MANILA -- (2ND UPDATE) When reflecting upon her latest collaboration with Norwegian jazz popsters D’Sound on the new single “Run for Cover,” Armi Millare – whose voice lowers down to a whisper – says, “It’s like you’re sitting in the cafeteria with the cool kids and you wonder, ‘Why are they still here?’”
Because you’re one of the cool kids, Armi.
“I don’t think so,” she protests with a smile.
The answer to that is both sides to the spectrum. To paraphrase the late British statesman, Winston Churchill, Armi is “a riddle wrapped in an enigma.” It is impossible to foretell what music she will create or what she will do.
With her band, Up Dharma Down or UDD as they call themselves nowadays, they were never into what was hip. It is easy to lump them into the trip hop wave of 2005 but even in their first album, "Fragmented," they hinted at the neo-soul and R&B musings they would eventually take.
As a solo artist, her work has straddled the lines of pop, soul, R&B, and even jazz.
"My solo work is about reflecting what else is happening around me in a more textured sense," she reveals. "Writing things solo gives you a lot of freedom which sometimes can create chaos, but you make friends with chaos. You let that chaos be and influence it. Where the wind takes me, I will go."
Case in point, several years ago, Armi was in London for 10 days when she thought of a fortuitous conversation on Facebook she had with D’Sound’s Kim Ofstad, who extended an invitation to produce some music if she ever found herself in the band’s Norwegian wood.
“That’s crazy,” she giggled at the kilig moment. “That’s nuts! It’s so random. Who offers that? Are you serious? Because I will figure something out.”
While in London in 2017, that something got figured out.
“What if I take a plane to Norway,” she thought. In true wanderlust fashion, Armi took an unplanned flight bound for Oslo. “I might as well; I’m already here.”
Starstruck, nervous, and on the clock as she was there for three days, the magic happened on the second day when the song that turned out to be “Lykkelig” was written and recorded.
That song, the lead-off single from D’Sound’s eighth album, "Unicorn," was released in 2019 to great acclaim.
Even now, “Run for Cover” – the third collaboration between Armi and D’Sound (drummer Ofsted, bassist Jonny Sjo, keyboardist-producer Morten Gillebo after “Lykkelig” and “Somewhere in Between” that both appeared on "Unicorn") – leaves Armi with a never-ending state of goosebumps.
The song itself is pensive, soulful. A tonic for a relationship that is at a crossroads. It’s amazing that Armi’s voice and songwriting fits hand in glove into D’Sound’s vibe.
Previously, it was with the Blue Nile’s Paul Buchanan on the song “Feelings” that appeared on UDD’s third album, "Capacities," and could have fit in any one of the Glaswegian band’s catalogue of art rock. Now in Armi’s solo career, with D’Sound, she’s a wonderful complement to the band’s former lead vocalist Simone Eriksrud and current singer, Mirjam Omdal.
“I am getting goosebumps as we speak,” Armi said while rubbing her arms at that assertion. “I feel very lucky. It only happens when it comes to music. I think you have to do the work ahead of time. You have to prepare yourself with your body of work. I got lucky. I met the right musicians. How I came to meet the people I have worked with is out of my control. I wasn’t thinking that D’Sound would work on this music… and my musical blueprint, a lot of that is D’Sound. I’m lucky.”
Whether by luck or happenstance, the collaboration has borne fruit. With “Run for Cover” -- the single dropped this past November 12 on digital streaming as well as on video -- Armi was in for another surprise when they couldn’t figure out how to tour and perform the song when they were literally oceans apart.
Then D’Sound dropped the early 2021 Christmas present.
“Why don’t we put ‘Run for Cover’ in our 25th anniversary record (that is slated for release in January 2022)?”
“Oh sure,” was the quick reply. Then after a moment of reflection, a feeling of incredulity. “Are you serious?”
“We just got Macy Gray, Cory Henry, and some others on the songs,” Sjo added more wood to the fire.
“I was like what?” Armi thought to herself. “This is incredible.”
Incredible is an understatement. With Millare breaking new ground and expanding horizons via UDD’s “Paagi” that was featured in the Netflix animated series "Trese" earlier this year, and now “Run for Cover” appearing on D’Sound’s ninth album titled “25,” the world has become her playground.
“There is a challenging note to this time of pandemic,” Armi sums up. “With what I have been doing the last 17 years, there have been no breaks and now I have had some rest. This time has afforded me to look at the good things in life. Just as it has been difficult, it has been good. I can smile.”