The Witchdoctor Q&A – Sandy Mill

Sandy Mill is one of Aotearoa’s finest singers. To mark a rare performance in Auckland this weekend, we ask her some leading questions.

 

Gary Steel – Let’s start at the present. Can you tell us about the latest single, ‘Socials’, both the “message” and that lovely squelchy, moist groove?

Sandy Mill –  Haha! Yes okay, the groove came before the lyrics. It’s me teaching myself to use Logic – which is a digital audio program. So I’m exploring really, playing with rhythm – swing, weird synth sounds, synth basslines – and combining these ideas and eventually singing over the top, all in my little home studio. Eventually, Jeremy Toy added guitar and analogue synths, Adam Tobeck played drums which Tom Healy engineered at his studio. Jeremy mixed it, we co-produced it.

 

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‘Socials’ is about my love/hate relationship with social media, the same as most people have. But for artists/creatives, it’s a necessary tool. You simply have to be online or your “presence” will get lost. BUT it is soooo time-consuming. And then when you’re on it, you have to experience the downsides like everyone.

Gary – How did the Chillifunk Records connection come about? What’s the story there? Is it from your time in the UK? Tell us a little about that?

Sandy – I met Lofty in London, he called me after a friend, Dick Trevor passed on my number. Dick is an engineer/producer/psych trance guy (Green Nuns Of The Revolution), and works with lots of producers like Lofty and Dr Bob Jones (East-West Connection).  A weird series of connections also saw me in sessions with Eric Kupper and Chas Jankel from (Ian Dury &) the Blockheads. But with Lofty at Chillifunk I managed to build some continuity and releases – the first session I did was with East-West Connection. ‘Movin On’, that was released on 12”.

Then Lofty called me again, this time to collaborate on his own Notenshun project. ‘Soul Music’ came out of that – another 12” and it went off,  very popular in the club scene.  That’s the roots of it. I kept in contact with Lofty through all this time after I left London to come home. The timing on this “new” single was serendipitous really. As they’d decided to bring Chillifunk back and re-release the back catalogue digitally. I sent them ‘Socials’ and they loved it and asked if they could release it. The rest is history.

Gary – Will there at some point be an actual album, or are you keener on singles and EPs? (I know some refer to A Piece Of Me as an album, but this old codger thinks of it as an “extended EP”).

Sandy – You are correct Gary, A Piece of Me is an extended EP.

There will be an album, yes. Not sure when, but I am happy releasing singles right now. Slowly does it. I have a few songs I need to finish. My process is very personal. Just me in my backyard studio, until I get the song to a point I’m happy with. Then I get Jeremy Toy involved. He makes everything sound way better after he is finished!

Gary – Do you feel like your own (new) work is attached to some specific musical culture? I’m not really up with the latest styles but you seem to incorporate quite a few elements: soul, funk, house, hip-hop, jazz and more… it feels like they’re all in there somewhere! Much more electronic than the EP.

Sandy – Hmmm. I don’t really think about that when I’m making the song. But my new music is definitely visiting a lot of genres. I enjoy all the styles you have mentioned and I think being a DJ has me leaning toward a good groove.

Gary – Long-term plans/strategy?

Sandy – Release singles with Chillifunk, until I have other songs finished and ready for an album’s worth. I have some, shall we say, “weirder” songs which could be interesting between the more palatable songs that could make an album. Or I could release the ‘weird’ songs as an EP. Not sure about that yet.

Gary – You’ve done heaps of collaborations, guest spots and session work over the years with some iconic names. Why did it take so long to grab some attention for yourself?

Sandy – Anxiety, depression and low self-esteem have been a nuisance. Thankfully I have a very supportive husband, who wouldn’t let up, so after a lot of encouragement, I finally gave it a go. Andrew and I also wrote ‘Giftbox’  together. It gave me confidence when I played this song to the Bellbirds and they instantly wanted to play and record it. You know if Don McGlashan, Sean Donnelly and Victoria Kelly sing one of your songs it must be okay!

Gary – Prior to your solo work, do you have a particular project or session that takes pride of place over all the rest?

Sandy – That’s a tough question. Most memorable would be working with Flood on a Gary Numan rework of ‘Cars’ at the famous Metropolis Studios in London. But, working on Neil Finn’s album Out Of Silence in the star-studded choir was a very special experience too.

Gary – When did you first realise that you had a rather splendid set of pipes? Did you sing as a child or before you moved up to Auckland? Did you come from a musical family?

Sandy – Thank you! My grandparents were in the Waihirere kapahaka group. Apparently, I sang along to all the waiata at their practices as a 2-year-old. When I was 5 they took me to The Gisborne Country & Western club, they had a band so you turn up with your song/s and sing. It was great as I was a very shy child, I was one of a handful to be chosen to perform supporting Suzanne Prentice & John Hore. My uncles Jimmy & Whare were fantastic guitarists, as was my aunty Lucy. All learned to play by ear. So yeah, a musical family.

Gary – I’ve got to ask this. You told someone that you grew up (amongst other rock gods) listening to Frank Zappa. How did that happen and do you have a favourite song?

Sandy – My uncles introduced me to Frank Zappa!  Fifteen-year-old me loved ‘Catholic Girls’, but I think the winner has to be ‘Dirty Love’!

Gary – What are your other passions and interests? We hear that you quite enjoy a bit of DJ-ing?

Sandy – Oh I absolutely love DJ-ing. I am a vinyl DJ so I have a good excuse to buy records. It’s my regular job, so to have an income from something I enjoy is wonderful! I love hanging with whanau, swimming, the beach, bush walks and lots of reading. Crime novels, autobiographies, fantasy, historical, I like to escape in books.

Gary – Where can punters get your records?

Sandy – Bandcamp is the place to go online. Artists get most of the money and a small percentage goes to Bandcamp. Search Sandy Mill or Chillifunk. Otherwise, any decent record shop.

Note: If you buy it from me on Bandcamp, I will package it with love & write you a little card saying thank you.

Note 2:

I am playing my first gig with a band since 2019… on 28th May at Lopdell House Theatre in Titirangi. My band is top shelf and I’m stoked to have the likes of Jeremy Toy, Crystal Choi, Chip Matthews & Julian Dyne, joining me.

Editor’s note: And here’s the guff about the gig straight from Sandy’s Facebook page, complete with the kind of biographical guff we should really have put at the top of the page, but what the heck:

Sandy Mill performs in Titirangi this Saturday, 28 May, with a cracking lineup.
The Business is:
Chip Matthews (Tami Neilson, New Loungehead, Aaradhna, Miltones, Leonard Charles Trio) & Julien Dyne (Ladi6, Opensouls, Tyra and the Tornadoes, Avantdale Bowling Club), Jeremy Toy, (She’s so Rad, Leonard Charles, Aaradhna), Crystal Choi (Phoebe Rings, Skilla, Chelsea Jade, Jonathan Bree, Princess Chelsea).
Sandy Mill is one of Aotearoa’s finest vocalists; A songwriter, collaborator, producer, vinyl selector/DJ, percussionist & Ngati Porou soul sister.
With bragging rights in collaboration with some of our legends such as Pitch Black, Dick Johnson (honorary), Neil Finn, Sean Donnelly (SJD) & Don McGlashan; Plus, UK dynamo’s The Basement Jaxx, Placebo, Boy George, and Notenshun to name a few.
Sandy’s most recent releases include ‘Socials’ out now on Chillifunk records UK. ‘Lyrical Flight’ fourfoursoul UK & ‘Gonna Get Me Through’, a Matt Bizzle collab.
Her debut EP A Piece Of Me hit NZ Top 20, and was finalist for Best Female Solo Artist at The M?ori Music Awards in 2018.
You’ll often find her behind turntables on the regular, sharing her eclectic vinyl collection around Auckland bars, hosting the bi-weekly radio show The Taster on Base FM and mentoring young artists through Island Base.
Catch this show if you can, as Sandy has gathered some top-shelf talent to help bring her new and old songs to life, including collaborator Jeremy Toy, Crystal Choi, Chip Matthews & Julien Dyne.
With special guests the young and brilliant ‘Toby and the rest’ this will be a great night of music.

 

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