In The Middle with Misty Miller
It’s been a long journey for Misty Miller to where she is now: on the brink of finally releasing her debut album. The artist I meet today is completely self-aware, belting out songs that vary in volume but are always strikingly frank, with a healthy dose of rock n roll spirit. She’s seemingly a far cry from the sixteen year old who rocketed to fame after some videos on the ukulele five years ago.
However Misty insists that she’s been this person all along: “I always was the person that I am now – obviously we change – but my influences were always punk and rock and roll, the blues. But I was playing kind of folk, twee music, purely because of the instrument I chose.” Her love for a bigger sound started at a young age, from a slightly surprising source: musicals. “I was obsessed with musicals. I love theatrical singing, which was annoying because when I was playing the ukulele I would have to be so quiet because of the instrument. But then when I got playing with a band again I could sing loudly and belt my voice. I used to mimic stuff in Chicago and all that. I started to use that voice that I’d always wanted to use.”
Her other influences include David Bowie and Blondie alongside “a lot of music people in Brixton and Peckham and South London who were all doing what they wanted to do. I wasn’t hanging out with the scenesters, I was hanging out with people who were just playing music because they loved it. Playing songs not for the crowd, just because it was what they wanted to give off.” Yet while she’s clearly writing from a very personal place, Misty’s songs are often lauded for their accessible sentiments: a line like ‘You were always in my head but we don’t talk about it’ is hard to resist singing back. “It isn’t until I play a song live that I can feel what other people feel. There are some songs which I love the importance of people relating to like ‘Next to You’, especially for girls. And even ‘Happy’ because I feel like it’s kind of a tongue in cheek statement on how men can sleep around but if a girl does she’s called a whore. I like that people have said to me that they feel really empowered when they hear that kind of music. But then there’s also songs that are a bit darker and delve into that side of people – which is there because we have light and darkness – and they connect with that part of them. When I sing, I think that connection is important because that’s how I feel when I see people that I like. I love listening to their songs that are upbeat and a little bit more raucous but then when they do something a little more personal I feel like ‘Wow, that’s how I feel’ too. That’s really special.”
Empowering women is part of Misty’s character, both in her lyrics and as part of her image – she’s often seen wearing t-shirts bearing slogans such as ‘Never underestimate the power of a woman’ and ‘My pussy my choice’. I ask if feminism has influenced her: “To be honest feminism as a thing hasn’t influenced me because it’s just sort of who I am and the way I live my life. That song, ‘Next To You’ most of it was written when I was 17 and I didn’t even know feminism was a thing. It’s not until I released the songs and got into the industry where it is very sexist that I realised that there’s something that needs to be done and I want to be a voice for a lot of people. Nowadays I totally love people like Beyoncé or Rihanna or even Miley Cyrus who are sexy but it’s still in the male gaze. I feel like we haven’t seen someone like Patti Smith or Chrissie Hynde or Blondie who are sexy but they’re just wearing a t-shirt and jeans, and they might have armpit hair or not shaved their legs. I think that’s really important for women to feel like they can still be sexual without having to be sexualised. Without having to be sexy, you can still explore that part of you. I had to learn that as I got older.”
Sexism in the music industry hasn’t made things easy for Misty. “It’s been such a struggle and a lot of that struggle has to do with being female. I personally think people don’t quite know how to place me. And when you’re selling something, which is the industry side of things, they have to be like she’s the next so and so and fit you into a little box. And they don’t quite know what box to fit me in, because there’s not really a girl out there. There are females in bands like Wolf Alice for example. But a female with her own name, just doing her own thing, and writing her own songs? There hasn’t been someone that I can think of personally. Maybe PJ Harvey but that was like 15 years ago when she started.”
That’s just in terms of genre, let alone image. “I know a lot of guys in bands like the Fat White Family. If they do a photo shoot, there’s no question, no one would get a make up artist, a hair stylist and a clothes stylist but as a female I have to. Well I did have to, but I’ve got new management now and I’ve won a few battles, so now can say that I don’t want to have that, I’m going to wear my own clothes in this photo shoot. For the album cover it was really liberating to be in my own clothes. I think that’s why the pictures came out so good because they looked like me.”
Speaking of the album, we discuss the excitement of its impending release. “It’s like having a baby, that’s how I describe it. I feel like I’ve been pregnant for so long and it’s at that stage where you really want to get it out of you. I feel like it’s been so long because of battles with my label and my personal life and things. But now that it’s finished and we’ve got an album cover and a release date, it’s so close that I feel like when it comes out I’m going to cry with joy which is something I’ve never done. I can’t imagine what I’m going to feel like because it’s been a dream that’s been so far away. It’s been really difficult but hopefully the reward at the end will be even more pleasurable.”
And the reward is a worthy one – it takes a lot to stick it out in the industry. “I’m really proud that I haven’t fallen out of love with music. There’s a difference between being an artist and being an artist in the industry. I know a lot of musicians who enter the industry and have thought you know what I don’t like this, I don’t want to be a part of this. But the thing that I’m proud of is that I still am even though it’s been a bit difficult. It’s really great now with my label and everything – I wouldn’t say a bad word – but it has been hard.”
Yet through all this her fans have been a source of support. “A lot of people have really stuck by me, in terms of fans. Even when I’ve said the album’s coming out (because I genuinely thought it was) and it didn’t, they still stay. It means a lot.” However it isn’t surprising that her fans have been patient. In baring a bit of her soul, Misty generates a huge amount of respect from a crowd, whilst simultaneously giving a performance that’s dynamic and fun in its upbeat moments and very poignant in its more reflective ones. We can only hope that this comes across in the album, but if her persistence, sincerity and versatility are anything to go by I think it’s safe to say that the record will be well worth the wait.