By Andrea Warner
The glass of wine in Amy Millan’s hand is as trademark as the sexy coo that is her singing voice — that of a little girl who’s seen too much, who grew up too fast. The Montreal-based Millan, in addition to her best-known role as singer and co-songwriter in Stars, seemingly has her hand in every major indie act in the country, from a permanent guest spot with Broken Social Scene to occasional backing vocals for Apostle of Hustle.
But right now, the 35-year-old is deep in the midst of the first round of publicity for her second solo album, Masters of the Burial, a gorgeously moody collection of pop songs that takes plenty of detours into folk and alt-country territory, and even finds Millan crafting an uptempo cover of Death Cab for Cutie’s evocative downer, “I Will Follow You Into the Dark.”
WE spoke with Millan over the phone just as she was melting into a chair with a bottle of vino, after a long day that started before the sun rose.
You’ve had back-to-back interviews all day, I hear.
Millan: It’s been quite a day, but coffee and wine make it all better now.
Just alternating mouthfuls? Double-fisting?
You know, start out with a coffee to jack you back up, and then even it up with a nice glass of red wine.
I’ve been listening to Masters of the Burial pretty much non-stop, and a lot of the songs seem to be quite hopeful, even when they’re incredibly sad.
I appreciate that you got that. I definitely never want to be maudlin about anything. I think it’s importance to have a balance of everything. And it’s funny: With Masters of the Burial and Honey from the Tombs [her first solo album], everybody’s like, “What’s with the whole death thing, man?” And it’s not. Honey from the Tombs is from a Tom Waits song about how the mummies were buried with honey, and [the honey] preserved and still tasted as sweet as when it was buried. And Masters of the Burial is a comment on the human condition, and that in our lives we all suffer horrible embarrassment and betrayals and tragedies and loss, and in order to continue living and seeking out hope, we have to bury a lot of things we’ve been through. It’s kind of a tip of the hat to the human, really, and about being alive and not being dead. With these songs, I’m trying to poke at these places that maybe people are trying to forget, and liberate them in a way that maybe won’t lead them down a road of depression, but feel comfort that everyone’s going through similar things.
I should be asking, then, what your most embarrassing moment is...
Oh, I could never tell! (laughs)
So, instead I’ll invite you to talk a bit about what your influences were when you were writing the album.
Welllll... Uhhhhh.... I saw some people suffer in their relationships, who were close to me. That really broke my heart to watch somebody who had been in a relationship for quite a long time and have it dissolve in front of their eyes, and then not really knowing how to maintain it, but knowing that it can’t be maintained... It’s so difficult sometimes to cut the cord when you’ve been in a relationship for a really long time. I just find it so sad to watch, something turning into ash that was a big fire at one point.
I heard Stars is recording, and you’re obviously in the midst of promoting Burial. How are you coping?
It’s busy. On top of everything, I’m doing a complete gut of my house. (laughs) I just thought it wasn’t enough, you know? But as busy as I am, it’s the longest period of time I’ve gone without touring, because Broken [Social Scene]’s been recording, and Stars are recording, and my record’s just come out now. Stars hasn’t played a show since February. It’s been one of the calmest times of my life, actually, because when you’re travelling every day, your soul is kind of far behind, and it takes a while to catch up to you. I’ve been literally around the globe in a six-week period at one point. The fact that I’ve been still and enjoying my city and really discovering Montreal — because I hadn’t been able to do that, I’ve just been on tour since I’ve moved there.
Do you have a fair bit of anonymity in Montreal?
Oh, they don’t care about indie-rock in Montreal. The French people could care less about Arcade Fire, even. It’s really refreshing, you know, and I think that’s why so much good music comes out of Montreal. There isn’t the industry there, and the pressure.
Amy Millan performs Saturday, Oct. 24 at Biltmore Cabaret (395 Kingsway), 8 pm. Tickets $13 from Ticketmaster, Zulu, and Red Cat.