One of my first posts here was an article about Simon Mills (AKA Napoleon) and his 12 EP releases in 2014. I thought he might be interested to read it, so I tweeted it to him and it turns out he quite liked it. So much so, that he agreed to do an interview with me. The word chuffed comes to mind. So, without further ado, here it is.


Simon Mills, hello

RP: A lot of your music features live instruments (most prominently on Ariels). Do you play any instruments yourself or is it always through collaboration with other musicians?

SM: I play keys and piano. I basically learned to play as a child by imitating my favourite music, but where I lack in technical ability I guess I make up for in knowing chords structures and playing by ear. I can generally listen to something and play it back quite easily which is handy. It’s just a shame I’m not a fantastic pianist! I never focused on one instrument because I was always interested in the bigger picture. I love so many instruments it would be hard to choose one, but the keyboard is obviously very visual and accessible. I play percussion and bits and bobs, but other than that I’m an electronically biased person. Ariels had a lot of Nail playing and of course the musicians we brought in.


RP: Is the more ‘traditional’ songwriting style seen on Ariels something you’d like to do more of in future?

SM: That approach tends to happen if I’m working on a “song” rather than a “track”, although there is often a crossover.  I’ve been writing stuff with song structures also with a couple of vocalists, although right now I am loving just making music structured how the piece individually requires it.


RP: Do you or Nail sing on any Bent/Napoleon tracks?

SM: Yes we both have. Nail on Bent, and I’ve added in backing vocals here and there. I’ve done a few bits on Napoleon tracks too, although not “song” based vocals.


RP: Are there any particular tracks you have released (either in Bent or as Napoleon) that you have grown to dislike over time?

SM: I never really liked Bent – Tired Of The Show. Well, I liked it for about two weeks and then realised it irritated me.


RP: The Simon & Eliza project seemed to be short-lived. Can you share any thoughts? Any regrets?

SM: It was a project devised by Warner Chapell Publishing who published the last Bent album. Initially I was meant to produce her music, but because she could sing operatically I loved her voice and we wrote about 20 tracks together. Most of the songs I wasn’t completely into, but there were a few that I liked. Eventually we were given a manager who turned out to be a psychopath nut-job, and I decided it was probably best to eject from the situation. He was manipulative and I found myself working in a project that I felt was going nowhere, with a very devious person trying to take ownership of it… so I jumped ship. I regret being involved because in some ways the manager in question made up a lot of lies about myself and other people involved, attempting to improve his position with everything – he did it to many artists/industry types over the years as it turns out – and I felt like I’d lost a good bond with the main guy at the publishers based on his lies. Other than that, I’ve never met any bad people in the business… most people are wonderful to work with in my lucky experience!


RP: I once read that you don’t look back on the ‘Intercept’ period with fond memories. Can you tell us a bit more about that experience?

SM: Well, I look back at that time fondly in terms of us writing an album, but I felt that we had been influenced too much by the label – and I felt that we’d kinda lost what was originally Nail and I’s baby. Once people want to change you and improve you, it can be fatal. The album to me has some lovely moments but one half of it sounds like another band to me. I should also add that the album was a bit more uptempo because we were doing more live shows and felt like we wanted to to more uptempo shows, so naturally the BPM went up and we got louder.


Simon Mills hard at work in the studio
Simon Mills busy producing


RP: Has living in County Donegal had an influence on the music you make?

SM: Massively – I’m not distracted by things, so I’m able to write a lot more – and I think that’s how I managed to write so many tracks in 2014. I couldn’t have done that in Nottingham because there were so many distractions! I have also always craved the countryside, and it does help you just be yourself. I think influences are important, but it is even more important to write whatever you are about, not about what is current. Bent was literally that, too. We just made our own musical world and it was nice that people liked it.


RP: Simon Mills is on a desert island with three records. What are they?

SM: An impossible question! Arrrrgh! *ducks out of question*


RP: You also have just three pieces of equipment (synths etc.). What are they?

SM: Minimoog Model D, Elka Synthex, Roland Space Echo.


RP: What advice would you give to anyone who wants to start to producing their own music?

SM: Try and find your own sound, and don’t be afraid to be yourself… even if it sounds unfashionable. Just be true to your own sound and what you love. Listen to everything you love and try and dissect it, study it and apply it to your work. Write a lot and expect a lot of bad tracks. Don’t try and be a genius, be playful. Be very critical of your work. Find smaller amounts of equipment and master them, rather than using everything in the world to a moderate level.


RP: I read somewhere that you experience synesthesia – is there any particular music (apart from your own of course!) that stimulates or triggers it?

SM: All music for me just reminds me of atmospheres and places really, some are abstract, some real. It’s an associative thing, most of the time, everyone has it. The main things that trigger my synesthesia are words, letters, numbers and chords/sounds. I have colours for all. The last two I didn’t realise about until about 3 years ago until I did a test. Turns out for me chords and sounds have definite colours, shapes and textures, but I think this happens to most people.


RP: What do you like and dislike about the general music scene today?

SM: I love the internet for the ability to reach out to an audience without the need for a label all the time. It’s incredible really, but it has also killed the business. It’s a double edged sword. Spotify doesn’t support the artist at all, really. It will be interesting in 10 years’ time to see how it pans out. Getting approx £5 for 5,000 plays means more and more people striving to make music will have to give up or just do it on the side. The quality could then go down. That saddens me because there’s so much amazing stuff there, and music shouldn’t be under-valued. Luckily there are still many people out there who support the artists they love.


RP: What can we look forward to next from Simon Mills?

SM: I have a Napoleon OSTs Volume 2 out VERY soon which has 8 tracks on it, so is it an EP or an album? Ha! I’m also releasing new material as Simon Mills, the first being the Copacabasa EP in April. The latter is more uptempo material and Napoleon will continue as my more “electronica” side. The reason is because when I got booked as a DJ, even during the Bent years, it was often confusing to know what we would play and wondered what people would expect. Some wanted our dreamy side, others wanted to dance. And as a DJ it’s frustrating! I like going out with people knowing what they’re going to get, so I can get stuck in. Napoleon and Bent are more eclectic and leftfield, whereas my new material completely reflects the music I love to play out, and the house/disco/DJ-friendly stuff I buy myself. I do love playing eclectic sets, but I love rocking a room out. There’s still a subtle crossover here and there but the “Simon Mills” stuff is distinctly dance floor/DJ orientated.


End of

That was fun – thanks to Simon Mills for chatting, I’m really looking forward to hearing the next series of releases. Speaking of which, for anyone who might be interested, Simon’s latest release as Napoleon is literally just out and is called OSTs Vol2: Schools And Colleges. I’m currently settling down to listen to it for the first time, so as I stick my headphones on I’ll say goodbye for now and thanks for reading.