You would think that MILCK came out of the womb singing. Real name Connie Kimberly Lim is not only a classically-trained musician, but known to create some of the most sentimental, personable records heard in recent years.
Her Asian-American roots do not go unnoticed. Flipping her last name backwards and keeping her first two initials to highlight her Chinese family heritage is just one form of that expression for the self-described “musician who's very stubborn and won't give up.” Her persistence and willingness to live her mistakes and success in front of the world is every reason why audiences can't help but tune in.
Lim's music is fueled by real-life struggles and experiences, with a soundscape that's cathartic, soulful and genuine. In an age of advanced technology and EDM, she remains grounded by keeping an earthiness to her sound. Born to super strict first-generation parents and having faced the hardships of a generational gap, piano was her saving grace and therapy. Fast-forward to 2019, the sound of a piano chord immediately ignites a potential song in the making.
In 2017 her breakout single “Quiet” was featured as the unofficial anthem for the Women's March movement, a powerful pop ballad that individuals of all genders and races could confide in. At the end of the day, we as humans should not be silenced in the wake of trauma, trials and tribulation.
L.A. Weekly caught up with MILCK ahead of her performance at Identity LA, an evening celebrating Asian American Pacific Islanders (AAPI) month.
L.A. WEEKLY: Talk about your musical background and how you got into it?
MILCK: My dad is this really hard working, serious guy. He came from nothing and built his whole life up, worked as a custodian and a burger flipper. When he heard me sing, he basically said, “I want her to sing correctly.” He brought me to an opera teacher at age three, but [they] said I wasn't ready. At age 7 I started taking piano and voice lessons from a husband/wife duo. They had a beautiful relationship. In high school I joined the acapella group like a huge opera nerd, ended up doing classical singing competitions.
Then I went to UC Berkeley and started doing a lot of pop covers. I switched from classical to soulful, rock pop, which is a very different way of singing. Classical is a lighter singing in the high register. In my acapella group, I was known for the raspier, grittier sounds. It was so polar opposite, like classic Gemini. I spent the next few years figuring out how to blend my voices. I did training in L.A. after graduating.
What were you studying at Berkeley?
I was studying pre-med, pre-law, pre-business, pre-appropriate-Chinese-child. But what gave me sanity was going to the basement studios and playing piano for hours and hours. I realized I can't pursue something if I don't really care about it. I was taking the LSATs at the time and not studying. I decided, “I don't want to live life this way, I need to pursue something I'm obsessed with.” I learned how to record in studios and would stay for 12 to 14 hours. Just couldn't get enough.
What does L.A. mean to you (since you’re from here)?
L.A. means diversity. Sometimes in life, we get stuck on one side of the buffet table. Depending on our perspective, we focus on how the food isn't that good. If we actually look at the opportunities and push ourselves to walk to the other side, there might be perfect food we want. It's a choice. L.A. can suck if we're not around the right people and communities, but that's on us. The city really holds us accountable. If you're not happy, what're you going to do about it? Because there's something for everyone. Even nature wise, there's mountains, snow, deserts, ocean. If people aren't finding it, it may mean they need to push themselves to change. L.A. is a city with an invisible invitation to change.
You dropped A Little Peace end of last year. Why’s it important for you to promote peace and positivity?
I grew up feeling a lot of anxiety and depression because I felt very alone. One, I wasn't represented in the world I was growing up in. I didn't see women or even men from my culture in any type of media. Feeling alone like that can turn into pain, which turns into unresolved anger. When anger arises, people start hurting others, because hurt people hurt people. It's important to help people work through their pain or digest their anger so they can be more positive towards others. Peace allows people to fully become who they are. Freedom comes from peace, humans just want to be free.
What are some goals yourself as an artist at this point of your career?
My goal is to build a really substantial catalog of music that really showcases I'm constantly pushing myself, constantly searching for higher ways of saying my truth. I want to tour. My favorite way of communicating with audiences is in live performance. Some people love going to the studio, I love being on the road. On stage. Because it's really unpredictable and there's a lot of risk. I hope the music I make this year will bring people joy and I can keep doing what I love.
What can fans expect at Identity LA on May 1?
I'm really excited. I just came back from a band rehearsal with an all-female band we built for the show. 9 percent of the music is all new because I went through a manic period a few months ago and wrote two EPs worth of music. It's more groovy, there's more beat to it. I realized my love for breakbeats, '90s hip-hop music, and lo-fi playlists. I spent the last two years singing about pretty intense stuff: “Quiet” and the whole “I can't keep quiet” movement. Because I sing about deeper stuff, I want some sugar to help the medicine go down.
A little groove and because I'm newly single, I’m experiencing the life of dating and all these different emotions. I’m starting to write about love again and relationships. It’s me discovering myself too.
Are you dating? How’s dating in L.A.?
I was for a little bit here and there [laughs]. A few different short, casual things. I'm learning a lot about dating as a more mature, strong woman. Because I just got out a five-year relationship and I have a lot more to offer. I have more opinions. Finding the right person is going to be its own journey, but I like that I know what I want. I'm actually finding that I'm totally good with being the one initiating. I used to wait for the person to make moves, but now I’m like “screw it.” Life is short, I don't have time. I don't play games, so I weed out all the shenanigans.
Do they know who you are as an artist?
Sometimes. I turned on Bumble for a week and turned it off because it was too much. Now, I'm focusing back on me because I realize I can't date to build a life with someone if I don't fully love myself. I have some insecurities and self-doubt I want to work on, I've relied on relationships too much to feel secure. Now I have no training wheels or crutches I'm just going to focus on my art. The people that matter will come.
Do you mind if I ask what happened?
He was a great guy. I think my life changed after the song went viral, I realized there's a lot of myself that I had to discover. He was such a supportive partner actually so it's very hard. But I need to go find my path and can't expect to have someone go with me. Being a musician, touring, and being so focused on my art, I don't have enough to give someone yet.
What do your parents think now?
My parents are really proud. They weren't supportive before so for any kids out there who have parents totally not into what they’re doing, persistence wins. I'm as stubborn as a cockroach, I just don't give up. They saw that. They're like, “OK, well we haven't seen many people work as hard for something.” They respect it now.
What do they do?
My dad's a doctor. My mom's a real estate agent. She was a stay-at-home mom and went through her own renaissance in her 50s. Got her real estate license and [is] now doing a lot of community work. It's really cool to see my mom evolve. They're more conservative and traditional. What I do is odd for them but they're trying their best to respect it because they know I’m not going to change my path even though they tried to convince me.
What does it mean to perform at Identity LA?
It's a really big honor. I performed last year with Jay Park and other incredible artists. Doing it again is amazing because I really value building community and loyalty. It feels like I’m building a relationship with people behind Identity fest, like Far East Movement. Dan Matthews and Kevin Nish are such hardworking community builders, I love that I'm collaborating with them. Tokimonsta is amazing, I'm excited to play before her. Play new music that has more groove to it and show a different side of me. I'm really grateful for the chance.
Do you still feel like the minority being Asian?
In L.A. I don't feel as much of a minority. Right now, the Asian movement is so strong. I tend to focus on the positive in terms of how much progress we've made. Obviously there's always more work to be done, but we're always going to be a minority. I am a woman of color, I'm going to be a minority always in that definition, but there's a herd of us now. I don't feel alone anymore. Gold House just released the A100 list of influential Asian people, it's so cool to see a list of names I could look at as North Stars. Thinking about [how] younger 14 year olds can look at that list now and not feel as alone. I didn't have that. We're a minority, but a growing one. We're a major minority!
Favorite song to perform in a set?
It's changing. It has been “Quiet” because it's so emotional and really connects with people. But the new one will be determined soon. It hasn't come up yet because I have all these new songs. We'll see after ID L.A., I'll let you know.
What’s the best encounter you had with a fan?
I had a fan fly out from London to come to a show in L.A. She shared her story of being a sexual assualt survivor after she heard “Quiet,” the song which became a #MeToo anthem. We still interact a lot, she's a really amazing young women. She's just blossomed, I'm kind of watching her evolve. Another is this Korean dance group from Korea [that] heard one of my songs, “I Don't Belong to You,” and created a bad ass dance. It's so awesome, I love watching that to motivate.
Who’s the most played artist on your phone?
I love Empire of the Sun. That's one of the many. That'd be the top one for now. I listen to Portugal. The Man a lot. I performed with them two days ago. They're so chill. They also said the reason they haven't found luck in the industry is because they're stubborn as fuck. I'm like, “I see you.”
Is there anything you want to let us know?
I've been working with Malay Ho, who produced Frank Ocean's first album. He's Malaysian, which is so cool. Represent. He works with artists like Sam Smith. He and I are collaborating on my next release. The single comes out in June hopefully, and an EP coming out in July. All of that new music will be on stage at Identity LA.