While they were taking over Europe and (probably) came to a city near you, we caught up with Stroud quartet Milk Teeth and spent a moment with them discussing being (un)cool, positivity, various music scenes, and how they keep it all together.
First things first, let’s set the scene : this tour with the Aussies of Tonight Alive is the first one they’ve done with new guitarist Billy Hutton after founding member Josh Bannister left. Drummer Oli Holbrook reflects on that departure and its timeliness : “I think everyone was unhappy for quite a long time, and now everyone — previous and current to the band — is a lot happier.” And Milk Teeth aren’t the kind of band who’d ever let this slow them down. In fact, setting the scene some more, when we met, their acclaimed debut ‘Vile Child’ had just come out a few weeks prior, bringing them to new places and new stages, including the likes of Turnover and Citizen in the mighty United States recently, and their very own UK headline tour which included playing to a more than sold out Barfly in London.
With an already impressive and very eclectic list of bands they’ve encountered and played with, it’s easy to wonder how they make it all work day to day. Guitarist Chris Webb clears it up for us : “ We always pride ourselves on being able to play to and with anybody. We did a tour with Frank Carter and then this tour which is more poppy, and I feel like that’s exactly where we want our music to be : somewhere between really heavy and really poppy.” In fact, ‘Vile Child’ is the perfect compromise for people like all of us who enjoy good old screamy music, but also a little dance to boybands and pop artists once in a while ; Milk Teeth don’t play by the rules, and that’s why we (and so many people) love them.
One might think they would get lost while trying to have it all with their music, but they do manage to get the best of every world, and not being able to put a band in any existing box that already exists is utterly satisfying. Chris and vocalist Becky Blomfield sum it up ;
“Bands spend way too long trying to belong in one scene, and then they get to that point they’re like, ‘alright, I’m bored of this’, and it’s too late then, you can’t play to anybody else because nobody’s interested.”
“People are still trying to box us as 90’s grunge and act like that’s all we are, but definitely since the last EP, I don’t feel like we’re really that sound anymore.”
So good luck trying to put Milk Teeth in a box, because no matter how hard you try cutting corners to make it fit, it just won’t work ; they have their own box, which is something only a few bands have achieved.
After having time to appreciate their debut ‘Vile Child’ for a couple of months, it’s safe to say that it’s unique, and all the blood, sweat and tears behind it paid off ; “We always get super nervous before we release something new. It’s really hard when you put that much of yourself into something and then you’ve got to release that to the world — people can literally sit behind their computer and destroy everything you’ve worked on for the last six months. But it’s been so positive and everyone was so kind and lovely about it,” Oli reckons.
It’s worth mentioning that ‘Vile Child’ is also their first album on renown US label Hopeless Records, which left many people skeptical, as guitarist Billy Hutton notes : “When people hear that you’re with a bigger label, they think, “oh no the label’s gonna change you completely”, but Hopeless love the fact that we do our own thing — they embrace it if anything.” And them signing to said label works both ways, as Becky explains : “It’s also good for Hopeless ; they probably don’t wanna be pigeonholed themselves and it’s exciting for them to have different kinds of music ; with some other labels we feel like if we’d taken these ones, we would have got stuck in a ‘scene’, and we probably would have had a one-year career. I’m glad we’re on Hopeless because I’ve heard horror stories — well, it’s more to do with me— , where girls are literally told, ‘you need to dye your hair this colour’, and ‘you need to look a certain way’, and I couldn’t. If somebody told me what colour to dye my hair I’d just be like, ‘fuck off!’’
And even though that is a horror story indeed, it reflects how society sometimes views women, and women in music in particular. I always refuse to take the easy way out and ask obvious questions to women just because they’re women, because that sucks and fuck that, but it still felt timely to bring up that subject, which actually sparked a nice discussion ; “ I think that people are slowly becoming more okay with the fact women are musicians too. Especially on this tour, it’s easy because Jenna’s a girl, obviously, and having another female band on the same tour shows the solidarity between women in music. But there have been odd times where people treat you like you don’t know what you’re doing, or you don’t know how your own guitar works because you’re a girl, and I’ve played guitar for as long as the boys have.”
“A cool thing Becky’s been doing is asking how many girls are in bands, and it’s really sad to only hear a few voices,” deplores Oli, and Billy recalls : “There’s one show where no one had their hand up, and we were just like, ‘come on, get in your car and go write some songs’!”
Becky continues, “That’s half of the problem, I think. There’s a lot of pressure to still conform yourself to a gender role within a career, so they tell you that girls should do more these kinds of jobs and boys should do more these kind of jobs, and I think that it’s still quite hard to go against that, but you have to have that inner strength and determination to go and do what you want to do.”
And looking at where that determination has gotten Becky (and the rest of Milk Teeth of course, this isn’t a publication where we single out a female vocalist and act like they make up the entire band) on a world map is more than amazing, and all that gives them serious bragging rights, but they’ve got this whole “uncool is the new cool” approach that I can’t help but love : with the alternative scenes being filled with music snobs, it’s hard sometimes to feel like you can just be yourself and not get judged for having fun, and Billy and Oli further that thought in adding ;
“They think they’re too cool to jump up and down, but you’re at a show, stop being embarrassed! Why are you trying to look cool? What’s the point of being like ‘look at this kid jumping around!’ What person looks cool jumping around? When we see kids jumping up and down, we start enjoying ourselves more, they enjoy themselves more, it just feels good.”
“They really like it, they really have loads of energy. We play a song called No Fun, and that’s my favourite song to play. As soon as that kicks in, we try to get people to jump, and when everyone jumps, it’s such a rewarding feeling. Seeing the whole room move, nothing can describe it.”
“Also,” Billy continues and laughs, “when people are like ‘oh yeah I look like an idiot’, you’re not seeing me on stage! All my hair is everywhere, I look atrocious!”
“One time I fell down some stairs while I was playing, so..” Chris recalls.
All it really boils down to here is that it’s okay to be uncool, and Milk Teeth are the first to call people out on social media for that too ; when people call their crowds a “cringe pit”, they’ll always speak the truth : there’s nothing wrong with people having fun, and it doesn’t mean you’re not a grown up either as Oli sums up ; “We were all fucking emo kids and not much has changed. It’s weird— I feel like I haven’t changed much except my haircut and getting bigger.”
At the end of the day, this is what makes Milk Teeth Milk Teeth : stuff going wrong, honesty, and despite sometimes pessimistic lyrics, don’t be fooled : Milk Teeth ARE a positive band. In case you haven’t heard it yet, go listen to ‘Vile Child’ (a big summary of all this) immediately. In Becky’s words, “It’s our best work. If you like gross grunge poppy songs, then give that a listen.”
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
All photos taken by Emilie Cuer