Talking joyful disruption with Calgary ex-pat pop musician Mark Mills

Monday 13th, April 2015 / 13:02
By Colin Gallant
Explosive pop act Mark Mills talks love, good living and DIY. Photo: Annie Mills

Explosive pop act Mark Mills talks love, good living and DIY.
Photo: Annie Mills

CALGARY — Former Calgarian pop artist Mark Mills has recently relocated to Vancouver and welcomed his second child into the world. BeatRoute took some time to talk to Mills about the making of his new LP Triple Fire Sign, where his explosive joie de vivre comes from and what the future holds for him.

Recalling seeing his sister in plays when he was a “wee lad,” Mills has had an interest in performing ever since. Anyone who has seen one of Mills’s manic live shows can attest to his passion for performance. When he’s not trading between guitar and Casiotone, he’s leaping onto tables, running through the audience or singing directly to attendees one by one.

However, there was a time when Mills didn’t seize music with the same fervor.

“It seemed like no one around me realized that I wrote songs,” he says. Having been encouraged to chase financial success as a road to personal fulfillment, Mills temporarily set aside pursuing happiness his own way and attended the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT), eventually taking a job that left him “kind of miserable in life.”

Realizing that wealth wasn’t his primary concern, Mills had to reconfigure his approach to satisfaction.

“My first step was to completely destroy my perception of money and value and everything to do with exchanging currency,” he says. He began to measure monetary value in what necessities it could provide him and his family. “It was like, ‘I could use a pair of pants.’ That’s like 13 cartons of eggs. I can’t spend 13 cartons of eggs on pants!”

This attitude, taken on its own, may seem simply practical. But it’s a part of a wider, vaguely hippie-sounding philosophy held by Mills.

“I think there’s so much intelligence in nature and it’s all around us,” he explains while speaking of yoga, being an earthling, consuming well-intentioned food and potentially having been a nomad in a previous life. Sure, it might sound a little kooky in print, but the music of Triple Fire Sign illustrates just how forwardly sincere and grounded Mills is.

The album was partly made during the time Mills was living in Edmonton and his wife, Annie, was splitting her time between education and working as a naturopath. The title comes from her astrological birth chart and it’s filled with “love letters” and odes to familial bliss. Dad rock, this is not: tracks like “CEPS” and “Work Group” are filled with cheeky references to the physical side of love, while “Straight to You” is actually a product of the vows Mills wrote for their wedding ceremony.

Love and good living are the most apparent influences on Mills’s work. Looking closer, there’s also a fiercely DIY spirit to his approach.

“I [made the album] in my apartment, by myself, except for on the first track Calvin Love played some bass. But other than that the entire album is just me jamming and… it’s just like we live in a time where that’s so common,” he says.

But Mills isn’t just home recording out of convenience. His process is focused on a natural order. It’s about “less trying and just more being.” On top of that, he states, “If you’re a developing artist then no one is going to try harder than you to book your shit.”

The forthcoming tour in support of Triple Fire Sign is set to be an experimental endeavor for Mills. He’ll be “exploring vibes” at different sorts of venues from the ones he’s played in the past. “Even though I love the hip-thrusting, high-kicking party vibe, it’s just going to be fun to play something a little more chill once in a while, to have a little more dynamic experience on the tour. It’s always a work in progress.”

Outside of music, Mills has been dabbling in coffee roasting and filmmaking. On the subject of film, he is also hoping to work on a project with Edmonton filmmaker Drew McIntosh of Solidary Rock. The pair has made an application to live on an artist commune about 100 km outside Berlin, Germany. The project would be entitled Mark Mills Dancing the DDR.

While Mills remains somewhat tight-lipped about the specifics, the film is likely to incorporate the most powerful part of Mills’s performance identity: joyful disruption. It’s been a fascination of his ever since his music video “Body Break” captured him unleashing his music on Calgary Transit passengers.

“With that video, in the moment where you can feel people’s tension, you can feel them close up a little bit and be like, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s some crazy guy and he seems aggressive.’ And yes, they‘re right, it is aggressive,” he says. “Just seeing if you can connect with someone that you don’t know through song and dance, that maybe isn’t what they were asking for, so to speak. But maybe, maybe there’s a way it could be enjoyable for everyone.”

You can see Mark Mills live at Commonwealth in Calgary on the 18th, at The Buckingham in Edmonton on the 25th or one of his many other Western Canada stops.

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