In the spotlight – Sugartown Slim

In the spotlight – Sugartown Slim

Sugartown Slim are a modern Country Rock duo hailing from the South of England, consisting of Andrew ‘Windy’ Mills (vocals, acoustic guitar, harmonica, backing vocals) & Andrew ‘Billy’ Giddings (other sounds, backing vocals, production). Windy & Billy have been musicians and friends since the ’80s. In 2019 they joined forces to produce a catalogue of original songs, culminating in an album ‘Wasp-coloured Carpet’ that’ll be released later in the year.

I had the opportunity to speak with Windy Mills, to discuss their songwriting process amongst other things.

What’s your musical background?

“Basically I think like all musicians, just music fans that loved it so much they wanted to learn how to do it themselves. The first instrument that I learnt, sort of, was Harmonica, and then moved on to guitar, again, sort of! I’m just a strummer really – singing’s my main thing, and I’ve played in various bands over the years. Billy’s been a professional keyboard player, recording and touring with various artists for quite a few years now. He’s always been heavily into the recording and production side of things.”

How and when did you meet?

“We met a while ago! We both lived, at the time, in the same area in the south of England, and were playing in different – rival, you could say – bands. We just gradually got to know each other and became friends.”

Why did you decide to make music as a duo? 

“Well, we actually lost touch for a number of years, but hooked up again in 2019. Obviously, we started talking about music, and I just said that I’d got a few song ideas kicking around, and would Billy be interested in maybe getting together to try recording some of them – he has his own small studio, actually it’s a shed in his garden! We’d always talked about doing something together, usually after too much to drink in the pub, and decided to stop talking about it and actually do something!”

What’s the story about the band name?

“When we started recording, we didn’t know that we were going to make country music. As I said, we hadn’t seen each other for a long time, and it transpired that we’d both been getting more and more into country over the years, and that just seemed to come out as we got into the recording process. We knew that we needed a “country” sounding name, and my surname is Mills, which is Slim backwards – we thought that was O.K. We then wanted an American town or State to put with that, but couldn’t find one that we liked. One day, I was listening to the radio, and the song ‘Sugartown‘ by Nancy Sinatra came on – I thought that might work, and Billy agreed, so that was it. We later discovered that there IS a place in Louisiana called Sugartown – population 54. Brilliant!”

What bands/artists have influenced your sound? 

“For me, it’s been a gradual thing getting more and more into country music. Like most people, I like all sorts of music, but started off being mainly into rock and pop. My main influence will always be The Beatles – basically, I like a good tune, and they don’t come much better than Lennon / McCartney.”

“Sticking to the country influences, I’ve always been a massive fan of Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen, both of whom sometimes go into that area, and I really like it when they do. The same with Crowded House, who we are both big fans of.”

“If we’re talking more obvious country artists, I’d probably say The Eagles, Eric Church, Lucinda Williams, Chris Stapleton, Marc Knopfler/Emmy Lou Harris…. too many to mention really. I like a lot of classic country stuff going right back to Hank Williams. I know Billy’s fave country artists are Blake Shelton and Luke Combs, as well as older artists like Johnny Cash and Crystal Gayle. Oh, and we both love Glen Campbell.”

What makes a great piece of music? 

“That’s a tough one. When I think of some of my favourite records, there’s different elements in the recording that make them great. If you take a record like ‘Waterloo Sunset‘ by The Kinks, it’s actually a really simple arrangement – bass, drums, electric and acoustic guitars and vocals. It’s a fantastic song, which obviously helps! I think as a lyricist, Ray Davies is part of a line of uniquely British writers that probably goes back to Noel Coward, possibly followed by Paul Weller, Morrisey….and on. The way that he sings his brilliant words in a kind of melancholy/mournful way – it always makes me feel sad but hopeful at the same time. His brother Dave’s backing vocals are great – they just add to it. Anyway, it just makes me, the listener, feel something, which is what we’re all aiming at as songwriters/artists.”

You live 160 miles apart. Does that affect your creative process? Do you enjoy the process of creating? 

“Being that far apart doesn’t affect things as much as you might think, as we both have specific roles. How it works, at the moment at least, is that I have the initial song idea, and write the lyrics. Every few months or so, I go and stay with him for a few days and take a couple of song ideas with me. The first thing we do is set the speed of a song, and then we record my acoustic guitar track. I’ll then sing it maybe 3 times – slightly different each time, so that it gives Billy some options to use. That process takes about a couple of hours, and that’s actually my contribution to the recording done! Although on some of the tracks, I might add some harmonica.”

“We’ll then spend the next couple of days together, discussing the arrangement and instrumentation etc. I give him my ideas for it, he’ll give his, and we just see what works. He might, for instance, suggest a different chord structure, or even a new melody line, in which case I will have to re – sing/play some of it.”

“The time we actually spend together is MY favourite part of the whole process – it just feels really creative. As for him….I’m not so sure! I think he actually secretly likes it.”

“We then repeat the process with the next song, and then it’s time for me to go home! That’s when Billy really gets down to work, spending hours, days and weeks doing HIS favourite part of it – producing. We know some excellent musicians, all of whom will be credited on the forthcoming album. Some time later, I’ll receive an email with a finished mix, and I’m pretty much always REALLY pleased with it. Him being him, things will always be tweaked, and I might suggest some changes, but that’s how it works. As I said, we both have different roles and skill sets – it seems to work pretty well.”

You’ve released three singles. What can you tell me about your latest release ‘Your Worst Mistake’?

“Well….without being evasive, or coming across as some sort of primadonna, ‘Worst Mistake‘ is the one song of ours that I can’t really tell you what the lyrics are about. Let’s just say that it’s dark subject matter, and there are genuine reasons why I can’t really talk about it. When I was writing the lyrics, I definitely had Johnny Cash’s voice in my head – would love to have heard him sing it.”

What are you hoping to achieve with your music?

“Again, tough to answer that one – we’re not exactly sure! When we got together to start this, the aim was purely to just have some fun making some music together – we hoped to record about 12 songs and put an album out there just for the hell of it. In days gone by, the only way you could really do that was by getting a record deal – obviously, now with streaming platforms etc, that’s all changed.”

“As we got into the recording process, we thought the songs were coming out O.K. and maybe we could get some radio airplay. We discovered that there was a whole network of independent country radio stations and shows out there, so we started sending them songs. We didn’t know if they would consider our stuff good enough for airplay, but to our surprise, the response we’ve had has been really positive. A few of those stations have weekly charts, and we’ve been on quite a few of those now – in fact we’ve been #1 quite a few times with different songs – not bad considering they were recorded in a shed!”

“We’re now considering getting a band together to go out and play live – that side of things has obviously been on hold because of the current situation, but hopefully things are going to get better now for everyone. So I suppose our aim is to keep putting out music in the hope that more and more people hear it and like it, and just see what happens.”

What’s next?

“The plan is to put out one more single in a few weeks time, followed by an album shortly after that. We’re going to call it ‘Wasp Coloured Carpet’….don’t ask!!”

What’s the biggest problem you’ve had to overcome so far? If you could start over what would you do differently?

“We don’t have problems….only solutions! Seriously, I would say that the biggest problem any indie artists has, is “how do I get my music heard?”. The reason that artists traditionally sign to a major label, is that the record company has a network in place that means your song is instantly heard around the world. The price you pay is that you have to compromise in many areas. I think that all you can do as an indie, is gradually put your music out there, hoping that with every release a few more listeners become aware of you, and you gradually build a following with the help of social media etc.”

“What would I do differently? Would never have had that first guitar lesson!!”

What do you enjoy most as a musician?

“I love it when I get a new idea for a song, and it excites me – that’s a great feeling. I really enjoy the time that Billy and I spend (in the shed!!) together knocking a song into shape – again it’s a great feeling when you think you’re onto something. But there’s nothing quite as good as being up in front of a live audience. The problem I’ve always had, is getting up there in the first place as I always get extremely nervous, but once I am up there it’s great. Obviously the vast majority of people will never know what that feels like, so I feel privileged that I can do it. I’ve actually tried to write a lyric about that – it’s called ‘Falling Tonight’. It will be on the forthcoming album – if anyone happens to want to check it out.”

What artists are getting you excited at the moment?

“Both of us really like Laura Mvula – think she’s destined for big things. I also like Celeste a lot. On the country side of things, I’ve been getting into Eric Church’ latest album ‘Soul’. There’s also an indie artist that I really like called Mira Goto. I’m convinced that if a major label put out her song ‘Anybody Else‘ – the straight version, not the Latin remix, it would be a big pop/country hit. I know that Billy really likes Japanese House, and still looks forward to new stuff from Coldplay and Elbow.”

What’s your favourite song from the Cool Top 20?

“Well, can I start by just saying a MASSIVE thank you to you Lean. What you guys are doing is absolutely brilliant, and I know I speak for all the other artists when I say that. The standard on the Cool Top 20 is incredibly high – we’re super chuffed to be on there. As for my fave at the moment….it’s tough because everyone’s so good!! Today I’m gonna say ‘Preacher’s Daughter‘ by Colm O’Mahoney & the Hot Touches, but ask me tomorrow and you’ll get a different answer!!”

What song would you like to add as a bonus track and why?

“There’s an indie country artist that I’ve been listening to called Gabe Lee. I’ll pick ‘Honky Tonk Hell‘ by him, just because it’s a great kickass country/rock classic, in my humble opinion!”

Sugartown Slim can be found on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Spotify, Amazon, iTunes and all major streaming platforms.