MILCK at The Independent, by Robert AlleyneMILCK (photo: Robert Alleyne)

“The Bay Area feels like a sacred ground to me,” says Connie Lim (who performs under the moniker MILCK) while reflecting on her time studying at UC Berkeley. It was there, while studying to be a doctor, that she decided to drop out and follow her true love: music. “I love Berkeley,” she continues, “the people that helped me find my passion for music were from there.”

We are speaking just before her show at the Noise Pop festival this year. MILCK is opening for Australian singer-songwriter Amy Shark, and it is the second night of their US tour. She performs solo during the show, and the stripped-back presence is captivating. The stage is continuously showered with blue light which creates a serene sense of calm — one that allows her powerful and emotive lyrics to cut through even more deeply. During much of her set, and in particular during her stirring rendition of the Five Stairsteps’ "Ooh Child," the room is still. Her performance appears effortless.

However, to get to this point took some soul-searching, and some learning how to navigate the often complicated world of being an independent artist.

“I was just talking with some of the musicians in this room about how when I moved to LA, to be a musician, I was [thinking], 'OK, I'm just going to play shows, I'm going to play every week,' and I didn't understand that the LA culture was not about that. I was like a hamster in a wheel,” says Lim, discussing her early years in Los Angeles. As Lim was developing as a musician, she was also on a personal journey of discovering. “I learned about finding my voice and how important that was,” she explains. “That talent itself is not what is going to make an artist successful. I think it's the point of angle of perspective for people to take in. During my independent times I was searching for that,” says Lim.

“Sometimes I would try to please others...I was still basing my sense of artistic self off of what [others] want from me; trying to be a blank check, like "Oh what number should I fill in on this check for them, and they'll like me." she explains.

MILCK at The Independent, by Robert Alleyne

Lim appeared on the first season of The Voice. This experience was the catalyst to her finding her voice, though, it came surprisingly. She expected vocal coaching, and what she got some was something more. “I was continually telling myself, ‘OK, these are the experts, they know. And they're going to coach me to make me my best self,’ but they were just waiting for me to be my best self,” she says. “What I learned [from appearing on The Voice] is if I don't have my own strong identity, I'm going to get lost in this crazy industry.”

The experience pushed her to figure out who she was. She created the moniker MILCK (her first two initials and last name backward), and this separation, this evolution, from Connie Lim gave her new freedom. “Once I created MILCK, I was starting to write things that are real…  to let go and just express what gets me going and be brave and say those things,” says Lim.

This letting go, this new-found freedom to speak her own truth, lead not only to Lim writing the viral hit, "Quiet," but a few years later having the bravery to perform it with a group of women at the Women’s March in Washington, DC. “When 'Quiet' went viral I realized the true power of a song, and how it became not my song but the world's song,” she says.

The power of "Quiet" has been widespread, with the song becoming an anthem for the movement surrounding the Women's March. Samantha Bee asked her to perform on her show, Full Frontal, and choirs from all over the world have played it. The song became a rallying cry of power and strength. But the success of the song created a moment of introspection for her: With a song so heavily aligned to politics and social change, was she doing enough? “There was this rainbow shining from the sky, and I hit the prism. And [now] the rainbow is shining out, [and] I'm looking at the rainbow and trying to see, 'How do I most respectfully now proceed as an artist?'

“I have to remind myself I am enough. Like, what I'm doing, just being truthful is, perhaps...enough. And not try to push myself to do too much or else I'll just wear myself out,” says Lim.

I ask if she feels pressure to become a political artist. She only pauses for the briefest of moments. “I definitely feel pressure, but I've, from the get-go, decided that I'm not going to try to be anything I'm not,” she responds.

MILCK at The Independent, by Robert Alleyne

During the concert, I stand next to Eden Robinson from San Francisco, who came specifically to see MILCK perform. The following morning, I ask her what drew her to MILCK’s music. “It’s genuine and has a gentle power,” she says. “It’s unashamedly feminist; soothing. Especially right now, we need to be soothed while we gather the strength to fight...her voice has such a calm power to it.”

This calmness in sound, yet strength in her words, is what makes so many connect to her music. When she performs live, this coupling is even more present. The music has substance, both in the way she conducts emotion and in the words she shares as she does so — there is an authenticity to her stories which sometimes feels as if it is missing in popular music.

Lim explains how her songwriting style is about expressing her truth. “If I'm not feeling it, and I'm not able to channel my truth, there's a very specific feeling in my body that I get when I know it's right. And if I don't feel that, then I kind of say, ‘That's not the right topic to write about,’ she says. “I'll keep challenging it until I feel like, ‘Oh yes, I want to write about speaking out, I want to write about my past abuse, I want to write about body image.’ The things that are perhaps the things people don't want to talk about are the things that I find interesting,” she says. Making meaningful music is a process which involves meditating “a lot,” and journaling “a lot” to help her to make sense of the sometimes messy initial thoughts she has, and helps her work towards “a phrase or a sentence that encapsulates...exactly what I'm feeling.”

I felt so voiceless, and like I didn't matter. Like I was an inconvenience of space because I didn't look like the woman in the magazine or I didn't have the same upbringing as the people I was watching on television,” says Lim.

At the moment she is thinking a lot about the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School (whom she also calls out during her performance), and is using them for inspiration. “These kids are demanding for a march for our lives, and they're planning a walkout. Like, I'm really inspired by that,” she says with passion. Such is Lim’s self-awareness that she contemplates whether or not she’s the right person to share the message through music. “I don't know if I'll write something for it...maybe the song is supposed to be written by a younger kid...because it's their initiative, which I love.”

Allowing the right people to tell their stories is something that makes Lim’s music so relatable, and as a woman of color, she can offer a perspective that is desperately needed, yet so often missed. “[It is] so important for women of color to have a voice, because we have been living in a paradigm where women of color, and men of color, and all genders in-between color — our voices have not been as quote-unquote ‘valuable.’” she says. “That is a problem because that creates a sense of not belonging, and invisibility. I felt so voiceless, and like I didn't matter. Like I was an inconvenience of space because I didn't look like the woman in the magazine or I didn't have the same upbringing as the people I was watching on television,” says Lim. “But now that women of color are rising...a lot of women of color are bearing a lot of responsibility of healing their cultures, and there's a way that women are able to empathize deeply, and they are able to express things that can maybe help the mainstream culture understand. Because I think the more we tell different types of stories, the more tolerance there will be,” says Lim.

Lim’s story is one of growth. A survivor of anorexia and abuse, she followed her dream to a place where she can now inspire others. As she thinks back to her time in Berkeley, and making the transition to fully embracing music, she contemplates what it means to commit to following our hearts. “It feels good because I think life is our own experiment and we can do whatever we want with it. My experiment right now is like, ‘Can we live a life that we dream, and can we pursue our true desires and have it work out?’ And right now I am experiencing yes, but it took a long time,” she shares thoughtfully. “I'm not like one of those genius kids that like got famous really quickly. It took work. Yeah. So I'm proud, I'm really proud.”