MILL is the Charlottesville, Virginia based brainchild of vocalist Jess Otey and guitarist/producer Terry Thorsen. Otey, a professor of Italian literature, having become disenchanted with academic life, left her professorship, picked up her guitar and began writing songs about ancient poets and broken hearts. Meeting through a fluke craigslist connection, Thorsen, a former dot.com era technologist turned music producer, teamed up with Otey in 2012. Their songwriting partnership, fostered by mutual unemployment, yielded a clutch of lyrically charged indie rock tunes that attracted veteran bassist Danny Vinson, lead guitarist & violist Ray Varona, and drummer Ian Carter to join the band. Recorded in a barn once frequented by fellow Charlottesvillians Dave Matthews and Shannon Worrell, MILL's debut EP "We Don't Talk About It" was released in 2014.
In the summer of 2014 vocalist Laurel Williamson was invited to join the band after Otey dropped out to spend a year in Germany. Williamson's roots in folk music led MILL toward an organic rock/folk blend that featured intimate vocals layered across compositions that incorporated both electronic and acoustic instrumentation while increasingly spotlighting the often daring viola, violin and cello work of Ray Varona.
With Otey's return in 2015, MILL grew to a six-piece with alternating lead vocalists, and developed a deep, melancholy sound punctuated by intricate harmonies. Their self-titled album "MILL" was released in 2016, delivering lush driving rock, country-tinged confessionals and a touch of avant garde.
Native to Virginia and embodying its culture of intimate music-making, Laurel captivates audiences with her earthy voice and raw expressiveness. She is the musical focal point for the band, the muse through which each musician connects with listeners.
Although Ray would be the last person to bring it up, the rest of us can't get enough of the sentence 'our guitarist is a luthier'. In the shop and in the studio, Ray is inventor of the unique. Quiet and introspective, he is perpetually considering how to elicit the perfect vibration from a string.
Best known as the man behind Dammann's famous 5 Course Mandocellos, as well as his own custom instruments at Varona Stringworks. Ray also plays classical guitar, cello, viola and violin in several Blue Ridge area ensembles, The Crozet Orchestra and with visiting pop acts (The Falls).
Coordinating hundreds of muscles when he plays is just one of his physical feats — he can also deadlift the combined weight of the rhythm section. Oh, and as a licensed PTA, he can heal those muscles as well.
A prolific drummer, Ian spent a year in Nashville playing professionally. He has played drums, bass and guitar with many Charlottesville acts including Paper Gold and The Working Effective.
The family man and uncontested "Papa" of the band, Danny just makes everything work — much in the way his bass line ties a song together. Don't be fooled by his quiet presence; stealthily gregarious, he's the one with hundreds of social networking connections.
Danny is a veteran bassist having played for two decades across a string of Virginia bands from Ten O'Clock in Juneau to Saluda.
Trained in business and technology, Terry is compelled by the notion of applying those skills to music-making. Through songwriting and his work in the studio, Terry propels the band forward on its musical journey.
Terry records local artists whenever and wherever possible and is known to have put The Bittersweet Quartet, Forrest Burtnette and Nich Traverse Band to tape.
This Californian's life has always revolved around words, be it reading, writing, or analysis, but it is in music that she assembles them into fuller meaning. Jess abandoned the academic world full of individualism, politics and stagnation for the musical realm, where gestalt is the secret ingredient for magical creations.