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Taking chances are never easy, especially when the chances you sought to take can change the course of your life and career forever. Although to take a chance, to risk exposing yourself to criticism, is not for the faint of heart, Mila J is ready to take these chances. With her recent transition to go independent, all bets are off! She is rolling the dice and pushing through the industry.
Interview By: Christine Davis ( @imchrissyd)
Creative Directed/GFX By: Bagio White ( @BagioWhite)
Photography By: Leon Dash ( @leondash)
My best description of Mila J is "A sunflower in a field of roses," she is exuberantly different than most, and you can often hear that difference in her lyrics. When we met, the day was oddly chilly in New York, for it to be the month of May nonetheless; and the breeze was just as overwhelming. It was very different from the steaming hot days she's used too in L.A., so we all wondered how she would fair against the unpredictable weather that day. Mila then walks in, with a huge smile, as we prep the room for the shoot. She then came over and greeted everyone with a warm hug.
"Hey, I actually wanna take a picture by the Nas mural, really quick!" She said anxiously, and to my surprise, I was completely caught off guard by the fact that she didn't seem to mind the weather at all.
"I have this thing with walls…I just love a good wall that I can take a picture in front of" she explained.
"Yeah! Let's go! I'll drive you over there" Chris, our project manager said.
Being as extremely down to earth as she is, Mila was apparently, enjoying her visit to the big apple. As we finish our preparations, about 20 minutes in, Mila walks back in from her trip to the mural.
"Was everything ok, did you get your picture?" I asked.
"Yeah, we did, this lady walked right through my sh*t too" she replied laughing.
At a second glance at her, I noticed she had long braids that were a bright neon orange color at the ends, which I had to admit was very "Urban New York," her choice of hair excited our hairstylist, and at that point, I knew why. She had the style down packed.
I followed Mila's career for a long time being in 2 different music groups, to now being this dope solo artist amassing such a fun fanbase and being a heavy hitter in the industry like her younger sister, Jhene Aiko. Naturally, we had a bunch of questions that we would love to ask Mila. Before our interview I then asked J, her manager, "Is anything off limits?", Mila shook her head, and J replied: "No, not really, do your thing."
And with that answer, we dove right in.
So, you've been here since Friday Yes.
What have you been getting into since you've been here? Man, everything that I can get my hands on, I've walked the Brooklyn Bridge.
Okay, we're going to talk about that (Laughs) Yes, I've gone to the Whitney Museum, The Museum of Sex and City Island. What else? I walked past the Empire State Building.
Been to 42nd Street and Times Square? Yeah, well I've always been to Times Square so this trip I wanted to do stuff that I've never done before. I went to Times Square the first day we were here. I just love the lights.
So back to the Brooklyn Bridge. I saw earlier on your Instagram page that two bikers almost ran you over? (Laughs) Yeah(Laughs)because when I was walking I was on the right side, but then I got the bright idea to go on Instagram live, then you know, you get into your own world.
(Laughs) So, you weren't paying attention. Yeah, I got cussed out twice, but I didn't get hit. It was a close call (Laughs).
So, I know you're a well-seasoned artist in the industry from girl groups to now being a solo artist. Talk about that transition. I grew up in groups my whole life. I'm always so used to being in a pack. Not only that, but I'm in a big family, so I was always used to a team. So, it was definitely something I had to get used to, even something as simple as traveling. When you're in a group, it's fun. Because I was friends with everyone and family members, and the other groups I was in, so I definitely had to get used to being alone. Because I'm not a person, who likes to be alone, so that was probably the hardest part, for sure.
And then now, leaving the label and going independent. Talk about that transition. That was another transition. I just had to go for it and not overthink because I'm a Scorpio and I tend to overthink things and talk myself out of things and think of why everything won't work and then I just kind of got the balls and had to go for it.
Great move. And I want to talk about your recent project, Dopamine Yes.
Now, when I heard about Dopamine, that's a really—no pun intended—dope name for an album (Laughs). So, can you talk about where did the title come from, why that name? At the time, I was recording a lot of the songs, I was reading a book called This Is Your Brain on Music. It's basically showing the science of how your brain works and why you're always stuck on some songs and why certain songs can get into your psyche and certain things. It was really interesting, and it sparked the idea of that. I don't know if I came across the word in that book, but that book led me to that word in some way. And my dad is a doctor so I was talking to him and he was like, "Yeah dopamine, that's what's released from your pleasure center when you feel good, music, food, whatever." So of course, music, I'm like "yeah"; This is how this music makes me feel. "I feel good" Shout out to James Brown and that's just what it was. So, I do like the way it sounds, the fact that it has "dope" in it. It works, it had a ring to it.
So, what gets your dopamine released then? Mostly food. Honestly, food, music, and love. What else? Shopping!
Of course(Laughs). So, I looked at the album cover. Where was that picture taken? With the white jacket. With the bubble jacket?
Yeah That, was taken at the Standard Hotel in downtown LA.
Okay. Why that picture for this album? Well for me, honestly, I've never shot in a bikini before. So, you always kind of want to do something different for each project that you do for your evolution. So, I was just like, you know, in two stepping into spring, summer, and that's kind of what the music sounded like to me. I liked the vibe of the shoot. It felt new and refreshing. Had glasses on, changed it up.
So, explain the differences between Dopamine and your last two projects. The main difference is that it's a full-length project. The first projects that I put out were five songs here, six songs there, so I just felt like I wanted to have a fuller length project. I also worked with one producer on the whole thing, and that was on purpose, just cohesively, we caught a vibe and sonically it just sounded like one long piece but in a good way, not like every song sounds the same. So, we just had really good chemistry. So, he produced everything, and we co-wrote everything, and it was just like in the right zone.
So, walk me through the creative process on this album. What were you thinking about? What inspired the writing? Life. You know, just things I've gone through, some of them aren't necessarily things I've gone through; Maybe like a friend, and things around me. But like I said him and me just kind of locked in. Usually, you can tell when you're starting a song, and your just not feeling it, you'll have to start from scratch. When we got in the zone, we were just knocking them out. We were doing two and a half songs a day, and I was like, "let's just go until we do one that's really good." That's what we did, and in under a month we had all these songs, and I said let's just pick the best twelve, thirteen songs. At first, I was going to do ten, but there were still some that we couldn't cut off and it was real hard to narrow it down to the ones that did end up on there, but that was what we did, locked away and zoned out. It was just him and me; I don't do all the extras in the studio, I like to be focused, and get it done.
Which song on the project hit home for you? Obviously, all the songs are unique, but what was the one song that was like, this is it! It depends on what mood I'm in, but I like "No Fux." I've never really done a ballad or piano song, so it was just cool to try a different sound, even though it's not a big deal in general, but just for me personally, in my career, I've never done that. So, I was excited to slow it down and make a simpler sound; Because I'm usually high energy. Plus, the message of not giving a fuck (Laughs).
Talk about the "No Fux" video. Where was that shot? That was shot an hour out of LA. An hour and twenty minutes, in Lake Elsinore. It was scary because it was cold, and that thing I was on was rocking away. We wanted to do a video without edits, and we wanted to do it right when the sun was coming out, so I only had five times to do it. And each time I was like, I can't swim (Laughs). If I trip, I'm going just roll and play it off because we can't edit it. But I'm not falling in this water. But it was exciting. The pressure ended up making it fun, but it was funny, it was challenging, for sure.
That would not be me, no (Laughs). Yeah?
That not happening (Laughs). That thing was moving (Laughs). It was getting higher and higher. I was like, "okay like we have to get it in this next shot."
What about "Move?" How much fun was that? That was fun! (Laughs) mostly because of Asha and Jazz, they're my friends as well as my dancers, so it was like us playing.
And you directed that one? Yeah, I just wanted to have a fun video. I grew up watching all the 90s stuff, and I like that aesthetic and that energy, I miss, of artists just having that and not taking stuff too seriously. So that's the idea I had for that video.
I appreciate you bringing that back. Just, crazy, props and us acting a fool, so that's what we did (Laughs).
So, talk about what are your musical inspirations? Who inspires you for dancing? Growing up it was Prince, Janet, and TLC. Those were my favorite.
I get that vibe. My dad, that's all he played in the house. First concert I ever went to, Janet. She's all about entertaining, acting, singing, dancing, songwriting. And then TLC, because growing up I was always a tomboy so when I saw them I thought, there are girls like me. They were (kind of) wild, fun, but still always had good messages, too. Those were the ones that I looked up to.
And you talked about Janet being your first person seeing live in concert. Prince actually was.
But you've seen Janet as well, she's an inspiration. Yeah, yeah. I've probably seen Janet the most in person.
Do you remember your first time performing? How was that? Can you walk me through that? Honestly, no, I don't. No, I do (Laughs) This is crazy. Wait, it depends, group or solo?
(Laughs) Let's do solo. My first solo performance—believe it or not, right after the group didn't work, was Apollo. And I was so nervous because most of the time when you go through your first shows, you're performing at the mall, or at high schools. You're doing the shows that are getting you ready for the shows. They were like, "Your first show is Apollo," and I'm like, "Are you serious?"(Laughs) They showed me love, but I was super nervous because that was, literally, my first show. I hadn't had any promo shows before then, nothing. So, yeah. But it turned out okay.
That's good. Talk about growing up. How was it growing up with all your siblings? How many siblings do you have? Five that were in the same household, but technically I have eight. It was crazy. We were all only a year and a half apart, so all of our friends, our house was the house to come over. My dad had a studio in the back. And it was just fun. Our parents supported us at a young age and being in the arts. Even though technically I started off dancing, they were still supportive. So, we were dancing five days out of the week and from there, we ended up getting an agent who would send us out on different calls for dancing, so it was just like always going on auditions. We were working at a pretty early age to where we had to leave school. I left school, and I started getting home-studied, so not physically going to school, but I finished school—around seventh grade.
So, you had a supportive family. They were pretty open. They let us listen to pretty much anything we wanted. But yeah, we turned out okay.
What about your grandfather? He's Japanese. Yeah.
Any memorable moments with him growing up? Our family is close. A lot of times we're in the same household as our grandparents. So, it was just like having another dad.
Have you been to Japan? I have been to Japan, twice, and I love it.
So out of all your siblings, would you say you're the fun one? (Laughs) I'm definitely the craziest. I'm the one that they blame everything on; Only when I'm with any of them, the most random things will happen in their lives. They would say "This only happens when we're out with you." But that's just me. I'm the type where if I'm bored and I can't sleep, I'll be like, we're about to go to Target and play on some carts. I'm a big kid. I don't like to sit still. I don't like to be in the house. And that's why my mother at a very young age said, look you need to channel this energy somewhere because you're too much. I've always been very hyperactive.
Have you ever gotten into any trouble with your sisters because of all that energy? No, I wasn't a bad kid. I rarely got in trouble. We would bicker for taking each other's clothes (Laughs)
(Laughs) That's normal sister stuff. Right, but other than that, no, we never fist fought. We weren't those type of sisters and brothers.
That's good. Sometimes in big families, there's less sibling rivalry. My momma would definitely pop us upside the head really quick, take her shoe off and yell what are you doing…(Laughs)
(Laughs) Cool, cool. So, what about you guys possibly, someday collaborating? We've definitely talked about some things. We haven't done it yet but yeah, it might just pop out of nowhere.
And because of your vibrant personality, take me back to high school. How were you in high school? Were you a "Popular" chick in high school? No, I was in home-study since seventh grade, so I missed the whole high school experience, which is one thing I'm actually sad about; Even though, in return, we were traveling and getting to experience a lot of stuff that the average high schooler wasn't experiencing. But yeah, I don't know what that feels like; High school is a complete blur. When people are like, "I'm going to my reunion," I'm like, "what does that feel like?"(Laughs)
Your youngest (sibling) is sixteen? Yeah, she's in high school, and she says, "I want to go home-study," and I say, "Trust me, just finish. Go to prom, do the whole experience, because you'll regret it when you're older". Even though we went to prom but it was whack because we didn't have any emotional ties. It's not like we were seeing our friends dressed up for the first time or sad because we were never going to see them again; Because we didn't know any of those people. We only got to go because my mom knew the principal and that was our zone school and they said we could come for our graduating year. Graduation wasn't emotional because, again, we didn't know any of the people we're sitting next to. So, it was just weird. Maybe I should enroll back in high school just to see what it's like now (Laughs). Everyone's like, you didn't miss anything.
Let's talk about this body. How do you keep it all together? Do you work out often? I recently have started working out; before I'd only work out if was preparing for something like tours or shows or videos. In the last year and a half, I've made it a point to go five days a week. Because I'm not going to give up eating, so I'd rather go hard in the gym than starve. So, I go up and down. It's weird because I like the weight that I put on, but in pictures sometimes it's like, ehh. (Laughs)
(Laughs) Like you might want to slow down. It's all about balance because you still want to live your life and enjoy… I want to enjoy my food. So, if that means I have to go harder, in the gym, I'll work harder in the gym if that means I can eat my burgers and have my sodas, which is my downfall, the sodas.
So, what is your favorite food? My favorite food… I love Mexican and Italian. Cheese, bread, and pasta. Tacos, yes! (Laughs) Taco Tuesday, because in LA, everyone is eating tacos on Tuesdays, period. A lot of it is the food trucks.
What are you not eating? I don't eat pork or liver, but other than that, I'll experiment and eat some crazy stuff; Like octopus and alligator, I'll eat all of that. Calamari and eel. I'll eat that. I like sushi a lot, but I won't eat quail eggs though; That's weird. (Laughs)
So, when you go back home, how does your week look? What is Mila J doing at home when you're just chilling. What's your favorite TV show to watch, when you're just in your zone? I don't watch TV that often. I prefer Netflix. When I do watch TV, I like "Snapped." I'll watch a whole marathon of that, but as soon as the sun starts going down, I have to change it, because then I'll start dreaming about stuff that messes me up (Laughs). But I love a good documentary, it's weird, as an adult, I really do enjoy learning, and I'll watch Empire.
What about Power? I haven't seen it, but I've heard it's, really, good. I'm not really a homebody. I like to be out. I don't care what it is, hiking, shopping, flea markets, the beach. I just like to be out. Walls in a house will make me go crazy. I'll get sick (Laughs).
One time when I was younger my mom said, you're not going outside, and I almost died (Laughs), like I cannot stay in the house, so I can definitely relate to what you're saying. That's me (Laughs).
So, when you're back at home, you're obviously outside, with friends, family. When was the last time you hung out with all your siblings? We were just actually together for Coachella, so that was fun, even though it was way too hot. That's another thing; I don't like the heat. I like when it's Fall, even Spring but Summer is the time I'll be inside because I don't like the sun or I'll wait till the sun goes down. I'm just allergic to it (Laughs), I'll get heat rashes, and I'll be passing out. I tried to do so many daytime festivals, but my sisters were like, "You can't come any more" because I was ruining the whole experience (Laughs).
You can't be in the sun, but you live in LA where the sun is beaming on you all the time! It is, but it depends on where you live, like the Valley, it's unbearable. I'd never lived in the Valley. Where I grew up in LA was ten, fifteen minutes from the beach, so you still got a breeze. It was actually colder in those areas. It's not like the Valley heat. The Valley heat is unbearable. Orange County gets hot, too. But it's not too bad.
So, I heard you're going on tour in Australia. Are you excited? I am because I've never been. I heard it's real pretty. So, I'm getting ready to be shooting everything on my phone, turn everything into a photo-shoot. I want to see the kangaroos. I'm trying to go box with a kangaroo, just playing, I don't want to box with a kangaroo (Laughs).
(Laughs) When would you be leaving for that? That's in June. [present]
So, if a young Mila J walked up to you today and said, I really want to be like you, you're "Dope," I love your style and energy. What would you tell her? What's your advice? Hmmm…What would I tell my younger self? Just, to listen to yourself and trust your instincts. Especially when you're young when you feel something is right or wrong, but you'll think, maybe not. You'll talk yourself out of something that you know wasn't right. So, I would say to trust her gut instinct.
And obviously, that's what's gotten you to where you are today. I have definitely, learned through experience though. Sometimes I would have talked myself out or let other people get in my head. Now I'm listening to myself, to my animal instinct that's given to me, and I can't tell you why, but I'm making this decision just because. You can't really explain it to anybody else, but it's just something that you know. But I know I've made much better decisions by following that than doing the opposite.
So, do you have any other projects you're working on? Yeah, the album will be coming out before the end of the year. It's, predominantly, done but I feel like it's, never, done until it's about to be released because I record all the time. You never know, in a few months I could be putting out another EP just because I want to put some music out (Laughs). Then I'm getting into some acting.
Wow, so is this another secret talent that you have? Well it's, kind of, a secret, but not really. I actually shot my first project last year. I don't really know where it's coming out, so I won't say too much about it. But that was my first experience of doing that, so it was really fun; Just because it's completely different than being an artist. Because being a (music) artist is all about being yourself, and acting is the total opposite. I have to get used to not being me (Laughs), It was definitely a different world, but I liked it.
That's "Dope." So, I definitely want to pursue more of that, so, I've been dabbling in that.
Cool! Wow! Dancing, acting, singing, rapping. You have to cover all bases (Laughs).
(Laughs) I get that. Thank you for having this conversation with me. Thank you!
I wish you nothing but the best. Next time you have to give me a tour of Harlem!
I will! I got you. I wish you were staying a little bit longer because really want to bring you… Maybe I'll miss my flight (Laughs). Well, now they're going to make sure I get up (Laughs). But no, I love New York. If I had to move anywhere, it would be here.
You would say this is your next city? Yeah, here and Portland are my favorite.
Cool, well next time, indeed, come back to New York City (Laughs). Thank you, Mila J. Thank you!
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Devon "PropaTV" Knight
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