The road to success can be a tough one and making a name for yourself in the industry can be brutal. For Essex born, soul and funk inspired band, The Milk, this rings true for their beginnings also.
“There were a lot of showcases. No one really knows about it unless you do it,” explains drummer Mitch. “The best ones are obviously when they come to a gig and it’s packed out with loads of people cheering you on. But then there are these other moments where they come down to your rehearsal and there are five of you in a room. They’re like, ‘Impress me. Do you want my money or don’t you?’”
“They’ll just sit there and light up a joint and be like, ‘what you got?’” adds lead singer Rick. “Some of them are horrible; not pleasant things to do at all.”
Experiences such as these would have put many bands off, but not The Milk. “I think we’d already gone down the rabbit hole at that point. It was like, we’ve got to do this to get there. Let’s just get this done,” says Rick. Just months prior to this, the band had to make the monumental decision to quit their day jobs to make their musical passion a full time venture.
“I remember phoning Mitch and being outside the boss’s office and being like, ‘Look man. I am about to knock on the boss’s door and tell him where to shove his job. Like is this what we’re doing?’ And it worked – it was f**king scary,” says Rick. “We got to that point where we were too busy with the band but the band wasn’t quite making enough money to kind of call it your job. It was a hard choice in one sense but in another sense, there was only one choice you would have ever made.”
The band’s 2012 debut album Tales From The Thames Delta was released to much critical acclaim; the album’s catchy pop melodies and head-bouncing beats won The Milk a loyal fan base. In spite of this, the band themselves felt that the album didn’t portray their stylistic origins.
“When we look back on our careers over the past however many years, it’s that first album that sticks out as the anomaly. We were perhaps swayed a bit too much in production and things to do in order to be successful,” says Rick. He concedes: “At the same time, I forgive us for that because we were a long time unsigned and we found ourselves working with a producer and then very quickly we had a very big record label offering us the chance to put that record out. It’s great that we went through that process, but it’s even better that we’re here now doing what we always feel we’re good at.”
Since the release of their debut album, The Milk have had their fair share of struggles to contend with, predominantly a change of management and record label.
“It was a major label experience that prior to being signed to a major, you couldn’t help but think that it was the pinnacle – ‘all we need to do is just get signed by a major and our career’s sorted.’ It just wasn’t the case and it was a real anti-climax,” states Mitch. “Our experience lines up with a lot of bands that are like us, that have gone through that major label machine and come out sort of stronger on the other side of it. It was destined not to work really from the off if truth be told.”
Three years on from the release of their debut album and The Milk are back with their highly anticipated follow up album ‘Favourite Worry’. Under the new management of Wah Wah 45s, who specialise in signing soul, funk and jazz artists, the band explain that they feel like the album is a homecoming.
“For us it’s more of a return to what we do and what we’ve always been really, really good at, which is a pretty decent soul band that can write a decent track,” says Mitch. “We signed to a new label and they just wanted us to embrace more of what we were originally a band for. They just want their artists to be true to themselves and make great records first and not really worry about gimmicks.” Adds Rick, “I think it’s definitely a more honest record.”
It takes dedicated professionals to commit to recording an album fully live, but that is exactly what The Milk did. With the opportunity to now create their second album as they had always wanted, the band headed to the Isle of Wight to record in a huge medieval barn. “We record the way that we play things live, so when we recorded the album, we deliberately chose a studio that had a big space, where the emphasis was on all being in the same room and playing at the same time. But obviously that meant that when we were trying to put songs down, if one person f**ks up on a take, the whole take is f**ked,” says Rick.
Recalling his favourite moment during the recording process, frontman Rick explains, “Some of our songs are ferociously fast and very intricate to play. There’s a track called ‘Don’t Give Up The Night’ and we got to like take fourteen and everyone’s dripping sweat. It’s a six-minute track and it’s really fast so it’s really got to be locked in. We all got really f**ked off because it was so close. We went for dinner, which is just next-door, and we all sat there not really talking and the producer just turned around. He’s pouring a rum and coke and says, ‘I’m ready for take fifteen.’ So we put dinner back in the oven, all went back, did take fifteen and finished it. That’s the one that made the record. So it was like the one that interrupted dinner.”
“It was funny because I think after that, we had these rum and ginger ales,” adds Mitch. “It ended up being the drink of the session, so when everything weren’t going exactly to plan, we just had a pint. And we just thought it would loosen everyone up – we started to sound great.”
Released only a month ago, the record is still fairly new to The Milk’s fans. Just as the interview ends however, Rick let us in on some exciting news: “Just before you got here, we were told we’re going on tour in Germany. Apparently the Germans are absolutely loving it, so we’re gonna go and meet a few of them.”
It’s apparent that the fact that they have fans overseas is slightly surreal for the band. “We’ve been completely oblivious to it until our managers turned up and went, ‘So it’s kicking off in Germany.’ It sounds like there’s been quite a bit of momentum that’s gone up over there and now we’re just finding out about it when it’s at quite an exciting point.”
With a German tour on the horizon and a new manager and record label under their belts, The Milk seem to be in a comfortable position not only musically, but also solidly as a four-piece. With the ups and downs that they have encountered over the past few years, it is commendable how they have come out as strong as they have, and with no regrets – only lessons learnt.