Monday, June 20, 2011

Musician Chris Mills returning to Chicago with new retrospective album in hand


BY ERIC SCHELKOPF

There are those musicians that loathe treading the same musical ground over and over again.

Chris Mills, who started his career in Chicago and now lives in Brooklyn, is one of those musicians. After gaining prominence as an alternative country musician, he recently collaborated with Alap Momin of the experimental hip-hop duo Dalek for two songs on his new 10-year retrospective album "Heavy Years: 2000-2010."

Mills, www.chris-mills.com, will return to Chicago when he performs Friday, June 24, at The Hideout, www.hideoutchicago.com, 1354 W. Wabansie Ave.

The show starts at 10 p.m., and tickets are $10, available at www.ticketfly.com.

I had the chance to talk to Mills about his current musical projects.


Q - As far as coming back to the city, do you view Chicago as a second home?

Absolutely, absolutely. I lived in Chicago for a long time. I play there pretty regularly. It's sort of my musical second home.

A lot of the guys that are still in my band that I tour with are from Chicago. And I've made the majority of my records in Chicago. That's one of the cities where I do the best as far as crowds. So it's a great town. I always feel at home there, and love going back there.

Q - You moved to Brooklyn in 2003. What were your reasons for wanting to move there?

Oh, I just always wanted to live in New York. I wanted to try it out. There was a girl out here that I was seeing, and that sort of gave me an excuse.

But I probably never felt at home here until recently, probably until I got married, which was only a year or two ago. So I kept sort of going back and forth between New York and Chicago, for music and for work and stuff like that.

But I like New York now.

Q - So you feel part of the scene now?

I feel part of a scene. The thing about New York is that it's so spread out. There are so many people doing so many different things, that it's hard to feel that you are part of one unified thing.

There are a lot of people that I play with in New York that I really love hanging out with and love playing with. Whether or not that constitutes a scene, I have no idea.

Q - Of course, you have this new album out. Do you view this as a greatest hits album?

I think it's more of an anthology. It would be silly to assume that I have a hit.

I have songs that people like. Some people connect with them, in a big way, I guess.

It's more of an overview of the stuff I've been doing for the last 10 years, with a couple new things on it. I feel like it is more an anthology or retrospective, really, something that gives people who maybe haven't heard of me an opportunity to discover something.



Q - Was it hard choosing what songs should go on the album?

I wouldn't say it was hard. It was tricky. Putting together any album is kind of like a balancing act.

You usually only have 10 or 12 songs to choose from, and here I had 70 or 80 things recorded that have been released.

So I kind of wanted to put together a combination of songs that I knew people would really like, that are popular in the live shows, and then songs that I liked that maybe haven't gotten as much attention or that I feel are really important in how I developed or how my songwriting evolved.

Q - Speaking of that, does a new song like "All Our Days And Nights" show where you are at these days musically, as opposed to some of the other songs on the album?

I don't know if it's a signpost as much as it's a continuation of things.

It's something that I put together basically because I wanted to work with Alap. We had been talking about working together, and we kind of just had the opportunity.

It's just a sort of another wrinkle in the stuff that I've been doing for a while. I tend to like the newer stuff more. It's fun because it's new. But I don't know if it's a departure or not.

Q - One of your early influences was Uncle Tupelo, an alternative country band from Illinois. I just find it interesting that your music these days has more pop in it, and it seems like that is the direction Wilco is going.

Do you see where you are now just as a natural evolution in your music?

I think so. I think as you get older, you get curious about different things, different styles, different avenues to pursue. I think it's been natural because my tastes evolved as I got older and played more music and played with more musicians.

I've never been somebody who has been content to do the same thing over and over again. I don't know if that's helped me or hurt me, but for me I want it to be interesting, I want it to be different, at least for me.

I just like to keep it interesting for myself and the guys that I play with. I've never been interested in staying in my comfort zone. I feel I get more out of making myself uncomfortable, I guess.

Q - Do you think that has limited your success? People are familiar with some of your past songs, perhaps, and then you go in this other direction, and they get turned off.

I don't know. It's not something that as a songwriter or as an artist that I want to be that concerned about.

I always try to do things that are good and honest. That's my job. And people will either come along with that or they won't. I don't think it would be fair to people who are interested in that part of what I do to just keep handing them the same thing over and over again.

Q - I would hope that people's own musical tastes change and mature.

And that's not true for everyone, and that's fine, too. People like what I like, and I do what I do.

And if I'm lucky, those two will cross somewhere in the middle. I would rather do the things that I do and the things that I enjoy and keep challenging myself rather than just do what is safe.

Q - Now you are working on a new album, "The Soldier Is The Castle." What should people expect from that album?

It's still in the early stages. I'm hoping that it will turn out to be a little more sonically experimental, maybe a little darker, things like that.

I've written a lot of things since the last record, and right now the hard part is really choosing what's going to be the direction. So I'm working out figuring out what the real voice of the record is going to be.

Q - Do you think you will go back to your speed metal days?

I don't know if I would go back to speed metal right now, but I did enjoy it when I was in high school and playing it.

I think that when you are 15 or 16 years old, stuff like that really helps you get things off your chest. It was probably a little more socially acceptable than the confessional singer-songwriter stuff.

And I think that's a lot of what I got out of it, was that sort of catharsis, which is basically the same kind of feeling that I was trying to get when I started to do more songwriter style music when I got older. When you're playing really loud and really fast, you can really get a lot off your chest.

Q - I understand that the late Sam Cooke is the one guy that you would have loved to sing with. What made him so great in your eyes?

He's probably got one of the best, if not the best, voice in popular music.

He's a legend. If you listen to any of his singles or anything like, the purity and the emotion is his voice is something that is incredibly hard to find.

Q - Are there any dream collaborations or projects that you have?

I'm incredibly lucky that I get to play and sing with so many awesome people now, like Sally Timms and the Mekons and Kelly Hogan and Nora O'Connor.

I already get to play with some of the best people I could possibly want to play with. So I don't spend a lot of time dreaming of people to work with, because I feel I'm really lucky working with the people I do now.