BIG IN 2016
As 2016 opens its doors, we’ll make sure you’re properly briefed on the acts who will dominate the next twelve months. With a killer debut album set to drop later this month Milk Teeth lead the pack.
Words: Ali Shutler. Photos: Phil Smithies.
Milk Teeth are a resilient band. During a tour supporting Balance and Composure, their van broke down after they drove from Dublin to Glasgow, and “it just never started again.” Only halfway through the tour, it was a crushing blow and remains one of the worst days of guitarist Chris Webb’s life. After playing the show in Glasgow, Milk Teeth then drove a rental car 250 miles to their hotel in Stoke-on-Trent where, instead of wallowing or raging, they gave each other matching stick and poke tattoos. Branded for life with a sad smiley; a mark of never giving up.
The band have been through an awful lot in their three years together. But it’s not the knocks that define Milk Teeth. It’s their determination to get back up.
It’s an attitude that’s always present. From their hit-the-ground-running work ethic, through debut album ‘Vile Child’ to the recent departure of guitarist / vocalist Josh Bannister, Milk Teeth never say die. “To be honest, it wasn’t a big surprise when it happened,” explains vocalist / bassist Becky Blomfield. “We’d definitely seen it coming for a long time. He wasn’t happy, we weren’t happy and it had been quite a hard few months for us as a band. There was a lot of negative energy in what we were doing. It was the right decision for him and the right decision for us. I wouldn’t want him to be unhappy continuing and yeah, it’s a more positive environment since it happened.” Despite the knock of a founding member leaving, Becky, Chris and drummer Oli Holbrook never entertained the idea of it meaning the end for Milk Teeth. “Why give up when we’ve got this far?”
Formed in college and raised on a diet of Title Fight, Guns N’ Roses, Tonight Alive, Nirvana, Slipknot and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, Milk Teeth started life as so many bands do. Debut EP, ’Smiling Politely’ “was meant to be a demo, just something we had so we could play some shows.” Over-achievers from the off, it was a success, allowing them to then spend their weekends playing live. “We just played and played and played. We met loads of bands around the country and we were lucky to have bands that took us on tour. I think those are the little steps you take,” explains Oli.
“Those days were funny because we all still had jobs. So we’d drive up to Manchester, play a house show at midnight, get back at four and then get up for work at six,” reflects Becky as the band, sat backstage at London’s Electric Ballroom while Refused soundcheck downstairs, talk fondly about carrying their gear through working kitchens, the first time they got a bottle of Jack on their rider, and having amps dropped on them.
Milk Teeth have never wanted a shortcut. Walking away from subsidiary deals so the band could “grow as naturally as possible,” and turning down tours because they don’t fit, the band are more than happy to say no. “We’ve been super, super lucky with how quick everything’s happened but I’d hate for people to think that we didn’t work a lot before,” offers Becky. “We were literally travelling around in Chris’ car.“
“Yeah,” he replies, “as much as I moan about driving to Dublin, all those little tours are what make you. You don’t want to suddenly jump up to the big time.”
Growing up in-between Bristol and Cheltenham, all of Milk Teeth had to work that little bit harder to get involved in any scene. Their date in February at the O2 Academy with Tonight Alive will be the fourth time they’ve ever played their home city. Having to travel further afield to play shows quickly instilled a sense of adventure alongside the necessity of touring that the band still carry today.
After signing to Venn Records, dropping out of university, rejecting offers and walking away from potential careers, Milk Teeth put out their ‘Sad Sack’ EP at the start of 2015. It was the starting gun for a year that saw them step up in a big way. “Opportunities-wise, you’ve got to take them while you can. If it fails, it fails but at least we tried.”
In-between the release of ‘Sad Sack’ and their subsequent signing to Hopeless Records, the band undertook back to back tours with Frank Iero, Title Fight and Frank Carter. “The longest we’d been out before that was ten days and all of a sudden we were out for two months. It was a huge wake up call,” states Becky. “Touring is not glamorous but we all have a good work ethic. If you don’t really, really want it or love and enjoy what you do, you’re not going to make it through that. I think what people imagine we do and what we actually do are very different things.” The hectic touring that 2015 offered also paved the way for the idea that Milk Teeth could be a long-term proposal. “When we started getting offered bigger things this year, that was when it felt like a real thing. I never thought this would happen but now it’s sunk in that this could be a full time thing,” offers Chris.
In among their ridiculous schedule and the heartbreak, missed engagements and broken relationships it caused, Milk Teeth found time to record a debut album. ‘Vile Child’, an album of snarling defiance and vulnerable admissions, perfectly captures the band’s refusal to quit. During a rare day off on the last Sunday before Christmas Becky explains how the band, now a three-piece, are “just looking forward to the future now.” The year is over, they’ve survived.
With the album out at the end of January, a nineteen-date tour with Tonight Alive, their first trip to America and a return to Download already on the cards – with plenty more to come, there’s an awful lot to look forward to. “From where we started from, releasing that first EP, to the thought that we’d have our debut album out in a couple years time is crazy,” continues Becky. “We’re still three little kids from Stroud so it’s amazing to us that any of this is happening. It’s great that we’ve had that opportunity. We didn’t want to put out a third EP and it never really was considered an option. We hit that point where it was just time to get a full length together. We were ready for that next step.”
‘Vile Child’ is Milk Teeth on a bigger scale. All those lessons learnt and all the hopeful dreams of a few friends from a quiet market town, out to take on the world. “To me, it’s what we do well but on a higher confidence level. The songs are more thought out and well written and the lyrics have progressed. It’s like what we’ve done before but much better.”
There’s only a year between the release of ‘Sad Sack’ and ‘Vile Child’ but there’s a noticeable difference. The advances felt like a “natural progression”, say the band, and can be credited to them always learning and striving to be better. “The more you play, the more you go through together as a band. You grow and change. The more you write, the more open minded you get. We still get the Nirvana comparisons, which don’t annoy me. It’s a massive compliment but it’s a bit tiresome now. I like to think we’ve moved past that.”
‘Vile Child’ flourishes under the band members’ different personalities. There’s a lot of stuff they agree on and they do “listen to similar stuff,” but there is also a degree of tension to the record that comes with songs passing through every individual. It’s how they get that delicious Milk Teeth flavour (though that’s not a ‘shake we’d ever order). “I like that everyone is involved because we’re all quite different. We’ve all got different influences. It’s always been collaborative and it’s never been one person doing everything. We all chip in and get involved, not just with the music but merch designs and the stuff outside of directly writing songs.”
Milk Teeth is a shared experience. It’s why the audience fits so neatly into their world. “The songs that I penned myself or with Josh or Chris are very personal,” explains Becky. “They’re not about situations that have happened to me recently though. I wasn’t in a particularly good place a few years ago and writing about that now is a way of coping with that.” Inspired by, “the darker stuff that has happened in the past,” ‘Vile Child’ wasn’t approached as therapy – “it just came out that way.”
“I was a bit of a loner at school, then my parents split up. I got really angry so listened to a load of angry music,” reflects Becky on her introduction to punk. “I found it, it wasn’t like anyone gave it to me. I struggled with a bunch of stuff as a teenager and if anybody finds some sort of help, or doesn’t feel so alone through something we’ve written, that’s the main thing. I’d hope it would help in some small way because I felt quite alone as a teenager and listening to music definitely helped me.”
That desire is perfectly demonstrated in ‘Kabuki’. A hauntingly powerful two minute admission nestled in the heart of ‘Vile Child’, and the second single from the album. While it might not be an obvious choice, it does represent what Milk Teeth stand for. Written by Becky alone in her bedroom, she’d been keeping it from the rest of the band for a couple of months until she sent over a dodgy mobile phone recording of the rough outline, via Facebook chat (technology, eh?). The band instantly saw the song’s power, despite Becky holding back the full lyrics. She suggested they make it a “heavy, powerful ballad where everyone is involved,” but they wanted to “keep it acoustic.” It was the last thing the band recorded for ‘Vile Child’. “On the day, I was incredibly nervous. I recorded it in two or three takes and went upstairs to listen back and the boys were just, I’ve never seen them that serious. It was the first time they’d heard the full lyrics. I don’t know if they’d known I felt like that before or if I’d hidden it but they were sad for me, I guess. They were so supportive and lovely about it.”
Initially when it was suggested as a single, Becky was in two minds about it. She’s never had to think about the release of something before but she eventually found more positives than negatives. “I was absolutely terrified, just because it was such a vulnerable song for me to have written.” Once out, the reaction was “overwhelming. A lot of people have said that it’s something they can relate to. That’s a huge thing because that’s half the reason I wrote it. I felt that bad and I didn’t like the idea of anyone else feeling like that. I think, if anything, it’s a positive thing it’s out in a public space. For me, the message is that I did feel like that at one point but look, I’m doing much better now.” Even at their most vulnerable and intimate, Milk Teeth are encouraging others to pick themselves back up and carry on.
There’s sibling affection between Milk Teeth. They squabble, they mock one another and they know exactly how to wind one another up. They’re also fiercely protective. From Oli and Chris attending the video shoot of ‘Kabuki’ to support Becky, “I could see them out of the corner of my eye giggling because I was trying to be serious. It was off-putting but hilarious,” to Becky declaring herself “Momma hen,” the band, “have each others’ back. Because we knew each other as mates first, there’s that friendship there. We’ve always looked out for each other and being in a band just makes that stronger.” As Milk Teeth enter 2016, that bond and their appeal is only going to increase.
“The sky’s the limit. We’re all on the same page and there’s nothing we don’t think is achievable. At the moment, it’s my favourite thing. It’s what we love doing and we want it to go as far as it can go. If that means it stays where we’re at now, that’s fine. We’ve achieved so much. If that means we progress even further, then we’ve got a lot to look forward to.”
“We tend to have too much material rather than struggle to have any,” offers Becky of the future before admitting, “We’ve got most of the next record written. I wrote a lot for ‘Vile Child’, Chris wrote a lot for ‘Vile Child’, Oli’s always written all his drum bits so regarding the three of us being ok music wise; we’re hungry for it. We’re motivated to keep pushing forward and keep growing. We’re not letting anything intimidate us. I’m not worried.”
“We roll with the punches,” declares Becky with a matter-of-fact smirk. “I think that’s important. Not just in what we do but with life in general really. It is important to be able to pick yourself up again, no matter what happens. To try and carry on even though it’s really hard. Sometimes you have to power through. It’s always better a few months down the line. Things tend to improve,” she offers, defiant as ever. “It’s something I’ve had to learn myself. When I was younger, I wasn’t half as resilient as I am now. You do have to learn to pick yourself up. It’s very easy to stick your head in the sand, not carry on and press pause on life but you never have the luxury to do that. You have to carry on.” They’ve made it this far and with a world of riches to explore, Milk Teeth never say die.