Siobhan Miller talks about her influences and where she draws lyrical inspiration from!
I've heard lots of great things about Siobhan Miller, the Scottish Folk Singer who from a very early age wowed audiences at festivals in Fife. Her latest record Mercury which was released in November last year has great reviews and fans are keen to hear her play those songs live. I was eager to hear more about her writing process for this album and listen to the stories behind her favourite songs on the album!
So first of all I wondered if you could tell me about the first moment when you knew you wanted to pursue music as a career?
I’ve always been involved in traditional music from a very young age, my parents were heavily involved in the folk scene so my Dad plays guitar and sings, he didn’t do it as a job but they’re both very passionate about traditional Scottish music particularly. So I was taken to lots of festivals when I was young, there was one festival in Fife that I was taken to and that’s where I started learning traditional songs and I would get up and do a slot. That was my early involvement in performing in front of people in a very relaxed way so it was something I always did but as I got older and I got into my teens I wasn’t planning to make it my career, it was just something I loved and I did it in my spare time, singing at lots of different festivals. In my final year at high school one of my music teachers encouraged me to apply to the conservatoire in Glasgow and by that point I was fairly busy doing bits of singing but I didn’t expect to get in there but when I was offered a place I decided to go for it and see what happened. I never had a plan and that’s the way it’s unfolded over the past 10 years and I’ve been lucky to have been given so many opportunities to work with some great musicians and have more and more gig opportunities. I fell in love with it as it happened really.
You mentioned your parents there and the kind of music they liked, can you remember any specific bands or songs they played to you growing up and what are you listening to now?
There was all sorts of things being played in my house, anything from Jazz to Classical and particularly Folk music, they were playing bands like Battlefield Band, lots of great harmony songs and songwriters as well. The biggest influences I was getting were from Scottish singers like Arthur Johnson and Sheena Wellington. I’ve always been a big fan of songwriters though and nowadays as well as loving folk music I’m listening to lots of different songwriters from all over the World, like Phoebe Bridgers, Father John Misty, lots of contemporary writers, Laura Marling is a favourite of mine.
When it comes to your own songwriting, where do you draw inspiration from, does it come from personal experience?
It’s been a mixture, the first songs I was writing were much more from a personal point of view, my own experiences and the experiences of people close to me and the first record I brought out called Flight of Time I co-wrote a lot with James Grant, he helped me look at my songwriting and helped me branch out and look at other things to focus on in my writing. So for the new record I was keen to take other peoples creativity and write from that so I’ve been reading a lot of poetry over the last few years and writing from that which I love to do so that’s a big part of the new record but I still like to write from personal experience. I’m on the road a lot and I’ve found that subconsciously a lot of those experiences of being away from home and everything that entails has come through in my writing in a way that it does for a lot of songwriters who are touring full time.
Tell me about your writing process do you like to start with a hook or melody or is it different every time?
It definitely depends on the song itself, more often than not with me it’ll be one line that will just sort of come to me with melody and lyrics I might not be sat trying to write but I’ll have to grab the phone and sing it into it, I might be walking the dog or at the supermarket! I often find the initial ideas come from that and then I’ll sit down and develop them. I love working with the band when I have a rough form, I might not even have all the lyrics yet but I’ll take it into them. I made a decision with this record to take material in a skeleton form to the band and make the music together and then I went back and worked on the lyrics more, I hadn’t done that until this record, it felt like more of a collaboration.
Do you have a favourite song off your latest record?
Yeah I guess the title track Mercury, it was one I wrote much later than the rest of the album so it came to me very quickly I wrote a lot of it backstage when I was on tour supporting Eddi Reader last year and the idea behind it is kind of what I’ve been talking about with my connections to traditional music and my love of learning from the older generation. The older I get the more I realise how precious it is to be in those situations where you can learn from someone who’s had these traditions passed down. So it was interesting to be thinking about all those elements yet still writing my own song and going in a contemporary direction with it. It wasn’t a fully formed idea when I started writing it but when you finish a song and realise more of that has come out subconsciously throughout the writing process.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever written a song about?
I can’t think haha! One thing I’ve noticed with my writing is that I’ll often take a serious subject matter and without meaning to it’ll have an upbeat feel to it even though the sentiment is less upbeat but that’s all I can think of.
When performing are you completely focused or do you let your mind wander we call it your mid-gig thoughts?
Yes, there are times where I definitely wander but I try not to do that because those are the moments you make a mistake but I like to get the songs to a place before I perform where I’m really comfortable with them and you can sing them without having to focus on the lyrics it becomes more of a story. When I’m overthinking lyrics those are the times I slip up. So I'm like a half way house.
Final question, what’s next for you?
Just lots of touring throughout the spring and summer, I’m supporting Eddi Reader on the upcoming tour and I’m touring with my own band doing lots of festivals throughout the UK and then I’m off to Germany at the end of the year for a tour, I love touring abroad so I’m looking forward to playing the new material as well as the old favourites as well.