By Jennyfer J. Walker
The first song Tor Miller had played on the radio, was a crappy iPhone recording, made when he was full of cold. The piano-based pop singer sent the rough track to his manager Chris Gentry at United Management, who sent it to Sam Rumney from Glassnote Records, who sent it to his good friend/former colleague Zane Lowe, who just went ahead and played it.
“That was the first radio play I’d ever gotten,” says Tor in his sleepy Brooklyn drawl. “I was just sending it out to say, Hey, there’s a song I’m working on, what do you think about it? So I was pretty shell-shocked [that it got played]… part of me was really excited, and the other part was so annoyed, that the worst I had ever sounded was the first time I was ever on the radio.”
Tor sounds a lot better when he’s played through car speakers these days, with three singles in his back catalogue that were actually recorded in a studio: Carter & Cash, Baby Blue and Surrender, all of which feature on his upcoming album American English, out September 30. The record’s title was inspired by the five months Tor spent living in London when he was 18. There to write music and play some shows, he quickly realised that “English-English and American-English are almost two different languages”.
“There would be a lot of conversations between two Brits, where I just couldn’t really understand what anyone was saying,” he says, referring to words like “gaff” and “innit”. “As I spent more time there I started picking up on the slang, and when I went home I was getting a lot of shit from my friends for adopting this sort of accent. American English to me is a way of life – it’s how I was when I was just being a New York City kid abroad.”
While the 22-year-old’s British adventure seems like an age ago now, it equally feels like it’s taken an age to get his debut album out, after it was deliberately delayed, he says, to give his fan base a chance to grow.
“I’m writing the second record now, so yeah, I’m ready to put the first one and the second one out,” laughs the singer. The writing process for the former saw Miller do six months of sessions with co-writers, including Glen Ballard, the pen behind Michael Jackson’s Man In The Mirror.
“We didn’t get anything out of the session, but it was pretty cool working with him,” he remembers.
When it came to choosing songs for the record, Miller had around 150 registered with his publishing company, which he had to whittle down to just 13. The singer-songwriter hopes that one day the remaining tracks might get picked up by other artists, although he’s had no interest yet.
“No one wants them. I guess they’re not very good,” he jokes (we think... since he’s completely deadpan). “So many of the songs are artist-centric. Like, they’re very much written by me. And no-one knows who I am…”
While that might be classed as a ‘porkie pie’ in British slang, Tor was pretty unknown when he dropped out of the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music at NYU two years ago after picking up a record deal. It came when Dan Glass and Sam Rumney from Glassnote Records went to see him support Chvrches at Brixton Academy and were talking to his manager backstage.
“Chris was saying how we wanted to put out a couple singles on a 7-inch at a small label in New York City, and asked who would be a good label to do that with, and Dan at Glass just said, Well, we’ll sign him… and then they shook hands, and that was the deal. Chris knew Dan was a man of his word, so he tried to shake his hand as quickly as possible (laughs).”
While Tor always knew that dropping out of NYU to concentrate on his record deal full-time was the right decision, he had a job convincing his parents...
“They’re both lawyers and education is paramount for them, so that conversation was very tricky,” he says, talking from their horse farm in New Jersey, where he spends his summers. “But for me, I always knew. Even before I went to college, I knew my goal was, in two years, to have a record deal and drop out, so it all went according to plan.”