Songwriter and artist Mandy McMillan is one to watch; the soulful vocalist recently caught the attention of The Brothers Osborne with her and Zack Dyer’s cover of their song “Stay A Little Longer,” and she has upcoming dates opening for artists including Craig Campbell and Maggie Rose. We caught up with the talent recently returned from a set of shows with The Tin Roof, a chain of venues throughout the south that has played host to McMillan in multiple locations.
Mandy McMillan: Ever since I was little I was musical; my mom said that I was humming and singing before I could talk, so it’s always been there in my heart. I started when I was little, singing at Christmas concerts – I have two younger sisters – so we used to sing at Christmas concerts and weddings that family had, and we sang the national anthem at the rodeos when we were little. I took piano lessons, was always in choir in school, and as I got older, I started doing singing competitions. My sisters decided they didn’t want to sing anymore so they’d just leave it up to me. I always waned to be like the Dixie Chicks, so I was so sad when they quit the band. But I started doing singing competitions, voice lessons, drama productions, and when I was probably about 16 I dusted off my sister’s guitar and taught myself how to play. I started writing and started a band, and that’s kind of how it all progressed.
The Shotgun Seat: How does the Canadian country scene differ from the industry in Nashville?
The Canadian country scene is booming, I’ve found. There always has been a lot of music up there, I mean you’ve got Shania Twain, but I definitely feel like over the past couple years it’s been booming. They have the Canadian Country Music Awards up there. It is kind of its own little world, but it does dip its toes into Nashville. Everybody comes down here to write, and there are a lot of Canadian artists living down here and doing the touring thing. It’s kind of like two separate things but they cross over each other a little bit.
How long ago did you make Nashville your permanent home?
I officially moved down here three years ago, although I was coming down here for about eight months before that.
Did you always know you wanted to end up in Nashville?
I remember when I was probably about 16 I told my mom out of nowhere, I was just like, ‘I’m gonna move to Nashville.’ My plan was when I was 18, when I graduate, I’m moving. I’d never been here before. That didn’t really happen – my first trip to Nashville was when I was about 21, and when I got down here I loved it. I had a few friends that iId met that worked in the music industry, and so they were able to show me around, and give me all the advice and everything. I worked my butt off to work for my work visa and I came down at 23 and I think I got my visa when I was 24.
What’s required to earn a work visa as an artist?
You have to prove that you’re doing the job that you’re doing, in a sense. When I was home, I did a lot of singing competitions and I won some stuff and opened up for some artists. Thankfully, I won a competition back in ’08 that led to me opening up for Trisha Yearwood, playing a big music festival. So that kind of stuff, just showing that you’re legit and pursuing the career that you’re moving down for.
As a songwriter as well as an artist, are you always writing for your artist project or do you pitch to other artists as well?
I think when I first stared writing and I first got here, the focus was mainly on what I wanted to write and what I wanted to record, but as I’ve lived here and been co-writing it’s definitely expanded into writing for other people and writing for a specific person that’s in the room writing or trying to write stuff to pitch.
Do you find it easier to do one or the other?
It’s kind of a mix of all that together ‘cuz you never really know what’s going to come out of it. Sometimes we’ll start to write a song and it’s like, we’ll write this for myself, and then as you progress in the song, it leans its way to another artist, and then it’s like oh, well maybe this is more pitchable. So it all kind of depends, but I think it’s great to go into a write kind of having an idea and a vision of what you want. You can think, I want to write a song that could be pitchable towards Miranda Lambert, so what does she sing about, and what does she like, that kind of thing. Definitely if you’re thinking pitch-wise, go in with a vision.
Do you find a common thread in the songs you want to record yourself?
I think for me mostly with ballads and that kind of thing, if there’s a connection with it, if I’ve been in that moment or if it was written about a specific event in my life or something that triggers a lot of heartfelt memories or something like that, that’s a definite something that I connect with. As of lately I’ve been writing stuff more with more groove, and I like to write stuff that’s a little bit tongue in cheek.