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Austin Retro-Pop Singer Jazz Mills Talks Noteworthy Collaborations, First Solo EP

Katrina Barber

With giant doe eyes and a smooth, affecting voice, singer Jazz Mills is more like the pop sweethearts of the ’60s than many of her similarly retro-minded crooning peers. (Sorry, Zooey Deschanel.) Mills has collaborated with dozens of artists, including the Black Angels and the Kills, and she even formed the group Cowboy and Indian with actor Jesse Plemons, best known for playing sociopath Todd Alquist on ‘Breaking Bad.’ With the recent release of her self-titled EP, the Austin singer has stepped out on her own for the first time, delivering five bittersweet, dulcet tracks of pure longing.

Shortly after her EP’s release, Mills responded via email to a series of questions, dishing about her past projects, her first time on the stage and the challenges of going solo.

What are some of your favorite venues around Austin?

My favorite venue of all time in Austin was Momo’s, and it’s seriously such a bummer that it’s gone, even though it’s been almost two years now. I like playing at Strange Brew, Cactus Cafe and places similar to those because they have such good sound.

Being that you’re from San Angelo, in an isolated southwest region of Texas, what does Austin provide to you as an artist?

Pretty much all the tools you need to become a self-sufficient musician, which you cannot get in San Angelo. I love my hometown very much, and it is full of some of the best people I know, but for the most part, the town doesn’t look at music as a legitimate career. Austin is proud of their musicians, and even though there are so many of us here, this town does a really good job at giving you a chance to make a decent living playing music. There is even an organization called HAAM (Health Alliance for Austin Musicians), who will give you health insurance if you are a working musician. Yes, please!

What was your firs time performing like?

My first concert was a talent show when I was 10, and I sang ‘Blowin’ In the Wind.’ I had been singing my whole life, but that was the very first time I prepared a specific song for a special performance, and I have no idea why I would pick a Dylan song because every song of his has, like, 11 verses.

Your mother, Tree Mills, is a musician. Did she influence your wanting to pursue music?

She didn’t influence my want to pursue music, but she is why I sing, love and believe in music. She said I was singing before I was talking.

You’ve done a lot of collaborating over the years. Who were some of your more memorable working partners? 
Jesse from Cowboy and Indian, because I have never heard anyone sound anything like him and we are very close friends. Daniel [James] from Leopold and His Fiction, because he is the father of my daughter, and we have an intense musical agenda when we get together. We are both very inspired by Ava. Alex Maas of the Black Angels, because we had never met until that day, and it was just a surprisingly emotional recording experience for me.
Who are some other artists you would want to collaborate with, or work with again?
Shania Twain, Mark Knopfler, Harry Nilsson, James Taylor, Dolly Parton and Jonathan Terrell of Not in the Face.
Why did you decide that now was the time for a solo EP?
The opportunity to work with Dave Way (he’s a genius!!!) was presented to me a few months before I had my daughter Ava. We had met previously in L.A. a few times, and I love him so much. I was just honored to be given the chance to work with him and had a fire lit under my ass because I was about to have a baby.
What has been the biggest challenge of going out alone? 
I prefer to collaborate and sing duets or backups, so solo music can get kind of boring for me sometimes.
Now that the EP is out, do you have any other material/ projects on the horizon?
Yes, yes, yes, yes!!!!! I have already started working on three new EPs with three different producers, and then of course will do anything I can to make sure I record more with Dave ASAP.
What was your most memorable live performance, good, bad, or somewhere in between?
When Cowboy and Indian played Austin City Limits, it was the only time in my life that I lost my voice. That was one of the biggest bummers, as far as shows go. But I still had a good time, and Ava was in my belly then, so getting to be onstage with her was also one of the highlights. Good and bummer wrapped into one.

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