Welcome to an exclusive interview with Alexander Mills, the boundary-pushing musical maverick currently making waves in the Australian music scene.
Mills, an artist known for defying genre conventions, invites us on an exhilarating sonic expedition with his latest single, “Meet Me In The Tropics.” With a magnetic blend of lush jungle rhythms, sun-soaked calypso melodies, and ethereal harmonies, his music transcends traditional boundaries, transporting listeners to a tropical paradise of sonic bliss.
In this interview, Mills opens up about the meticulous craftsmanship behind “Meet Me In The Tropics,” providing an intimate glimpse into his creative process. He shares how his collaboration with acclaimed producer Danny Dyson transformed into an alchemical fusion of sounds, each layer thoughtfully constructed to create an atmospheric wonderland. The result is an auditory experience that seduces the senses and immerses the listener in a world of warmth, love, and unparalleled coolness.
But Mills’ music is not just about escapism; it carries a deeper significance. With “Meet Me In The Tropics,” he endeavors to awaken a dormant sense of joy within his audience, encouraging them to embrace life’s beauty and prioritize self-care. Through his artistry, Mills reminds us all of the importance of finding solace and inspiration amidst the chaos of our modern existence.
Prepare to embark on an extraordinary journey as we explore the artistry, passion, and sheer magnetism of Alexander Mills. His music is a testament to the boundless creativity that exists when love and coolness collide, leaving an indelible mark on the hearts and minds of all who encounter it.
Happy: What are you up to today?
Alexander: Drinking way too much coffee, checking my emails, doing the school runs, exercising a bit and then tackling a giant list of unfinished songs and seeing which ones I should work on next.
Happy: Where’s home, and what’s the music scene like in your neck of the woods?
Alexander: I live in a pretty cosy suburb called Morningside about 10-15 minutes away from the CBD in Brisbane. It’s really family oriented and safe I would say. Chilled people, nice coffee shops and everything is real close by and convenient. Love it.
The Brisbane music scene is pretty happening. I’ve only live here for 7 years but every time I play I meet a new musician or someone in the industry who knows someone. There’s a lot of opportunities to make money. You can pretty much just do the usual pub circuit and make a decent living I’d say.
I think like everywhere else it can be a bit tough negotiating how to get into the good graces of the music community.
When I first came to Brisbane I walked to every single venue in CBD with business cards trying to convince people to let me sing at their venue. A lot of them said no but the ones that did let me play told their friend about me and I guess word of mouth referrals got me more gigs. I’m pretty relentless so I think that helped.
Brisbane has been investing a lot into the arts in general though. Most recently they build a new venue called The Fortitude Music Hall that host world class acts from all over Australia and the rest of the world too.
There is also the Tivoli and a couple other smaller venues that host shows every week. Most of the really big acts like Ed Sheeran play at Suncorp Stadium.
There’s a-lot of grungier hard rock shows happening throughout the Fortitude Valley. All you gotta do is look around and listen and you will be drawn in to some show happening. I think it’s great to be honest coming from where we were a couple years ago with the pandemic. It’s really picking up!
Happy: Tell us about your average day. What about your ultimate day?
Alexander: My ultimate day is more of a feeling than an actual routine I think. It’s the feeling of writing a killer song and spending a quiet afternoon with my kids or heading to the skatepark and forgetting about the stressful things you have coming up during the week. I think sometimes you can do a lot with your day but then you feel slightly guilty when you know you’ve just slaved away and missed a chance to just hang out. So I think it’s a bit about smashing your goals as best you can without compromising too much time that could be spend with the ones you love or care about. They are days that exist when you have no other choice but to only be fully immersed in work but think it’s the balancing act of getting the correct dosage of personal success and companionship that makes it the ultimate day for me. It’s the mixing of disappearing into your passions and reappearing renewed and refreshed, fully present and happy.
Happy: Tell us about your creative community. Who are some artists or bands that have inspired you?
Alexander: At the moment my creative community is just a few people. One of them is an Italian producer and engineer named Ludovico Rebecchi who works I’d say 60 percent of my stuff. I usually just create a demo and send the project folder to him and we go back and forth remotely online until we’re both happy.
My other collaborator happens to live in my neighbourhood. His name is Casper Hall and has a studio called Sound Out Studios and I go by regularly to record stuff that I can’t do at home. He happens to also be a tasty drummer two and has two bands, Blues Arcadia and The Urban Sea who tour regularly, showcasing their original stuff. He has a great sense of harmony and pitch as well as incredible drumming prowess. If somethings not right he will let me know.
Danny Dyson is my other collaborator who happens to have a similar style and taste to me. He is a producer and recently built a home studio at his place. I sent him the demo to ‘Meet Me In The Tropics’ and the vibe was there instantly. He send me back the first demo at like 2 am. I figured we were both pretty excited about it. Music does that sometimes. We just bounce ideas off each other and are really honest about what’s right for the direction of each song and we also crack a couple of jokes in-between too. I think all of my creative community are just really great people so it just makes me feel all the more comfortable sharing my music and having them break it down and build it back up. Thats a hard thing to do with personal art forms like music. I just to my collaborators and it’s almost like a factory. It comes out sounding like a record in a very short space of time.
I got my initial inspiration from Michael Jackson when I was little. I’m told I used to try to dance like him although I think everyone in my age group (34yrs) tried to dance like Michael at some point during their youth. I remember my dad having a giant box of cassette tapes stowed away that I found when I was like 6 or 7 and I would listen to Elton John and Bob Marley and James Ingram and all the 80’s guys. I remember my dad used to be obsessed with U2 and the Joshua Tree album and would play it religiously in our 90’s Susuki Swift. You could hear him coming down the driveway blazing “Where The Streets Had No Name” and by osmosis I grew to like Rock and Roll music too. I used to pretend my cricket bat was a guitar and play along to those stadium anthems whenever they came on. As we got older he bought us those NOW hits CD’s and my sister and I would vibe to Britney Spears and NYSNC, Backstreet Boys and Ricky Martin.
Later on I got into Blink-182 and the punk scene. I was a total skater boy in my early teenage years and The Ramones, Nirvana, Green Day, and The Offspring would get up hyped up to go skate. My mom always had an appreciation for classical pianos she herself plays the piano and sent me to learn for about 4 or 5 years. There I learn to acquire a taste for the music of composer such as Beethoven, Mozart and Brahms. Being from an island I would hear reggae and calypso everyday. Popular soca artists such as Edwin Yearwood and Alison Hinds and Machel Montano were staples on the television and radio. Added to that my dad had a deep affinity for Bob Marley and he would sometimes whip out the guitar for a pretty solid rendition of ‘No Woman No Cry’ at family gatherings.
When I discovered that I had talent for songwriting, artists such Glen Hansard, Damien Rice, Ed Sheeran, David Gray were all I would listen to. Bands such as Coldplay and Bon Iver are also heavy influences too. When I needed to find inspiration for setting moods, conveying emotion and setting atmosphere, I’d reference them a lot. When I wanted to get a grittier or bluesier sound I would reference Gary Clark Jr and The Black Keys and lastly when I wanted to be a guitar hero I’d listen to and reference John Mayer.
I think my artistic voice is a melting pot of all of the above. I think my voice sits in a place where it doesn’t really feel like it has a genre so I’m able to get away with trying genres pulling from influences such as soca and folk/americana because I’ve been exposed to such an eclectic variety of genres from a very young age. I do lean into folk more because it’s just what comes to me more naturally but I don’t really think genre when I write. I think about conveying a story as honestly as possible first then building an atmosphere around that message with the rest of the instrumentation. Usually if I can’t catch a vibe on acoustic guitar or piano first it doesn’t happen for me. All of my songs start acoustically.
Happy: Your new single, “Meet Me In The Tropics,” carries a strong sense of escapism and a desire to embrace the joy of life. Can you elaborate on the inspiration behind this song and its message?
Alexander: Escapism is a theme I think that I can relate to a lot as an artist. I think myself and a lot of people first picked up instruments to do just that. Occupy a space where they can have some sort of respite. A nirvana of some sorts. After my dad passed I found that music was the only thing that comforted me for a long time and to still does. I think someone said that a good song either makes you remember everything or makes you forget everything. I think I wanted to create a sonic world with this song where people do the later. I think that’s a really important role in songwriting.
The use of wave sound effects at the beginning of the track creates a vivid atmosphere and sets the scene for a beach-bound experience. How did you incorporate these elements into the song, and what effect were you aiming for?
The use of waves in the background was used like a riser but instead of using a synth digital sounds we went with an organic sounds of waves crashing to tie in with the theme of the song and overall ambience. Danny came up with the idea and he is very much into earthy organic type sounds. I think it adds a dimension to the track that almost makes the track feel therapeutic. It’s like one of those free Youtube yoga tracks but way more more subtle. It’s like carefully layered ear candy.
Happy: As someone who was born and raised in Barbados but has relocated to Australia, how did your personal experiences and cultural background influence the sound and style of “Meet Me In The Tropics”?
Alexander: Growing up in Barbados there wasn’t anywhere you could go where you couldn’t physically hear or catch a glimpse of the ocean. It’s the same temperature all year round and most of the time at home you just wore board shorts and a t shirt or none at all when you were at home. I think for this song I wanted to share what that feels like. Having lived in Australia for a while now where we have multiple seasons, even though that has its beauty as well with the colder weather approaching I think the idea of escaping to an island oasis sounds even more appealing than usual.
I had that concept in mind when I wrote the bridge. The part where it says “when the seasons change and the winter winds come through, I’ll be waiting here for you”. As someone who never had to worry about the temperature I do miss the warm sunny weather when it gets colder. (Luckily I live in the one of the warmer states in Australia). I think that everyone wishes they could get a bit of sunshine on them and have a good time. It’s like that Passenger song “You only miss the sun when it starts to snow”.
Added to the beautiful weather all year round, the mood of the music is mainly festive. It’s very upbeat and dance oriented. Calyspo and soca music is designed to make you feel loose and free so I wanted to borrow some elements from that to add to that atmosphere.
Happy: The composition of the song feels lush and evokes a sense of mindfulness and relaxation. Can you discuss the creative process behind crafting the sonic landscape of the track?
Alexander: When I first started to mind map the song I thought of the title first and then thought of all the things that I could relate to personally that made me feel like I was back home on a beach chair chilling in Barbados. Then I thought about sights and sounds and textures that would accompany that. The feeling of sand in your toes, a cool refreshing beverage and the sound of the waves crashing, jet skiing and dancing to tropical rhythms were all themes that immediately came to mind. I knew that the hook would be the title and that I didn’t have to go too crazy with big metaphors or anything like that because just the imagery of the title was powerful enough to get people to think about a tropical escape.
The first part of my process is usually setting up the loops in the loop pedal until I find a tempo that feels good. Feel was integral in the creative process for this song so it couldn’t be too slow that you didn’t feel uplifted or so fast that the lyrics were not intelligible.
Initially I sang it a big louder and more aggressively but soon realised it would be better to deliver it as serene as possible without sounding boring. I layered up a low octave vocal to give it some body and added just two more harmonies that you can hear in the chorus. It gives it that classic Beach Boys vibe but not as complex. I think that’s what makes it sound so relaxing. Juxtaposed with big driven jungle centric drums it made for a really interesing combination.
Then it went from being a Byron Bay surfer dude production, not dissimilar to something Jack Botts or Ziggy Alberts would produce to being a full on tropical anthem when I sent the demo to Danny. I sent him the demo in the afternoon and by 2 am that night he sent me back what would be essentially ‘Meet Me In The Tropics’.
When I heard the tonal changes and atmosphere he had added in I was pleasantly suprised. We couldn’t go fully calypso because it was a bit too busy with the vocals
We also used a rubber bridge acoustic guitar to capture a warm organic texture to use throughout the song. This aligned with the songs message and vibe of visiting the tropics and hearing someone playing an old acoustic guitar down on the beach. Imagination and visualisation was rely integral in figuring out the pallets and textures of sounds we wanted to use. Warm, cosy, exciting and atmospheric are all adjectives I’d describe what we were going for.
Happy: The incorporation of a jungle-adjacent drum beat and a calypso vocal delivery adds a unique flavor to the song. What motivated you to blend these elements, and how do they contribute to the overall feel of the track?
Alexander: I think I’ve always wanted to display my cultural roots into my music in a more traditional way. We wanted the drums especially to have really strong impact and carry a lot of energy. Soca music is all about the rythm and syncopation. If you were to isolate only the vocals and drums I think people would still dance to it. I think that’s how important the drums are in the track. The song is more of an ode to the calypso genre more than anything. I think that is what makes good art. Referencing things in your own way and being brave enough to try to. Danny is from the Gold Coast so he does have a kinda Jack Johnson-esque tropical swag about him too so it all came naturally to him. Halfway through writing the track before I sent the track to Danny, I had a song come into my head that reminded me of my Caribbean roots and instantly transported me back home. It’s a song called ‘Tempted To Touch’ by Kevin Little who happens to be from St.Vincent and Grenadines which is a neighbouring island to Barbados. It was pretty well known at the time of its release. A part of the song came to mind where his sings very rhythmically “a little woman, man I need you so much”. I wanted to try to do something similar for the second verse. You can hear the Kevin Little-esqe vocal reference when I sing “everybody’s coming to party, and everything’s gonna feel nice”. My Barbadian accent is a bit more pronounced than usual in that section too so as to add to that tropical Caribbean flavour. All the tiny nuances make a big deal in making the track feel trance-like which was really important to making it feel like a song you could escape into.
Happy: Can you discuss the significance of “Meet Me In The Tropics” as a sonic oasis that invites listeners to let go and embrace the beauty of simply being? How do you hope listeners will connect with the song on a deeper level?
Alexander: I think people will listen and instantly start to feel like they have put on one of Zuckerburg’s VR goggles and disappeared into the meta verse for an early vacation to Bali, Hawaii or better yet Barbados. In my mind that is the perfect scenario. But in all seriousness I want the song to be an escape within to wherever you feel most at peace. For some people that might not be the ocean or seaside but on a deeper level it could be wherever feels most safe. It’s the idea that you are not alone in the world and that you have a partner or friend or someone who loves you that is willing to go to the ends of the earth to help bring you back to your happy place. If you feel that vibe on the first listen then that’s a win for me.
Happy: Are there any upcoming projects or directions you are exploring with your music that you would like to share with us?
Alexander: The next single I have lined up is again another departure from my usual acoustic driven compositions. It’s very futuristic and almost borders EDM when it comes to the beat and low end especially. It’s different but it’s not so far different that it doesn’t sound like me. Lyrically it’s still emotive and moody like most of my composition but with a modern edge. I sent it to a my friend Zack who totally flipped my original production on its head, in a good way of course and it totally convinced me to try something new. It’s a risk but I think it will work. The working title is called ‘High on Love’ and its about the dopamine release that you get when you first fall in love that makes you oblivious to red flags in your partner.
Happy: Do you have any gear that you can’t live without?
Alexander: I’ve got an effect pedal that I take everywhere with me. It’s called a TC Helicon Voice Live 3. It doubles as a loop pedal as well. It’s so handy because I can have a consistent sound wherever I go and I can record my shows directly into it. It’s has a thing called a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) built in. This enables me to record and listen to the show after and chop up some videos for socials. I actually used it to record the idea for ‘Meet Me in the Tropics’ as well. I built a percussive loop underneath a chord progression, set the tempo and wrote almost all of it using the pedal.
Happy: What makes you happy?
Alexander: I love making others happy. That makes me the most happy. Whether that be sending a friend a funny meme, performing their favourite song or just pushing my kids on the swing at the park. Thats what I’m about at the core. I also have a voracious appetite for learning about history, culture and anthropology. Me being able to feel free to express and be my unapologetic self free of judgement makes me happiest. A cheeky trip to the skatepark too! That also goes a long way.