Interview: T. Mills (2015)

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T. Mills has come a long way from when we saw him performing in Freehold, New Jersey two years ago.

Back then he was a sensation to the YouTube generation with his raw, edgy and explicit anthems like like “My Other Bitch Calling” and “She Got A.” To some, he was seen as the heir apparent to Mac Miller and the faceless sea of white rappers who were on the rise at the time. Yet, fast forward two years and T. Mills is not on the path of his then contemporaries. This summer he exploded with the smash hit “All I Wanna Do” which was one of the most ubiquitous songs of the Summer of 2014. The song has a distinctly different vibe from his earlier hits, showing more of a polished pop feel to it. The barometer is pointing north for the California kid and pop stardom might be knocking on the door real soon.

While his sound may be evolving and the company he keeps might be changing (working with Dr. Luke is a pretty big step up) there is one thing that hasn’t changed — his unbridled passion and love for music. Despite his earlier, “rougher” persona, T. Mills or Travis as he’ll refer to himself, is someone who just has this pure, genuine love for all things music. Listening to him talk about any type of music, let alone his own, is like listening to a kid at Christmas trying to calmly explain all the presents he received. It’s an infectious excitement that makes you, even if you aren’t a fan of his music, want to see this hungry and honest guy succeed in the music industry.

We spoke with T. Mills late last year to talk about his new record, his evolving sound, working with famed producer Dr. Luke and his idol, Travis Barker.

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Congrats on the success of  “All I Wanna Do” that song was pretty much everywhere last year. Seeing perform in 2013 and hearing that single, I can hear a distinct difference in your sound. What was the decision to to  change up the style a little bit?

I feel like it wasn’t necessarily a stylistic change. I feel like if you listen to my old songs, I’ve always had a knack for melody, I’ve always loved pop music. I feel like I’ve always incorporated that into my music especially in the first couple projects I dropped. I just feel like with the EP [that] I wanted to put out a feel good record. We were dropping it right before summer. I had the song for a while and it was just like when do we drop it? We had the video and we were like,  ‘Yo, what better time than now? And just to kind of see what was going to happen with it.’

It was more of a promo setup single and people really liked it. The song did its thing and it got picked up and it was just being played everywhere. It was a good time because I got to go around to all these radio stations that I haven’t been to and meet all these new people who were supporting the record. It was just a good run and it was a fun song.

I toured like five or six months last year. It was crazy seeing the reactions. When you have your material that has been out, people know the words and they come to the shows and sing the songs. Then you play new songs, they’re always kind of like, ‘I wonder what kind of reaction it’s going to get.’ It was crazy because “All I Wanna Do” is getting a bigger reaction than some of my previous songs that kind of paved the way for me to tour and have fans and play shows.

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As with any artist you see when you drop a new song of any sort, was there any negative reaction? Did people say, ‘Awww this isn’t the T. Mills I love?’ Did you get a negative reaction?

I was definitely watching for that. I’m a music lover so I know my favorite bands, when they would drop new shit, so I was definitely mindful of that. And to my surprise, no. People really embraced it. Like with any song you drop, [you’re going to have] fans that don’t like it or they’re just going to leave a comment like ‘Oh hey, I liked your other songs better’ and that’s cool. I appreciate the opinion but it wasn’t like an, Oh my God what is this shit?’ [comment]  People embraced the evolution and that is what I want to do. I want to keep people on their toes and I want to change things up. I don’t want to make the same record twice.

Evolution was one thing I thought of listening to the new music. Everything from lyrical content to the beats, the way it was produced, the cadence seems to have evolved. Can you talk about some of the influences on your evolution, whether it’s personal or being out on the road touring and working with other people?

I think just touring and seeing the way that people react to music, it gives you a better idea of what you’re making when you’re in the studio. So,  when I would play that song, before it came out, I was like, ‘Dude I know what kind of song this is and I know what people are going to be doing when you hear it.’ Not only that too, speaking about evolution, my resources, the people I was working with. I got to work with some of my favorite producers  so that was a very powerful thing too, just being able to get into a room with these people and create.

What I’m excited about is this new record. I got Dr. Luke executive producing it. He has a couple songs on there. I worked with some incredible producers. It’s all cohesive and there are elements of my old music in there. There’s definitely elements of a new Travis in there and it’s fun to kind of merge those two worlds and create something new that people haven’t heard before.

Go into a little bit about what you said, the “New Travis.” What is new about what’s coming on this record and what’s new about you, the artist, that people are going to really be surprised about?

Dude, I feel like over the last year I went through such a crazy growth spurt as a human being, what I wanted to do, the music that I wanted to make, the way that I wanted to tour, my team around me, you know the team surrounding me, the people that I work with. It’s all been very positive and Dr. Luke is, if I were to write down a list of my dream producers, at the top of the list. Having someone like that in my corner now is incredible. It’s like, I don’t want to sound cheesy but it is like a dream coming true. It’s a powerful thing to be in the room with these people and watch what they do and how they make records and what makes a record sound a certain way and picking up on that and incorporating that into my songs, it has definitely been a learning experience but I feel like when I started making music, I was 20, 21-years-old and I had angst and I didn’t really know what I wanted to say and I would just say whatever the fuck came into my head. Now, I feel like the album has a direction and has a sound and it’s cohesive and it’s not just kind of trial and error so much as my old stuff. I’ve grown as a person, I’ve grown as a writer, I’ve grown as a singer, I’ve grown as a musician and so those are all very important things to me that I’ve been incorporating into this new album.

Dr. Luke, has produced everyone and he is the definition of a super producer. What is something that he brought to the table that made you realize something about yourself as a performer or writer?

What Luke brought to the table is the way that he views melody [as in] how important melody is in a song. If you read old interviews about me, [you’ll see] I’ve always been obsessed with [melody] and [it was] the reason why I started singing and blending genres and kind of developing a sound. I wanted to make songs that get stuck in your head. I love catchy and that is what Luke is the king of — making credible pop music. So it’s taking someone like that, who has that knowledge and that expertise and that vision or that I would say ear, rather, for melody and just kind of fine tuning it and perfecting it to where it’s me and nobody else. I don’t want to have a song that anyone could sing like this artist could sing this song, this artist can sing this song. I want to make songs where like you hear it and you’re like that is a T. Mills song. It’s personality, a song has to feel like yours. It can’t be insert artist here. And that is one thing that I think Luke and I have done really well with this album, is making songs that are personal to me and that sound like me because they are my songs.

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I don’t know if you can reveal any of this or not but going back to the record, will we be seeing any cool guest appearances on it that you’re pretty stoked about?

Yeah man. I’ve got Travis Barker on the album who is my childhood hero.

I remember that! He’s from your area right?

He’s from Corona, I’m from Riverside so growing up he was the end all be all of music icons for me. He’s the reason why I started making music and so to have someone like him on the record is such a blessing, something I’m super excited about.

How was it meeting him and actually being in the studio with him. Was it a little daunting or were you like a kid?

I met him when I was 13. I met him a couple times. I stood in line for a meet and greet to meet Trav. I would always seem him around town when I was a little kid around Corona and Riverside. When we connected again like two years ago, it was just crazy like the path that life takes you on. One day I’m 13 and I’m standing in line waiting to get my skateboard signed by Travis Barker and Mark Hoppus and you know, fast forward, eight to nine years later and I’m texting him and I’m going to a studio and we’re making music together.

So, outside of releasing the record, what are you hoping, for next year, what are some big goals you want to hit for this coming year?

I would love to play the American Music Awards, some type of show like that. We haven’t really done any big live TV so that’s definitely one thing on my list. Of course,  I want people to love [the album] and I want it to do great things. I really want to be on the road for hopefully nine months next year. Touring is where my heart’s at and that’s the most rewarding thing for me doing what I do.

T. Mills will be a part of the Electricon Tour this weekend featuring Rae Sremmurd and DJ Prime in Clifton Park, NY (click here for tickets), GameChanger World in Howell, NJ (click here for tickets), and Tuxedo Junction in Danbury, CT (Click here for tickets).

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Bill Bodkin is the Owner, Editor-in-Chief and Co-Founder of Pop-Break. Most importantly, however, he is the proud father of a beautiful daughter, Sophie. He is beyond excited that Pop-Break will be six years old in 2015 as this site has come a long, long way from the day he launched in it in his bachelor pad at the Jersey Shore. He can be read every Monday for the Happy Mondays Interview Series as well as his weekly reviews on Law & Order: SVU, Mad Men and Hannibal. His goal, once again, is to write 500 stories this year (a goal he accomplished in 2014). He is a graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism & English. Follow him on Twitter: @PopBreakDotCom
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Bill Bodkin is the gray bearded owner, editor-in-chief and co-founder of Pop Break. Most importantly, he is lucky husband, and proud father to a beautiful daughter named Sophie. He can be seen regularly on the site reviewing The Walking Dead, Doctor Who, and is the host of the site's podcast, The BreakCast. He is a graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism & English. Follow him on Twitter: @BodkinWrites