Millie Manders And The Shut Up are one of the best up and coming bands on the DIY punk scene right now.
They play high-octane cross-genre punk, full of grinding guitars, irresistible horns and a pumping rhythm section – all topped by Millie’s remarkable voice.
She has a rich background in classical, big band jazz and contemporary music ranging from punk to soul and back again, and plays clarinet, saxophone, voice and ukulele.
After being involved with various musical projects, Millie launched her solo career in 2013, taking her acoustic sound around the UK, building a loyal fan-base and releasing her first EP, Demon. A second, Upside Down, followed in 2018.
In 2015 she formed her band, The Shutup, who are based in Norwich and London. They have released three EPs, The Free-P, Obsession Transgression and Shut Up, to widespread critical acclaim.
MMATSU were due to tour the UK in April, but that became an early victim of the coronavirus pandemic which has brought the live music industry to its knees. They have previewed the album by releasing three singles, Silent Screams, Your Story and Bitter.
We caught up with Millie as she and her band – James Pendle (guitar), Georgina Boreham (bass), Alessandro Vitiello (drums) and Dom Walker (tenor sax) – prepare to release their much-anticipated debut album, Telling Truths, Breaking Ties, on 23 October.
Hi Millie, thanks for agreeing to answer some questions for IPA Music. You’ve been around a few years now (as a solo artist and then with the band) releasing a series of EPs in that time. How does it feel to be releasing your debut album at last?
MM: Scary, and awesome, in fairly equal measures.
Is there a reason why has it taken so long to do an album? Was it financial, did you feel you weren’t quite ready as a band, or were the logistics too much as unsigned artists? Or something else?
MM: I wanted to wait for the right time for an album. I wanted to have a decent following of people who wanted to hear one from us before we did it, so that when we did release one, it would be heard.
I think the 10 tracks are all new songs? Was it a conscious effort to ‘write an album’, rather than using some of the material you’d already released?
MM: Yes, it was. While I see the merit in re-recording and releasing previous material, I wanted to put out something fresh and I had a lot I wanted to say.
What’s your songwriting process? Who are the band’s main writers, and do the lyrics come first or the musical ideas? And who chooses the subject matter? Is the band a democracy?
MM; The band, in a lot of ways, is definitely a democracy, but the lyrics are something I keep control of. The songwriting processes vary from song to song. On the album there are a few that I wrote and brought to the band, others where James gave me guitar tracks and I married lyrics I already had, some were collaborative. We don’t have a go-to process, and that works for us.
I believe you’re an advocate of positive mental health, which many people have struggled with over the last months due to the pandemic and lockdown? How has it affected you and the rest of the band, and what’s been the hardest part of the last few months?
MM: Well, the lockdown was actually a recovery period for me. I had a breakdown in March and the lockdown meant a full stop to everything I was doing and not coping with. I was a lucky one. The band have coped pretty well all things considered. Lots of people have not been so lucky.
How important do you think it is to talk openly about mental health, and has it become more acceptable to do so? Here We Go Again (Black Dog) and Not Okay are upbeat songs about coping. How do you cope when the dark cloud of depression descends?
MM: I think it’s incredibly important to encourage people to talk about their mental health, and to continue to change the taboos around it in our society. In answer to the second part of the question, I don’t. Not very well. I am on sertraline for my depression and propranolol for anxiety. I am at a place right now where I very much need those medications. I still have really bad days, but it’s more manageable. I find it hard to talk, but I try to because I know that by talking I will have more support.
I guess you all have or have had day jobs outside the band? If so, what do you all do, please? And how hard is it, in normal circumstances, to fit band practice, recording and touring around those other commitments?
MM: I am the course leader of the level 3 vocal artists at Access Creative and lecture in artist development and music business. I also freelance, developing young artists in Norwich.
Ale works as a barista at a London coffee shop and is studying a degree in music production. James works as an engineer in the oil industry. Dom has just completed a Masters in sound production and freelances as a recording engineer and producer. Georgina is just starting a Masters in music production.
It’s incredibly difficult to organise, but we make it work. The band comes first in terms of careers.
How do you think the Government handled the pandemic as far as the music industry is concerned? Do you feel long-term (even terminal) damage has been done to venues and people who rely on music, in whatever capacity, for their livelihood? Or can it recover?
MM: I think if we look at countries like Sweden and New Zealand, it’s fairly obvious that there were better choices that could have been made to handle the pandemic. Irreparable damage has been done to the music industry, of course. Venues have been lost and people are having to quit the industry they love. But music has survived everything, ever. Close every venue, ban every event, music will rise. It will survive.
Did the pandemic change your plans for the album? Did it make you more creative, because you couldn’t adhere to the usual pattern of write, record, release, tour? I know you have had limited edition merch runs, for example, as singles were released. Was that planned anyway, or a reaction to the circumstances?
MM: The limited edition merch was a plan anyway, but we decided to also raise money for charity as a response to the pandemic making things so much harder for people. I have concentrated on those and the pre-sale of the album, but as a band we have been planning our next releases too, of course. I wouldn’t say I have been more creative because I have still been working and my attention has been on managing the band and the release.
I’d describe MMATSU as a ska-punk band, who dabble in a bit of rap and even soul. Is that fair enough, or don’t you like to be pigeonholed?
MM: We prefer cross-genre punk because we rarely have actual ska in our sound, just horns. It’s not a bug bear though – people naturally try to label to make sense of things.
What sort of music do the band members listen to? Is it all punk, ska and metal, or are there other influences in there too? And who’s in charge of what’s played in the van when you’re touring?
MM: We listen to all kinds of stuff. Ale is generally in the front so he will put Spotify on, but there’s no real control. If someone wants to hear something, it’s on.
The NHS is the subject of Poor Man’s Show. Did this one come to you during the pandemic, or was it done and dusted long before that?
MM: Poor Man’s Show has all sorts of references to stuff I am angry about. I wrote it about two years ago actually, when the Tories were cutting funds to the NHS and the police force, which led to four stabbings in one night in London. It’s about poverty and the return of rickets in British children; the homeless being removed from the Palace area for Harry and Megan’s wedding because it didn’t look pretty. The powers that be are shameful.
I’ve only seen MMATSU once, at Rebellion 2019, and I was blown away by the band’s energy and your vocal range – it was like watching a punk Amy Winehouse! Do you prefer festivals, or your own more intimate shows, and what are your favourite places to play?
MM: Oh, thank you! Amy Winehouse was incredible, so I am super chuffed with that! I love both for different reasons, but I love a big stage. I love running and spinning and jumping; the space to be a whirlwind makes me so happy!
Are you optimistic that the dates arranged later this year to promote the album will go ahead given the rising coronavirus infection rate, or does it look like things will have to go on hold again until a vaccine is found?
MM: No, I’m not confident. But all we can do is plan and hope. What else is there?
My usual slightly offbeat last question: what’s your guilty pleasure song, the one you know you shouldn’t really like, but it’ll get you up dancing after a few drinks? Mine’s I Think We’re Alone Now – but it’s got to be the cheesy 80s Tiffany version, not the original!
MM: Haha!! I have long lost the idea of any music being a guilty pleasure. I cook to big band jazz; I sing Britney Spears at the top of my lungs; I know all the words to A-Ha’s Take on Me; and I challenge anyone to tell me they don’t like Everything Is Awesome from the Lego Movie. Music is brilliant and, as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so too is it in the ear of the listener.
* Millie Manders And The Shut Up’s debut album Telling Truths, Breaking Ties is released on 23 October. You can get it direct from the band on their webstore HERE.