Interview with Anthony Mills: An Ohio Native with Southern Heritage Riding High on a Swedish Indie Label

Anthony Mills © Ted Lindén
Anthony Mills’ upcoming album ‘dranking songs of the midwest’ will be the second entry in a trilogy of hip-hop-tinged country albums with Stockholm-based label ICEA.
“drinkin by myself (again)” – Anthony Mills



I realized that any and all of my experiences double as country storytellin’ seed.

What do Ohio, Louisiana, Sweden and Jamaica all have in common? Probably not a lot, in most respects. But each of these regions — along with the desire to combat the negative influence of the Confederate Flag in America — did indeed contribute to the rise of accomplished hip-hop and country performer, Anthony Mills.

Rusty Cadillac - Anthony Mills

Rusty Cadillac – Anthony Mills

A self-described great-grandchild of the Industrial Revolution fallout,” Mills grew up mainly in Akron, OH after his family left the Lake Charles, LA region in search of better factory jobs. This familial heritage, as well as his contact with both rap and country in various parts of America, inspired Mills to make music that would both reveal important elements of his own background and celebrate the diverse sonic culture that defined his upbringing. 

Mills has proven his craftsmanship in performance gigs across the U.S. and even made his way down to Jamaica to collaborate with the late reggae producer, Philip ”Fatis” Burrell. One of his most pivotal career moves was to cross paths with Swedish record executive Carl-Marcus Gidlöf, founder of the label Icons Creating Evil Art (ICEA). In no time, Mills agreed to a three-album deal with ICEA.

Anthony Mills © Ted Lindén

Anthony Mills © Ted Lindén

The first entry in this country trilogy was last year’s blue collar work ethic, and the follow-up, dranking songs of the midwestis due later this year. Mills has released two music videos from this record, “drinkin’ by myself (again)” and “rusty cadillac.” The latter is doubly notable as a protest against the controversial Confederate Flag — here, you can watch Mills’ thoughtful and respectful commentary as to what drove him to make such a gesture in his music.

With dranking songs of the midwest about to drop, now is the perfect time to venture into the mind of Anthony Mills and hear how his musical ambitions have taken him to where he now stands.



MEET ANTHONY MILLS

Rusty Cadillac - Anthony Mills

Atwood Magazine: You’ve shifted across several parts of the U.S. throughout your life and career, while maintaining a consistent dedication to your craft as a hip-hop producer everywhere you go. How would you describe that journey?

Anthony Mills: My hip-hop production is the most contemporary practice in my life. The art form is in my blood. Now, when we talk musical journey, please don’t hesitate to include my 100,000 hours of classical voice performance.  I have written and produced over 100 songs under the tutelage of Philip ”Fatis” Burrell in Jamaica, [including] ”Ghettotrance,”  “Quintessential”  and ”Cry.”

Your biography says, ''somewhere along the road, Anthony felt that he needed to tell the stories of his heritage.'' Let’s go into that a little further. What elements of your background did you feel were most pressing to put out into the open for others to appreciate? How has the desire to do so developed within you as you’ve gone through adulthood?

Anthony Mills: With the first strokes of my pen, writing this material and all the details and nuances, I realized that any and all of my experiences double as country storytellin’ seed. The level of liberation was so direct and intense, my stepdad didn’t know what to make of the narrative.  Here is one of his early comments: ”I might like this music if I had five cars in the yard that don’t work and have no teeth!” When I heard that, I knew I was on some deep, swampy, colorless country workin’, drankin’, and fightin’ music.

Anthony Mills © Ted Lindén

Anthony Mills © Ted Lindén

The Confederate Flag has been displayed and debated across the U.S. for over 150 years. What are you hoping to contribute to the discussion? How do these intentions come across in the “Rusty Cadillac” video and elsewhere in your body of work?

Anthony Mills: My contribution was to give the battle flag an unofficial pyramid burial fold and toss it in the back seat.  With my Louisiana lineage, I don’t need to say or do anything more.

Drinking is a prevalent theme in much of your music; you’ve even named your new album dranking songs of the midwest. What sort of fulfillment do you get from both celebrating and criticizing drinking culture on record?

Anthony Mills: Drankin’ in all of its glory and hellfire has a wide palate.  We were underage drinkin’ heavily back in the day in Akron. If you pay attention while travelling, you can see carbon copies of folk based on the way they consume, from cordial to cutthroat.

You went four years between releasing you 2015 album Supplicate and blue collar work ethic, yet only one year between the latter and dranking songs. What made you decide to put out this one so much more quickly this time around? Did you feel like you had an important statement that you just had to get off of your chest?

Anthony Mills: My country music stands alone.  The debut release of blue collar caught the attention of [Carl-Marcus Gidlöf, founder of ICEA]. At the time of our meeting, I already had the concept for a trilogy of albums formulated. So, ICEA signed me to a 3-album country deal. We released these vinyl records — one painted white, another red, another blue– in boxed sets, complete with lyric books and saloon sheet music.

Anthony Mills © Ted Lindén

Anthony Mills © Ted Lindén

What has the process of recording dranking songs of the midwest been like? What sort of finishing touches have you put on lately? What do you hope listeners will take away from this album?

Anthony Mills: The album is finished and you’re about to get the second single, ”drinkin by myself, again”. My country music is outlaw and minimal.  In dranking songs of the midwest, only piano, cajon and [hand percussion] frog are used. Throughout this trilogy, it has been vital for me to roll this way, due to the degrees of sound that affect us all.

Are you planning to tour in promotion of the album?

Anthony Mills: I wanna tour. I’m ready, too.

What do you enjoy most out of performing for a live audience?

Anthony Mills: When the kick of the live cajon hits the people in the chest and they just let the music and storytellin’ take ’em. Being authentic is being yourself. Folks are hearin’ me and expressing that too.  It is refreshing for me to deliver and be heard while doing it.

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Anthony Mills © Ted Lindén

Anthony Mills © Ted Lindén

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Josh Weiner

I am a Washington, DC native and graduate of Tufts University and Georgetown University. I have been a contributing writer for Atwood Magazine since spring 2015.