Q&A with soul/blues singer Lisa Mills, melodic and soulfully-honest way with blues, gospel and soul influences

"An obvious, historical example in the US was how music broke down the barriers to race divisions—Fans, white and black mingling at early Rock n Roll shows. I just want people to feel what I am singing, to get some kind of healing and truth from it."

Lisa Mills: Southern Royal Soul

Lisa Mills is a soul/blues singer who belts out her music in a raw, melodic and soulfully-honest way with blues, gospel and soul influences. She takes the best of each these genres, and whether it is self-composed or a carefully chosen cover, she transforms these numbers into her own savory-sweet mix that goes beyond the expected––the result often surpassing the historic best that each of those genres have to offer. She is one of those rare artists that, once you’ve heard her, she cannot be mistaken for anyone else. Originally hailing from Hattiesburg, Mississippi (born and raised) and now based in Mobile, Alabama, she cites her musical influences as a mixture of Etta James, Elmore James, Freddie King, Elvis, Bonnie Raitt, Billie Holiday and B.B. King. Lisa Mills continues to perform all over the US, UK and Europe and has headlined numerous festivals and venues. It is here when she performs live that she captivates an audience with her unique voice that in one moment is breathless with barely a whisper, and the next is a soaring crescendo. Her new album "The Triangle (Expanded Edition)" (2021), from the label’s (Melody Place Music) first signing, soul/blues singer Lisa Mills, produced by the acclaimed Fred Mollin. The new tracks featured on The Triangle (Expanded Edition) are Lisa Mills’ takes on soul classics from King Floyd, “Groove Me,” recorded at Malaco Studios in Jackson, Miss.; and William Bell’s “Everybody Loves a Winner,” recorded at Royal Studios in Memphis.                           (Photo: Lisa Mills)

The Triangle (Expanded Edition) pays tribute to the incredible sound and feel of the great southern soul music of the ‘60s and ‘70s, and Mills recorded these tracks with some of the original musicians in the same studios where they were first recorded. It is full of mesmerizing story-telling music from the triangle that is Memphis, Muscle Shoals and Jackson, Mississippi. As Mills traveled on her musical journey, she recorded songs that were originally recorded in each city she visited and became one with the songs she recorded along the way. In each southern place, they paid homage to the seminal music that truly changed the world, and most of the vocals were literally live off the floor as they tracked the music, which is rare indeed.

Interview by Michael Limnios          Special Thanks: Lisa Mills & Mark Pucci Media

How has "The Golden Triangle of Music" influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?  

The musical journey we took to record “The Triangle” has reconnected me to my own heritage, providing me with a greater appreciation for the Southern culture in which I was born. Through my travels in Europe and the UK, I have seen the reverence most have for Southern music and I am proud to be a part of that experience.

How do you describe your sound, music philosophy and songbook? Where does your creative drive come from?

I call my sound “American Southern Roots Music” because it’s not one thing, it’s an amalgamation of influences—sort of like how the tributaries flow into the mighty Mississippi! Philosophically, I believe that music has the power to heal, inform, remember, and for listeners to feel all their emotions. My songbook is a reflection of the many influences growing up in the South.

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you?

Many years ago, I crossed paths with Roy Williams, longtime friend and sound engineer for Robert Plant. Roy took an interest in my career and put me on path to touring in the UK and Europe. He profoundly changed my life and I owe him a great debt of gratitude. Sadly, he is no longer with us.

"I call my sound “American Southern Roots Music” because it’s not one thing, it’s an amalgamation of influences—sort of like how the tributaries flow into the mighty Mississippi! Philosophically, I believe that music has the power to heal, inform, remember, and for listeners to feel all their emotions. My songbook is a reflection of the many influences growing up in the South." (Lisa Mills & Fred Mollin at Royal Studios in Memphis, TN / Photo by Sanborn McGraw)

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts, and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

I remember the first time I met my friend and longtime double-bassist Ian Jennings at Sweet Georgia Brown Studios in London. Roy brought me there to record on an album by Ian’s band, The Big Town Playboys. I sang three songs for the project, and two of them I had never heard before. Also the tracks were already put down in a key for another singer, so it was quite a challenge to sing them! On this album there were several other special guests, including: Jeff Beck, Robert Plant, Jools Holland and Andy Fairweather Lowe. What an Amazing experience!  

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of the past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

Simplicity, natural sounds, organic quality of music. I hope that music is yet again rooted as an integral part of our community with deep meaning beyond just being a product to sell. 

What does to be a female artist in a Man’s World as James Brown says? What is the status of women in music?

I have always focused on my own path and really haven’t been a part of the idea of being a female artist in a “Man’s World.” Of course, I do see that historically, women in general have been at a disadvantage in most every aspect of the music business. It seems that things are changing, though.

What would you say characterizes Alabama music scene in comparison to other US local scenes and circuits?

Southern audiences in particular have a deep and special connection to the soulful music that was birthed here—specifically all of the great music that came out of Muscle Shoals, Memphis, Jackson, and New Orleans, and artists like Hank Williams and Elvis Presley.

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?

I learned to adapt to almost any audience for live performances and I gained an unusual insight into other cultures.

"The musical journey we took to record “The Triangle” has reconnected me to my own heritage, providing me with a greater appreciation for the Southern culture in which I was born. Through my travels in Europe and the UK, I have seen the reverence most have for Southern music and I am proud to be a part of that experience." (Lisa Mills / Photo by Sanborn McGraw)

What is the impact of music on the socio-cultural implications? How do you want to affect people?

An obvious, historical example in the US was how music broke down the barriers to race divisions—Fans, white and black mingling at early Rock n Roll shows. I just want people to feel what I am singing, to get some kind of healing and truth from it.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?

I’d want to go to New Orleans in the 1950s (that is where my Papaw was born and raised.) I’d love to experience the live music, food and way of life of that era.  I know my Papaw could have really shown me around!

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