Hot Milk: “I want to put a bit of reality back in, a bit of bite, a bit of f*cking attitude…”

If you haven’t caught Hot Milk yet, it’s because the Manchester outfit are already zooming upward faster than most can keep up with. Ahead of the release of their debut album, they tell us the story so far: touring with Foo Fighters, writing with blink-182, appearing on America’s biggest talk show, and how they’re preparing to clean up the music industry…

Hot Milk: “I want to put a bit of reality back in, a bit of bite, a bit of f*cking attitude…”
Ian Winwood
Tom Pullen, Frank Fieber

Hot Milk were busy paying their dues in America when they learned they’d been invited to appear on national television. One minute the Manchester duo were travelling from city to city in a recreational vehicle, in which three members of the touring party – guitarists and vocalists Han Mee and Jim Shaw among them – were attempting to sleep in 40-degree heat on a bed covered with a plastic mattress, and the next they were boarding a plane in Dallas for a date in Los Angeles as the musical guests on the ABC late-night talk show Jimmy Kimmel Live!.

Following a soundcheck at 9am in the television studio at the Hollywood Masonic Temple, the group were informed that their services would not be required until filming at 5pm. Thus, the day was theirs.

“So what do you think we did?” Han asks Kerrang!.

You didn’t get drunk, did you?

“Yeah, we did,” comes the reply. “We actually forgot that we going on Jimmy Kimmel. Later that afternoon we got a text [from the studio] saying, ‘Where are you?’ We were like, ‘We’re pissed!’”

It says rather a lot about Hot Milk that they were even in the United States in the first place. Unable to secure an eye-catching support slot with a more popular band, instead Han and Jim cooked up a slice of action for themselves by booking their own tour in a country in which they were nominally unknown. Travelling in the fetid heat of late spring, in 2022, the group entertained crowds of up to 200 people clued in to their music through social media. (To date, there have been three EPs; debut album, A CALL TO THE VOID, will be released this month.) In Kansas City, the audience was sufficiently impressed by the fluent hybrid of pop, metal, dance and punk as to dispatch shots of hard liquor to the stage by way of encouragement. A man in Spandex got up to dance with them.

“We were all wankered,” says Han. “I love those type of shows, small and dirty. It’s why I wanted to be in a band in the first place. I love The Replacements and the Ramones, and old-school Green Day and Operation Ivy and stuff like that. That’s what I wanted to be.”

On a Wednesday morning in the middle of spring, Han Mee is a dominant interviewee. By her side sits Jim Shaw, an equal partner in Hot Milk – together, the pair write, produce and perform the material – who over the course of half an hour is interrupted constantly. It’s possible, of course, that these interventions are so routine that he no longer notices them; but if he does, they’re borne with good grace.

The Preston-born Han, meanwhile – “I was born in Preston, made in Manchester,” she says – is like an uproarious new character in Coronation Street who in time will be revealed to have a caramel heart. Every sentence is a northern uproar. Her and Jim were once a couple, she says, who in breaking up “decided to never have sex together ever again and started writing music instead”. She muses out loud about the frustrations of a music industry “that maybe doesn’t fully understand the 21st century”. In terms of her group’s momentum, she admits that “sometimes you feel like you’re slamming your head against the wall”.

This being said, there is truth in her observation that sometimes “things seem to have gotten a bit out of hand” when it comes to the fortunes of her band. In 2019, for example, after barely two years on the scene, Hot Milk were invited to play with Foo Fighters at vast concerts in Glasgow, Belfast and Dublin. Three years later, they were booked as special guests by the same band for gigs in Australia and England that were pulled only because of the death of Foos drummer Taylor Hawkins. As Jim duly notes, “The Foo Fighters are some of the kindest people we’ve ever met in the entire industry. They’ve got no right to be that nice.”

As if this hop with the jet-set wasn’t enough, there was also the time when Han and Jim were invited to write a song with Mark Hoppus at his home above the west end of Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles. As you do, like. At the time, the blink-182 bassist and singer had only recently recovered from cancer. Between them, the three music-makers composed Migraine, which Han describes as “the most non-blink-182 song you’ll ever hear”. Jim produced the session.

“We were like, ‘We’re in Mark Hoppus’ house!’” exclaims Han in a get-outta-here voice. “I was with his wife in the kitchen, just saying, ‘Hiya!’ He got us some sushi. And he loves [popular U.S. sparkling water drink] La Croix, so he gave us some of that. And I suppose it was quite strange. He kept showing us things he’d done with the band. And he gave us a sticker, so I gave him a Hot Milk sticker in exchange. I just kept thinking, ‘I printed these last year down the road [from my home] and now I’m giving one to Mark Hoppus.’”

So it’s all going great, wouldn’t you think? Here before us stands a young group possessed of the winning combination of good luck and hard work; when famous and successful people haven’t been around to lend a shoulder to their cause, the industrious twosome have made their own luck.

The graft is paying dividends, too. Hot Milk have already headlined spacious rooms such as The Ritz and KOKO, in Manchester and London respectively. Before the warmer months are at an end, they will have been seen by thousands of people on the main stage at Download Festival and at Reading & Leeds. As well as this, A CALL TO THE VOID is shaping up to be one of the summer’s – and year’s – most anticipated albums.

But when asked if they’re enjoying being a band that is happening, Han answers, “No, not really.”

Oh. Why not?

“Because I’m severely clinically depressed, so it’s hard to get through to any actual feeling of joy,” is her answer. She doesn’t appear to be joking, either, at least not fundamentally.

Jim tells us that he would say that his bandmate “is definitely ADHD and bipolar” – he looks in her direction – “from knowing you all these years. Some days will be great while some days will fucking be the worst thing in the world.”

Han, meanwhile, explains that “I spend a lot of time in my own head, so sometimes I feel… like it only takes one thing to push me over the edge. Sometimes I can’t seem to see the worth in good news.”

Asked if his colleague is getting better at dealing with these things, Jim pauses for the longest moment of silence in the entire interview. “Erm, I mean, sometimes,” is his answer. He adds that the situation can be “frustrating for me, but I also know that it’s frustrating for her, so I don’t try to take it out on her”.

“Basically, I’m functioning,” Han continues. “I’m getting through the day. But I don’t help myself. I go out on three-day benders and think that’s going to cure it, you know what I mean? I think that if I go for the short-term happiness I’ll be fine, but then I wonder why I feel like shit for three days afterwards. Then I take things out on my mates. And then I come round and think, ‘Oh, today feels more level.’ But it is a struggle. If someone were to ask me if I was happy right now? Well, it depends on the day. So I don’t know. I’m just a bit of a mess, to be honest.”

Maybe, but what ails Han might well be the scars of lived experience. Certainly, there’s nothing at all naive about Hot Milk. As a worker bee in the music industry, Jim has been on the road as a member of a touring crew since he was 17 years old. He works in venues, too. For her part, Han began booking bands and concerts in clubs and pubs in the north west when she was 19, before eventually rising to the rank of promoter. In her pursuit of helping music-makers reach an audience, she speaks of suffering abuses ranging from bullying and sexism to sexual trespass and assault from male higher-ups. Like so many young women earning a pittance in what can too often be a poisonous and dangerous industry, her lack of power marked her out as a person of interest to predators. But in forming Hot Milk, Han is playing the long-game. She knows that she has time on her side. Because not only does she know who did what to her, she also knows that their day of reckoning will come.

“I wanted to reclaim a bit of power by saying, ‘I know what you’ve done, so you better fucking stay in line,’” is her warning today. “I wanted to create a platform for myself so that if it came to it, I could say something. We’re not there yet, because we’re not big enough yet, but there will be a day when I get my revenge.”

Don’t be surprised if this day comes, too. Certainly, with deft and clever music that sounds like the future written in the present tense, it’s not difficult to imagine Hot Milk catching the ear of a wider audience. Unvarnished and invigorating, the group are difficult to ignore. And when they sing, on The King Of Queen Of Gasoline, that ‘We sabotaged our hopes and dreams’ and ‘take a match to everything’, the air crackles with the volatile spark that only rock’n’roll can provide. In other words, this is the sound of much-needed fresh flesh.

“The ethos of our band is very important to me,” Han says, as ever without actually being asked. “We want to be as authentic as possible in this really unauthentic world. I think the world I now look at as a music fan isn’t exactly the one I [want to] recognise and it makes me feel very disheartened a lot of the time. So I want to put a bit of reality back in. A bit of bite. A bit of fucking attitude. I want to speak our minds rather than looking like the kind of pretty picture that says all the right things. I want to say the wrong things. I want to bring a bit of balls back.

“Because that’s the problem,” she says. “There’s no balls anymore.”

Kerrang! and Hot Milk are having a piss-up in a brewery – and you’re invited! Enter now.

A CALL TO THE VOID is released on August 25 via Music For Nations. Hot Milk play Reading & Leeds this month and will tour the UK in November. This article originally appeared in the spring issue of the magazine.

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