Singer, songwriter, and poet MILCK joins us to discuss writing to the underdog, growing up listening to The Carpenters, and the high of magical songwriting.
Intro: Hello and welcome to What’d I Say, where Atlantic Records talks with artists about songs they made, songs they like and songs they’d like to have made. It’s an inside look into the craft of songs, from the artists themselves.
Today, we spoke with Atlantic Records artist MILCK. After a decade of independent releases and gigs around her hometown of Los Angeles, the singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and poet Connie Lim confidently created and carried an instant classic of a generational anthem, in the form of her smash single “Quiet.”
Traveling to the historic women’s march in Washington, D.C. in 2017, MILCK teamed up with 25 female singers, whom she had never met, and delivered seven a capella flash mob performances of “Quiet” in the streets. A video of the flash mobs was captured by the award-winning director Alma Perel. It went viral after being posted on her Facebook page, drawing over 14 million plays in just two days.
After being signed to Atlantic, MILCK and her music has been featured in Variety, Vanity Fair, The New York Times, and many, many more. To put it simply, NYLON said, “She is a newfound voice, one that’s empowered and emboldened by her dreams.” When MILCK was in New York City at the Atlantic Records studios, we got to hear her story. Her EP, “This Is Not The End” is available now.
Tom Mullen: What was your first favorite song?
Connie Lim: My first favorite song. The Carpenters.
Tom Mullen: Oh wow.
Connie Lim: Yeah, my parents had the Carpenters Best compilation CD. And my sister and I would put it into the CD player, and we would dance to it. I think I was maybe about 5 years old. Why do birds suddenly appear? Every time, you are near. That song.
Tom Mullen: That’s cool.
Connie Lim: Yeah. And her voice, oh my goodness, was incredible. And I didn’t even realize that she plays drums while she sings. I mean, it’s incredible. Yeah, so the Carpenters.
Tom Mullen: Do you remember the first song you memorized? Could be piano, could be singing. Like, that first song where you’re like, “I know every second.”
Connie Lim: Oh well, this is so classical nerdy. “Minuet in G,” yeah, by Beethoven.
Tom Mullen: And you knew that by heart?
Connie Lim: Yeah, that was the first song I memorized, yeah.
Tom Mullen: That’s a good one. Do you remember the first song or album you remember buying? With your own money.
Connie Lim: The first — oh with my own money? Man, this is going to say so much about my childhood. The first album I bought with my own money was “Xtina Christmas” by Christina Aguilera. I know, I know. Yeah, yeah, yep. You know what?
Tom Mullen: No, I’m not judging. It was something, I’m trying to read a thing on my computer.
Connie Lim: Sure.
Tom Mullen: No, there’s-
Connie Lim: Timeless, timeless.
Tom Mullen: Timeless.
Connie Lim: But honestly, a lot of the music that deeply influenced me were CDs my sister bought. But she would play me the Sarah McLachlan, Jewel, Tori Amos, and then Boyz II Men, and then New Edition, yeah.
Tom Mullen: I was just thinking about Boyz II Men yesterday.
Connie Lim: They’re still killing it.
Tom Mullen: I remember listening [to them]; this girl in sixth grade didn’t want to talk to me or something, and I listened to “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday” like 1,000 times in my room.
Connie Lim: Awwww, that’s so cute.
Tom Mullen: On like a tape deck. I rewound it and played it again.
Connie Lim: Yeah.
Tom Mullen: I don’t know why, but that record still-
Connie Lim: It healed you. It healed you from your sixth grade heartbreak. That’s big.
Tom Mullen: There wasn’t a yesterday at all, there was no today. Why did that song know?
Connie Lim: You were warned that, yesterday.
Tom Mullen: It wasn’t like anything helped. Anyway.
Connie Lim: It’s funny how we actually heal from songs in different ways, even if the lyrics aren’t related to that. Maybe it’s something about the melodies in songs that just helps us get through. I don’t know. That’s funny.
Tom Mullen: Wasn’t Christina Aguilera. No offense, I’m just joking, no offense, OK?
Connie Lim: You know what? I am being upfront about it.
Tom Mullen: I’m going to listen to it for Christmas, for you.
Connie Lim: Yeah. Thank you. Oh no.
Tom Mullen: I’m going to have my nephews learn it.
Connie Lim: Because you know what? All the good music, my sister and my parents provided. With the Marvin Gaye and The Beatles, and all that. So then I had to go out and just corrupt our playlist.
Tom Mullen: Yeah, you just had to rebel a little bit with Xtina, that’s fine. Is there a specific song of yours that you felt you took to the next level? Like, “I’m writing these songs,” which one were you like — it could even be an old song that you used to play at the hotel bar, or lobby. Was there one that, “this is it, I can do this.” I’m going to make another big song. It took you to that next level.
Connie Lim: Oh right, right. There was a song that I wrote in 2009 called “Now,” and it’s a waltz rhythm song, and I wrote it for a friend who was going through a breakup. And I wrote it after a full day of feeling totally discouraged, because I tried to write a song the entire day and I couldn’t. And I remember being frustrated, and I got up from the piano and I accidentally pushed these two notes as I was getting up from the piano. And it kind of sparked something and I wrote the song in three hours.
That was the first time I experienced this magic. Because it wasn’t me writing it. It felt like I was just kind of picking notes and words from the air and just putting it down. But that was the first high I got from magical songwriting. And so from that day on, I’ve been chasing that high since. And I get it once in a while. “Quiet” was one of those where I wrote it in 3.5 hours. But yeah, it’s that high.
Tom Mullen: Is there a musical influence that people would be surprised you have?
Connie Lim: That’s such a good question. A musical influence that people would be surprised. There are a lot. Let me try to think about one, now. Jack Johnson. When I was in intermediate school, I was listening to his “On and O”n album, and the way he wrote about political and social things in a really gentle way, really influenced me. So, I don’t make that type of music, but the time when he was just coming off his surfing career.
Connie Lim: And 2Pac is a really big one for me, because he’s so emotional, and so raw, and so real with how he delivers his music. And he says things that, sometimes, as a woman, some of the things, I was like, I’d prefer that he didn’t say that. But outside of those lyrics, what I appreciated from him was that he made timeless and honest music. So I try to aspire to do that — be raw like he was. I’m definitely not a rapper.
Connie Lim: I remember telling [people] that, when I first moved to LA, and I was playing with some really hit musicians, you know? And I told them about how I like Jack Johnson and they kind of went, “Uh.” But I was like, I’m not going to pretend like he didn’t affect me just because he’s not the “coolest influence,” right? Because he at least is just doing who he is. He’s just Jack Johnson.
Tom Mullen: Yeah. I worked with a similar artist, Michael Franti, from Spearhead.
Connie Lim: Yeah, he’s great.
Tom Mullen: I worked with him. And just, he has this aura, he has this feeling, and you’re like, you can’t not smile or understand what he’s doing when he’s in your presence. I think that’s really, as an artist, that is such a big thing to-
Connie Lim: Totally. Yes. I was going to say Bob Marley is a big influence as well, that people might not expect. I just love how he has some songs that are so “simplified.” And they just get to the core. And I feel like he disarms so many different types of people. He could bring people of all different backgrounds to his concert. And that’s, I think, a musician. That’s the apex of bringing peace into the world, I think.
Tom Mullen: Yeah, it’s everybody in one place. Doesn’t matter, anything. You’re right about Bob Marley. When you’re recording a song, are you picturing anybody listening to it? Who’s your audience? I know it’s hard, yes, you want everybody in the same room. But is there one person you see?
Connie Lim: When I write music, I try to write to the underdog. The people who are hurting at that moment. So I’ve taken a lot of time to specify what that vision is of who I’m singing to, because I think it’s really powerful to get super specific. I think it really dilutes an artist’s power to try to please everybody. I really disagree with that philosophy. So I think about, actually, who I was as an 11-year-old girl who was obsessed with Aaliyah and Missy Elliott.
Connie Lim: They didn’t look like me, and they came from a different background, and I would scour through magazines to try to find someone who looked like me, and I felt like such an outsider. And I also felt unheard by my family, so I felt super alone. And I remember, when I was younger, I promised myself — I was like, OK, even though I don’t see anyone in the magazines now that looked like me, maybe I will be that girl.
Connie Lim: So I want to sing to those girls that are having those moments. And those boys, too, and genders in between that are having those moments of feeling super alone. Because songs helped me feel like I wasn’t alone, and I could go into a world and dream bigger than what my current background was. So that’s who I imagine.
Tom Mullen: Is there a recent song you discovered and had to share with your friends?
Connie Lim: Oh man.
Tom Mullen: Or you could just say, someone needs to listen to Chopin again. Guys, have you heard this movement? It is just slamming.
Connie Lim: Let me think about, just because there is. I’m trying to recall. Hold on, give me a second.
Tom Mullen: Because I think of my text messages, like, OK, when did I text a song to somebody? That you’ve got here.
Connie Lim: Right, right. God, oh yeah. Yes. OK. OK. I’m really into this band Joseph. They’re an up-and-coming band; they’re three sisters, and they have a song called “White Flag.” I mean, that is just the tip of the iceberg for them. They feel like, to me, Wilson Phillips mixed with Dixie Chicks mixed with the Doobie Brothers, with the Doobie Brother harmonies.
Tom Mullen: Wow.
Connie Lim: They hold it down on a live show. I’ve seen them live twice in the past month already. I’m a fan. So them, and also Muna. Muna, “I Know A Place” is a beautiful, beautiful song. Muna is also a three girl band, and “I Know A Place” and their music video is such a peace-promoting video. I absolutely love it.
Tom Mullen: That’s a good one. Do you remember the first time you heard one of your songs in public?
Connie Lim: I remember this local café that is near my west side apartment. And I had given them a CD years before, and I walked past them like two years later, and they were playing my CD. So I walked in, and the baristas remembered me, and they’re like, “We’re trying to support you.” Which was really cool, and that was a few years ago. So they were trying to rep their local artist, which was awesome.
Tom Mullen: That’s great.
Connie Lim: Yeah.
Tom Mullen: What do you hear in other songs? What do you connect with when you hear other songs? What do you first connect with? Like, I connect with the guitar, I hear the notes before the lyrics. Lyrics are last. Is there something — what do you pick out?
Connie Lim: I pick out melodies. Like with either vocal or any of the melodic instruments. If it’s a synth, the synth, the guitar. Guitar speaks to me a lot, especially when it’s kind of those gentle, rhythmic, electric guitar lines. I freaking love those types of lines. And then lyrics come afterwards. But almost at the same time, by the second half of the song, I’m listening to the lyrics. But I always view songs like, the melody and the instrumentation and all of that, the beat is the body of the song and the lyrics is the soul.
So usually, if I’m seeing somebody that’s walking by, I see their body, and I catch their aura, which is, I think, those musical elements. And then, if I get to know them, it’s their soul, which is the lyrics. So yeah, I’m similar to you in that I do that, too.
Tom Mullen: I like that. Last one, your musical dream. I know it’s getting signed and all of that stuff. But that bigger one that you wake up from, that dream that you kind of had nodding off. Or from that night out or something, what are those dreams?
Connie Lim: I do have a dream, if it’s one particular dream, I have a vision of singing a duet with Bono in a stadium. I know, I know, I’m just not going to-
Tom Mullen: Not Christina Aguilera?
Connie Lim: I know, I know.
Tom Mullen: I don’t mean to make fun of her. I just love that you were embarrassed about saying it, so I just kept going with it. But Bono would be great.
Connie Lim: I know I could’ve chosen something super cool and edgy, but I was like Xtina, not even Christina. Xtina Christmas album. She’s super talented.
Tom Mullen: She totally is. So how about this, Bono, Christina Aguilera and you on stage. How about that?
Connie Lim: You know what? My head would explode. Because the idea of them being on the same stage at once, also, is mind boggling to me.
Tom Mullen: There’s the dream.
Connie Lim: But the ultimate dream, honestly, is just continuously making good work. I want to look back when I’m 60 and just be super proud of a really healthy, hard worked catalog of music. And I want to be able to play really great jazz piano, and it’s so hard. But I’m hoping by the time I’m in my 60s, I can just jam out in my living room.
Tom Mullen: Perfect, thank you.
Connie Lim: Thank you.
Tom Mullen: That was great.
Connie Lim: Awesome.
Outro: Thanks to MILCK for coming on What’d I Say. Find more about her at MILCKmusic.com. Our theme music is by Max Frost. Be sure and catch up on all of the Atlantic Records podcasts at AtlanticPodcasts.com. Thank you for listening.