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Tor Miller on His Debut EP Headlights and "Recording" with Mumford & Sons

Tor Miller on His Debut EP Headlights and "Recording" with Mumford & Sons
Alex Reside for InStyle.com
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"If I can write a song that I like, that's good enough for me," says Tor Miller, burgeoning singer-songwriter and second youngest artist ever to sign with Glassnote Records, which boasts Phoenix, Mumford & Sons, and CHVRCHES on its lineup, among others. (Brit chanteuse Flo Morrissey is a few months his junior.) After the Manhattan native inked a deal with the label, he entered a "weird in-between leave state" with NYU's esteemed Clive Davis School of Music, where he was in his second year. But he doesn't plan on returning any time soon.

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With a showcase at Austin City Limits and a just-released EP Headlights (out now), it's hard to blame Miller for putting off his degree. And although at just 20-years-old, he has a lot to learn about the music biz, he's still managed to craft four slow-tempo ballads that paint a honest picture of New York, and his halcyon experiences in it. "Everything is picked from my life and the people around me," he says. We caught up with Miller before his private show at the Soho House in N.Y.C. to talk about his debut and studio run-ins with Marcus Mumford. Here's an excerpt from our chat:

When did you first realize you wanted to be a singer-songwriter? 

I listened to the radio with my mom every day when she'd drive me to New Jersey for school, and I'd get so into it. It sort of manifested during that time when I was commuting with her. Then one day she bought me a few records: Ziggy Stardust, Elton John's Greatest Hits, and Rumors by Fleetwood Mac, so I just listened to those non-stop, back and forth, all the time.

How'd you get into playing the piano? 

My parents thought it would be a good idea to set up lessons with this teacher in New Jersey, and I was dreading it. His name was Anthony Rufo, and he was a wedding singer-type guy, but I owe a lot to him. He got me to learn the songs that I wanted to play, and he taught me how to sing and write in subsequent weeks. From there I didn't stop. When I got to high school, I started a pop-punk band.

Who are some of your contemporary influences?

The first record I ever went out to buy on my own was the first Vampire Weekend record, and that was really huge for me. I've bought all of their albums since.

They got their start in college too. How did you balance being a student at NYU with performing around the city?

I had a residency at Rockwood Music Hall, and across the street I was doing The Slipper Room, which was a burlesque bar. I was 18 at the time, so I loved it. I tried to talk to the school about finding a way to work remotely wherever I was, but it was too difficult, and I was missing a lot of classes. Then this record deal came about, and I ultimately had to drop out.

You're on the same label as Phoenix, CHVRCHES, Childish Gambino, and Mumford & Sons. Have you gotten to know them yet? 

I haven't met Phoenix yet, unfortunately, but I've met CHVRCHES, and they're sweet. I met Childish Gambino in Texas, and we had a wonderful conversation before he went onstage. When I was recording my EP in London, Mumford & Sons was upstairs in the same studio. We were recording a song really late one night, and I kept hearing someone opening the door in a room. Later we realized it was Marcus Mumford upstairs drumming so loud that it bled through our recording.

Listen to "Midnight" below, and buy Headlights for $4 on the iTunes Store.

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