Picking Brains at Pitchfork: Milk Music

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On Sunday, June 15, after riding our magic carpet past the VIP security with Dirty Beaches, Kayla Wroblewksi and I stayed behind the fence for our chat with Milk Music. Topping off our warm beers and laying beyond the confines of our zebra-patterned picnic blanket, we melted into the ground with MM, our conversation circling around subterranean scenes, hick music that sticks, and getting your way.

Peruse our other Pitchfork interviews with A Lull, Thee Oh Sees, and Dirty Beaches.

Kayla Wroblewski: So how’s your day been? Did you see any bands you liked?

Charles Warring: Oh yeah, I love The Men, you know, and…uh…I don’t know, man. I’ve just been so burned out by the heat and stuff I’ve just been drinking as much beer as possible to stay fuzzy. Just cruising around, talking to people, seeing what the scene is like…just getting comfortable, I guess.

Kerri O’Malley: Is this your first time in Chicago?

CW: No, we’ve been to Chicago before. This is our first time at, like, a wacky festival like this. We’ve played other festivals, but not a Chicago festival before.

KO: Does it have a different flavor?

CW: Yeah, I don’t know, what do you think? [Looks at singer/guitarist Alex Coxen]

Alex Coxen: Yeah, it’s not really our scene.

CW: We played a warehouse downtown last time, looks like it might have been an old office building or a community college or something like that. It was a couple of bands this guy set up…. I love Chicago. It’s great. All the women are beautiful, great restaurants…it’s awesome.

KW: What’s your scene, if this isn’t it?

CW: Hardcore.

AC: Yeah, the hardcore touring circuit. Houses, art spaces, show spaces, and weird things like that. It’s just more fun to play. It just sounds better in places like that.

Joe Rutter: I just like more smaller intimate shows like that.

KO: So how long have you guys known each other? You seem really relaxed together.

CW: We’ve been together four years. These are my friends. We’re just, like, best friends.

KW: So you guys just love chilling together and making music, you just put a name on it?

CW: Pretty much, I guess.

JR: Alex and I have had the band together for the whole time, and then Dave’s been in the band the past two, two and a half years, and with Charles we all just have a good natural energy.

CW: We’re all brothers from another mother, you know? Me and Joe just realized we have the same exact hair color. We’re not related at all. Just a fun fact.

KO: You guys road tripping, doing the summer tour thing in addition to this?

CW: Yeah, we’ve got a pretty rippin’ van, no radio, no A/C. We’ve driven just under 3,000 miles by now. We went up to Canada, that was pretty tight. Not many bands go through there, so they’re really excited to see shows.

KO: We were just talking about that, how there’s only, like, three real cities in Canada.

JR: There’re some other ones up there.

AC: We like playing up in the middle of nowhere too. Sometimes you play up somewhere that’s in the nothing, and there’s just an enthusiasm there, you know?

KO: They don’t get to have anything cool happen very often?

AC: Well I bet they do, but that’s what they say. But they probably create things that are a lot more cool than people living in Brooklyn. Their lives are a lot more real maybe. I don't know.

KO: Or just more boring [laughs]. I’m from a place like that.

KW: You guys seem like you know how to have fun. You’ve got your style going.

AC: It’s fun to play the us-against-the-world game.

KW: Why do you feel like it’s you against the world?

AC: We don’t associate ourselves with a lot of what’s here [at Pitchfork]. Most of what we’re associated with are bands and scenes and a circuit that’s totally under the radar of people here, something they haven’t heard of. It’s a different surface level. And we don’t have a record label and we do everything ourselves. We’re always broke, but we’re getting to these levels, so it’s like, in a way, we’re these outsiders. And, I mean, that’s fun. It makes it fun to be broke kind of.

[All laugh]

I mean, we don’t want to be, but it helps you deal with it.

CW: Yeah, it’s fun to think of yourself as like an outlaw when you’re really just a deadbeat.

[All laugh]

KW: How do you relate to your music? Is it really important to you or more of a fun thing to do?

AC: We don’t take it lightly. And it’s a different attitude when you come see us live, especially in a place like this. For us, it’s all about the record, you know? That’s the art and that’s the thing, and then live it’s different. You can’t do it all, and there’re subtleties. So you just go out there and it’s a wholly different performance thing.

KW: So what are you aiming for, as your goal to be satisfied with your music?

AC: My personal goal is to make records that I really feel happy about and play shows that I can feel happy about, that we all can feel happy about.

KW: What’s going to make you happy with your work?

CW: Making something meaningful.

AC: I just want to make the kind of music, just like all the records I like, where people lie in their bed and put it on, you know what I mean? You just get lost in it. I always thought of myself as more of a songwriter than a rocker. It has nothing to do with that culture at all. This is just one sound of us, and we’re trying to move deeper into what we want to do, and there’re no rules and we can do whatever we want.

People talk about your music and it’s like it’s got this vibe or that vibe, it’s kind of annoying, but you know I’ve gotten more relaxed when it comes to that, though. We’re going to keep doing our thing regardless of what people do, and that’s the rewarding part. Cause it’s not always fun. With the record, when it’s out, it’s like this is my bookmark. It’s like a tangible ‘here’s where we are’ and it feels good.

CW: It’s like a document. Not just for the person who makes it, but for someone who listens to it, it’s a milestone. There are so many good records I can think of that are, like, milestones in my life. I think about where I was and who I was with when I listened to it. I’d like to make something like that.

KO: Have you met any fans that have said something like that about your music?

CW: Yes.

AC: One guy in Calgary said something about how it saved his life? It was some crazy shit like that.

CW: Then we think they’re normal people and they turn out to be tools, so…[laughs]

AC: Just to have something down that strikes a chord with people, you know, like your hair stands up on the back of your neck. That’s what Dave always says. Just that love for a record and, you know, the big American art is rock – anyone can do it.

CW: Yeah, even hicks like us.

[All laugh]

AC: Even hicks like us. I mean, I think we’re artists and stuff but we don’t have the money. Our parents are intelligent, but it’s not the same kind of college status, money status. It’s easy to be an artist when you have money, you know what I mean? And that’s what’s so cool about picking up guitars and being an artist, you know?

We take it really seriously, but to us that’s just where we come from. It’s so natural. We’re isolated and we isolate ourselves. I think it’s really sacred, so I don’t want to change anything, but I think it’s lost a lot of that. It’s too easy to be a band. Back when rock and roll and punk rock and stuff started it had a regionalism and a character, it was sort of ignorant in that way. But the way that information passes these days, everyone knows about everything and you can’t help but be a part of that because you’re living in this world.

KO: Like music used to be something that could only happen in one place at one time, and now everything’s in one big internet pool?

AC: Totally, information’s passing so fast that everything’s losing its character and there’s no regionalism. Everyone bases everything off of references of ‘oh I heard about this guy, what he did,’ and that’s cool and all but…I don’t know, the character’s lost.

KO: That’s sort of funny to talk about here, right, where there’s like a band one minute, next minute another band from a completely different place.

CW: Yeah it’s cool to bring a bunch of things into one environment, but I guess it’s kind of cool that we’re here too cause it’s like really we shouldn’t be here.

[All laugh]

AC: Yeah, we should be here.

C: No, I don’t know. I feel like we kind of came here under false pretenses because people think we’re some kind of grunge revival band because we live in Washington and we’ve got long hair, and we’re into hardcore.

AC: We don’t like grunge, but we do think a lot of those dudes did look cool in the late 80s, so I guess if we dress like that – you know what I mean?

It’s nice because our first record, the record that’s out, sounds more like a Hüsker Dü or Dinosaur Jr. kind of thing, and we don’t sound that much like that any more, or it changes as we play the songs, so people come and they’re like, ‘Oh it’s different and we love it! We didn’t know what to expect.’ It makes me happy cause it’s like, okay, the longer we keep doing our thing people will just get it, get the changes. A lot of people won’t get it right, and that’s okay, you know? We’re just doing our thing. It’s not going to matter so much 20 years from now.

KW: Nothing matters.

CW: That’s kind of true.

AC: No, no I think it matters! I just mean, like, what people write about us one day—

CW: Oh yeah, yeah. It only matters to some nerdy kid, like me in high school.

AC: No, I just mean the bullshit doesn’t matter.

CW: Yeah, yeah the bullshit doesn’t matter.

AC: I mean, I used to be so uptight, like, ‘No one gets us right!’ And we still are, we’re really uptight when it comes to photographers and stuff, but now we’re being more proactive. If we don’t like this, let’s figure out how to fix it. And it’s cool, no one hears ‘no’ these days.

So, like, someone tipped these people off about us and they sent out a photographer and we wanted to use my roommate who takes photos and they were like, ‘Oh no, he’s not professional enough.’ So we were said, ‘Okay, we won’t do it then. Thank you, though.’ And they were all, ‘WHAT? WHAT?’ And we told them we didn’t like the photographer lady and she got all in trouble. That worked in spades. And we got the pictures, you know, 35mm.

CW: We’re not into getting people in trouble. [Laughs]

AC: Yeah but you got to fight for what you want. It’s like a war.

KO: [Laughs] You are really fucking intense.

AC: You know, I just don’t want to get my picture taken and be represented falsely just because it’s easier. Sometimes you can’t help it, though, and it’s like I don’t want to be in a bad mood all the time. But with photos it’s like, if you need it we’ll take what we’re comfortable with and if you need like a new or exclusive one and we only have four for six months or whatever – tough. That’s like how it is, and they’ll probably use it, and we’ll probably get our way. That’s what it’s all about, I mean especially if I had more money—

CW: Man if I had more money! [Laughs]

AC: —If I was more educated, I would try to direct. I mean, what I do is like nothing compared to a director. I was reading a book about directors in the 70s and that is a world, it’s psycho. You’re constantly greasing wheels to try to get your way, and that’s what life’s about, you know? Trying to get your way.