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#8 THE MUSIC TEACHER

Vanessa Millar - photo by Robin Bottrell
Vanessa Millar - photo by Robin Bottrell

THE SHORT SHIZ

  • Early career stage musician from Boorloo/Perth.
  • Major coffee addict.
  • Has it.
  • Laughs a lot, mostly about serious things.
  • Can’t remember jokes.
  • Needs more guitars and a tech.
  • Will she make the big time? YES/NO/WTF KNOWS/ALREADY HAS

THE LONG SHIZ

“I’ve been a music teacher for a long time and people would always ask me why I never perform. I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t.”

I’ve known Vanessa Millar, the musician behind Veruca Moon, since her early breakthrough in the Perth music scene around a year ago. We share some mutual friends, but I never really felt like I knew her essence until we sat down to chat recently in a Mount Lawley café famous for its doughnuts. For the record, neither of us had one, but the tea did flow.

Live, she’s a room filler and an attractor of rapture. People hang on every word, every note of her performances. Veruca Moon is a gorgeous sight to behold and share space with.

“I try not to drink too much coffee,” Millar said, as we decided what to order, “Sometimes I drink too much and it makes me jittery, gives me the shakes.”

Oh, do tell, was my immediate thought, but I didn’t have to ask. Millar was incredibly generous about sharing her insights, only once refusing to give just that little bit more when I asked her.

“I’ve had anxiety since I was… well, my whole life really,” said Millar. “I just didn’t know what it was at first. I used to have this incredible desire to please people, to make everything right for everyone around me.

“I’ve been writing songs since I was about 14, but I never thought that I could play my music to an audience, because I knew that I couldn’t.”

That was the moment that I began to know Millar properly, as she gave a textbook explanation of the self-defeating echo chamber that is anxiety. It’s a condition that is still little understood, even by the medical profession, let alone the hoi polloi, because its main modus operandi is to evade definition. If you’ve never experienced it, when someone says they’re experiencing anxiety, you’ll probably think they’re just a little bit worried about something. If you have, you’ll know that anxiety is a killer of souls, a drain on every last bit of a person’s physical and mental resources and, in Millar’s case, the full stop to a career in music that almost never was.

“What got me over the line,” Millar said, “was the person I was in a relationship with. They’re a musician too and they encouraged me, made me feel like I could survive playing my songs for an audience.”

“Who was that?” I asked, thinking they should take their part in Millar’s story.

“I’d rather not say. Turns out it was an abusive relationship. We’re no longer together, but towards the end, I packed up all my stuff and moved up to Perth and ended up meeting all these people in about a week, and not long after I was playing my songs live with a band as Veruca Moon.”

That explains a lot. In the early days, I’d watch Millar play and there was an awkwardness about her. There still is, but what’s gone is the searing look in her eyes, the one that signals that inside is a heart that’s slowly, painfully crumbling. She’s put on weight, too, and I mention that not because anyone’s body is anyone’s business, but because Millar herself said that her weight loss at that time was unhealthy. The person I’m speaking with today is beginning to take charge of her demons. Millar’s eyes shine with the humour and energy that her anxiety had stolen from her and, while she knows she’s still got a long way to travel, she’s come far enough to know that she’s got this now.

“Yeah, I still don’t know what to say on stage between songs,” Millar said. “These days at social gatherings, I’m the life of the party, I’ve always got a joke, always know what to say, but I can never remember any of them for that between song banter.”

Whereas in the early days, that could lead to dead air on stage, Millar’s tongue-tiedness is now all part of her charm. She passes it off with a grin that could light up the darkest of rooms and then, before her guitarist has a chance to fill space with another truly awful dad joke, she finishes tuning and plays another song.

And, thank who-/whatever that Millar found her way to being a performer. Live, she’s a room filler and an attractor of rapture. People hang on every word, every note of her performances. Veruca Moon is a gorgeous sight to behold and share space with.

Vanessa Millar – photo by Robin Bottrell

As far as her recorded output goes, there’s only one song so far, ‘Four Seasons’. It begins with a down tuned arpeggio and the line, Someone please help me. It crashes to an end in a crescendo of angst as Millar wails, Oh I’ll hate you then I’ll love you. Everything in between is pure emotion. It’s a spectacular first single that, in a way, puts me in mind of Green Day’s ‘Brutal Love’, but stands alone in its (im)perfection without really needing any references for the uninitiated.

“I chose the name Veruca Moon because I thought it was a persona I could hide behind,” Millar said. “Turns out I can’t because my song writing is very personal, it’s all about me.”

Yes, well, you could say that about any musician, but the great ones are the ones who turn themselves into audio memes that capture what it is that the rest of the world is feeling. So far, Millar is achieving great success with that point of connection and shows no signs of deviating from her path.

“I feel like I’m successful already,” Millar said when I asked her what’s next. “I know I connect with people when I’m playing my music, I can feel that energy in the room and see it in people’s faces. I don’t need to do anything more than that to feel like I’m a successful musician.”

But she is doing more.

“I’m just about to record an EP,” Millar said. “I’ve got the songs ready, I’ve got some great people, musicians and a producer, I’m going to be working with. I’m really excited for these songs. They’re part of my [live] set already, but I’m so looking forward to recording them and people hearing them.”

Feeling like we were coming to a close, I asked Millar if she would mind going back to the early stages of our conversation for a moment.

“I’m still a people pleaser,” Millar said, “I still want everything to be harmonious, but I know now it’s because that’s how I manage myself. If that’s good for anyone else, that’s a good thing, but I do it for me.”

Those of us who know anxiety find our own ways to cope. Or not. It’s a case of whatever works for each individual. It’s just fortunate for the world that Millar found Veruca Moon and music because while ever that works for her, we will have her music.

Millar may or may not break through Perth’s musical glass ceiling, but playing stadiums isn’t the point for her.

“I know that people feel something at my shows, Millar said. “I don’t care how many people come to see us play, it’s all about how my music makes people feel.”

Heading home, I thought about my wasted years when I would try to please anyone, do almost anything to make the anxiety go away. Sometimes it worked for the briefest of moments, but never for long. Now I’m mostly satisfied that never worrying about pleasing anyone is how I find my freedom. As an artist, Millar has found a way to please the people in her orbit by making music. Either way is equally valid, it’s just that I’ll never have Millar’s talent and you probably won’t either. Each of us needs to find our own way, but there’s nothing wrong with taking inspiration from others’ stories. You could do worse than start with Veruca Moon.

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