Rising star Misty Miller has been championed by BBC Radio One and supported Jake Bugg at Alexandra Palace – but the 21-year-old local singer-songwriter still finds time to play her home turf. Arts editor Barney Evison interviewed her before her latest gig at Windmill Brixton.
Sporting lip and nose piercings, numerous tattoos and dyed-black hair, Misty Miller is as much a poster-girl for South London’s thriving post-punk scene as the likes of Fat White Family or The Severed Limb. She’s one of the reasons Windmill Brixton remains at the heart of it – despite increasing gentrification just down the road (or perhaps in reaction against it).
Touted as the next Laura Marling at the release of her ukelele-fuelled folky debut album back in 2011, Misty first tasted success at the tender age of 16. Now older, more cynical perhaps, she’s still getting attention from mainstream media but for a sound that’s darker, grungier and earning her comparisons to Patti Smith, Lou Reed and Iggy Pop.
Cutting through the guitar fuzz of her newer sound is that consistently rich voice – strong, soulful and incredibly versatile. Her songs are emotionally appealing and often touchingly raw. They’re personal, and her bittersweet lyrics are frank: “I’m so scared / of losing my best friend” she laments in ‘Best Friend’, about a break-up.
Misty seemed a bit anxious when I spoke to her outside the Windmill hours before her gig: she’d just been offered a slot at Reading and Leeds Festival but one of her band couldn’t make it. “Know any drummers?” she asked as soon as I arrived. Despite her increasing fame, we’re speaking without the usual accompaniment of PRs or promoters.
It’s part of her appeal – you might hear her on BBC Radio One or catch her at a major festival, yet she’s keen to take it slow, enjoy herself and remain an active part of South London’s tight rock community. She counts the Fat Whites – “a big influence” – and Childhood among local friends, and claims the Windmill as her “second home”.
“The Windmill is my favourite venue,” she tells me, “It’s got a certain magic to it.” For Misty, and the numerous other musicians that pass through this intimate space, the Windmill promises the comfort of a supportive crowd: “whenever I come to the Windmill I’ll always bump into someone I know.”
We’re two streets away from her rehearsal space at Brixton Hill Studios – just around the corner from her new favourite coffee spot Cafe Katakata – where she’s working on her long-awaited second album, due out February next year. It’s a combination of different material, she says, including new tracks and older songs she wrote as a teenager.
The album’s been in the making for some time; she’s been battling with her label Relentless Records to release it, keeping fans sustained with various singles and EPs in the meantime. “There’ve been a few false releases,” she says “I was going to release [the album] a while ago but it kept getting held back. It’ll be really nice when I do because I can finally get that weight off my shoulders.”
Like many passionate young musicians, playing live is what Misty really enjoys – “all the other things I find quite difficult” she says. “I think my label want more success than I do. Obviously success would be great, but I want to keep my love for music strong, and sometimes the industry can kill that.” The summer residency at the Windmill has been an opportunity to do something completely separate, on her own – with help from the venue’s band booker Tim.
Despite her caution about the industry, however, she’s happy with her current musical style, and seems keen to distance herself from her older folkier sound, which she admits she “wasn’t very proud of”. It’s telling that the first album isn’t available on Spotify. Now she’s happy to exchange tweets with fans about her music: “you’ve got to value the people who give a shit. And I really do.”
She used to get worried about turnout at her gigs, she says, but that’s changed now: “All I want is just to enjoy it. I’ve played big gigs in front of a lot of people and not enjoyed it, then I’ve played smaller gigs in places like the Windmill and it’s been much better.” It’s why she has a lot in common with other South London bands like the Fat White Family; she’s doing her own thing and she’s having fun while she does it.