Hot Milk: “If You’re Not Using Music To Say Something, What’s The Point?”
This time last year, Hot Milk had just been chucked in at the deep end. The Manchester-based quartet were in Antwerp, at the Belgian city’s industrial Kavka Zappa venue, a room that can squeeze in around 1,000 music fans, where they were preparing for night one of a European tour opening for You Me At Six. This was a big deal. It was also the first gig they had ever played together.
“Holy shit, I hope we can play these [venues],” is what singer/guitarist Hannah Mee remembers going through her head that night. But it was a moment that would soon be eclipsed in a whirlwind year. Dates with Deaf Havana, Papa Roach and Foo Fighters would follow (Foos guitarist Pat Smear would ask for their CD to listen to while he does the school run). Meanwhile, the fields of Slam Dunk, Download and Reading and Leeds festivals would also welcome the band that hadn’t existed a year earlier.
You only have to look to Hot Milk’s debut EP, Are You Feeling Alive?, released last May, to understand why things were happening so fast. Neon bright and loaded with calorific hooks, their genre-fluid style not only showed off their impressive songwriting skills, but in their treatment of things like mental health and personal worth, they proved that they already knew exactly what kind of band they wanted to be.
“We want to empower people,” says Hannah. “We always say: if you come to see this band, you come as you are. You’re welcome, regardless of gender, regardless of if you want to kiss boys, kiss girls, kiss anybody, whatever. We just want to create a welcoming atmosphere where people can meet new people and support and celebrate themselves.”
The band’s journey started in 2018, when Hannah and her housemate James Shaw, who shares vocal and guitar duties, got drunk together one night and tried to write a song. Both had spent years playing in multiple bands that hadn’t lasted, and had found themselves working in Manchester’s local music scene – Hannah as a promoter, James as a lighting director – but there was still a creative itch that wasn’t getting seen to. “All the work we did regarding music was always like the B-side of not being able to play in a band,” says James.
After their wine-fuelled writing session produced the breezy pop-punk of Take Your Jacket, the pair decided to keep going and wrote four more tunes. Unsure if what they’d done was any good, they then shipped them off anonymously to people that they knew within the music industry. What came back was a wave of positivity, with the pair eventually landing a management deal and facing the very real prospect that, finally, their music might pay off. Adopting bassist Tom Paton and drummer Harry Deller – friends from the local scene – they prepared to play their songs in places beyond their bedrooms.
Since then, Hot Milk have continued to write. The plan is to have new music out this year, but for now the band don’t see the need to tie themselves down to any one kind of format or sound.
“It’s a melting pot of different influences,” says Hannah, who grew up listening to punk bands like Operation Ivy and Green Day. “There is no genre for Hot Milk because every single song is different. If we ever do a full-length, then I think people are going to be very shocked by the diversity on that record. Because, at the end of the day, if a song’s good, then a song’s good.”
“We’ve said this since day one: genre is a lie,” adds James, explaining their musical stance. “Nobody wants to confine themselves to one genre.”
While genre may be something that’s as variable as the weather, what does seem settled is the pair’s desire to up the political edge to Hot Milk’s music. It’s a change already noticeable in the band’s recent single Candy Coated Lie$, which trades the personal angst of their first EP for a sharper, more outward-looking attack on those in power and authority. It’s something that the group felt they simply couldn’t ignore, given their generation’s current disillusionment with society.
“I did a degree in politics, and I feel like it would be wrong for me to write a love song right now,” explains Hannah. “I’m not saying there’s not going to be some kind of element of that somewhere, but I think if we’ve got a platform then it’s our duty to say something. If you’re not using your music to do that, what the fuck is the point? Just put your guitar back on the stand and bugger off.”
As for ultimate goals, both Hannah and James are clearly just ecstatic to be living out a dream that they thought had passed them by. But they hope that they in turn can motivate others.
“I want to inspire someone the way I was inspired as a kid,” says Hannah. “What music managed to do for me was pull me out of a small town like Preston and put me in the real world. And if I can do that for somebody else, then that’s job done.”
Gallows and more have joined the Reading & Leeds 2021 bill.
From Papercut to Pushing Me Away, we rank every song on Linkin Park’s Hybrid Theory album in order of greatness