Electro chanteuse. Indietronica muse. Pop boss. Nicole Millar, singer/songwriter, has established herself as one of Australia’s most buzz crossover acts in only three years.
The mysterious Sydneysider, her sensual voice like an elixir, became a household name when she co-wrote and sang Peking Duk’s 2014 mega-anthem High. The DJ duo had heard the ethereal Nicole on the cult Cosmo’s Midnight track Phantasm and hit her up via Instagram. High would be certified triple-platinum, score an ARIA for “Best Dance Release”, and land at #2 in triple j’s Hottest 100 poll.
Farewelling her day job in a cold-pressed juice outlet, Nicole secured a manager. Then she embarked on a pilgrimage to discover her own sonic aesthetic. “I just took some time off to really find out what kind of artist that I wanted to be and what kind of music I wanted to create,” Nicole says. There were curious experiments. “Back then I wanted to write really out-there alternative music that didn’t make much sense!” In the interim, the vocalist was approached to collaborate with other electronic types – among them Emoh Instead and the masked Golden Features. Nicole had a creative epiphany. “I definitely wanted to make electronic music, but I still have a love for pop music. So it was just about finding all of my references and putting them into this one little thing.” Today Nicole isn’t into genre tags – she simply represents her own modishly mutating hybrid.
In late 2015 Nicole debuted as a solo artist with the spare, atmospheric Wait – auguring summer’s Tremble EP. The title-track, a future bass banger, consistently dominated triple j’s playlist and accumulated five million streams on Spotify – after reaching #2 on the USA Viral Chart. In April Nicole launched her headlining Tremble tour, accompanied by a percussive, dancy band – selling out shows. Then, following a triumphant slot at 2016’s Splendour In The Grass on the jammed Tiny Dancer stage, she opened for pop phenom Troye Sivan. “It was cool,” Nicole enthuses. “I toured with him all around Australia. I think the biggest venue was 7000 people, which was insane – I’ve never really got to perform my own set in front of that many people.”
Now, underscoring that 2016 really is her year, Nicole is returning with her second EP, Communication – led by the turbo-charged Signals. “This one’s about a relationship where you’re with the person, but they haven’t admitted it yet and you’re trying to show them your worth and that you will go if they don’t accept your signals.” Put a signal on it, indeed. The single has already prompted Nicole’s most ambitious Australian tour, to culminate in the Southbound 2016 festival.
Earlier this year Nicole travelled to Los Angeles. Here, she gigged internationally for the first time, joining Brit beatmaker Daktyl to perform his Tremble remix live. But, crucially, Nicole buckled down in a writing boot camp, resulting in many of the Communication songs. “These sessions push you to write,” Nicole explains. “You just have to put yourself on the line in front of these people you’ve never met and pretty much tell them about your life story and what you wanna write about. So it can be confronting, but I think it pushes you to write better songs.” She worked alongside the LA-based Sweater Beats on Better – a clubbed-up electro ‘n’ B duet with Washington DC’s Imad Royal. It’s blitzed the Hype Machine charts.
The Communication EP encompasses, too, the “delicate” synth-pop One Thing, which Nicole wrote back home with Alex Hope – the hot Australian songwriter/producer/musician whose credits include Troye Sivan, Broods and Tuka (winning APRA’s 2016 “Breakthrough Songwriter Of The Year” award). Nicole finished the EP with Sable, the bass house (and post-chillwave) producer from Perth’s Pilerats crew.
Nicole is feeling confident about her artistic arc. On Communication she offers songs about female independence (Signals), but also explores modern romance (Love Like I Never, glitchy, melodic deep house, again helmed by Sable) and nocturnal adventures (the darkly twisting Pixelated, with Tremble producer Dan Farber). “It’s still electronic,” Nicole considers. “I think this EP could be a little bit more pop. From performing a lot over the last year, I realised that I wanted to write music that was more upbeat. I still have one slow song on the EP [One Thing], but I love performing songs that have a groove to them and are quite energetic. So, when I was writing for this EP, that’s what I wanted to do – I wanted to write fun songs… I’m just evolving as an artist – and I think I’ve found my sound.”