Identify: Mila Smith Is Making Healing Music

"[Music] feels like my own personal diary and it's a great emotional outlet."

A new vanguard of hitmakers have emerged, tactfully exploring the inner workings of the music spaces with a childlike wonder that allows creativity flow into reliable, hit-making recipes. These newcomers are navigating the industry, armed with the expertise of veteran who paved the way before them, while conjuring new formulas to success all on their own. The likes of Nigeria’s Rema, Ayra Starr and South Africa’s Tyla are near-perfect embodiment of what countless years of dedication and growth, alongside the unrelenting support garnered at home base can look like.

It’s from this same ilk and mindset that South Africa’s Mila Smith comes from; expertly blending her mellifluous vocals with radio-ready beats that stand out from her peers. “I also look up to Black Coffee in terms of the success he’s been able to accomplish and Tyla who’s closer in age to me and doing groundbreaking things in the Pop-leaning scene,” Mila speaks on her African influences and reference points. 


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Off the back of her debut single, “Liars and Fakes,” Mila earned the ears of loyal listeners from across the globe for her honest take and raw delivery over a pop-driven soundscape. The solo single showcased Mila’s penmanship which showcases her maturity as a performer, a feat that surprised many for such a young artist. In an exclusive interview with The NATIVE, Mila explained that the breakout debut single initially ventured within the Techno soundscape before taking a new Pop face with the aid of a slew of producers and South African R&B crooner, Mañana.

Her debut EP, ‘You Need Therapy,’ finds Mila pulling from a bountiful well of inspiration while making a point to provide an original perspective on her favourite songs. “This period had a lot of bumps and opportunity for growth as well as finding sound and expressing myself. You can see that all across ‘You need Therapy.’ One track, “Hide in Hell” has an R&B feel and “Nice Guy” has a more pop-punk feel. Then you jump to “Can’t Cope” which I’d describe as a ballad. It’s very emotive.” As such, ‘You Need Therapy’ serves as an intimate conversation with friends, acting as a testament to Mila’s dedication to exploration and overall, penchant for making feel good music her audience can connect.

Following the release of her standout debut EP, we caught up with Mila Smith to discuss her creative process, moments leading up to the release and what her future could look like.

Our conversation, which follows below, has been lightly edited for clarity. 

NATIVE: Thank you for joining me today. Talk to me about your background in music and who are some of your early influences?

Mila: I’ve always felt a passion for music and the first memory I have was when I got a microphone on my 3rd birthday. I spent the rest of the day singing Madonna songs and i’d say that’s when the spark was ignited. Following that, I’d write about my day and that was a creative outlet to me. It really took off in 2015 when I started a band with my schoolmates called Skyscrapers. I performed original music that I’d written and that’s when I thought music would become a career of mine. The band sadly disbanded in 2018 and I had a teen-life crisis. I was unsure of what to do until I was approached by Platoon, a label and artist agency and they signed me. The rest was history. Regarding influences from a young age, I’d say Madonna and Erykah Badu but as I’ve gotten older, I’d say Lana Del Ray, Adele, Taylor Swift and Beyoncé. 

Would you say that those people and your tastes have reflected the music you create now? 

Absolutely. “Reassemble Myself,” I’ve always described as an Adele Ballad because it is very emotional, raw and honest. She was certainly a reference when I was writing and producing that. I love Dua Lipa and “Liars and Fakes” is largely inspired by her pop sound. 

Are there any Africans in the mix that you take a particular liking to? It need not be sound. Maybe their style or journey has informed yours in some way. 

Of course. The first person that comes to mind, purely because of the lyricism is Msaki. I’ve also had the pleasure of meeting her and there’s people that have a presence about them and she’s certainly one of those. There’s an emerging artist called Lukhanyo and the Highrollers whose stage presence is amazing. I take a lot of inspiration from Lukhanyo and the Highrollers when it comes to performing. There’s an energy and chemistry between them that’s undeniable. I also look up to Black Coffee in terms of the success he’s been able to accomplish and Tyla who’s closer in age to me and doing groundbreaking things in the Pop-leaning scene. 

You’re still quite young. What’s your experience navigating the music industry been like so far? 

I think it’s been mostly positive for the most part. I have that support system in my immediate family, producers, writers and from Platoon as well. This period had a lot of bumps and opportunity for growth as well as finding sound and expressing myself. You can see that all across ‘You need Therapy.’ One track, “Hide in Hell” has an R&B feel and “Nice Guy” has a more pop-punk feel. Then you jump to “Can’t Cope” which I’d describe as a ballad. It’s very emotive. That’s just a testament to how I’ve been allowed to collaborate. I’ve been allowed to fail and not fear failure which has made the entire experience. 

South Africa has vastly textured music references steep in incredibly rich history, how would you say being from this part of the world has influenced your style? 

Music is in South Africans DNA. Everywhere sort of has a musicality to it even if it’s not playing music. It inspired me because we’re exposed to so much and there’s a wide range of sounds from Amapiano to Qqom or Pop and more alternative styles. Overall, it inspired me to create and play around  with different sounds. 

As much as South Africa’s greatest export at the moment is Amapiano, your sound is still largely pop and soul leaning. Why haven’t you dedicated to threading this part amidst the current mainstream sound? 

I feel like it’s just the sound that speaks to me the most. A lot of  influences are pop focused and it just happened to be the direction I chose. I feel most comfortable playing around with that for now but I’m still very young so who knows? I might do an Amapiano track and experiment with more sounds in the future. I don’t believe in being completely defined by one genre.

How do you see your music contributing to or standing out within the broader South African music landscape? 

I hope that it contributes in the sense that it’s very honest. I spend a lot of time on lyrics. I define myself as a singer but also as a songwriter and so, I hope that my lyrics are something that people can relate to. A lot of what I write about are universal experiences and in that sense, I hope that that would contribute to the broader South African music scene. Also, because the music in ‘You Need Therapy’  is diverse, I hope that versatility is something that draws people to the music. 

Let’s talk about your creative process. This could differ depending on the project but usually what comes first to you, the beat or the words?

Initially, what comes to me is a melody followed closely by a few lines of the song. After which I sit down by a piano and establish chords for the song. The lyrics would usually come after. That or I go into the studio with an idea of reference from a song I’d like to emulate in some way. It’s a collaborative process between all of us to then take that idea and make a song.

We’ve briefly touched on how you dabble between a couple of genres. How would you say these various soundscapes have enabled you to convey your message in the best way? 

They help me simply because they’re the most fitting medium to do so. My song, “Nice Guy” for example is all about someone who poses as a nice guy and in reality they’re anything but. The lyrics are very honest but they pack a punch. I felt like it was only with a more Rock or Punk sound that the message of the song would’ve been perfectly conveyed. Had I stuck to another genre, maybe the music would not have been as effective. A lot of the message would have been lost. So that’s why I feel like the difference in sound and the versatility it brings is so important. 

Your emotions really come through clear with your storytelling and ability to wear your heart on your sleeve. Why do you think it is important for you to come up so vulnerably in your music and how do you manage to stay grounded with the emotions? 

I don’t think it’s something I try to do or something calculated. It’s very natural for me. My way of expressing myself and how I’m feeling is through the songs. I think a large part of how I stay grounded is expressing myself through song. It feels like my own personal diary and it’s a great emotional outlet. 

Let’s talk about the moments leading up to your debut EP  ‘You Need Therapy.’ What were those moments like for you? 

I didn’t even fathom that it could be released. I was fully doubting that this body of work would ever see the light of day because it’s been such a long time coming. So the few moments leading up to it were just completely surreal. They were filled with such anticipation and I wanted it so badly to be shared with the world. Following the release, I feel so ecstatic. I am so hungry to write more and I’m already working more with producers so it’s clear that the project has encouraged me to look into more live performances. I want to continue to push myself genre wise as well so it’s just the beginning. 

During the creation, what messages were a priority for you to communicate to your audience?

I would say it differs from song to song because a lot of the time, once the music is shared to the world, it’s no longer my message. It’s now the message they receive from it which can differ from person to person or song to song. The universal feeling is just that they’re not alone. Also just the feeling of being able to jam out and enjoy the music. I’d hope that they appreciate the body of work, like the lyrics and also the versatility in the tracks. 

Collaborations can lead to unique creative experiences but are very sacred especially so early on in your career. What usually informs your choice of collaborators?

Initially, I didn’t really know anyone because people that inform my collaborative choices are members of Platoon, my record label who would suggest people and from there, I’ve met the most incredible collaborators who in turn recommend other people. It’s been great and I hope that continues because it’s kind of one big family. Regarding what I look for, I’d also say chemistry matters. There’s a certain energy that would just work and you almost always know when it’s going to sit right and when it’s not. You get the sense that you’re on the same wavelength. It’s also just someone that holds the space for you to fail. Oftentimes, the best ideas will come out of failure and a shot in the dark. Sometimes you wouldn’t take that shot or make that leap if you’re afraid of judgment. I look out for people that hold that space and make room for that creativity to shine through. 

Are there any artists, producers, or songwriters you dream of collaborating with in the future?

I’d love to collaborate with Lukhanyo and the Highrollers if we’re talking about South Africa. It wouldn’t hurt to work with some of the greats like Beyonce, Taylor Swift or Olivia Rodrigo. That’d be the dream.

What can we expect from you in the future following the release of the EP? Accompanying visuals perhaps? 

Definitely. There will be visuals for “Hide in Hell” coming soon. We can also expect more live performances and I’d also love to have my music in a movie of series as s score. That’d be a dream

Listen to ‘You Need Therapy’ here,

Featured Image Credits/Lunghelo Mlati (@theblvr_za)