appeal to everyone. I mean I am a folky my history is folk. I have been massively influenced by Fairport Convention and Joni Mitchell, Pentangle, Steeleye Span, Boys of the Lough and all sorts.”

So now this period of upheaval is behind her the question remains, where is she going to draw inspiration from for the next album?

“There isn’t anything in particular which inspires me to write it’s this strange thing in you, it just happens. Usually when I am driving a song just comes into my head, and I think I have got to get that down and by the time I have got to wherever I am going I will have memorised three or four verses and the chorus and I will know the guitar chords and what they are going to be; Amy Sharpe and North Wind they were like that.

“Without even playing the guitar I knew what I was going to do with it. It’s almost like someone has just whispered it into your head, it’s weird. But sometimes the song takes weeks and weeks and weeks and just when you think you are going to get nowhere with it something happens. I think someone else would be better to ask that of because some write three or four songs a day don’t they?”

Aside from the music Becky does have another passion and is very much a daughter of the soil.

“I work during the day as a gardener. That keeps me quite busy and I come home filthy and then play guitar and stuff. I have a few gigs and a tour coming up next year. And I am looking to book up big solo tour for next year to support the album, but gardening is my other music, I am obsessed with it, I can’t give it up. I can’t walk past a garden without worrying about the weeds. The album is named so because I love dandelions and I love foxgloves. I was thinking when I wrote it was literally, dandelion and foxgloves.

“Dave said I needed one more song for the album and it has to be a short and pretty song and it was May. I was just looking about and I thought this time of year is my time of year and I thought wow look at the beautiful dandelions and all the foxgloves are coming up.

“It’s just getting your fingers stuck into the earth and listening to the birds and getting paid for it, I love it. I don’t think I would be able to stop it, even if the album sold a million copies I think I would still be doing people’s gardens.

So what about the album’s success how would she like to see it go?

“I would like it to just have steady sales because it’s a nice album and I don’t think it will go out of season and I don’t think it will age. I think Amy Sharpe was a good first song choice, but once again it wasn’t my choice, I can’t remember what I wanted, it might have been North Wind, but I don’t think North Wind would have been such a grabber as Amy Sharpe.

"It’s a corking track to come in with, he knows his onions does Dave.”

Dandelion will be released on Nov 4 through Splid Records.

To see a full review of the album click on the link below
http://folkall.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/cd-review-becky-mills-dandelion-its.html

All pictures courtesy of Becky Mills website