Title : Honey From The Tombs
Advance Buzz : Johnny Cash meets PJ Harvey
Release Date : Spring?
Toronto-bred belter Amy Millan has spent years sharing the spotlight, ever since she found her sea legs as the leader of indie alt-rock unit 16 Tons. More recently, she's cooed sweetly at the front of Montreal soft revolutionaries Stars and oozed broken sex-goddess appeal with her take on Leslie Feist's luscious-lady vocal lines at Broken Social Scene shows. Finally, this year she's dropping the Ian Blurton-produced solo album that indie circles have been buzzing about. Her independent aspirations are no secret to most - Millan's been writing her own tunes since high school, when she and best friend Emily Haines (of Metric) strummed out teen angst anthems on their guitars.
More surprising is the fact the indie pop poster chick's claim that she's a country girl at heart.
"I used to live with Dan and Jenny (Whiteley, of Crazy Strings bluegrass fame), and I love writing sad songs," she explains over brunch in a pub on Parliament. "There's hope in 'em, but there's also a universal sadness that comes from living in Cabbagetown and seeing the differences between the rich and the poor, and the drunks who live on the streets.
"It's inside of me because I've walked by it every day since I was a kid. I'm drawn to these people who are human but broken because they've lost their souls to booze or lovers or whatever. It breaks my heart, and that feels good."
Millan recruited old pal Dan Whiteley and his Crazy Strings cronies to help out with the lonesome-heart twangers on her disc, whose sparse, layered guitars, she says, pay tribute to Johnny Cash's American recordings.
But for the other half of the album, made up of poppier material that has more in common with her own recent work than with anything by the Man in Black, Millan put together a totally different band. Broken buddies Kevin Drew, Charles Spearin (also of Do Make Say Think) and Brendan Canning help flesh out her un-country ditties.
"I just hope there's a cohesiveness," she groans. "That's the only thing that worries me, because I'm so eclectic within myself. I just want to make sure it's a whole record."
That's where producer Blurton, who's worked with everyone from the Weakerthans to the Illuminati, comes in. Millan hopes he'll help make sense of her musical schizophrenia.
She's still searching for the perfect moniker for her solo act. After ditching the Lady Lustre label she's been performing under for the past year, Millan toyed with Broken Oiseau (too similar to Broken Social Scene) and her own name, "but it's too much like Aimee Mann," she sighs. But Millan's set on the album name, Honey From The Tombs, which, it should be stated, has no connection to Rocket from the Tombs.
"It came out of an interview with Tom Waits. He talked about how archaeologists were excavating some Egyptian tombs and discovered all these mummies had been buried with honey. When they took the honey out, they found it was as sweet as it'd been when the bodies were buried. It doesn't go bad. Tom compared the honey to songs on one of his records that had been around for years. It's kinda like me - some of these songs date back to the 16 Tons days. One of them is from when I was 21, so they've been around for a long time."
Don't assume dropping the solo disc means she's dumping her other projects. Millan and her Stars bandmates head to a rented house/studio in Quebec's Eastern Townships in January, where they'll lay down demos for their next album, tentatively set to drop in the fall of 2004.
"We don't really know what it sounds like yet. We always talk about how we're going to write a solo record or we're going to write more songs about fucking or whatever, and there are a few more aggressive songs. But we're just people who like to write pretty pop songs, so we're never going to move too far away from that."