Recording in place

Young Chico artist produces album and EP during pandemic

Seven Mills

When Seven Mills was 7 years old, she started her first band. Snowing in May was a collaboration with her older brother Ender, and the duo performed here and there around Chico throughout their youth—often at events put on by the Chikoko fashion/design collective (which their mother, Muir Hughes, co-founded) or during events at the The Bookstore downtown that their mom and dad (Josh Mills) own.

So, it comes as little surprise that at the age of 17—after a decade spent pursuing music and many other arts (drawing, painting, photography, writing, film, acting)—the Inspire School of Arts & Sciences graduate would write, record and release her first solo album this past October. The 11-song Evergreen was created at home during the COVID-19 pandemic as Mills sheltered-in-place with her family and attended Butte College remotely.

Three months later, she released a follow-up EP, Feels Wrong. Between those two recordings Mills (who is studying film at Butte) also produced videos for three of the songs, including a fun split-identity telephone call for the catchy downbeat “Girls With Pearls.”

The songs are mostly mellow, piano/synth-driven experimental pop, with often smarter-than-her-age poetic lyrics and well-placed samples and sound-effects that reflect a songwriter with enough time on her hands to have fun exploring the technology.

The CN&R spoke with Mills (now 18) via Zoom about life as a teenage artist in corona times.

Did this solo project come up because of the shelter-in-place orders, or had you been working on this music before then?

I definitely was writing songs before. I had wanted to make an album probably starting in 2018, but I never really got around to it because I was always busy.

My brother built me a computer, which is kind of awesome. I use Pro Tools, and we have a little guest room right next to my bedroom and I have everything in there. I play the keyboard, that’s the only instrument I really have technical knowledge about, but I’ve been working with virtual instruments and trying to figure out how to make noises.

Seven Mills – Evergreen

Any of the songs written in response to the pandemic?

I don’t know if any of them are directly about it, but they’re about things that are caused by it, or caused by being in my house for a long time.

Has the process of making music during this time helped you cope with sheltering in place?

Yeah. Definitely. I always need to have something to do, and I didn’t have anything once we were in lockdown. So, I was like, “I have to make my own deadlines and my own way to feel that rush of doing something and accomplishing something.” So, yeah it has helped.

My friends are obviously really supportive. A couple other local musicians have been wanting to collaborate—there’s nothing set in stone yet.

Are you looking forward to being able to perform this music in front of a live audience for the first time?

No. I honestly think the reason I wasn’t making music as a solo thing, I was scared people would want me to perform it. And so being in lockdown, I was like, “OK, now no one can make me perform.” I mean, I’m sure that some day I will perform some of the music, but that makes me so nervous.

Mills recording in her home studio. (Photo courtesy of Seven Mills)

How about a livestream show?
It would be something that I would feel more comfortable doing if I had somebody else—if I was working with somebody else—but I’m not a huge fan of doing things by myself performance-wise.

How do you like creating music versus other art forms?

I think with music it’s a lot more freeing to do because I work with a lot of different creative outlets [and] there’s different ways to be stressed about everything. But with music—I listen to a lot of really experimental music—I feel like there’s not rules really. I like it because even if it’s wrong technically, it’s not wrong. So, it’s more fun for me.

You’ve created videos for some of the songs; are those part of your music-making process?

I think it’s really connected. I did a lot of film stuff in high school, and just when I was little, messing around with an old camera. [When I was] growing up I would make music videos for my favorite songs. I would have music videos in my head when I listened to songs.

You’ve put out two releases in four months; anything else in the works?

There’s a lot of songs that I didn’t release. I pretty much only have been working on music. It’s more for myself than for other people. I think it’s fun to just put things together.

Find Mills music on Spotify and YouTube.

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