“Each of us have an extension of ourselves in the record, in the midst of a collective.”
Alhough Milo Greene has only been a band for four years, one would guess that they’ve been together for a lifetime. Between their close-knit relationship and the immense amount of time they have spent together in production studios, touring, and on stage, they create an organic and seamless sound, despite that fact that all four members contribute to nearly every aspect of the songwriting process, from vocals to instrumentation. They recently finished their second full length album, Control, released on January 27, and completed a North American tour supporting Bombay Bicycle Club. Now, they’re about to embark upon a two month headlining tour hitting major cities throughout the states to support their newest work, which band member Graham Fink has described as a highlight of “each of us as individuals a little bit more [than our previous work]. There are bits and pieces of who we are independently, as well as who we are collectively.” Fink recently sat down with The Untitled Magazine’s Indira Cesarine to discuss how the four met, formed a band, and the ways in which they have grown together.
Indira Cesarine: So how are you?
Graham Fink: Everything is well, more or less. I broke my foot.
IC: Oh no!
GF: But other than that, things seem to be good.
IC: That must have been pretty insane. You’re wearing a cast and all that?
GF: No, no cast. I can’t really. I have crutches and a cane. I can’t really do much for a couple of months. But I’ve been in between tours, so I’m trying to find the silver lining.
IC: Yeah, well maybe it’s a good time to just relax and force yourself to write and listen to lots of music.
IC: So I’ve got a million questions for you about Milo Greene. I’ve read a little bit about the history behind the name Milo Greene, but I’d love to hear it in your own words. Can you tell me a little bit about choosing that particular name to represent your band?
GF: When we were all in different bands and were different artists – before Milo Greene got started – everyone was trying to seem more professional, get more gigs and just get their bearings. As a group of separate musicians, Milo Greene became this name of a fake British booking agent that would call venues and promoters on behalf of any member of the band, in order to seem like we were legitimate. Then when we all started a band together, and the name was just the obvious choice.
IC: So somebody by the name of Milo Greene was calling to book you guys on gigs?
GF: Yeah. Robbie and Andrew would call people and be like ‘A’ight, this is Milo Greene. I got so and so, and you’ve gotta book ’em, they’re amazing.’ There was a whole life to this person. Or at least as far as people that booked shows were concerned.
IC: And did you actually get very far with it, like people believed in this person?
GF: Yeah, I mean it was just local around the Southern California area and stuff like that. It definitely made the bands get shows a little easier.
IC: So how did you guys all meet?
GF: Most of the band, other than myself, went to college together. Then Robbie and Curtis were in a band in LA that played shows with my old band, so we became friends. And then Andrew, Marlana, and Robbie just started writing a few songs as friends for fun, up at a cabin in northern California. Robbie played me the first few songs they had done, and I was really jazzed on it and wanted to be a part of it. He asked me to come on board, and it just took off that way. We kept writing and rehearsing and getting everything together, and six months later, we were playing our first shows and doing a record deal. We toured for two years. That was four years ago. It’s hard to really pinpoint how it started, but the past four years have been great.
IC: I’ve heard you call your music “cinematic pop.” Can you elaborate a little bit on the inspiration behind cinematic sounding music?
GF: I don’t exactly remember when that term got coined, but I think it’s accurate in that we write pop music in different styles and genres. Given the fact that there are four of us who are songwriters with very different backgrounds, what pop means to each of us is very different, and manifests in different ways. Aside from the fact that we all love film and film scoring, I think we’ve always thought about the visual and aesthetic counterpart to the music – what kind of images does the sound conjure when you’re listening to it? I think “cinematic pop” kind of clicked with us, just because if nothing else, the visual representation goes along with all of our writing.
IC: I understand that you all kind of jump around with different roles that you play, who’s on lead vocals, who is playing what instrument, etc. How do you sort that out when you’re working on a new track?
GF: Really naturally. It’s kind of just whoever naturally starts singing or writing a part. If it works for their voice, we’ll run with it, and if it feels like it would better suit someone else, then we kind of switch it around. And with instrumentation, we’ll rehearse and play. If it feels natural and feels like it’s working, we’ll say, ‘I’ll be on guitar and Robbie will be on bass’, and so on and so forth. We’ll kind of pass instruments around until it feels right. We don’t start with a blueprint and say, ‘alright, you have to be on this instrument for this song.’ Every song comes out organically, and we fill it together. The “who’s doing what” comes out of that process of writing and fleshing it out.
IC: And are there any other particular musicians or bands that have inspired the sound of Milo Greene?
GF: I mean… there are millions! It was funny, someone asked us before to each give an influence. I think we came up with something like David Bowie, Gloria Estefan, Talking Heads, and Nine Inch Nails, or something like that. It’s just so all over the place. We do a lot of 90s R&B — Boys II Men, Soul for Real, and stuff like that. It’s just all across the board. The four of us are so diverse. You could literally put a pin in any area of music, and there’s probably one of us that likes it.
IC: I understand that you guys did a short film, MODDISON, which was a visual journey of your entire last album? Can you tell me a little bit about the story behind that project?
GF: It kind of goes hand in hand with what I was talking about with the description of “cinematic pop.” We were talking about what we wanted to do as far as music videos go, and we kind of just threw the idea of making a visual counterpart to the entire album. We have a friend named Chad Huff who was able to shoot it and direct it for us. He wrote up a little treatment, and went away for a few days and shot a short film that relies a lot on beautiful scenery and imagery. I think it provided a really nice backdrop for the record. It was kind of somber and dark, but with little bits of beauty. It felt nostalgic; it felt a little bit dreamy, which was what our first album was. It felt like the right thing to do, rather than doing a standard music video.
IC: Can you tell me about the inspiration behind song, “White Lies,” which is on your new album, Control?
GF: A lot of our new record started with drums and rhythm and the writing came from there, which is a little bit of a new avenue for us. “White Lies” features Marlana heavily. It’s a sound that she’s really excited about right now and it feels very “her.” Anyway over the past few years a lot of us have gone through heavy breakups and life changes. We’ve been living on the road for a long time. We’re all kind of trying to figure out what it means to salvage relationships or end relationships in the context of a touring band in their 20s. I think that this song is Marlana kind of processing that in a way, over the soundscape of heavy rhythms and pop templates.
IC: Was “White Lies” the first track that you released off the new album?
GF: Yeah, it was.
IC: Why did you choose to release that one first?
GF: There was a lot of conversation, but at the end of the day we just wanted to release songs that we thought were strong. It was kind of a universal opinion that “White Lies” was a really strong track.
IC: And what about “On the Fence?” I know that that just came out. Can you tell me about it?
GF: “On the Fence” is a cool one. I think somebody wrote a review about it and said that it felt like something out of a John Hughes film, which is HUGE for me. I grew up with The Breakfast Club and those movies have played a very huge part in me finding my identity in pop culture. So I loved that. That song kind of started as a demo that Robbie and Marlana were working on, and then Andrew and I dug our nails into it a little bit. When we first worked with our producer, Jesse Shatkin, that was the one song that was really finalized while we were all in a room together. I wrote part of the new chorus, and we kind of constructed as a group. It felt really good because it came together with all of us working on it in a way that we hadn’t really done before. That was probably our strongest collaborative moment as a band. We really transformed that song together.
IC: And your new album, Control, what can we expect from it? Is it divergent from previous work or is it a continuation of your cinematic journey?
GF: It’s definitely different. It would be naïve of me to say that I feel like it’s cohesive with the last record. The last record that we put out we wrote four years ago and that’s an entire college journey— you know, a World Cup away. [The new album] is just an extension of the four of us and our growth to where we are now, versus where we were when we wrote the first record. I think it highlights each of us as individuals a little bit more. There are bits and pieces of who we are independently, as well as who we are collectively. But I’m excited for it. There are definitely a few songs that feel very akin to our first record that will help make it feel cohesive for fans, and then there are some that are pretty significantly different. It’s kind of an array, four separate people creating an album. It’s exciting that it’s different and people will have to process it in a different way; it has kind of a different emotional core.
IC: So with all four of you writing separately, is there a particular direction that you guys decide to go in with your songwriting, or is it really just everybody bringing a totally different things to the table?
GF: The four of us write a ton. And we scraped a ton while writing the new album. We probably threw out 30 or 40 ideas that just didn’t feel like everyone was universally excited about. Even after finishing the record, we had six finished songs that were heavily in contention. We just had to sift through and say, well this just doesn’t have the Milo stamp, where all of us are excited. So we eliminated a lot based on what we realized were the root sensibilities for this album.
IC: So you recorded a significant amount and then kind of trimmed it down to what you felt was really the core voice of Milo Greene?
GF: Yeah. In the year leading up to the record, we demoed dozens and dozens of songs, and we had to pick through our favorites.
IC: That’s quite a process to go through. So I understand you just wrapped your tour with Bombay Bicycle Club. Can you tell me about any sort of highlights? any particular cities you enjoyed?
GF: The whole thing was really great. It’s hard to pick favorites. They’re such a talented group, such a good band, and they’re so nice and fun. It was just cool to get to share the road and tour with a band that was positive and wanted to hang out. They made it a really enjoyable experience. Honestly, all of their shows couldn’t have been more amazing. Personally, getting to play the Wiltern in Los Angeles… I’m born and raised here and that venue is where I saw people like Elvis Costello growing up, so it kind of has this elevated significance for me. When we got to play there it was only our second tour stop. It’s just a really special feeling to be able to look out and be in that venue.
IC: And I know you have your own headlining tour coming up this year. You guys must be pretty excited about that.
GF: Yeah! It’s going to be great. At the end of the Bombay Bicycle Club tour, we got to do a few of our own shows, and it was a nice reminder of what it’s like to play to your own crowd, not someone else’s fans that you’re trying to win over – which is also very fun in its own way – but having a crowd of people that know your songs, that are hanging on every word feels really good. But to do an entire tour… it’s been a while since we’ve done that, so I think it’s going to be really great. And my foot will be back to normal by then, so I’m doubly excited.
IC: And are there any tour stops that you’re particularly excited about?
GF: I would say that Portland and Montreal are the two cities that we didn’t play on this last tour. It’s been a year and a half or two years, since we’ve played either one, and they’re both two of my favorite cities in the world. The first time we played Montreal we had this kind of magical day together where we all rented bikes and rode around the old harbor and drank Irish coffees… it was just one of the best tour bonding days that we’ve ever had, so it has a special place in our hearts.
IC: That sounds exciting. I was just checking out your schedule. It seems like you’ve got a lot of great venues that you’re going to be playing at. And tell me, how do you bring “cinematic pop” to the stage? Does Milo Greene have their own spin on live performance?
GF: That’s a conversation that we’re actually having now. Now that we’re on the verge of doing our own tour, it’s something that we really do want to execute. It’s important to us that we create a visual that’s strong enough to accompany the music, and honestly we’re in the middle of brainstorming and creating that experience now, so I’ll have to tell you in three months or so.
IC: So I would imagine you’re going to come up with some new directions with the visuals. What inspires you with that?
GF: A number of things inspire us. We’re always looking at examples of things that we find aesthetically pleasing and using reference points with lighting and shapes. The first thing that we’re figuring out is what kind of light show will be cohesive with our new album. I think once we figure that out, it will help inform what else we want to do to build it up. But yeah, we’re right smack dab in the middle of trying to create a visual experience.
IC: Which I’m sure will be amazing. And with the new album, Control, are there any other songs that really resonate with you?
GF: All of them, really. We’re releasing song by song to build up to the album. There’s one song called “Lie to Me” that we’re all pretty excited about, and that will be coming out soon. For me personally, there’s this song called “When It’s Done” that’s certainly the most resonant with me as an individual, kind of like what I was talking about before. Each of us have an extension of ourselves in the record, in the midst of the collective, but I’m excited for all of them. I think it’s a really strong record and I’m excited for people to hear it.
– Interview by Indira Cesarine for The Untitled Magazine