Music Features

Yourcodenameis: Milo (Interview)

We're in a dark, dingy inner-city pub. In one corner, a large group of beered-up lads gaze at me warily through their pint glasses. In another corner, an incredibly loud PA system is blasting out Quench by The Beautiful South at such a volume that I struggle to hear the band who are sound checking next door. If I would have taken a wild guess at the names of the pub licensees at the time, I wouldn't have been surprised if I saw the names Fred Perry and Ben Sherman adorning the doorframe of the entrance. But then again, maybe I'm being a bit harsh. After all, this is The Joiners Arms, one of Southampton's few interesting features, and tonight is a lot more interesting than most other nights: Ikara Colt are in town, and they've bought Yourcodenameis: Milo with them, one of the most exciting bands to come out of Newcastle since, well, ever. And I'm sat here with Paul (Lead vocalist/Guitar) and Justin (Guitarist number two), both looking surprisingly fresh-faced despite of their gruelling tour schedule, to talk about their plans for the future, working with Steve Albini, and why they feel that there are so many lazy bands out there.

. . .

So how's the tour going?

Paul: " Really good, non-stop. Just had a few days off after touring with McClusky, and now we're back on the road with Ikara Colt. It feels like we've been to certain places on tour more times than we've been home!"

So you recorded your debut mini-album with Steve Albini. What was that like? He's got a reputation for being pretty difficult to work with.

Paul: "He seems to have these myths and legends built up around him, but I don't really know why. He's not the sort of person who wants to make his records through us; we just went into a room, threw ourselves around a bit and he recorded it!"

Justin: "I think that he was the only person who could really capture and record the way we were playing together at the time."

So did he encourage you to relax and let go whilst recording?

Paul: "We do everything live anyway, and that's how we're recording our new album now, and because we've been out on the road a long time now it's getting a lot better."

The album was recorded in Chicago. What was it like for you as a band to record your first mini-album in America? Did you feel under any pressure at all?

Paul: "I suppose when you look at the bigger picture it seems pretty daunting, but at the time it didn't really matter that much. At the end of the day, the only difference is that you have a long plane journey, the rest of the time you spend in a studio, so you could be anywhere. I got about four hours one morning to go and have a look downtown, but that was about it really. The main focus was on recording the album."

Justin: "It pretty much went airport, studio, Burger King. That's all I really saw of Chicago."

You're currently recording your first full-length album with Flood. After working with someone of Albini's stature to working with another big name in the form of Flood, did you feel that you needed to push yourself to work with two people with such large reputations and legacies in the studio?

Justin: "At the end of the day, they're just normal guys. We don't really think about the reputation or legacy of a producer when we're in the studio. When you're locked in a studio for however long it may be, it becomes hard to think about anything else outside of the walls of the studio, so the producers legacy, or the bands they have worked with in the past never really comes into it."

Paul: "And also we're working with them because they want to work with us. All we really hope for is that the record will sound great, and we're halfway through at the moment and it is sounding great."

From when you first formed as a band to getting signed, you didn't play that many gigs. Why was that?

Justin: "We didn't want to fall into the trap of being one of those bands that played anywhere and everywhere, we chose where we wanted to play. When we're not touring or recording we have our own little lock-up, so we spend all of out time demoing and recording new material. We've all been in bands where you seem to do the same gig again and again and again, and we didn't feel like we should have to do that this time around."

Where you also keen not to be lumped in with any kind of local or national scene?

Justin: "We're set apart from most other bands because we've never really played with them. We've always had our own thing going, and we wanted to stick at that rather than being lumped in with some kind of horrific 'Scene'. Being in a scene doesn't keep anything fresh, and we've always had a work ethic in this band, we've worked our arses off for the past year and a half, and if anything since we've got a record deal we've been working even harder. We're a working band, we're not about haircuts and clothes. We're not careerist; we're just committed."

Paul: "And we think there's just so many lazy bands out there as well..."

Justin: "...Yeah, you can tell by the songs and you can tell by the albums they bring out. I just think sometimes 'If you had really spent some time on that it would have been amazing.'."

By "Lazy", do you mean "Formulaic"?

Justin: "Yeah, it's getting to the point now whereby this whole American-style FM Rock sound has just gone beyond a joke now. It just seems to me that you can pull up at any town in the country now and there's about twenty bands doing that kind of stuff., which is sad. If you're in a band, you should be working on your sound, not just playing to impress your mates."

Which leads me on nicely to your debut album. Don't take this the wrong way guys, but the first time I heard it, it gave me a f*cking headache, but a good headache, if you can understand where I'm coming from.

Justin: "Yeah, that's kind of how it happened from the start though with record labels and the press, and to a lesser extent people around the band thinking 'Err, what the fuck is going on?'. Nobody got it..."

Paul: "I think everyone's just been used to this kind of spoon-fed, 'Here's your marketing plan, this is how you going to dress' kind of music. That's what we mean when we talk about laziness. When we first started playing, we used to get this really awkward response, which I absolutely loved. The crowd would be standing there, not knowing if the song had finished or not, but it was totally intense, a really good atmosphere. People had to go away and think about what they had just heard, and it's got to the stage now where I don't like any middle ground. I don't want to play a show and have people say 'Oh, that's alright'."

Justin: "I want people to say either they fucking love it or they fucking hate it, which is kind of what's happening now at our gigs."

Do you like the fact that you can polarise opinion in that way?

Justin: "Yeah. It's like if you go and see a film, you want to come out thinking about it afterwards. If you go and see a band that sounds exactly the same live as they do on record, you might as well stay at home listening to their record. There seems to be so much middle-ground these days, not just necessarily bands, but with regards to music in general. There's a lot of mundane, average music out there."

Paul: "But at the end of the day, we're just five people in a band playing the music we like, and it just happens that people like what we're doing"

. . .

Fast forward to 8pm, and as soon as the doors open The Joiners Arms all of a sudden is transformed from being a dark, slightly seedy pub into an ocean of colour and youth. It's refreshing, and even though I'm alone, I'd rather be here than anywhere else. This is what it's all about.

By the time Yourcodenameis: Milo take to the stage, the crowd have already been exposed to the high energy, early Idlewild-but-better Help She Can't Swim, a band that barely look old enough to hold a guitar, let alone play it with the energy and reckless abandon that they do. They have an album coming out soon on Fantastic Plastic, so do the right thing and check it out. But tonight doesn't belong to them. And nor should it have belonged to Yourcodenameis: Milo; after all, they're only the support band. From the moment the walk onstage and burst into the mammoth slab of raw energy that is album opener All Roads To Fault it's pretty clear that something special is going on here. It's not just that Paul's vocals are not so much wired as almost frantic, it's not that the band play their instruments as if they are on fire; it's the whole package. A couple of years ago, the music press were pinning their hopes on Hundred Reasons to spearhead the New Rock Revolution. Yourcodenameis: Milo make Hundred Reasons sound like Kings Of Convenience. The pure what the fuck-ness of the show drives the crowd wild, leaving Ikara Colt with a lot to live up to. Ikara Colt sound like they listened to far too may Fall records when they were young. Add to that a drummer who looks like Sideshow Bob, and a singer who struts around the stage like a Tesco-Value Julian Casablancas, and it all adds up to a spectacularly underwhelming performance. Bored out of my brains, I wander over to the T-Shirt stand, and strike up a conversation with Andy, Yourcodenameis: Milo's third guitarist. He's pretty happy with how the tour is going, but is "Shitting himself" over a track that they have just contributed to a Smiths tribute album. He's worried that their version of Death of a Disco Dancer is so different from the original that they're going to be hunted down by an army of pissed off Morrissey acolytes and beaten to death. After reassuring him that I'm sure they wouldn't be that offended, and reminding him that Gladioli are not classed as a lethal weapon, I make my way home. Reflecting back on the evening, I remember Paul saying how he liked the way he could polarise opinion and how he liked to avoid the middle ground. After tonight, I think using the word polarise with regards to Yourcodenameis: Milo wouldn't be appropriate. I would say that the phrase 'Divide and conquer' would be more apt. But then again, that would just be plain lazy of me, wouldn't it?