Interview: Tor Miller

The NYC baroque pop singer-songwriter discusses his recent EP Headlights and upcoming live dates

Posted on Jun 30th, 2015 in Features and Interviews, Tor Miller, Glassnote / By Richard Lewis
Interview: Tor Miller Steadily accruing acclaim for his piano-led baroque pop songs that are piloted by his stunning voice, Tor Miller has been circumnavigating the globe in support of his debut EP Headlights over the past six months. Issued in February through US indie label Glassnote Records, the four track affair continues the rich tradition of New York-based piano balladeers most recently exemplified by Rufus Wainwright.

Opening with NYC paean Midnight which transports the listener to the city as surely as an episode of Mad Men, the quartet of songs serve notice of the singer’s blossoming talent while Tor’s most recent track Baby Blue demonstrates the EP was no fluke.

Something of a musical prodigy, the dramatic title track showcases the twenty year old Brooklynite’s ability to wring the absolute maximum from the simple elements of voice, piano and sparing guitar overdubs. Elsewhere closing track Hold the Phone originally recorded (aptly enough) on the singer’s iPhone, bolstered by a gospel choir calls to mind the more downbeat moments of early 1980s Bruce Springsteen found on The River and Nebraska.

A really obvious question to begin with then, how did you get started in music? ‘My parents signed me up for piano lessons as a kid, I was very reluctant at the start’ Tor explains. ‘However, it wasn't until I moved to New Jersey and was introduced to a new teacher that I began to love playing music and eventually singing and writing.

‘David Bowie is a massive influence to me, especially Ziggy Stardust’ the singer says of his influences. ‘My mom bought many records for me to listen to as a kid, one of which was a Elton John greatest hits compilation and I used to listen to that religiously. I also love the blood curdling and emotive voices of Ray Charles and Otis Redding’.

Adding to formative influences, what recent albums have inspired you? ‘Ooh that's tough’ the singer ruminates. ‘I'm liking where this new Tame Impala record (forthcoming opus Currents) seems to be going!’ I also loved The War On Drugs record (2014s Lost In the Dream) which came out like a year ago!’

A conurbation that has featured as a character in songs by Frank Sinatra through to Nas and Jay-Z, the presence of The Big Apple looms large in Tor’s songs. The opening lyrics of Midnight: ‘Jeff Buckley’s Grace was playing loud as hell in the back of an old dive bar/ So I step outside and light a cigarette, take in the fumes of a passing car/ Loud angry drunks and a few crust punks fill every crevice of St Marks’ places the listener directly at the scene.

In addition to your aforementioned influences are there any writers, musicians and/or film makers that you draw inspiration from for lyrics? ‘Definitely!’ the singer states. ‘There is a New York based artist named Francis and the Lights who massively influenced me. He's like a NYC character that guy. I've always loved the movie Manhattan by Woody Allen. He has a remarkable ability to capture the feel of the city in his films. No one does it better! Tom Waits also inspired my lyrics and my search for gritty and dark imagery.

Leading on from which, what is it about New York that produces balladeer piano players (ie: Billy Joel, Rufus Wainwright) is it something about the bars and clubs in the city that caters for them? ‘Ha ha I'm not quite sure!’ the singer laughs. ‘It could be that feeling people have of being alone in a crowd full of people. Maybe it is the empty late night clubs that we play which creates this solemn beauty’.

Following a slew of live dates around North America and Europe, including an acclaimed set at Liverpool Sound City, Tor has played live in just about every environment possible, running from bars to festival tents and open-air stages. Do you have a preferred location to perform live in? ‘I think my heart lies in the club scene’ the singer replies. ‘I’ve been playing small clubs since I was fourteen. I know how to work those rooms and capture the audiences. It's also much more intimate and I feel like the crowd and I are in it together as opposed to me playing at them’.

Appearing without any additional players for recent dates, Tor is more than able to carry the songs on his own. Do you plan to carry on touring solo for the foreseeable future? ‘I'm looking to get a band together and hope to have that all sorted for the release of the album’ the singer states. ‘But for the time being I’m enjoying playing on my own and the challenges that come with that world.’

One of the highlights of the singer's live set, scabrous social comment Crust Punk Queen takes aim at deliberately down-at-heel privileged sorts, a track that almost acts as a Transatlantic counterpart to Pulp classic Common People. A term not widely used in the UK, how do you define a crust punk? ‘Well so as I understand it in NYC' Tor explains 'a crust punk is a kid who comes from out of town, slums it on the streets but always has the prospect of returning home to their families’.

Clearly in thrall to being on the road with an impressive number of miles already logged, Tor returns to Europe for more dates over the next few months. ‘I am going to tour all through the Summer and then I hope to release my debut album by September!’ the singer explains. What happens after the LP hits the shelves meanwhile shows the singer’s steadfast dedication to stage work. ‘Then (I’m) touring for the rest of my life’.

Headlights is out now through Glassnote Records

Tor Miller plays:

17th July, Latitude Festival, Suffolk
18th July, Truck Festival, Oxford
19th July, Victoria Park, London