The 2014 release of her debut single Helping Hands in support of Canteen and the Cancer Society marked Candice Milner out as an artist of interest. Still a teenager she has now delivered ‘Evergreen’, an album of not pop that she can best describe as being from her idiosyncratic home town, as she tells Jennifer Shields.
Lyttelton local Candice Milner announced herself in the the scene last year with her single Run For It winning the (late) audience.co.nz’s monthly charts for June, and so gaining her a Making Tracks’ WildCard grant. Since then she’s been working hard preparing her debut album ‘Evergreen’. Planned for release in March this year, it has taken longer than expected.
Featuring as a Fresh Talent in NZM last year, the then 16-year old was working with Kevin Allison at his Angels Gate Studio in central Christchurch. When Immigration NZ made it impossible for Allison to remain in the country she looked instead to her Lyttelton home base.
Recording with Ben Edwards at his Sitting Room Studio began in September that year. After sending through some samples of her music and telling Edwards about herself, Candice thinks he was a bit apprehensive to work with someone so young.
“He worked with Marlon Williams when he was 17 I think, but Marlon had this known thing around Lyttelton. I think he was a little worried I’d want to sound like Beyonce, but I hope he ended up pleasantly surprised because he ended up doing an album with me!”
Candice cites growing up and living in the picturesque port township herself as a huge influence to her music.
“Christchurch is lovely but Lyttelton is this haven of musical and artistic people. I wrote a lot of my songs looking out my window at the hills, or on the bus to and from Lyttelton. I think that’s one of the reasons I’m not a pop singer, you know? You expect it for a lot of singers my age, growing up around pop culture. But I grew up in Lyttelton and, I dunno how to describe it… it’s different.”
This distance from pop is evident in Candice’s music as well as her approach and influences, as she struggles with the pressure to create commercially successful music as a young artist.
“It can be stressful being a young woman artist, you get taught to compare yourself to others a lot, especially pop stars, and sometimes it feels like our music industry is trying to Americanise things. Pop culture is sort of forced on some artists and I’m not for that. I like the honest music, you know?
“NZ is like this happy place away from all the big countries, I like that vibe. Sometimes it’s a bit much because people say, ‘Oh, you’ve gotta take it seriously and do all these interviews and get on this and do that’, and I just really want to have fun and make people happy.”
She cites the likes of Courtney Barnett and Kimbra as influences, especially when it comes to vocals and lyrics.
“Courtney’s arrangements are so cool and her voice, people listen and go, ‘Oh yeah, she’s monotonous’, but when you listen to the words she’s so funny.”
Her own album is varied both in terms of genre and sound, with some songs more stripped back, focusing on her voice and guitar, and others fuller, with Chris Close (Black Fox Trio) and Anita Clark (Devilish Mary and the Holy Rollers) appearing, among others.
Edwards described it to her in terms of food as Candice recalls.
“He said, ‘You know when you have food put in front of you? You don’t want just the carrots, you want some peas, you want some roast chicken, and then we add the gravy at the end.’”
Candice definitely feels her album is sounding unique, talking a lot about the opening track Mabel, one a few others have described as ‘a Disney song’.
“I describe it as a nursery rhyme, about this fictional character Mabel, which sounds a bit weird or creepy, and a cherry tree, and it sounds pretty but the words are a bit horrific,” she explains, calling back to Courtney Barnett’s influence in lyric writing. “It’s got some piano, some creepy nursery rhyme fiddle, and a chanting chorus of about five people.”
Also on the album is a re-recorded version of that first single, Run For It, one of the more upbeat and catchy tunes with a hook, which won the NZ On Air Wildcard grant, along with a “…a weird folk rock track about how I crashed my car and once accidentally overdosed on Panadol.”
The variety is definitely intentional, showing off her range and skill as such a young artist producing a debut album. It was also difficult, in particular when it came to placing it all together.
“At first I thought, ‘Oh no, I’ve spent all this recording time on a bunch of tracks that aren’t gonna fit together at all,’ but somehow I think I’ve got an order that works.”
Having worked on it constantly for a year Candice is looking forward to a big rest.
“I get writers’ block waiting to release these songs, because I’m worried that if I write more I’ll hate these ones when they come out. So I’m going to rest then let loose and write everything I can.”