It’s been an impressive year for Troy Miller, even with C-19 getting in the way – his co-written track ‘Giant’ released by Calvin Harris / Rag’n’bone Man was announced as not only the most downloaded track of 2019, but also the most performed work of 2019, according to PRS, which earned him an Ivor Novello award on the 2nd SEP.
A week prior saw the release of Gregory Porter’s 6th studio album ‘Rise Up’, for which Troy was the producer. The album was immediately selected by BBC Radio 2 as their album of the week and leapt to the top 3 in the official album charts.
It was in the wake of these successes that Conchord Management and LME Worldwide engaged Marketing 101 to announce the news that Troy had been selected to produce music for Diana Ross, who has not released a studio album since 2006. Having been working on the tracks in secret since just before lockdown and all throughout (remotely, of course), we thought now was the perfect time to catch up with Troy and learn more about this incredible project.
How did you get involved with producing music for Diana Ross?
I was in LA for a month working with Gregory Porter on his new album and performing at the Grammys. Half way through my trip I received a call from the record label to say that Diana Ross would call me in an hour! Beverly Hills called exactly an hour later and I knew it was her! We spent 20 mins on the phone and she said that she had heard good things about me. I told her that I was a ‘Jack of all trades’ and she laughed. She said she would like to see my face and that probably I’d like to see hers! We met the next day at East West Studios – she told the engineer to leave and we talked about music and life for about 2 hours and she was like, ‘do you wanna produce some songs for me?’
I spent another 2 weeks tracking her at Conway Studios!
What is your role in the project?
I’m producing at least 5 tracks, but my role is pretty broad actually. I think she liked me partly because I am a multi-instrumentalist and I record all the parts and orchestrate for strings etc. I also love vocal production and that has also been quite involved on this album. She is a legend of course and I really wanted her to sound her best! She’s been doing it a long time (having just celebrated her 75th birthday!)
How long might a project like this last?
The recording time can be very quick but often what takes the time is choosing songs and getting the vibe in the right place for an artist. I never like to approach a production in a generic way – each one is unique. This project has taken longer than expected due to the Corona Virus and not being able to travel to Diana in LA but instead working online with her.
Are you enjoying it? Have there been any particular memorable moments or challenges?
I’m loving it – getting songs over the line is always a challenge because the artist has to feel ownership over the music (whether they wrote it or not) and this can take some going back and forth. Diana gave me more and more freedom with the direction of songs and arrangements the more I gained her trust. Trust is a massive thing in music. You need to be in that place of trust in order to be creative and be able to take risks!
One of the challenges for our work was doing some of the vocals sessions remotely. We set up a computer in her house and she found a vintage Telefunken 251 which she’d owned for about 40 years and we’d do online sessions via Team Viewer. There was a slight delay of course with me being in London and her in LA but we got used to it and it became enjoyable in the end! Not being physically in the room felt weird at first especially as I’d had the chance to do those kind of sessions with her in LA, but we got there in the end! despite the technical challenges! I also managed to do similar online sessions with Kylie Minogue during lockdown is I got quite good at it!
What can you tell us about the style of the tracks? Can we expect classic Diana Ross Motown, soul disco etc.?
One of the first things Diana said to me was not to reference any of her previous records! That was a challenge considering her music is so well known! However I think I understood as we got deeper into the album. There are lots of familiar ‘nods’ and I guess I’m known for tinging things with a timeless or classic feel but at the same time there are more contemporary elements and overall she was most concerned with the message and being positive, uplifting and having a sense of ‘togetherness’. I like to go deep into the music and everything I do tends to have a soulfulness to it…when you add a legend into the mix it really gets exciting! It’s when you have to draw on all your experience – my times with Roy Ayers, Chaka Khan, Donna Summer, Don Blackman and Nile Rogers etc proved invaluable.
You seem to move between genres so seamlessly. Is that normal for producers or do they tend to stick to a niche? Do you have preferences when it comes to genre?
I’m interested in all aspects of music making. I’ve always strived for a deeper understanding across genres, particularly Black American music and classical music in equal doses, but my experience playing drums in a live context has definitely fuelled that to some extent whether it be my 10 years of touring with Roy Ayers or Amy Winehouse, to all the Jazz musicians I played with. On the other hand I feel equally comfortable conducting orchestra and I’ve been privileged to do that around the world too! My decision from the beginning of my musical journey was always to keep learning and gaining knowledge.
Are there any collaborations planned for these tracks?
Yes but top secret! I think you can imagine the interest from around the world from all the great song writers and musicians etc who love Diana Ross!
Are you going to be taking any performance roles on these tracks, as you’ve done with your previous work?
So far I’ve played almost all the instruments on the tracks I’ve worked on (that’s normal for me) except the strings! But everything from Drums, bass, keyboards, guitar etc!
Any gossip from this project, or strange occurrences?
Haha! Diana often calls in the middle of the night because she is on LA time so that’s a pretty strange occurrence! Also, the first vocal tracking session I did with her was a trip. I was using a different studio and the mouse on the computer was a little sticky – during recording her vocals the mouse got stuck on the gain switch on a plugin and it let out an enormous screech! I basically deafened her on the first session! I had to hug her as she came out of the vocal booth! She was so gracious about it but I literally thought she wasn’t going to come back the next day! Luckily she was fine!
Have you got another project lined up for after this one?
Yes a few….Gregory Porter’s Album has just come out so we’ll be seeing what comes out of that, and Kylie Minogue’s album drops in November which I wrote and produced a song for – they couldn’t be more different as artists! I’m also working on my own producer album this year which is really exciting for me!
Troy Miller is co-managed by Conchord Management and LME Worldwide. the companies are London based and represent a select number of artists, producers, events, and brands worldwide.