Amy Millan on Elephants and Tears
Amy Millan, of Stars fame, is moving forward as a solo act. Though it's not her first album, Masters Of The Burial, is arguably her best work yet. It's a calming composition of her own tracks peppered with a few covers and is what I describe as morning music. Millan is a poignant proof of the amount of talent often contained in the many-membered bands sprouting up across Canada.
I went for a brisk bike ride down to the Arts & Crafts headquarters for a quiet discussion with Millan in the boardroom. Topics contained in the day's docket included, but were not limited to, the new album, people, and elephants.
As I sat down with Millan she had the vinyl copy of her album in her hands for the first time and, as tired as she was from a day of press, she was clearly quite excited about it.
"I'm a vinyl girl. I grew up with records, so getting the actual vinyl is much more exciting than getting the actual CD. My first album was a Police record, and the second was Cindy Lauper, She's So Unusual. I don't buy CDs. I buy vinyl and I download from iTunes," she explained.
Millan spent a lot of time constructing Masters Of The Burial, including time spent on the packaging. Her and a friend designed the front cover, which displays a portion of an elephant's face in a background. She explained the symbolism behind it and how it came to be:
"The elephant is there for a reason. On my last album, Honey From The Tombs, bees were the theme. Because bees are just amazing... and without them we'd have no food. For this album, one of the first songs that I wrote was 'Bury This' and I was meditating on the fact that humans bury a lot of their memories. Humans have to bury a lot of traumatic things, embarrassing things, or tragic things that happen to us in our lives. We do this to live out our daily lives and seek hope and happiness and you just can't think about all those things that happen to us. So then the title came: Masters Of The Burial. Then, I was reading up on elephants and they have the largest brains of any mammal - and they have incredible memory. Elephants are also the only mammals, other than us, that bury their dead. They have burial grounds and they revisit their burial grounds."
Millan also mentioned that the third tie-in to the theme/cover of her album is the old proverbial elephant-in-the-room that no one speaks of and refuses to acknowledge.
"All those things together made me think that the cover would be an ode to the elephant. Gentle creatures that they are," says Millan.
She admits that most of her recent inspiration doesn't evolve from actual events in her life but from what she has witnessed happening to those around her and how they adjust their lives accordingly:
"I like to watch humans communicate with one another. I think what's interesting is that a lot of the time people are saying so much more with their face, or body language, or the way they hold themselves, than their words. If you can drown out what people are saying and focus on their physical expressions... then you are going to learn a lot more about people. I actually just set up two friends of mine last year and they got married last weekend, but it's interesting because I remember having them over for dinner and watching them communicate."
Millan gave me another instance of what type of event would inspire her to write a song - possibly on the next album:
"I went to this deli/cheese store in Montreal a couple weeks ago. I went to pay for my baguette and the girl behind the counter was acting like nothing was wrong. But I realized she was crying. There were tears running down her face, and she would laugh when people would notice that she was crying. But she couldn't spontaneously withhold her emotions at that time. She had to get through work. She had to do this, but she was pretending nothing was happening and that's what was fascinating. I'll write a song about her for sure. I love that girl. She broke my heart that day."
She assured me that her heart was broken only for that day and she's happier than ever about the album and the tour. Which was good, because if she would have started crying in the interview and pretending like it wasn't happening it would have been totally awkward. And I would have had to write a song about it.
Photo courtesy of Canvas Media.
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