Contest! Tor Miller with Windmills at Guilt & Company – June 22
There are any number of singers who can turn in a pitch-perfect performance, who can hold a note, shape a phrase, and project their voices to the back of the hall. Talent shows across the globe are full of them, singing for their supper, hoping for that lucky break. And then there is that select band of vocalists who can take a song to the next level, burrow deep beneath its skin, and pin you to your seat as they do so. Anyone lucky enough to hear the demo version of Tor Miller’s song “Headlights” would have instantly added the name of the 20-year-old native New Yorker to the latter list.
Tor is endearingly vague when asked to explain the source of that singing voice. He grew up, he says, with a dad “who was part of the Glee Club at university, and he’d sing all the time at home, all these old college drinking songs. But my mum can’t sing to save her life. My parents always say that I would sing around the house all the time, too, but I don’t remember that. I do know that they would go to parent evenings and ask my teachers about my participation in music, and the teachers would go: ‘What? He never contributes.’ My mum and I would take these long trips out to Jersey, where she would ride horses, and I’d sing along to the radio. But I never thought anything of it.
Glassnote Records – home to artists such as Mumford & Sons, Phoenix, Childish Gambino and Chvrches – picked up on the buzz that was rapidly building about Tor, and last year, he signed to the label. Which led, he admits, to a slightly tense family summit with his mum and dad. “Basically, I’m supposed to be on this two-year leave from college at the moment, and I think my parents both fully expect that I’ll be going back there at the end of it. It was an incredibly awkward conversation when the deal came about. I had to say: ‘Because of this, I don’t think I’ll be going back to college next year.’ That was pretty nerve-wracking. I put it off for a couple of days; it was the most difficult conversation of my life.”
Now working on his debut album at London’s Eastcote studios with the producer Eliot James (Noah and the Whale, Two Door Cinema Club, Plan B, Bloc Party), Tor describes the recording environment as “a bit dilapidated, which is exactly how I like it. And Eliot is a producer who really drives the recordings, and captures the grit in a song. It’s a huge relief to finally find the right match.” He’s determined not to play it safe, he says, or smooth off the rough edges in his songs. “Risk-taking is rare in music. When I wrote some of these songs, I’d listen to some of the lyrics and think, ‘Fuck – do I really want to be saying that? Do I really want to let everyone know how I feel?’ But I think that’s something you have to do if you want to produce work that is honest.”
We are giving away 2 tickets to see Tor Miller with Windmills at Guilt & Company on June 22nd.