Text Kate Hollowood
Photography Jørn Tomter / tomter.net
Photography Jørn Tomter / tomter.net
Clapton-based singer-songwriter Millie Turner is making waves with her fluid, indie electronica. Kate Hollowood speaks to the talented teen about how growing up in Hackney has influenced her music and mindset.
Performing in front of hundreds of people might not be everyone’s ideal birthday party, especially when it’s your 18th, but for Millie Turner it was completely logical. When I meet the young artist, she has just woken up from a long sleep, her voice still hoarse from her performance two days earlier.
“I was so nervous - what if it was my birthday gig and it was awful!” she says, as her decaf, oat-milk latte arrives. Slightly embarrassed, she explains that caffeine and dairy are bad for her voice. In a purple slip dress, chunky beaded necklace and even chunkier leather Buffalo boots, she starts slowly tearing away at a croissant.
The birthday gig went down a treat in the end, and if you hear her songs you’ll understand why. Millie’s angelic, airy notes, meandering soulfully around pulsating dance beats, are enchanting and have captivated critics and millions of listeners alike. In just two years, the teenager has amassed over 70,000 regular listeners on Spotify and one of her tracks - ‘Eyes on You’ - has been played more than three million times.
While dancefloor-ready, her songs are still thought-provoking. Her first track, ‘Underwater’, was written the day after Trump’s victory and longs for the possibility that we could set up a better world in the sea. ‘We are young, we are afraid, but we are free,’ she sings, with the kind of youthful idealism that turns older cynics green with envy.
She’s released a further four songs and, now that her A-levels are out the way, is able to pursue writing and performing full time. But despite her spades of talent, Millie’s musical path came as a surprise to her. Growing up in Clapton, the middle child between two sisters, Millie played the piano and sang with her siblings but never took it seriously.
At 16, she approached family friend and musician David Turley in the hope of getting some guitar lessons. One half of husband-and-wife pop duo Lovers Electric, Turley quickly clocked Millie’s vocal ability and the pair started writing and recording together in his studio at Clapton’s Round Chapel.
“It’s so nice to have the studio local and part of the community I’ve grown up in,” says Millie. The Round Chapel has played a significant role in Millie’s journey. Her youth worker parents took her and her sisters there regularly and it’s also where they met Turley. Being part of that community has not only sparked connections but has informed Millie’s attitude towards creativity. “The round chapel is more open-minded as a church,” she says. “I’ve grown up with a non-judgemental acceptance of whatever music you make.”
Her own open-mindedness was developed by her sociable family home. “I’ve grown up in a house where there’s always people,” she explains. While working at a nearby estate in Homerton, Millie’s parents hosted weekly events called Monday Meals, opening their door to the local community.
Millie’s encounters with her neighbours and the diversity of the borough as a whole has helped inspire her art. “Hackney is still a beautiful place when it comes to diversity and the integration of so many different people,” she says, still picking at her pastry. “It’s definitely the best place to be if you’re doing something creative.”
Attending Clapton Girls’ Academy deepened Millie’s roots to the area. It’s rare to hear someone of her age talk as warmly about their school days as she does. “It was such an incredible and empowering school,” she says, explaining that there was a strong message about female empowerment throughout.
“Then you come to this industry and everyone is male,” she says. “I was very confused at first - especially being so young. It’s good to know how to navigate meetings when you end up being the only girl and everyone’s older than you.”
Millie’s feminist upbringing is evident in the fact that, when it comes to the subject matter of her music, she prefers not to focus too much on romantic relationships. “I remember when I was younger, I said ‘I’m never writing a love song, I’m not going to be one of those girls that’s like, [she sings] I love him!’”
Instead, many of her songs celebrate feminine creativity. Her impossibly catchy ‘The Shadow’, for example, discusses our darker sides and the intimacy of making art. Meanwhile, her favourite track, ‘She was a Dancer’, was inspired by a girl Millie spotted while on holiday dancing in the street to an accordion. “It was amazing how she was able to embrace this creativity, female empowerment and the beauty of self-expression
I ask her if ideas always come to her easily, or if she ever gets stuck. “That happens a lot,” she replies. “It’s that hard thing of accepting that it doesn’t have to be perfect, and I’m such a perfectionist.” She tells me that she also found performing difficult at first. “I was like, ‘woah, this is so vulnerable!’ Everyone’s staring at you, they can see everything about you. And it becomes self-fulfilling because you end up performing worse when you don’t believe in yourself,” she says. “You have to just lose yourself in it. If you show that you’re enjoying your music, then other people will feel comfortable as well.”
I can’t decide if I’m more impressed with the wisdom she’s gained so quickly or the fact she made her croissant last a good 45 minutes. Millie explains that her resilience is helped by the supportive network around her (perhaps they taught her not to be greedy, too). She’s clearly proud to be part of her local community - a feeling I expect is very mutual. Instagram @MillieTurner