In short, Austin Millz is a “Harlem boy who makes dance music”. His story, however, starts in the mid 00’s when we was making beats in his room and actively taking to Twitter to talk about music and network with other fellow producers and artists. Austin Millz is one of the early visionaries who started putting out tapes and building his brand as a producer back in a day when producers didn’t really have their spot in the limelight. About twenty years later producers are finally getting their flowers outside the studio and are being recognised on the same level as artists and Austin Millz is one of the pioneers of the movement that led to this shift in the industry.
With several hits, remixes and important collaborations and placements under his belt, the EDM producer and DJ has recently unveiled another infectious EP entitled Breathwork – a collaborations-only body of work which encapsulates spectacular features from the likes of Estelle, Destin Conrad, Duckwrth, Justine Skye, Alina Baraz and last but not least, Sabrina Claudio.
Breathwork came out at the start of the summer and soon become a huge success so it was only right for the Harlem-hailing producer to embark on a world tour and play in several places in the US, Canada and Europe.
Hey Austin! Just to set the scene for our readers, I know you are on tour right so tell me, where are you right now and what did you do today?
“So right now I’m in Los Angeles, back in the studio. Just wrapped up the US leg of my tour. It was amazing!”
What is your favourite part of the tour?
“My favourite part of the tour is just connecting with people, seeing the reactions to the songs live and overall just the energy.”
What are three personal things you always take with you when you go on tour?
“Three personal things that I carry are definitely some smell good cologne, a pair of comfortable kicks and my laptop. Those are the essentials, so yeah.”
Let’s dive into the EP now, shall we? There’s six songs on it and all of them are powerful collaborations. You’ve got the one and only Estelle on it, Destin Conrad, Duckwrth, Justine Skye, Alina Baraz and last but not least, Sabrina Claudio. The project is a great success. Tell me, how did you pick everyone and what was the recording process like?
“So for Breathwork when I started it last year, I was really trying to embody and find a way to tell my story and have a cohesive dance project body of work. And all the collaborators and artists that are on the project are people that I’m big fans of and always really wanted to work with. So you know, I did my reaching out, (and) just (built) genuine connections with these artists. Because like after the sessions I’ve become really friends with these people. Like I want to build relationships. These are long relationships. It’s not just music, it’s also telling a story. And it’s also like being in the studio with your friends and that’s just an amazing thing.”
“So how did I pick everyone and what was the recording process like.. So for Estelle I reached out, you know, she’s a legend, I reached out over Instagram. And then after a couple of months, we made it happen.”
“With Destin Conrad, big fan, the team reached out. We made that happen.”
“Duckwrth, that’s the homie. We met at a function in LA and we got in the studio a week later after we met.”
“Justine Skye, we go way back – New York days coming up together in Soho. Always been a fan of hers and the time was finally right to do something and it just made perfect sense and it was amazing.”
“Alina Baraz, huge fan for years! And the opportunity came to work with her on this project, we made the connection and we had sessions that are just beautiful sessions, really enjoy it! We just made magic.”
“Sabrina Claudio… Oh my God, that really set the tone for the project! Sabrina is an amazing person, just super talented. And it’s just like that was the song that really kind of set the tone for the project as well as the lead singer. So when we had the session, it was really just, it was just picture perfect. And how “Exhale” came out. It was a great thing.”
Any funny stories or moments from the studio sessions?
“Man, these sessions are a lot of laughs, a lot of jokes, a lot of just good times! It’s a party sometimes in the studio. We just bond with the music, just bouncing to the beats, going through the songwriting. It’s really just a total vibe. There wasn’t any particular moment that stood out. But it was just overall cohesive. It was just a journey, it was a great vibe with all these artists. It was complete joy!”
What made you put an EP together only with collaborations?
“Because I felt like collaborations kind of helped tell my story. And I think it pieced together the story in a wholehearted way. And the journey from beginning to the end and really the collaborators helped me convey that message. At that moment I thought it was needed. And it did it justice. Everything just turned out like the way I envisioned it, so that was a great thing!”
Which of the six songs got stuck in your head the most and why?
“In terms of something that’s very contagious, maybe because it’s the last single directly from the project, but “On and On” is something that is so catchy. When we made it, I knew. Like this, this one right here is so special! “On and On” is the one that is always catchy to me for some reason, it’s a good reason, haha!”
Which song took the most time to finish and why?
“Uh, you know, time is only a constraint. Time isn’t a real thing. Some of these songs went through different iterations, different versions, different tones, different feelings. So I’m not going to say one song in particular took the most, but um, yeah, every song had its own story.”
If you was to add one more song to the project, what song would you pick and who else would you feature on it?
“Oh, man, that’s a great question! I think Breathwork, the EP, is perfect in terms of the tracks and what I wanted. So there’s not one track that I felt like can complete the project because to me, I feel like the project is already complete. And you just got to stay tuned to the next phase, honestly!”
How did you pick the name of the EP and what does it mean to you?
“How did I pick the name of the EP? That’s a great question, honestly. I have, you know, I had different reasonings and thoughts about that. In the beginning I didn’t have a name. And then as the project kept going, it really came into a light of its own. So that was an amazing thing.”
“For me, like breath work, like the term, the word, it really for me represents the connection between breath, rhythm, the inner self and music. I love that idea of breath work as it can be put into a state of euphoria and serenity. And I’m kind of.. juxtaposition of the term, I’m making it in my own way in terms of like, ideally, it’s kind of used in like a yoga fashion or just in terms of calmness, my breath work. I’m trying to flip it into a way of “What does it mean for you?” Everyone’s breath work is different. Yeah.”
Last and not least, for someone who just came across your music now, what song off the EP would you advise them to go and listen to first to get a taste of your project?
“Honestly, if someone’s came across my music, I’d say listen to Breathwork from top to bottom in the tracklist order and that will give you a good sense of my vibe.”
Now let’s talk about you, shall we? I want to go back to the early days and run it back to as early as 2005. That’s when you initially started. Then you took a four-year break, went and studied journalism and came back in 2010 ready to reintroduce yourself. Tell me, how did getting a degree in journalism help you build your career?
“Wow! You really dig deep, wow! Yes, I went to Penn State University, I got a degree in journalism. I think that kind of helped me in the beginning of my career because I got a sense of branding, I got a sense of storytelling, I got a sense of vision and what journalism is. Like you got to tell a story, there’s got to be a beginning, middle and end. You got to capture the audience, got to convey the message, you got to gravitate towards your message and you got to have the mass consumer understand it. And sometimes you don’t have that much time to get that point across.”
“So journalism, I think it helped build my career because of the writing aspect of it and then it also just kind of.. I use those journalism traits and things I’ve learned and put it into the branding of my music and my career.”
During the time you was studying you kept going to events and networking, so you built relationships with people that could potentially be part of the journey when you was ready to go full steam ahead. I read in one of your early interviews that you used to send out hundreds of emails consistently just for people to hear your beats. Do you remember the first significant break you had that came out of you networking and sending out emails?
“Wooow, haha! So yes, back in those days I used to send.. Oh my God! Packs of beats. Like back in the early Twitter days I used to send packs of beats to emails, just send it, send it, send it, send it, send it. And, um, I don’t know if I per se had a big break but I did get some placement through that and that was very fulfilling at the time.
“And the industry was really different at that time, but that showed me I gotta be hungry, gotta be a hard worker, gotta be consistent. You can’t stop. You never know who can listen to you or who’s gonna open that email, or who’s going to come across your name. So I think that early time of my life was definitely.. It was just like, you know, I gotta put the power in my own hands and it really showed me how to become a beast when it comes to just attacking things full force and just like not going and following the rules, just doing it how you feel and like letting the passion lead you.”
From that moment, what would you say was the best step you took to keep that momentum going?
“From that moment I think the best step I took to keep the momentum going was just really knowing how to innovate myself, keeping things fresh, and staying true to myself. I think that kind of like led me to ignore all the noise going on and just really be concise and focus on my plan of attack. And, like I want to set my vision and know who Austin Millz is as an entity.”
Your debut tape Earned came out in 2012, two years after you graduated. Back then you were interviewed by Rahim the Dream and you were saying that “There’s not a lot of producers out there making instrumental tapes so I’m really tryina just brand myself and make it something real creative.” You was part of the early wave of visionaries that saw the potential for producers to brand themselves this way. Now this is the norm for producers and it’s proven to be a recipe for success. As someone who started doing this when not too many people were doing it over ten years ago, what would you say is the key to success when you use this method?
“Woow, this is an amazing question! Oh my God! Honestly, yes, I was in the era of making instrumental beat CDs and branding myself as a producer when a lot of producers weren’t. And I felt like I’ve always had that ingrained and I always had that wanting to do that. I’ve always seen the bigger picture of having the producer, you know, let the beats tell the story.”
“I think the key to success when you use this method, I think (is) really just believing in your journey and even if the masses aren’t going that direction, keep going in the direction you want to go in. Let the music speak, let your brand speak, let your artistry speak. And I think that’s kind of what my mind was always on. Just remaining creative with the music. And yeah, just having, you know, that Inkling and that knowing of like, it might not make sense right now but one day it’s all going to make sense.”
Last but not least, what is one piece of advice that you would give aspiring producers out there in terms of how to manoeuvre in the industry?
“One piece of advice that I would give aspiring producers out there in terms of how to manoeuvre in the industry is I would say, stay consistent. Consistency is key. And like literally be authentic, do things that resonate with you. And don’t worry about what everyone else is doing. But just make it feel organic and true to you. So consistency, authenticity and I would say do your research, like, learn about the history, know about the things that came before you. So it’s a fine line of learning that, so doing research and remaining authentic to yourself can be tricky because at the same time you want to remain true to yourself. And if you don’t know who yourself is that takes some time to get to find out.”
“But I think by doing research you can see there’s things that you might like but how to make it for you. So I think that three things are consistency, authenticity, and research. And just, you know, paying homage and respecting the craft and just appreciating the history/ research by doing that, and what that is. So yeah, consistency, authenticity and research. And I think that’s how you can manoeuvre in the industry.”