You may not immediately recognise the name Mila Falls, but I guarantee you will have heard her music.
She’s one of a special breed of artists whose songwriting talent lies behind the soundtrack to notable adverts and films but whose name remains mostly under the radar. Having supported the likes of Rudimental, Ella Eyre, Ringo Starr and Van Morrison, successfully collaborated with artists such as DJ Mag worldwide resident Marc Vedo and electronic composer and producer Roger Shar and featured on Boy George’s Hotfingers Talks album, 2017 could be the year this vibrant British singer-songwriter gets the wider recognition she deserves.
Yet, Mila is no musical neophyte. She has been singing and writing songs for the last nine years and has performed hundreds of live shows across the world. Her musical odyssey is one of hard graft, determination and strength through adversity rather than an immediate route to acclaim. Mila realised from an early age the 9-5 was never an option (“I’m far too fidgety!”) and, thankfully, ignored a careers advisor at her school in Norwich who declared music was an unreliable and dodgy option. She took the risk, and at the age of thirteen began DJing and songwriting over instrumental vinyls as well as teaching herself guitar and keys.
Making the transition from aspiring musician to professional artist was all part of the plan. Rushing back from school to write, DJ and play then acquiring a computer, decks and cheap microphone with money saved from a paper round, Mila admits it was “some kind of obsession – I used to sing so loud that the neighbours used to bang on the wall!” she reminisces. From sixteen years old she was a sessional vocalist and performing in and around her hometown; an age when most of us were still wondering what we wanted to be when we grew up.
Life took a very cruel turn at the age of nineteen when tragically, Mila’s mother passed away while she was recording in a studio. How did such a terrible loss impact on her personally and her career ambitions? “This changed my life and made me take a step back from performing” she reflects. “I lost the love for it and became very introverted”. Admirably, she found the strength to persevere and study music production and sound engineering at Brighton University which led not only to her first cut in a film but also helped her to find the courage to perform again.
When you see Mila on stage – a beautiful and spirited young woman who exudes confidence – it’s difficult to imagine her introverted, but Mila still fights anxiety when performing to this day. What does she do to overcome this I wonder, given live performance is so pivotal to her work? “I like to challenge myself and face my fears and I always try to not let my insecurities limit myself” she explains.
So, after all the hard graft, unimaginable heartbreak and burning the midnight oil, how did it feel to land her first record deal with the iconic Defected Records label, with the deep house track Oh My? “I wrote it with an amazing producer, S.Chu, in about thirty minutes as the ideas came quickly and I loved the beat” she explained humbly. “It was signed to Defected and then was picked up by BBC Radio 1Xtra and Radio 1 – this was a game changer for me in terms of radio exposure”. It was championed by Annie Mac and, asking the obvious I’m sure, I wonder what impact this had. “For an artist, being supported by radio DJs is everything. Without anyone championing your music you can’t really progress. I’m very grateful for everyone who has aired, streamed or bought my music. It means the world to me”.
Mila channels positivity and you get the sense that music courses through her veins; you can almost hear it pulsating. Her accomplished debut album, Remember Me, released in 2015 with guitarist and producer Marius Ptas AKA Slickersson blends a range of sounds from ‘70s funk to ‘80s synth through to ‘90s electronica and this was not an accident. ‘We decided to make an album featuring all of our favourite genres” she explains. Does she have a favourite track from the album? “Remember Me” she says thoughtfully. “It was the first time I had the courage to write a song about my mum dying. I imagined talking to her and this song came rushing out. She was a massive supporter of my music and she’s definitely the reason I had the belief I could become a real singer in the first place”.
Employing this self belief, Mila has been back in the studio recording her second album and I ask her what we can expect from the new record in terms of sound and musical direction. “It’s taking a while because I want it to be right. I want to push my vocal ability a lot more on this record, I would love to collaborate with a few singers too. So far we have about five ‘work in progress” ideas. I need to get to work!” she says.
Not that there can be any doubt about her work ethic. Mila is a musician, sessional vocalist, international songwriter and record-label owner. Phew. How does she keep all the plates spinning and find the energy and motivation? “Last year was rather insane.” she admits sheepishly. “I took a month off in January to visit Lord Howe Island in Australia and clear my head. I’m motivated by performing live and working with fun, kind people. I am very lucky that I get to perform and record songs with people that I call friends. And coffee keeps me going. Yes, definitely lots of coffee.” Maybe it’s the extra caffeine, but Mila is known for great live performance (you must check out a live version of her latest single, Guilty Pleasure) and puts her experience as a sound engineer to good use. “I like to blend dance music with live instruments” she explains. “I like to have live samples triggered on stage and then live drums, bass and guitar on top to give it a high energy sound”.
Possessing great talent and expert knowledge of the industry has led her to perform alongside some of music’s greatest. Being curious (nosey) I ask if there are any memorable moments or anecdotes she could share from her tour life? She’s happy to divulge. “One of the most embarrassing moments was when I was supporting Ringo Starr on tour” she begins. “I was performing acoustically and on the first date the guitarist’s string badly broke on the first song so he had to walk off to try and find a new string. He couldn’t find one and I was left standing in front of thousands of people; I couldn’t think of anything witty to say and I wanted to the stage to gobble me up!”. It hasn’t all been bad though. “Supporting Van Morrison was a life dream complete. My mum used to play his records all the time so to share the stage with him was totally magical. He’s an absolute legend”.
She may have played with the big names, but Mila remains unassuming with an infectious enthusiasm and this is part of the appeal. When I ask her if she still gets excited about hearing her music featured in well-known programmes and adverts the response is resounding. “Hell yeah! I love it. It’s what I dreamt of as a child. My music was on a Channel 4 show and me and the producer were WhatsApp-ing, saying ‘quick, turn on the TV, our music is on a show!’”.
Finally, I ask Mila who has influenced her personally? “I love Lauryn Hill, Brandy, Aaliyah and Eva Cassidy” she muses “and I discovered a band recently called St Paul & The Broken Bones; They really are new age soul music at its finest”. Her daily playlist includes “Miguel, The Weeknd, Raleigh Ritchie and Alice Russell” she explains “but most of the music I blast out in my car is much harder dance music, for example Trentemøller, Steve Bug and Todd Terje”.
As the interview draws to a close, I am moved and inspired by Mila’s story and her zest for life. On her website’s biography, she’s described as ‘like a tornado hit Las Vegas and left a wake of glitter in its path’ (“my cousin wrote it; I thought it suited me as an artist. I’m obsessed with glitter and leave sparkles behind me wherever I go!”) and this is a fitting depiction. After such an exciting 2016, I’m keen to know what’s next and what we can expect from 2017? “I’m booking in more live shows, studio sessions and my new music video will be released shortly” she says animatedly. “I got to drive a vintage Lamborghini Countach in the video which was definitely a life goal ticked off the list. I’m very excited for this video to be released soon!”
Mila tells me each day of her life is different; either gigging, recording in her home studio or away writing songs with producers in U.K. and beyond. Doesn’t sound like a bad life to me – I bet that careers advisor is kicking themselves…
Guilty Pleasure is out now on Went Too Far Records.
Photography by Rachel Lipsitz and Interview by Nicola Greenbrook