When I arrived in Fort Worth, I read the skies like my ancestors and found The Moon. Behind the bar, there was a gentleman who carried himself with ease. After the bourbon was poured, we exchanged pleasantries. Such were my early months knowing Taylor Craig Mills. We’d see one another at shows. That handshake, the nod of the head or tip of his Open Road Stetson, the little things showed presence; from gestures like a kind word, or a short-and-sweet anecdote, everything was in its right place. And when I heard him sing at 2012 Weekly MAF, his Mills & Co. performing a divine set in the cool darkened oasis of The Durty Crow, it stopped me in my tracks. Mills’ voice set against lush arrangements gave one the sensation of time slowing.
Mills is a storyteller in the Texas tradition, able to conjure the wilds of our state’s longing as well as the isolation of that Lone Star. 2012’s Don’t Ever Look Back Twice is a bounty of sculpted layers, rife with characters caught up in the perpetual grind. Star-crossed lovers and tragic subplots line the hallways of these tunes, swelling with enigmatic pathos echoing long after the music stops.
Opening with a haunting whistle, the album is as evocative as a collection of short stories and has been in heavy rotation since making its way to my ears last year. When we met up at The Aardvark late in the summer, it was Mills who asked the first question, “So what are we doing here?” Soon we were talking about his first band, with his brother, called Voight. During those early musical experiences, he realized, “Songs have the best reach to the human heart.” It was this thesis that eventually launched Mills&Co. in 2010. Then came Our Souls To Keep, the album’s closing tune with the meditative refrain, “Don’t let it go to your head,” and he’d found his sound.
Folks who had known him for years were astounded to hear what he’d been working on, and the scene responded positively. Tom Urquhart and Tony Diaz from KTCU’s Good Show allowed him to record a demo in their studio, getting twenty-two songs down in the first session. Soon he would join Blackbox’s roster of artists and find even more fans.
Mills & Co’s sound centered on the front man’s true tenor, a vocal ability often wasted in traditional rock forays. Developing material for the project, he sheepishly approached friend Jeremy Hull, bass player for cowpunk masters Holy Moly, followed by drummer Joe Carpenter. “I thought the warmth of Jeremy’s bow worked well with my voice.” Filling out the lineup, Mills turned to Kris Knight formerly of Handclaps and Harmonies[i], giving him a keyboard player with a strong head for harmony. “I wanted a more natural feel. No matter how strong your voice is when you’re battling lead guitar and amps you get drowned out and people miss the point of everything.” Whether seen as a two, three or four-piece the songs always resonate.
In addition to his own music, Mills and Knight joined Un Chien, allowing our mustachioed hero to return to his bass player roots, “Its fun to play my part and not have to worry about everything else.” The band destroyed their Joy Division set at Rock Assembly 2013, Mills nailing Peter Hook’s melodic bass lines. Recently signed to Hand Drawn Records, their full-length debut releases December 6th.
Taylor Craig Mills continues to write new tunes for the next Mills & Co. record, telling me four songs have already made their way onto set lists. He will continue to find new ways of connecting with people, “I’ve done the rock and roll show and that’s a blast. But the reason I became a musician was to have an effect on somebody. Sometimes it’s a song that makes your night, week or even your month better.”