Spurred on by ‘The ’59 Sound’ by The Gaslight Anthem, Steve Millar decided to pick up a guitar and formed a solo project in 2012. That project is now known as Arms and Hearts.
Later this month Millar releases his latest EP. ‘Set In Stone’ draws from his acoustic and folk influences such as Chuck Ragan, Dave Hause and Northcote and showcases his breezy, earnest style.
Lyrically Millar plays off the themes of disheartenment, purposeless youthful and the occasional bleak thought.
To give you an idea of what to expect from ‘Set In Stone’, Already Heard is premiering the opening track from the record – ‘Lost’. It is a raw, plucky track that sees Arms and Hearts bare his soul through a rallying cry of “I’m not lost. To be lost you need to know where you’re going.”
In addition, we also spoke to Steve in detail about how he started out, ‘Set In Stone’ and how his experiences as being a DIY independent artist have shaped him.
AH: Hi Steve. For those who aren’t familiar with your work and Arms & Hearts, can you bring us up to speed with what you’ve done since starting out in 2013?
It started out as an acoustic project whilst I was playing guitar in a hip-hop band called Hindu Cows; I remember my first gig with this project was in an Art Gallery in Manchester opening up for Hindu Cows. Amplify, a youth music project in my hometown, put me on a few times to get me started. Looking back I wasn’t very good, in fact I was pretty far from good, but those guys continue to support me.
I’ve done about 4 EP’s, only two that actually got released (not including ‘Set In Stone’) and I think I am slowly getting better! I’ve been with various line ups over the few years, my longest lasting involved my best friends Harry Woodrow and Jamie Parr who are both extremely talented musicians, just life sometimes gets in the way. They’ll probably be back within Arms & Hearts at some point in the future.
Around the Woodrow/Parr time we got picked up by some of the guys in the Roughneck Riot who let us open shows, got us on some of the coolest festivals we played and generally being pretty supportive.
I think this year has been the most productive for me and I have gained the most momentum. I’ve done three tours, and finished a record that I am really proud of.
AH: I hear that ‘The 59 Sound’ by The Gaslight Anthem played an influential role in you starting the project. Care to explain?
Steve: As I said before, I was in a hip-hop band and an indie rock band around the same time. Now I love certain hip-hop. Indie rock? Not so much. But a friend showed me the song ‘The 59 Sound’ after discovering a mutual love for bands like Alkaline Trio and NOFX and it hit me pretty hard. It was one of those songs that you just have on repeat for days y’know? I then bought the album and it was a changing point for me. I decided I was gonna try to learn to sing (like Brian Fallon to which I was pretty awful to begin with) but slowly progressed. I guess it’s only recently I’ve actually become comfortable with my own voice.
I would say TGA’s influence is getting less and less involved with my music, especially when comparing my earlier work. Instead, my music is more influenced by the music that Gaslight opened me up to, like Chuck Ragan, Dave Hause, Tim Vantol etc but it’s always going to be my starting point. I would never want to sound exactly like something else, because what’s the point? I try and find a middle ground.
AH: Later this month you’re releasing an EP called ‘Set In Stone’. What is the EP about? What lyrical themes does it take on?
Steve: ‘Set in Stone’ came from a song on my previous EP which I initially wanted to re-record on this one (it didn’t end up on the EP). I had about ten or so songs for it, so I recorded demos of each and sent them to Andrew Glassford (producer). We then discussed which ones were stronger and then I chose which ones I wanted to do anyway… joking! The song always ends my live sets and is still relevant to me, so I felt it was right to name the EP that.
The EP in a whole sense is about change. I wrote these songs around the time I was stressing about moving from my little town to Manchester and all my friends were moving on; ‘Dust & Bones’ and ‘Lost’ particularly have those themes.
‘I, Malcontent’ kind of deals with my dissatisfaction in life, of not really achieving what I feel I have worked for, all those empty promises they make at school; if you work hard enough it will happen, which I think we all know isn’t true. It was also written in Day 2 of quitting smoking so I’m sure you can appreciate my mood at the time.
‘The Rain’ deals with a relationship that was, as the song states “Damned from the start”. I wrote ‘Take No Prisoners’ for a friend who fell upon hard times, particularly with mental health issues, and I wanted to write a song to convey that things can get better.
AH: You’ve been working with fellow Manchester musicians (Sammy Battle, Emma Hallows, Sam Lyon and Harry Woodrow). How have they helped your shape the songs on ‘Set In Stone’?
Steve: We all worked together on a project ‘To Anywhere’, which for now is inactive, (I should also state that Sammy Battle takes most of the credit for formulating it and organizing it). ‘To Anywhere’ was inspired by The Revival Tour which featured some of our favorite artists. This project involved learning each other’s songs and performing them together, which obviously exposes you to a different way of writing and performing songs because of the range of styles within the project. We also did some of the biggest shows, including opening up for This Wild Life and Billy the Kid.
AH: We’re premiering the opening track, ‘Lost’, from the EP. What can you tell us about the track? Stylistically the EP finds itself in acoustic folk sound. Who do you consider your musical influences?
Steve: The song ‘Lost’ is about being scared of the changes to my life that were imminent. Feeling kind of distant from my friends who I grew up with as they were moving on with their lives too, as well as not being sure of where I am going, not knowing what my destination was.
AH: Since starting you’ve toured independently. How has those experiences shaped you as a person and as a songwriter?
Steve: As a person I think its made me a little more hardwearing? I used to be a little too comfortable in my bed, but now I’m pretty used to the floor. And dealing with hangovers. I also find myself not as easily stressed as everything usually works out no matter how bad things get.
I’ve never really been a people person, but being constantly exposed to new people (and sometimes being pretty reliant on them for where you are sleeping, etc) makes you learn to get on with people better. I don’t think I’ve been a dick before, just not as sociable, but I do think touring has made me a nicer person. I also think the fact I was doing something I love made me more comfortable in myself and therefore nicer.
The people I get to meet are some of the most loveliest, honest and genuine people and I think you can be inspired to be a better person by being around it. To reiterate, I don’t think I used to be a dick, I just feel I’m better for touring haha.
As a songwriter I feel I have more to write about as I have experienced and seen more. I’ve also been exposed to more work with the artists I get to play with, so huge inspiration from that. I also find that touring makes you a better performer as you work out very quickly what works and what doesn’t on stage. I’ve always struggled talking between songs as anyone who saw me in the early days will fully well know, but slowly but surely I get a little better each tour.
The first tour was with Swedish singer songwriter Hildur Hoglind, which was an awesome first tour, and a learning experience. The second tour was with Harry’s solo project ‘Mountains, Monsters’ which was again awesome but I learnt a lesson in not getting wasted every night. My last one was with David Kay, which had the best shows. David is an awesome songwriter; it was a pleasure to work with him.
I find that sometimes these kinds of things never highlight how bad it can get though, like driving x amount of miles/spending so much time on a train to play a show that no one turns up to. It can get frustrating, but I try to see it as ‘character building’.
All the tours have been hard work, but completely worth it.
My next outing is a small one, as I can’t get time off from my catering job in November and December! But I am doing a few dates with Harker and Larkhill late November; 26th at The Cricketers in Kingston and the 27th The Festing, Portsmouth. I’ve also got my EP launch at The Retro Bar in Manchester on the 25th November.
AH: What impression do you hope people leave with after hearing ‘Set In Stone’?
Steve: Hopefully my friends will hear it and think “well Steve’s not that shit anymore” I joke. I think I want people to find comfort and hope in it. The same kind I found it in my favorite bands and songwriters.
‘Set In Stone’ EP by Arms and Hearts is released on November 25th on What Ya Saying Alice.