FEATURE: Talking It Out With Melbourne's Totally Mild
"There’s definitely so much amazing music being made by queer people, gender diverse people, people of colour... there are just so many exciting voices coming out of Melbourne. It’s a little bit like a bubble sometimes because so much is changing and things feel really safe and inclusive a lot of the time, then you step out of it and you’re naive to think that that’s how it is everywhere."
Words: Kylie O'Connell
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There's a lot to discuss when it comes to Melbourne's Totally Mild. Their music has depth, sewn together tenderly with shimmering guitar, soft percussion and heartfelt lyrics about identity, human interaction and romance. Their new album breaks down certain barriers, unapologetically discussing life's anxieties and societal expectations. This is an album born out of acute self-awareness and crisp, jangly pop.
We caught up with lead-singer Elizabeth Mitchell to delve a little deeper into Totally Mild’s stunning sophomore album Her. Recorded in Melbourne and produced by James Cecil, some of the songs began to take shape back in 2015, “It’s weird, because they feel a bit old to us because we’ve been playing them for a while, but they’re all totally new to people, so they’ll get a new life.”
Following on from 2015’s Down Time, we’ve been assured that this is the closest Totally Mild will come to making a party album, and a pretty sad party album at that. Although slightly less upbeat, bassist Lehmann Smith, drummer Dylan Young (previously Ashley Bundang) and guitarist Zachary Schneider provide beautifully layered instrumentals that capture your attention from start to finish (with a healthy hint of groove).
The opening track ‘Sky’ perfectly sets the tone for the entire album; a great introduction to the captivating intensity that exists throughout, “We recorded the first track on the day that Prince died and I think we were all kind of melancholy and inspired by that. James Cecil, our producer, is a huge Prince fan. I’m still learning about Prince but I think that you can hear that in the production of the song - the bass line is pretty funky and there’s heaps of synth and stuff… who knows if that would’ve gone that way had that not been the day that it was.” It’s raw, honest and particularly refreshing.
Mitchell wrote the album when she was falling in love with her now wife, a romantic influence that you can hear shine through on nearly every track. “A lot of the songs are kind of straight up love songs, but I guess I’m also always a bit melancholy and I romanticise my own melancholy feelings (laughs). Whilst some of the songs are love songs, a lot of the songs are also kind of me having despair over the idea that I’ve fallen in love for the last time with the person that I’m going to marry. That’s definitely the place that I was in when I was writing it, I don't really feel like that anymore.” We get an insight into this analytical state of mind on the final track 'Down Together' - ‘And I know your body like my own / I know you’re always mine to own / Forever and ever’. There’s many reservations about conforming to structure, but the constant push and pull resolves itself, and in the end she appears to be content.
With the current political climate, Totally Mild’s music is more important than ever in 2018. They offer a refreshing narrative compared to the one we most commonly consume in popular culture. Mitchell’s storytelling represents a powerful shift, shining a light on the beauty of a queer woman speaking to her own relationships via song. It’s this openness that many of us believe in so strongly, that unfortunately isn't the norm everywhere, “There’s definitely so much amazing music being made by queer people, gender diverse people, people of colour... there are just so many exciting voices coming out of Melbourne. It’s a little bit like a bubble sometimes because so much is changing and things feel really safe and inclusive a lot of the time, then you step out of it and you’re naive to think that that’s how it is everywhere."
I shared my viewpoint on the constant talk about ‘female fronted bands’ and ‘female DJs’ - that if we were truly equal then it should simply be ‘bands’ or a ‘DJs’. Yet Mitchell’s response to this is the highlight of our conversation, “I guess for me, we’re still at a point where there’s a kind of power in identifying yourself as a woman in music. But it’s two-tiered for me, I totally agree with you, I find it frustrating to always be pinned as a female led band, because the band is more than just led by a woman. But I also think that we’re still at this point where actively celebrating diverse voices is really important. I think acknowledging different kinds of identities is still useful, especially when it’s coming from within the communities. I guess that’s my point - I like it when it comes from someone that I feel is my peer, and I don’t really like it when it’s placed on you by someone external.”
And a very valid point indeed.
While Totally Mild certainly indulge in the darker side of life and the continual struggle to combat our own fears and anxieties, they also present to us a few more positive conclusions: romance is alive and well, Prince will live on forever, and that we’re finally at a point in time where music is starting to diversify - “It’s not really just bros and bands anymore… which is cool.”
Key Tracks: Lucky Stars, From One Another, Sky and Today Tonight.