“I had a credit card, and it said Travis T. Mills on it. I was trying to think of a name regarding my MySpace page, and my friend said, ‘Dude, T. Mills. It’s super easy.’ And it’s my real name. Not like Lil’ Travis or anything crazy.” And that’s the story of how 23-year-old Travis Tatum Mills acquired his emcee moniker.
Mills has been playing music since he was young, though his career took off in the fashion of a true Millennial: He purchased a Macbook, learned GarageBand, and utilized social media platforms like MySpace to get his tracks out to the masses. “I was always involved with music. My grandpa gave me a guitar when I was about 4 or 5 years old, so I started banging around on that. At like 14 I started playing in bands, and we practiced in my garage. When I was 16 I was in a band and we played some shows and toured locally to places like Arizona…I didn’t really put anything out until I was 19. That was when I made a MySpace page and started doing these freestyles. I put them on the Internet and people just started finding them. I started a following.”
His first album, Ready, Fire, Aim!, got him on the rap industry’s radar, thanks to a stint on the 2010 Warped Tour, which involved some hard hustling. “I did like 50 shows on that tour all by myself. I was grinding because the only money I really made was from selling shirts. I wasn’t being paid to play. So every morning I’d burn like 200 CDs on my Macbook and I’d sign them and put them in a little package for $5.00. I didn’t have a tour manager or a crew or anything. It was all on me, so if I didn’t get up that day and do my shit, then it was affecting myself. I really had to take on five or six jobs all by myself, and it was a great learning experience. I felt like if I could do that tour by myself, I could do anything!”
In 2011, Columbia released his second EP, Leaving Home, which he followed up a year later with another mixed tape, Thrillionaire. “We did a tour officially this past summer of 2012, and I had my whole crew, had my own bus. I had nine of my friends out there working for me. It was just crazy to see how much progress I’ve made going from renting a bunk spot with another band and selling someone else’s T-shirts to having my own bus and having my own crew.”
With musical inspiration from Queen to the Eagles, Elvis, Blink 182, and the WuTang Clan, he draws from multiple influences. “I feel like I pull inspiration from everything. Whether it’s something I see on the Internet like a painting or art, or if sI’m on a blog and I see some cool words. I can literally look at something and if I’m drawn to it, I can make something out of it.”
What will 2013 bring for this young rapper who is a huge fan of social media? He just recorded 34 songs, released his track LOUD on March 5th, and plans to make his Thrillionaire mixed tape a trilogy, will be releasing his debut studio album later this year, and will continue tweeting daily. “I’m huge on fan engagement. No one else write my tweets or blog posts. I do everything myself. I feel that really comes through. If someone asks me a question, they can reach me on Twitter, and I’ll respond to them.”
Check out the full interview with T Mills for The Music Issue 6
Indira Cesarine: How did you get started with music?
TM: I was always involved with music. My grandpa gave me guitar when I was about 4 or 5 years old so I started banging around on that. At like 14, I started playing in bands and we practiced in my garage. When I was 16, I was in a band and we played some shows and toured locally to places like Arizona. A year later the band broke up and I got a Macbook with Garage Band on it. So I just started recording songs on there by myself and learned how to use Garage Band. I didn’t really put anything out until I was nineteen. That was when I made a MySpace page and started doing these freestyles. I put them on the Internet and people just started finding them. I started a following.
IC: How did you come up with your performance name?
TM: I had a credit card and it said Travis T. Mills on it. I was trying to think of a name regarding my MySpace page and my friend said, “Dude, T. Mills. It’s super easy.” And it’s my real name. Not like Lil Travis or anything crazy.
IC: How long have you been performing as T. Mills?
TM: Since 2009, or late 2008. So I was nineteen or twenty.
IC: Was there a breakthrough moment that sort of catapulted you into your current presence as a musician?
TM: I had a friend who owned a clothing company from the UK. He was a sponsor on the Vans Warped Tour in 2009, and I hadn’t played any shows as T. Mills. He wanted me to work for him on the tour to sell T-shirts. I told him I’d love to. He had a huge tent, his own sound system, and a dance floor. He loved the songs I made and he let me play my songs in his tent everyday. So I wasn’t officially on the tour, but that was my first show. I got bunk spot with another band on the tour, and just hustled. I set up the tent, sold my T-shirts, and played every single day. It was just me and my laptop. Around 3 PM I’d get my laptop from the bus and play for like 20 minutes. Then go back to work. I did like 50 shows on that tour all by myself. I was grinding because the only money I really made was from selling shirts. I wasn’t being paid to play. So every morning I ‘d burn like 200 CDs on my Macbook and I’d sign them and put them in a little package for $5.
I didn’t have a tour manager or a crew or anything. It was all on me, so if I didn’t get up that day and do my shit, then it was affecting myself. I really had to take on five or six jobs all by myself and it was a great learning experience because you talk to people who’ve done the Vans Warped Tour and they say it’s the hardest tour to do because it’s fifty shows with about ten days off and it’s a hundred-seventeen degrees. You’re outside all day. I felt like if I could do that tour by myself, I could do anything now, especially with a crew. The cool thing is we did a tour officially this past summer in 2012 and I had my whole crew, had my own bus. I had nine of my friends out there working for me. It was just crazy to see how much progress I’ve made going from renting a bunk spot with another band and selling someone else’s T-shirts to having my own bus and having my own crew.
IC: How do come up with your lyrics?
TM: I used to just freestyle everything and find what I like from that and put it together. I’ve written so many songs now it happens in a few different ways. Sometimes I’ll be driving and think of something and write it on my phone. Other times I’ll have an idea and talk to a producer and we’ll expand on the whole thing. It’s really random and every song is unique. My creative process isn’t exactly the same every time so it doesn’t become redundant.
IC: A song like “Other Bitch Calling.” Were there any inspirations with particular songs like that, which some people might consider to be provocative?
TM: My friend James Followroy is an amazing singer and songwriter. I was a huge fan even before we became friends. We were in the studio at 7 a.m. recording my mixtape and he listened to the beat for literally two minutes before he went in the vocal booth. He sang the whole hook and I wrote verses for it. That was probably the easiest song I had ever made.
IC: Do you have a favorite band or musician that has inspired you and your music?
TM: That’s really hard. I grew up listening to everything from Queen to the Eagles. Elvis, Blink 182, WuTang Clan, Bone Thugs and Harmony, and R. Kelly. I’d say vocally, Queen. They’re one of my favorite bands. Freddy Mercury was one of the most amazing singers ever. I feel like pull inspiration from everything. Whether it’s something I see n the Internet like a painting or art, or if I’m on a blog and I see some cool words. I can literally look at something and if I’m literally drawn to it, I can make something out of it. This dude, Steve Lindsey, who’s a legendary publisher in the music business, told me to always keep your ears open because when you listen to people talk they’ll just drop something and those make the best songs. As far as drawing inspiration, I don’t have just one outlet.
IC: How did you break into the music industry?
TM: I’d have to say the internet really helped me break into the music industry. I’ve always been talented with social media and getting people invested in me. I’m huge on fan engagement. No one else write my tweets or blog posts. I do everything myself. I feel that really comes through. If someone asks me a question they can reach me on Twitter and I’ll respond to them. That’s important nowadays because people want to feel like they’re connected. They want to know what food I’m eating, what clothes I’m wearing. If you tweet a fan and they freak out, they’re going to tell ten of their friends and they’re going to want the same thing they got. It’s kind of like a domino affect. I have a great tour manager and a great record label. I have amazing friends who work for me and have been doing this since before I made any money or had any success and they’ll continue to do so no matter what. I don’t want to take credit entirely, but I was self-motivated and driven for this. I learned as I went along and I’m still learning. I learn something new every day.
IC: You have a specific look with your tattoos and your gauges. Something you don’t see very often. How did that look come about?
TM: For a while I went to a lot of metal shows. I remember being in the mall with my parents as a little kid and some dude walked by me with straws in his ears. He stretched his ears out and fit straws in there. I saw that thinking it was the coolest thing ever. When I was fifteen I got my ears pierced and I started stretching them. I did it really low-key cause I didn’t want my parents knowing what I was doing. So it got to that where I could fit straws in there, and it almost became like an addiction like I didn’t stop. Next thing you know my ears were this big. But that’s not the only thing I have to offer. I want people to look at me and wonder what kind of music I make. Not just freak out about my ears.
IC: Would you consider yourself a romantic or a rebel?
TM: A little bit of both, I feel like I fall in love at least once a day. I also feel like a rebel because I don’t like people telling me what to do. I’m very headstrong, but at the same time I can see things from both sides. I’m a pretty logical person. If there’s an invested interest in me I’ll peruse it. I definitely feel like I’m a romantic. It might not come off in all my lyrics, but you have to have a sense of humor.
IC: Have you ever have a difficult performance where you were on stage and something crazy happened?
TM: Everyone has technical difficulties. There’s no way around it. In my first show in New York City, I sold out the Highland Ballroom. It was right after I signed to Columbia. Everything was perfect and sound check was amazing. I went on stage and our Pro Tools rig that we were running all our tracks from got fucked up. We started the first song and it just jumped to the end of the song and started looping. We didn’t know what to do. And then our rig crashed during another song on the set. That was hard because I had the president and vice president of Columbia there. I had my publicist, my manager, and my agent there. I sold out the whole show and I had to run with it. I feel like you have to be able to adapt and I feel I’m pretty good at that.
IC: Do you have any motto or words of wisdom you live by?
TM: When I was thirteen, my friends had told me, “dreams for those who sleep. Reality is for those who work. What did you do today to make yourself better than you were yesterday?”
IC: What’s your favorite song that you’ve ever produced or written?
TM: It would have to be one that hasn’t come out yet. It’s going to be on the new album. I have a few songs on there I’m really excited about and I can’t wait for people to hear it.
IC: When is this album coming out?
TM: It’ll be out in the beginning of 2013. I’d say March or April.
IC: You’ve been working on this album for how long?
TM: On and off for about a year. I was on tour for a few months so I didn’t record at all. But at the same time I release so much music. I released Leaving Home, the free album. Then the Van’s one did its thing and went to radio. We kind of bundle it as an EP. Then I recorded Thrillionare, which was my mixtape that I put out in July. It’s just been non-stop sessions. I recorded 34 songs in the last three weeks. So now I’m in the studio like everyday.
IC: Are you performing?
TM: Yes, I actually have a show in a few hours in the Observatory in Orange County.
IC: Aside from your album coming out is there any major things we should look out for?
TM: I’m always dropping new content so I have a bunch of videos. I love dropping free music for my fans. The album is really all I’ve been focusing on.
IC: Do you have a name for this album?
TM: I don’t and it always comes to me in the last hour. It’s so weird. I want to get the songs perfect first though. I feel like I already have the best songs, but I want to see if I can top myself. At times it can be rather difficult, taking something that’s already great and beating it. But it’s because I care and I want this album to be amazing. It’s the first of many to come. I have so much music.
IC: Will you be in New York anytime soon?
TM: I’ll be in New York at the end of January or beginning of February.
IC: How often are you performing when you’re not touring?
TM: At least twice a month, I like to keep busy.
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