Rucyl Mills’ music is a carefully constructed collage of sounds tinged with otherworldliness. Citing Laurie Anderson and Rick Ross, two vastly different artists, as people with whom she would like to collaborate, one can sense that Mills’ open-mindedness is crucial to her music. A former member of the hip-hop group, The Goats, in the early 90s, Rucyl has gone on to lend her talents to various projects and co-founded the label and audiovisual electronic group Saturn Never Sleeps.
Lives In: Philadelphia
Past Groups: The Goats
Favorite Song: So many favorites but one that always pops into mind is Marvin Gaye’s “When Did You Stop Loving Me, When Did I Stop Loving You?” A brilliant composition.
Tom Tom Magazine: How do you describe your music?
Rucyl Mills: Ethereal, soul-based, experimental electronic music.
Is there an artist with whom you would like to work with someday?
Laurie Anderson and Rick Ross. At the same time. And I’d love to get Sly and Robbie. But I’m kind of happy on my own and making music with friends.
How do you create your sounds?
I start with a loop, rhythmic or melodic, then add whatever other sounds I want. Then I spend most of the time manipulating those songs into textures until I’m happy with the result. At any point I might be inspired to add vocals, which I may do in the middle or at the end of the process. Sometimes I write a bunch of songs on piano or guitar, then convert them into electronic versions.
What inspires you?
Architecture, nature, geometry, mysticism, science, unknown voids like space and the deep sea, the human experience, Studio Ghibli films, the art my friends make, and most of all, love.
When did you decide to pursue being an audiovisual artist, producer and singer as a career?I didn’t really decide to be an artist until my friends started telling me I was one. Previously, I had thought of myself as an observer who liked to make music and other things. I didn’t realize I could make a career out of it until my early 30s, and even still, I don’t feel like I have to make money from something in order to call it my career. I have so much respect for the vision of the artists I admire, and I now see that it’s a gift, and a responsibility, for an artist to share their perspective with the rest of the world.
I came across something you posted on facebook: I do not see myself represented so I make my own media. That’s what Sun Ra did. When you say you do not see yourself represented what do you mean exactly?
I don’t see myself, meaning my perspective, represented in film, music, or art. Every so often I see something that’s close, but not quite. Anyone who has an inclination to make something should do it! There’s enough room for everyone’s perspective, and our differences as humans need to be expressed in order for us to acknowledge our sameness, allowing us to gracefully evolve into a loving and respectable species.
I can definitely see Sun Ra as an influence for your unconventional, and otherworldly sounds. What other musicians have influenced your work?
Sun Ra’s film Space is the Place, really influenced me. After seeing that film, I realized that I could be and create whatever I wanted. And if you capture it on film, it becomes a reality and truth for others. I am influenced by all kinds of music, but I especially love vocalists who are masters of rhythm, and who have that element of truth in their tone. Nina Simone, Sarah Vaughn, Chaka Khan, Grace Jones, Al Green, Otis Redding, Nick Drake, Sheila Chandra, Flora Purim, Natacha Atlas, Oumou Sangare, Ali Farka Toure, pretty much any Lovers Rock singer. I could go on and on.
Can you talk more about the CHAKAKAHNTROLLER? Firstly, I love the name. Chaka Kahn is someone I regard as a queen among woman (laughs).
I needed a way to control my live set so I created the Chakakhantroller, a wearable midi controller. It can control samples and loops using a midi signal, and the loops could be audio or video. The idea was to run an entire audiovisual set at one time. I encased it in black leather and snakeskin to make it look and feel tough. I named it after Chaka – ‘cause she’s the greatest thing ever.
What equipment do you like using?
APC 40 Controller w/ Ableton Live, Critter Guitari Kaleidoloop, Roland SH-101, Yamaha SY-1, Boss Dr. Rhythm 110, Roland SP 303, Monome sixty-four, Nintendo DS w/ Glitch DS, Shure SM57
What projects are you working on now?
I’m working on scoring two film soundtracks, a new solo record, and a bunch of collaborations. I’m also developing an experimental video/performance piece based on a series of dreams. And I’m designing the sound and video for a series of performances pieces called “This Town is a Mystery”, with Headlong Dance Theater here in Philadelphia, premiering at the Philly Live Arts Festival this fall.
You spent some time in New York and returned to your hometown of Philly. How do the music scenes in NY and Philly compare?
The music scenes in Philly and NYC are very much intertwined, with musicians going back and forth between both places regularly. I would say the quality of musicians, in general, in Philadelphia is unsurpassed. NYC has a more competitive vibe, but more people will come out to see you perform, especially more experimental performances or new ensembles. In Philly we’re kind of spoiled – folks might not come out until at least 3 people have told them they won’t be disappointed.
As always I hope that your work inspires other women (and men), and everyone else on the gender spectrum. Any encouraging words to give to aspiring beatmakers?
Listen to yourself. Ignore any whisperings of self-doubt. Make it, break it, then make it again.
Interview by Natalie Peart
Photos by Bex Wade