"For me, there's more to being a musician than just trying to sell a CD," says Dan Mills of his latest album, Fiction in Photographs; An album which he is not trying to sell at all, but is available as a free download from his website. "I can't expect to just play and be heard...especially in today's environment. I try to let everyone in." Mills understands this more than most, which is why he makes himself readily available to his followers at his shows and through a multitude of social and promotional media. An innate songwriter, he makes himself accessible through his music as well, combining beyond-his-years lyrical insight with a unique pop sensibility.
Mills started writing and performing as a teenager, arriving to college with an impressive songbook and a polished live show. Although a communications major at Ithaca College, Mills spent most of his time hanging around the music school and playing local bars, gleaning valuable knowledge from each. Senior year was spent under the tutelage of producer and engineer Alex Perialas, rearranging old songs, writing new ones, and learning his way around the studio. With a handful of talented session players, Perialas helped Mills learn what his one-man show was capable of. The result was 2007's Different Colored Walls, a collection of songs written by Mills over the previous five years. Says Mills, "Different Colored Walls was the one step forward that made everything a bit more real to me." Songs like 'Just as Scared' and 'Susanne' highlight Mills' songwriting ability and show just how much he learned in the studio.
The release of Different Colored Walls coincided with Dan's graduation from Ithaca and subsequent move to Brooklyn, NY. Touring the Northeast behind Different Colored Walls, Mills built a solid fan base and landed gigs opening for The Steve Miller Band and erstwhile American Idol, Taylor Hicks. It was this transition from campus entertainer to real life working musician that inspired his next release, 2009's Fiction in Photographs. Having decided, however involuntarily, to forgo the expense and formality of hiring a producer and booking a studio, Mills set out to record Fiction on the fly. By calling in favors and relying (heavily) on the charity of others he managed to lay down a good portion of the record. However it wasn't until a serendipitous meeting with keyboard prodigy and general musical wunderkind Adam Podd that Mills was able to finish the album the way he wanted. "The early sessions for Fiction were very organic," he says, " a lot of pianos and guitars but not much else. Once I started reworking the songs with Adam, the arrangements became much more embellished... that's when the whole thing really started to come together."
At its core, Fiction in Photographs lacks none of the organic warmth with which Mills started the recording. Rather, the finished album wraps that center with a glaze of polish and maturity evidenced on 'Ballad,' 'This Town,' and 'Rhody Girl.' Fiction shows how Dan Mills has continued to grow as a songwriter, engaging his listener on a personal level, cementing the relationship between artist and audience. Writes Lauren Sutter on Jambands.com, "This collection is an ode from a New York newcomer in many ways. He croons about love, loss, loneliness and how change is imminent. Fiction should be a staple for any young optimist who knows that the challenges in our lives are what make us."
"I really think I'm starting to find my voice as a songwriter," Mills says of Fiction. "I used to sit down and try to write about big things... but after a while they felt like someone else's songs. On Fiction, I looked much closer to home and I'm finding that by being more honest and intimate, people can connect more with me and my music."
Dan Mills continues to invite his audience in and make those connections, and has a growing fan base to show for it.