Americana-pop artist Chris Mills is keeping busy these days, touring in support of his greatest hits disc Heavy Years: 2000-2010.
“Greatest hits?” you ask, “I’ve nevereven heard of him!” Well, that’s the cheeky part about it. Mills readily admits it’s an odd endeavor.
“It’s not like the Boss where the songs choose themselves,” he says on his way to Boston. The selections cover the fans’ and Mills’ favorites as well as a couple new ones, offering a nice survey of Mills’ understated rustic/pop style.
Mills got his start in Chicago and fell in with some of Bloodshot Records’ “insurgent country” crowd, playing guitar for Sally Timms and making friends with Jon Langford (of the Mekons).
“It was a great lesson in the value of spontaneity, humor, and the willingness to sort of combine a bunch of influences and not hold anything too precious,” says Mills.
He’s released five full-lengths over the years, slowly progressing from twangy country to a more polished orchestralmien and eventually back to a rock approach on his last studio album, 2008’s Living in the Aftermath.
“I had just done the big orchestral thing [2005’s Wall to Wall Sessions], and the record before that was pretty produced as well. I just wanted to get back to making a four-piece/five-piece rock record, and some of the simpler stuff I used to do,” Mills says.
Heavy Years pulls from four of his albums picking notable classics like the plaintive chamber-pop country waltz “Suicide Note,” the rocking Replacements-y jangle rocker “Atom Smashers,” and the seven-minute atmospheric pop paean “Signal/Noise,” where he acknowledges, “Now the lies don’t sound as good as they used to, and I love you more as your signal turns to noise.”
He’s also included two new songs and highlighted the supple folk-pop album opener, “All Our Days and Nights,” where he notes, “The lines around your eyes deepen, as you realize the last thing you ever wanted was the truth.”
“It’s a little bit of a trip down memory lane” Mills explains. “You think about who you were when you wrote those songs, or who you were with when you were recording them. But at the same time, you’re trying to pick out things that are going to make a good album. And a lot of times you’ll feel like the newest thing is always best.”
His parents are from West Virginia, and he heard a lot of country music growing up, which he thinks may explain the persistent rustic twang.
As for the rest of his felicitous stylistic exploration, he says, “A lot of it is about keeping yourself interested.”
So yeah, it’s good for him too.