Having to repeatedly force the search engine to accept Milwalkie as opposed to Milwaukie is enough to make me ask about the origin of the band name. Is it a good story?
“It’s kind of a funny one to me. When thinking about some names to put to all the songs we were recording, my brother and bassist Steve suggested that he liked the sound of the word Milwaukee. I said “yeah, that’s a cool sounding word”, but immediately in my head all I pictured was taking my dog (Millie/Mildog) for a walk – let’s take her for a Mil-walkie. I liked the idea of paying homage to my first and oldest dog, so that’s what we called ourselves.”
I confess that I was rather intrigued by the notion of a Scot-German band based in Berlin. How did you end up there? Are there any other musical expatriates we should be looking out for?
“Steve and I played in different bands for a few years and having sort of dropped the last one we were in, after just losing interest in the songs we were writing, we wanted a change of scenery and wanted to move somewhere else. We actually almost moved to Leeds ( I know, why?), but then I took a short trip there, and although it’s a nice place I guess, I suddenly felt like the UK wasn’t the place for me any more. I said Steve, fuck it, let’s go somewhere cool. He said he’d been to Berlin in a trip and it was awesome; I had never been, but I said yeah – it does sound cool, let’s go!”
As for expats, actually there’s another guy from Aberdeen there, Chris Glen, who I was passed on to from a friend (admittedly never got round to meeting him), but he seems to be doing cool stuff – nice voice too.”
Where in Scotland did you grow up? What sorts of music would we have found in your collections?
“Steve and I grew up in Aberdeen and lived there until we moved to Germany. I was never actually musical as a kid until I was 15 and my brother went to a Biffy Clyro concert; I heard them and got obsessed instantly, bought my first guitar and started learning tabs to their songs. A couple of years later I was introduced to Death Cab For Cutie who undoubtedly have been and probably will always be my biggest musical influence – that lead into bands like The Shins, Rogue Wave, Nada Surf, Stapleton and lots more.”
I read somewhere that your previous band experiences in Scotland felt somewhat restricted by conventional expectations and labels. Has moving to Berlin helped you break through some of this?
“To be honest I’m not sure if that’s entirely true. A couple of years ago, I found myself in a point where I was so eager to please people and write pop songs that I hoped to be popular, that it became so evident in my songwriting and I think it was really bad for it. I don’t even know where that pressure came from, but it was that moment when I realized – what the fuck am I doing? I’m going to write music that I like, I don’t give a fuck if anyone else likes it – and that’s basically where the first Milwalkie album came from – a batch of small experiments – probably the most fun that I’ve ever had writing music.
Unfortunately due to the cruelness of life, and the loss of Steve and I’s dad, Berlin hasn’t had a chance to make much of an impact yet because I ended up spending a lot of time between Berlin and back in Scotland visiting my dad when he was ill. That really explains why Milwalkie hasn’t managed to tour yet. There’s been a few unfortunate things happening to me over the past while, and I’ve been living back in Scotland for the past few months, spending more time with family and my girlfriend, but I feel things are getting back on track again, and I’m feeling a lot more positive and focused.”
Have you caught any Scottish acts in Berlin? If so what were the shows like?
I was absolutely gutted to have missed the Xcerts playing with Frank Turner, all great dudes and my bro told me it was a belter!
What’s the last Scottish album you picked up?
To be honest, I haven’t picked up a Scottish album in ages! The last ones were probably ‘Yearlings’ by Dundee’s Pensioner and ‘Under Sleeping Waves’ by Happy Particles – both absolutely incredible albums from two of my favourite Scottish bands.
Just prior to being made aware of the band, I was reading about ‘Das Gift’, Barry Burn’s bar in Neukoelln. Shortly thereafter, I received January’s Skinny that happened to contain an article entitled “So, You Want to live in Berlin”. Strangely, the guide doesn’t really mention music. The article was even more amusing because I had just finished watching this quasi-parody against the influx of foreign residents to the neighbourhood and, in many respects, the advice given in the article underlined the ultimate intent of the video. As members of the “Kreative Klasse” what is the local music scene actually like there?
“Haha! That video is bizarre – the guys voice get’s pretty unbearable though! Some of the things he says are true though, and you do get those stereotypical types of cheesy expats, doing their best to appear as ‘Berlin’ as possible – but really, they’re not hurting anyone I guess – rather them than NEDs. I’m sure many people might have thought I was one of them.
As for the music scene, there’s a lot of house music and drum & base – and a lot of ‘arty’ music – there’s also a lot of absolute tripe though – stoners in dreadlocks putting their guitars through 40 pedals making a wall of noise which, is maybe fun to create if you’re knocked off your block – but sounds quite shit blasted out of a 20 watt valvestate amp.
Despite that, there are a few places where you can catch generally awesome bands – and it seems audiences are totally open to that, they just don’t seem to get enough of it.”
Outsmarting MBV by waiting a day, you just premiered (online) the video for ‘Back to the Snow’. A bit softer of course, but in many ways, this song is rather complementary. Did you create the video yourselves or enlist some of your creative colleagues?
“I filmed the video myself with help from a good friend Rob Hill. I’m really pleased with how it turned out, I managed to get it very close to how I imagined it so yeah, ace-ic!”
The next track on the record, ‘Frozen Lake’, would very much appeal to a Happy Particles fan. In fact, I just had to restart it. As much as I like the new single this is the standout song for me. Would you be so kind as to provide a little more background for it?
” I don’t actually remember the recording process of that one as much, it seemed to form from nothing very quickly. The interesting thing about the Happy Particles comparison is that – I’m a huge fan of the Danish band Mew, and I always thought that HP must be influenced by them, so I’m intrigued if the likeness comes from a mutual passion for Mew – that would be cool.”
I do remember, however, one morning leaving my girlfriend and me asking her “what should I write about today, I fancy writing a song” – she said “write a winter song”. I think she was implying something more sweet and Fleet Foxes-esque, but what came out was a harsh story of someone ignoring someones advice, skating on some ice and coming close to death. I was very much in a Mew mood, and thought – I want it to suddenly explode – so that’s where the loud part come from. After that, I felt I didn’t want it to end and I still had more to say, so I made it kind of transform into another section and built it up again from there.”
One of the first songs I listened to, and the one that had me hooked, was ‘The Stamp Collector’ ( a B-side). I’m glad this version found its way on the album. There is such a relaxed beauty to all these songs. What is the typical song writing process like?
“Actually, The Stamp Collector wasn’t originally on the album, but my bro insisted he loved it and that it had to be on it – at the time I was reluctant but now I can’t imagine it not being there.
My usual song writing process comes from me hammering away tons of shit at my guitar/keyboard/drums until eventually a tiny sound comes out that I think “that sounds nice”, then usually the rest just comes quite quickly after that. I tend not to think to hard about things when i’m writing and just throw down lots of stuff and clear out any at the end that’s not needed. As for lyrics, much the same, a sentence will pop into my head and I’ll just go with it – it’s weird, sometimes for a good part of the writing I’ve got no idea what I’m actually writing about, but it always becomes clear at the end.”
It has been a pleasure to listen to the album in advance. Do you have a fixed release date yet? In what formats will it be available?
“We’re releasing it ourselves so there’s not really a definite or strict release date – but it’ll be online for people to stream very soon. Hopefully if we can afford it, we’ll buy a wee batch of vinyls – probably for my own enjoyment over anyone else’s – I guess people just listen digitally nowadays anyway.”
Understandably, much of my exposure to the band has come about via online video. I couldn’t let this cover of ‘Vienna’ pass without a mention. I am fascinated with the general love of this song having just recently heard it live for the first time and witnessed the crowd’s reaction to Midge Ure’s version – hands in the air, tears in their eyes, mouthing or singing “Vienna”. Don’t get me wrong – I love it too. It just has always struck me as incongruous that this central European city has such a worldwide resonance. What does Vienna mean to you? How about Bratislava?
“Amazing! I can’t believe you found that! We were wrecked one night at Sam Coleman’s house and thought, we need to do a Vienna cover – so voila! My singing is a little off I would say (I’m in the afro wig) but overall, a bloody good performance!
Vienna doesn’t really mean much at all to me, but Bratislava to me means my brother and I being robbed in our hostel a few years back whilst backpacking. That was scary night – my bro went with a couple of non uniformed cops (who’s proof of actually being a cop was apparently a torch???). I was waiting for him in the hostel shitting myself, he said it was pretty rough at the station.”
One of the few German bands I like happens to be based in Berlin as well. Could you please find out what’s going on with ‘Wir Sind Helden’ and let us know?
“I’ll get my brother on it!”
People should judge for themselves, but I rather prefer Milwalkie’s Vienna.