At the end of 2015, Upset bundled into the backstage of London's Electric Ballroom to catch up with Milk Teeth as they prepared to support punk legends Refused and to look ahead to the release of debut album, 'Vile Child'. After years of DIY tours, weekend house shows and scrappy EPs ('Smiling Politely' and 'Sad Sack'), the mates from Stroud looked set to leave their hometown behind and take on the world. Behind the scenes, though, it wasn't as jubilant.
Before 'Vile Child' was even released, co-vocalist/founding member and guitarist Josh Bannister quit, explaining: "I left before I had to leave music entirely." Former Hindsights frontperson Billy Hutton stepped in to fill the gap as Milk Teeth reshuffled, with bassist/vocalist Becky Blomfield taking on more of the spotlight. The double hit of their 'Be Nice' and 'Go Away' EPs followed the next year, and in 2018 it was announced that guitarist Chris Webb would be leaving Milk Teeth with immediate effect. No explanation was given, and still the band aren't allowed to talk about it.
Nervus' Em Foster stepped in and became a full-time member after Bill left the band. Drummer Oli Holbrook departed a year later, with both of them wanting to try their hand at something else. Jack Kenny, Nervus' drummer, joined the band and after a fierce, formidable and defiant performance opening the Main Stage at Reading & Leeds, the trio hit the studio to finally get album two sorted. It's been turbulent and trying, but still, Milk Teeth never say die.
"There's so much that I can't talk about publicly. And also, there's so much that I don't want to talk about it. So much crazy shit has happened behind the scenes over the past five years. If it was a movie, it would be the most action-packed movie going," smiles Becky, before faltering.
"But it has not been healthy. It has not been okay. It's been at the expense of peoples lives and mental well-being. There have been points where none of us have wanted to carry on." But somehow, Becky is still standing. Milk Teeth are still a band. "I guess that's why this album means so much to me."
'Milk Teeth', out in March via the band's new, new home on Music For Nations, is a grungy blast of gnarled vulnerability and barbed wire hope. That self-titled name is a promise of intent. Becky has never wanted to change the name of the band because of "stubbornness", she explains. "I didn't want to have to let go of something that I helped build and was a very prominent part of. I think it was quite a statement to come back and actually be like, 'No. I shouldn't have to change this name'." In fact, it's the name of the album as well. "We're still Milk Teeth, this is just the next part of it. We don't want to forget the past 'cause I love what we've done, but this is something new now. Let's start over."
While 'Be Nice' and 'Go Away' saw the band veer towards colour. Shiny, polished and cartoonish, "those EPs started to go too much towards the pop-punk scene, which is something I don't identify with or associate myself with. That's not where I see us," Becky states. "We've always been noisier than that. The juxtaposition between 'Owning Your Okayness' live and on record is like Miley Cyrus and Courtney Love. It was frustrating, I was coming up with the songs, but I didn't really have much to say in the final shape of what those songs look like." As she admitted backstage at Reading, "I definitely lost my voice for a really long period of time. I was there, but I wasn't there."
To course correct, 'Milk Teeth' is a rugged, chaotic embrace of alternative rock. "We want it to sound more accurate a representation of what we sound like live." Inspired by the music of their childhood - Manic Street Preachers, Placebo, Nirvana - the record thrashes with personality. "There are melody and hooks, and there are pop elements to it, but if you come and see it live, it's not going to be saccharine sweet, you know?" It never tries to mask its flaws. "It doesn't matter if something isn't exactly perfect, it was about the conveyance of the emotion."
"This record is about a lot of reinvention and a lot of resilience," continues Becky. "I'd say resilience is the key theme. People that I have been able to speak to about what happened, most of them have said, 'I literally don't know how you're still doing this right now. If this was me, the band would have ended'. Yeah, I've had to be tough," she admits with a sad smile. "I've had to put my armour on and go into battle over the past few years. I think you can hear that in the songs." Rather than dwell on all the hurt, 'Milk Teeth' wrestles it into something more. "I'm not going to let this band go. Yes, these things have happened, and they suck but let's use it to create something. It's strength in adversity."
From the opening blast of empowerment with 'Given Up', which sees Becky reach her limit and declare "I'm not doing this anymore" over raging fight music, straight into the goofy heart-eyed affection of 'Flowers', written on the back of a receipt in a McDonalds after Becky's first date with her partner Matt, the album is about more than one thing.
"There's heartbreak and the fallout from a relationship with someone narcissistic that had a really unhealthy balance of power, but there are also songs about me and my boyfriend," says Becky. Three years in the making, "it's good to write about the good parts as well as the bad."
'Dilute' sees Becky refusing to play down her struggles with depression - "Don't try to comprehend all the words sent to destroy my head, expect me to dilute, so I'm easier to swallow" - while 'Better' is more to do with "a specific case of emotional abuse." However personal these songs are though, 'Milk Teeth' excels at distilling them down to their core emotions.
"In essence, 'Better' is a breakup song. It's a love song, and it's a song about looking back at a relationship and finding the strength to say no. That's relatable to a lot of people, whether it's a romantic relationship, a toxic friendship, or a job with a shitty boss, everybody has their limit. Everyone has that point where they walk away after realising, I deserve better than this."
That moment of clarity "is really poignant," Becky considers. "It's a moment of strength and empowerment, and I think that's the underlying thing in all these songs. Under all this darkness, all the sadness and all the pain, the thing bubbling away underneath is that you're going to be okay. It's going to be really hard, but you can get through this." Becky knows it because she's lived it, and she's still here.
'Transparent' isn't angry, but it's not without venom. Originally the lyrics dealt with this same situation as-is, but not wanting to go onstage every night and feel like a victim, the lyrics were twisted so Becky could feel tough and empowered.
"That's the energy I wanted to put out into the world - rather than being about what other people have done to me, now it's more about being strong in the face of this person. It's a fuck you to that person." It also champions feeling your feeling. "You don't have to hide your sadness. Be open, be honest, feel it all and eventually there'll be the day where you feel tough again. That was a really important message to share. "
Anger is important to 'Milk Teeth'. "It's not hugely prevalent, but the little doses were too important to leave off." And 'Destroyer is the most furious point. "I was angry. I was sick of seeing somebody carry on with their life like nothing had happened and frustrated at the lack of repercussions they faced for their actions. It was out of control. Having to accept that and try and move on was really, really hard. Occasionally, I'll still have a twinge of that fury. It sucks that we've had to deal with all this pain. And to be honest, it's something I still have trouble with."
When the song was released, it brought it all up for Becky again, and she really struggled. "When you give so much of yourself, everything feels really personal, and everything cuts deep."
'Smoke' was written while Milk Teeth were on tour with Creeper. Not having the best time, Becky would take herself away to her bunk and eat chocolate because she was sad, she missed Matt and was homesick, while 'Medicine' looks at the consequences on her relationship with Matt. "It wasn't easy for him to see me go through things that are so complex and so triggering, whether that came out through my eating" - Becky has a history of eating disorders that stem from childhood - "anxiety or suicidal ideation. There were times when I couldn't leave the house, and obviously, that impacted him as well. There's no manual for getting through what was happening. He's one of the closest people to me, but our relationship was tested. That song was written when we nearly broke up."
'Milk Teeth' covers a lot of ground, emotionally, sonically and lyrically, but perhaps its brightest moment is the wide-eyed celebration of 'Circles'. Gleaming, the track sees Becky saying thanks to her bandmate, Em.
"It was the first time I'd met somebody that felt like they knew me better than I knew myself, and who also wanted to see me be okay. That meant a lot at the time and did provide a lot of relief. Honestly, I don't think I laughed for two years but having Em and Jack come in, they're so silly, and it was nice to have a break from all this intense stuff that was happening."
Sharing the load as a three-piece but also making decisions as a band and caring about each other's feelings in everything they do, "it feels like we support each other and don't want to see each other suffer," Becky smiles, "which is obviously how it should be and is obviously a way better environment."
That spark continues to blaze in the closing wish of 'Wanna Be'. The hardest song to record, you can hear the emotion in Becky's voice threatening to take control. It's very personal to both her and Oli, and makes reference to a night where everything changed for them both. Again, the details have to be kept unsaid, but the song feels like a goodbye and a fresh start.
"It's not fine," Becky insists. "I'm vulnerable, I'm angry." But all the weight the album has been carrying is lifted as she admits, "I'm not fine now, but I want to be." It's a powerful close to a resilient record. "That statement is very simple, but it stuck with me. It's hopeful."
"I always like to try and find hope," she grins. "I'm a big fan of Matt Haig [author of Reasons to Be Alive, Notes On A Nervous Planet], and he always tries to encourage that even in your darkest times, where you can't think about the next hour let alone tomorrow, please try and hold on. It's that hope that will get you through. Believe that you won't feel like this forever. Even if it feels like you're never going to feel happy ever again, you will get there. You just have to ride it out."
And Becky didn't want the album to end with that feeling of everything's over, everything's done. "I want people to know it's never too late to change their path. [With this album,] I hope that people learn to realise their own worth and if anybody can see themselves in any of the situations I was in, maybe it'll give them a tiny bit of strength or help them realise they don't have to stay in a situation that's not good for them. I know how hard that is. I hope this album makes people value themselves more."
"These songs are like therapy," she continues. "It's not just me singing about something random. It's not fiction. It's my life. If other people can interact with that, that's amazing. I was not very well in school when I was growing up. I really struggled to connect with people. I was really agoraphobic; I didn't leave my house for two years.
"Now, I value connection so much more now as an adult. I wouldn't have got through half the stuff I've gotten through if I didn't have people around me. Connection is everything. Not everybody has family or people close by, which is why community is so important to us. It's why Nervus talk about it. It's why Petrol Girls talk about it. It's why Milk Teeth talk about it. Because what are we, without the other people in our lives? Just knowing that someone is there, or knowing you're not alone, those little things keep you going."
'Milk Teeth' wrestles with an awful lot. There's a lot of pain, but through that, there's sparkling hope and the promise to get better. It captures an everyday struggle, good days, bad days and the chaos that comes with recovery. Ultimately though, it is a positive album.
"The fact that it even exists is positive. I'd like to think that that inspires people. You can still create something positive out of an adverse time in your life. You can channel that negativity in a more positive way. I could have just stopped. I could've just given up. I mean God, we talked about it. When everything went down, I didn't want to carry on. Oli didn't want to carry on. I was done, I didn't want to be in the public eye, I just wanted to get a regular job and not deal with any of it because it was too painful."
But here Milk Teeth are. "As much as it's emotional and sad, there is hope in there."
"We've always been a band that's just kept going and going and going," continues Becky. "I definitely felt a pressure to keep the momentum going, even though I really wasn't well. And that was from within myself. I don't like letting people down, but now I'm consciously making decisions that are the best for us and our well-being."
That nervous energy that drove Becky to be constantly pushing things forward has been replaced by something a bit more self-aware. Rather than the ragtag chaos of old, there's a stability to this version of Milk Teeth. They understand that if you're in this for the long haul, you need to look after yourself, and each other, as much as possible.
"I've slowed down slightly, I've said no to tours, and I've only written three new songs which is way less than my normal pace. But there's still two months until the album comes out," she adds with a grin.
Her phone currently has snippets for 198 different sets of lyrics, and there's an unfinished song about gun control that they couldn't get quite right in time for this album, so we'll see. For now, the band are readying themselves for the release of 'Milk Teeth' and the headline tour that follows.
"I hope people understand how much it means that we could put this out," starts Becky. "We're really grateful that anybody cares. It was so close to never being a real tangible thing. It took a hell of a lot of work to get it to the point where it is now, and I hope people have faith in what we're doing. If it was a completely different lineup and there were no original members, I could understand why people might lose their patience. But no, we're still here. I'm still here. And I like to think there's a future."
Taken from the March issue of Upset. Milk Teeth's self-titled album is out 27th March.
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