“We’re in a position where things can change right now”: Millie Manders On Cross-Genre Punk, Environmentalism, And The Return Of Live Music

Nieve O’Donnell

High-octane, bursting with vim, and almost obnoxiously addictive, Millie Manders and The Shutup write music to jump up-and-down on your bed too. In the wake of a thrashing debut LP, the London lead-singer talked flouting genre, saving the planet, and nurturing creativity in the Covid-age with Impact’s Nieve O’Donnell.

Last October saw the release of Millie Manders and The Shutup’s debut LP Telling Truths, Breaking Ties to ample praise. In an equally chaotic 2021, the band have found new ways to grow and thrive, focusing the energy lost from live shows on making a positive impact on the world around them. Eclectic and boundary-breaking, this commitment to things that are important to the band rather than what is expected lies at the heart of Millie Manders’ mantra. Her debut album is fascinatingly categorised as cross-genre punk, for example; something she puts down to “an incredibly eclectic taste in music” and her bands interest in everything from pop-punk and hip-hop, to classical and jazz. “It’s a repertoire of my favourite genres and an amalgamation of everyone elses,” she offers with a smile.

With so many genres at play, the band songwriting process seems certain to be an interesting one, and the plucky lead-singer jumps to explain why. Your Story was “in my head for like two months,” she begins, “and I took it to the band and said this is how I want it to sound – this is my vision for the song”. Other songs were more collaborative, she explains, such as Broken Record, which, after playing around on the guitar, Manders sent to James, who works with her on a lot of the melodies, to “do something with it”. Dom, the band’s talent-rich saxophonist, synth player, and violinist, “just goes into a studio and pretty much improvises everything you hear on the album,” she explains. Manders revealed that a ukulele riff written a years beforehand even made its way onto the album.

“If you write something and it sounds contrived, it probably is – put it in the bin!”

Despite the onset of the pandemic following the album’s release, Manders explained that though hampering their touring capabilities, like many other artists, the band felt lucky to have kept the same release schedule. They were also pleased to have managed to shoot seven out of their planned ten music videos during the year. “The album release went ahead and it was actually really, really successful,” she shares appreciatively, “as a band, we’ve been incredibly lucky and have a lot to be grateful for”. Although they have missed seeing fans, the lockdown reinstated the commitment of the band’s adoring fan base, and how, with the inactivity exacerbated by the lockdown, music is a solace for many. On discussing the album’s reception and whether the pandemic had potentially altered fans’ embrace of it, Manders said that she wasn’t expecting as much love for Bitter; however, in a turn of events, Broken Record had found its way into Brazil.

Indeed, the band’s songwriting process is an interesting one, opting for creativity over formula. A lot of famous songwriters say “you should write every single day and you should finish what you’re writing, even if it’s s**t, you should finish it, and I just think that’s such a waste of time,” Manders crows. Passionate about listening to your own creative voice, she continues, “if you write something and it sounds contrived, it probably is – put it in the bin!”. “It’s important to allow creativity to happen, to have its ebbs and flows,” she finishes resolutely, with the band reflecting this wonderfully in their own colourful discography.

A yearning nostalgia for pre-COVID times has infiltrated all of us at the minute, and Manders emphasises the impossibility of reproducing the connectedness of live music over Zoom. The lockdown bred, for Manders, a nonchalant attitude that allowed her to feel somewhat okay with this prospect of not touring for a while. Two socially-distanced, live shows at London’s New Cross Inn, however, “really re-ignited the fire,” and the singer explains how “being in a smelly old van made me realise just how much I miss it all”. Particularly, Manders notes that you “can’t replace that feeling of being able to talk to someone about a particular song, or someone who has used a song to get through a particularly difficult time.” It is clear that she will “definitely be looking forward to being back”.

Born of this past lunatic year, plagued by social and political issues galore, the record undoubtedly carries a certain significance. On Panic, the band explore ethical thinking and a bubbling undercurrent of innovation seems to run throughout. Manders especially explains that the London mob hope to be “front-runners in the ideology of reducing their environmental impact”. In her songwriting, Manders explains how she finds it impossible to avoid the topics that affect her most, such as the climate crisis, though “sometimes I wish I could write benign pop love songs”. “I bloody love Toxic by Britney Spears,” she chuckles, but “I am who I am – I’m opinionated, I’m angry, and I’m politically and environmentally conscious, so that’s where my songs generally go!”.

The band are at a point where, by Spring, ninety percent of their packaging is going to be recyclable

Much of the band, along with their tour manager, are vegan, and Manders explains, “I do think it’s important for people to reduce their meat consumption in order to minimise their carbon footprint”. The band are at a point where, by Spring, ninety percent of their packaging is going to be recyclable, and Manders has even “spoken to companies about recycled plastic vinyl but, unfortunately, it’s not financially viable yet in terms of mass production”. Within the music industry, “if more bands can come up with those sorts of ideas then we’ll all be in a better place,” she stresses.

Putting into words what many have felt during this past year, Manders concludes that “we are in a position where things can change right now”. Thousands of people are staying at home to help curb the spread of the virus, and “we’ve seen how much better the planet is for that,” she continues. “For people to wake up and go, actually, what we were doing previously is really s**t. Perhaps we should change our ways now so that when we are post-pandemic, we don’t go back to square one – that’s really vital stuff!”. People should emphatically listen to Millie Manders and the Shutup, if not only for their efforts environmentally but for their enthralling genre-crossing record, Telling Truths, Breaking Ties.

Nieve O’Donnell

Featured image courtesy of Millie Manders and The Shutup via Ian Cheek Press. Images granted to Impact by their owners.

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