Milkmen discuss how the band was formed, dubbing their genre as ‘milkpunk’, signing with Know Hope Records and what’s next for the band
By Emily May
3 piece New Brunswick, NJ band Milkmen defies genres. With an experimental mix of jazz, punk, blues, rock and pop, it’s a genre that they have simply coined ‘milkpunk’. Consisting of Benjamin Thieberger (vocals/guitar), Brian Hughes (vocals/bass) and Anthony D’Arcangelo (drums), the band formed in 2014 while attending Rutgers University and quickly became a staple of New Jersey’s thriving underground scene. The band has gained a loyal following in New Jersey, as well as New York, Philadelphia and throughout the Northeast. The band released a few singles after forming, and on Christmas of 2015 they self-released their self-titled debut album, recorded at The Kaleidoscope in Lancaster, PA with producer Kory Gable. The band has since signed with Know Hope Records, who recently released a remixed and remastered version of their debut album. The band will be releasing a new album in early 2019. The band aims to grow as musicians, reach a larger audience and become more self-sufficient as a band. You can stay up-to-date with the band and all upcoming tour dates and album news, as well as stream and purchase their music via the following links. Check out their song “Johnny Dangerously” below!
You guys met in 2014 while attending Rutgers University in New Brunswick, NJ.. What led you to form Milkmen? Have you always had a passion for music?
Ok, here’s all the events that led to Milkmen: In the 2012-2013 school year at Rutgers, Ben and I lived a couple doors down from each other in the dormitory. We would jam all the time and ended up moving off campus together for the 2013-2014 school year. During that year, I started a band with two friends of mine’s friends, one of whom was hometown friends with Anthony, and would bring him round the house whenever we would practice. This led to Ben and Anthony to start jamming together since they weren’t in any projects. The two of them officially started Milkmen, but couldn’t find a permanent bass player. When my band broke up in early 2015, I asked to join Milkmen, because I believed in what they were doing, and felt that I could be the committed third member they were missing.
We play music because we are avid listeners and lovers of it.
You call your style of music “milkpunk”-a mix of whatever genre of music you feel like drawing from. How did you come to develop this style of music? What kind of musical backgrounds do you each come from and who would you count as musical influences?
The term ‘Milkpunk’ came about as a joke. We got tired of trying to explain to people that we’re a little bit jazzy, but punk, with blues, and rock, brief moments of pop, and math elements. We would rather just say this made up genre and let people decide for themselves.
You are part of a thriving underground scene in NJ.. How would you describe the NJ music scene? Who are some of your favorite bands coming out of NJ right now that you think people should know about?
Everywhere we tour, people ask us what’s in the water in NJ haha. The difference between a scene thriving or not comes down to kids having places to play. New Brunswick, where we live, is the basement show capital of the state (world??), literally “underground”, and you’ll find house show spots all across NJ (shout out to Rob’s Place in Union and 4333 in Glassboro!). Bars and venues are great, if you’re 21+ and you have money to blow on drinks and cover charges, but there’s something about the nature of a house show, that intimacy between performer and audience, that fosters the type of environment where bands can grow. And really, it’s about the bands who are just starting to play shows. A friend of mine who’s been hosting shows for years said it best: “Bands need to be able to suck!” Not forever obviously, but you don’t become the Fire is Motions and Mandancings and Professor Cavemans without first futzing your way around a basement show.
If you don’t already know Fire is Motion, Mandancing, and Professor Caveman, you’re fudging up; here are some other NJ artists you should know:
Din, Junkanoo, Jean Pool, American Lions, Flycatcher, steve., Shred Flintstone, Stick Bug, Lawnchairs, Stillwells, Kova Tova, Future Reflection.
You recently signed with Know Hope Records. How has that experience been so far?
So far the experience has been really great. Everyone at the label is really nice and fans of what were doing. It feels good to have more people involved with the band, without being “in the band.”
You self-released your self-titled debut album in 2015, which was remastered and remixed by Know Hope Records and reissued on September 14th! What was the writing and recording process like for the album in 2015 and how does it feel to have a remastered version released?
We recorded the album over a two week period with Kory Gable at the Kaleidoscope in Lancaster, PA. We practiced almost everyday for a couple months leading up to it, which paid off immensely during the recording process because we got the foundation of each recording done quite quickly, allotting us a relaxing amount of time to experiment with different guitars on each track, a variety of sound effects, and the abundance of vocal harmonies I consider a staple of our sound.
The record still prides us a great deal; it was each of our first full length album and we made lifelong friends in the process. I highly recommend the team of engineers working at The Kaleidoscope to artists of any level looking for a place to record their music with caring and experienced individuals.
The re-release humbled us a great deal. I never imagined this self-titled album would see a vinyl pressing, which satisfies the casual collector in me. Not only that, but it sounds MUCH bigger, and I hope our listeners appreciate us revitalizing the material with the tools only 2018 could provide.
You guys have grown as songwriters and musicians since releasing your debut album. What can you tell me about your musical journey since that release?
Since the first album we have gotten WAY better at our instruments, a deeper rooted sense of chemistry between us, less confined to thinking about formulaic structure, and more willing to experiment in jams. Sometimes when we get together to practice, we will riff on the most absurd, dissonant sounding improvs that actually bring us to laughter, like its a bad joke and we’re taking it further than it ever should have gone. I think it’s really healthy to do silly stuff like this. Writing can feel stressful sometimes, and goofing around with stuff that will probably never become a song feels like a nice musical palate cleanser, and brings the fun back into it.
How do you manage to balance work, school and the band? Is it challenging to schedule tours and band practice and recording sessions? What are you studying in school?
It’s definitely challenging balancing work and school while doing the band thing. Living in the same town works in our favor, as well as having access to places where we can practice at weird hours. Tour planning takes place far enough ahead of time that it goes smoothly because we already have a portion of time designated to doing just that.
In terms of what we studied in school: Ben graduated with a chemistry degree, I studied political science before deciding to take a leave of absence from school, and Anthony is currently finishing his bachelor’s degree in evolutionary anthropology.
You post tour playlists to your Spotify page that feature the artists you played with, that helped you get shows and gave you a place to stay at night. When did you start posting your post-tour playlists? How did that idea come about?
This is an idea I had after our second tour. We play with some amazing artists out on the road that I want people to know about, so I make the playlists and set them as our artist pick for our listeners to enjoy. I also update our artist pick with stuff I’m listening to all the time. Most artists just select their most recent release as their artist pick, which is not only redundant because the latest release shows up on its own, but a missed opportunity for any artist to share with their audience what excites them.
I read that you will be releasing a new album next year! How has recording an album with a label differed from your experience of self-releasing, and having grown as songwriters and musicians since your first album, what was the process of making the new album like compared to your first album? What can people expect from the new album?
So far its no different. We’re writing music that we enjoy and recording with those we want to. The biggest differences I assume will come with the release, and having the album reach more people right away. People can expect from the new album a batch of songs with exceptionally high energy, experimental structure, and a great encapsulation of the genre blending that has become synonymous with our material.
What’s next for the band? Do you have any specific goals for the band going forward?
Most basically, our goals are to grow as musicians, reach a larger audience, and have the band become completely self-sufficient. We will be writing and recording for the rest of the year, playing shows here and there, and hopefully getting out on the road again in January. Our next two shows are taking place on October 13th in New Brunswick, NJ, and October 26th in New Haven, CT. Both are basement shows so message us on our social media pages for the addresses!