As an avid music listener, discovering a new artist with the quality of Tor Miller is a real compelling experience. A few months ago, I found Tor through Spotify’s ‘Discover Weekly’ with the song ‘Carter & Cash’, a single he released in mid-2015.
Tor Miller @tormillermusic is 22-year-old Brooklyn-based musician and songwriter who started his music journey from an early age, spending his childhood playing the piano and composing his own songs. At the age of 20, he was signed with Glassnote Records. Since then, he has started to gain international notoriety.
His compositions evoke a nostalgic yet contemporary vibe accompanied by a soul-melting voice. But it’s his consistent attention to detail that stands out in his work, the beautiful melody lines and his enchanting poetic lyrics that make every song worth listening to.
The piano, as a key instrument in his career, plays a crucial role in his compositions, injecting a 70’s-inflected element to them. All these ingredients together allow us to connect with him and the raw emotionality we can sense throughout his music.
With the release of his EP Headlights and his first debut record American English, Tor Miller is undoubtedly set to dominate the worldwide charts by delivering melodies featuring carefully arranged instrumentation and heartfelt lyrics that hit you right in the feelings.
You put so much sentiment into your songwriting! How do you get inspired to write those epic lyrics?
Well I guess I get stuck on things from my past and that manifests itself in my songs. Whether the memory is of a conversation, a relationship or something I witnessed on the street, I let that settle in for a while and it inspires me to write and consequently it allows me to move on.
When did you become interested in music?
I was always drawn to music. I took piano lessons at a young age and was fond of singing. However, it wasn’t until I moved to New Jersey and was paired with a new teacher, who made learning fun, as well as a lot of time spent in the car listening to music, that I really made a concerted effort at being a musician.
What was your first impression of a piano the first time you were in front of one?
I loved the sounds that I could create with it, though I wasn’t very amused by my lessons in my early years, but stuck to the instrument and improvised on it whenever I had the chance.
Do you remember some of the early compositions that you created when you started in music?
Yes, I had an improvisational piece, which I dedicated to my aunt who had just passed.
It was a song that was comprised of all the black keys and had a faint construction of a melody but was tweaked minimally every time, due to my lack of understanding of which note was which.
And then, after a few years, how did you feel the first time you heard one of your songs on radio for the first time?
It wasn’t until this past year that I heard myself on the radio. I was in a thrift store in Kensington Market, a neighborhood in Toronto. It was a great feeling! I Snapped the whole experience!
What’s the story behind ‘Hold the Phone’ and how did it end up on BBC Radio 1?
I had recorded ‘Hold the Phone’ on my iPhone as sort of a demo to show my management this new song I had completed. The main purpose was to share with people and see what they thought and if they believed it was a song worth going along with. My manager thought it was a great song, apparently, and sent it along to Zane Lowe’s people and a few days later it was playing on BBC. Pretty surreal experience.
The sophisticated harmonic and melodic elements of your music take me back to the 70’s. Do you think 70’s music has been an important source of inspiration for you?
Yes 100%! I was hooked on ‘The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust & the Spiders from Mars’ when I was about 12 and I started writing music shortly after that period. It was music that I had been waiting to hear my whole life and every song went to places that I was longing for them to go. It was a very informative album for me.
Is there a particular song of the 70’s that you like?
‘Tiny Dancer’ by Elton John. I think it sounds so beautiful and I love the way the song crescendos and the tasteful way in which the instruments enter.
What are some artists in other disciplines (not only in music) that influence you?
I became a big fan of Raymond Chandler and all his detective noirs as I was staying in LA. I love the book ‘City of Thieves’ by David Benioff as well as books by Michael Chabon.
After living for a few months in London, were there things from New York that you missed when you were living there? Are there things in London that you miss now that you’re back in the US?
Well I missed my friends, my local bodega, and my favorite pizza place. I had a couple walks I love to take when I’m home in New York. When I left London I missed the new friends I made, a couple of the local pubs I frequented and my favorite curry spots.
Tor Miller’s favorite place to play?
I love playing the Troubadour in LA. Firstly, the venue has so much history and some of my favorite artists from the 70’s played that stage. Also, the stage is spacious and I love how the venue itself is laid out. On top of all that, the sound is just wonderful in there.
Do you have some sort of routine that you do before you perform live?
Not really. All I need is about 5-10 minutes by myself to get into the headspace of the show. If I don’t have that time, I wont be prepared to play and it’ll hit me as I walk on, “oh shit! I’m in front of a lot of people right now.” And that can really mess up my flow.
You’re a really skilled pianist, are there other instruments that you play or you would like to learn in the future?
Thank you! I learned cello as a kid but never stuck with it, so I would love to revisit that. I am also making a concerted effort to start picking up the guitar. I want to be able to expand and find new ways to open up my creativity when it comes to writing and performing.
What’s some advice you’d give to those interested or that have just started studying music in NYU?
Take advantage of the connections you make and don’t forget to hustle outside of school. If you are not working on your art outside of the classroom, you will end up graduating but you won’t have made as much progress as you would have liked.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Starting a cult and moving to a remote island… no, I’m not sure. I just hope I can sell out as many places as I play and I am releasing music my fans think is quality! ■
Exclusive interview for Vanity Teen issue 9 Fall Winter 2016.17 by Luis Alonso Murillo @likeluis, clothes Givenchy and Zara.