Misty Miller: "Women can be out there but not be commercialised"
By Sonia Hadj Said
Photography: Tolu Oshodi
Puzzle Organico (now sadly closed) is the last place I would've expected to meet Misty Miller – a rebellious and edgy punk girl whose electric album “The whole family is worried” released in 2016 fed my need for a more aggressive, independent female voice. But there seems to be nothing aggressive in the person who introduces herself as Misty – makeup-less with long, natural hair, she looks like the antithesis of her image from two years ago. “After releasing the album I took a year off just to re-evaluate everything. I had kind of fallen out of love with music completely, so I needed to find a way to fall back in love with it,” Misty says of that time.
The 23 year-old South Londoner grew up with music (Misty's father is a musician) and decided to make it her profession during her teenage years. But what triggered the transformation from rocking the stage with a guitar to sipping a carrot juice in an organic store, all within such a short period of time? A few things it seems: from being a young, misunderstood and misrepresented woman in a tough industry and letting this take its toll on her health, to learning how to fight for her voice to be heard… essentially, just getting older and wiser, and cutting off the toxic.
Misty released her first album when she was 15. With songs written when she was as young as 13, it's easy to imagine that she was changing a lot in the process – just like most teenagers do. This is why by the time the album was out and she was nearing 16, Misty didn't like it anymore, it just didn’t feel like her. “The music you're making at that age isn’t going to reflect the music you write for the rest of your life,” Misty explains. Still, the labels started gaining interest and approaching her to sign a contract but didn't realise that Misty had become a different person in the meantime.
“They wanted to either make me sexualised and pop or give me an acoustic guitar"
“I was now playing the electric guitar and hanging out with an older crowd which had a punk ethos. I needed someone who understood that and knew where I was coming from. The person who signed me told me that they did but they clearly didn’t,” Misty says of her experience in signing with Sony Music UK. There was a need to categorise her, and at that time it was simple: female musicians like Adele or Kate Nash were having a lot of success, and being more like them was how Misty was supposed to fit in. But this was not the image she wanted to convey: “I was going in there with my electric guitar and my drummer, and it was like, we want to sound like The White Stripes, we don’t want to sound like Adele, fuck’s sake.”
Her label didn't understand who Misty was, and there being no similar artists at that time didn't help her case. “They wanted to either make me sexualised and pop or give me an acoustic guitar and make me sound like Laura Marling. It was really difficult because there was no one out there like me, and labels always ride waves, they don’t like to create waves.” But throughout this difficult experience that she reflects upon with some bitterness and regrets, she managed to stand her ground, fighting for her own image and voice and coming out on top. The fruit of it - 'The whole family is worried' was a compromise as well as a lesson on how mainstream media still try to portray women in a certain way to gain maximum profit.
Misty’s story portrays an evolution in music that is not as static as some labels would want. If the label is unable to keep up with the changes to musical identity as age and passion progress, clashes will ensue. Misty’s fight that “women can be out there but not be commercialised” took years and its toll. “Everything was a battle, everything. After fighting so many battles like that my mental health really deteriorated.” Her identity had been so blurred she was unsure of who she was: “A guy from a label was like: ‘who is Misty Miller, how are we going to sell her, who is she?’ and I was thinking I don’t even know who I am, let alone who I am as a musician or something to be sold.” This explains why she decided to take control of her own identity back after releasing the album, taking care of her own health and well-being for a change. “I had to recover from addiction. So I wasn’t doing anything else in terms of music or art, but I was really focusing on my health.”
"Labels always ride waves, they don’t like to create waves"
The stereotype of a troubled artist is a known one, but it's only recently been highlighted how destructive it really is. Pushed by their labels and fighting tough battles for their identities and their voices, musicians fall out of love with music, and their passion becomes forgotten along the way. Misty compares this industry to a “big man pushing your creativity down, and making you play shows when you’re clearly not healthy.” It seems then to have been a good choice for her to cut all ties with the label, get better and find herself again. “I got rid of everything, I got rid of my manager, my booking agent, my label; I just wanted to get rid of it all.” And who is she now?
Misty's grown up and matured in the sense that she took complete control over her life and health. Her priority has been “getting myself healthy and sorting myself out because I wouldn’t have a music career without doing that.” And her music career is right back on track. Misty started a band with her boyfriend, Tom, called Bad Parents, and is doing it all differently now. “It feels so nice to be completely free. We don’t have a big label working for us and we don’t have lots of money, but we have control, and I’d much rather have a lower level of success and be happy and enjoy it.”
So here she is, a long battle fought and won: Misty Miller with her great voice, at 23 has already accomplished a lot to inspire young women to not let theirs be lost along the way.