By Jake Richardson
Blooding a new band member can be a tricky process. You have to make sure the new addition is a good fit; you have to adapt to one another’s styles and methods; and most importantly, you have to get along. And if, prior to the arrival of a fresh recruit, the atmosphere in your band was already tense, the task of gelling as a unit becomes all the more difficult.
Or at least, that’s how you might expect things to unfold.
“The band itself has become a lot happier since Billy joined.” Milk Teeth frontwoman Becky Blomfield is reflecting on a line-up change which was, in her eyes, the most critical moment in the history of the band to date.
“The atmosphere completely changed,” she explains. “Last year we had such a good year touring – it was our busiest to date – and when it came time to make this line-up shift, it was a case of making sure our vision for Milk Teeth was something everybody in the band wanted to accomplish. Everyone needed to be on the same page, because I want to keep doing this – I don’t want it to stop!”
Prior to vocalist/guitarist Billy Hutton joining the band, Becky, guitarist Chris Webb and drummer Oli Holbrook decided to part ways with vocalist/guitarist Josh Bannister. It was clear that all had not been well in the Milk Teeth camp.
“It was definitely not a positive environment at that time. It was wearing on people, and so Billy’s arrival was like a breath of fresh air.”
Becky, Chris and Oli had clocked that Josh wanted out. There was a creative butting of heads: as the band outlined on the Track 7 podcast in January, the three of them wanted to write fun songs, and Josh wanted tracks with a focus on reverb and shoegazing. Embracing pop and touring with Tonight Alive didn’t sit well with Josh, just like trying to emulate My Bloody Valentine wasn’t in the interests of the rest of the band. It was a situation Becky describes as “a conflict of interest,” and it was obvious that Milk Teeth couldn’t carry on the way they were.
Fast-forward to summer 2017 and Billy’s arrival: Milk Teeth have released their critically acclaimed debut album, Vile Child and toured with the likes of Creeper and Turnover. Now, following the Stroud quartet’s departure from Hopeless Records and their signing to legendary heavy label Roadrunner, Milk Teeth are on the verge of releasing their new EP and debut major label release, Be Nice.
Whereas in the past the foursome were shackled by internal conflict and a lack of resources, they now have both consensus in the band and the means by which to make their ambitious goals a reality. By finally uniting as a band, Milk Teeth have been presented with a major label opportunity they never thought they’d get. It’s a remarkable turnaround.
There’s a new, more positive outlook to the songs on Be Nice. The grunge-inspired distortion remains, but these songs are sharper, with hooks bigger than ever before. Milk Teeth sound revitalised. And given the reaction to lead-single (and EP opener) ‘Owning Your Okayness’, fans are in agreement.
“The reaction has been really positive!” enthuses a delighted Becky. “We’re surprised at how well the song has done. We love the track, and we got to play it at Slam Dunk for the first time recently, and loads of people already knew the words, which was great for us to hear!”
But there have been detractors…
“There’s been the odd person who’s said it’s too polished, but we’ve gone from recording in a college to recording in a regular studio, so it was always going to sound a bit more refined,” Becky states. “There’ll always be some negativity, but I don’t really get it. This first song, it’s catchy and melody-driven, but people should know by now that we’re not a one-trick pony. We have a really broad sound; we don’t make the same track over and over again. ‘Owning Your Okayness’ is a great song, and that’s why it was the first single.”
“I don’t think the songs on Be Nice are any different to what’s on Vile Child; we wrote them in exactly the same way as we have everything since the band started – it’s just that we now have more of an understanding as to what makes Milk Teeth the band we are. Just because it’s more melody-driven doesn’t mean there’s any less attitude or edge; if you listen to the lyrics, you’ll see that ‘Owning Your Okayness’ is pretty pissed-off! It’s just our take on that sound.”
Becky is right when she says that ‘Owning Your Okayness’ isn’t wildly different from some of the catchier songs on Vile Child, but there are subtle changes. The production is slicker, the melodies are simpler, and most significantly, the chorus is bigger than Jared Leto’s ego. Be Nice seems to be the sound of a band realising an ambition hitherto suppressed by internal conflict.
And Milk Teeth’s sonic changes don’t end with EP’s opening track. The pop may be less prominent on second track ‘Prism’ but it’s a clean, crisp grunge song, and Becky’s bratty cry of “Spit my name out from your mouth” in the chorus reeks of rockstar attitude. Grandiose closer ‘Hibernate’, meanwhile, is a song born for bigger venues than Milk Teeth have been playing. They might be playing 200-cap venues on their upcoming tour with Employed To Serve and Wallflower, but they’re penning songs that belong in venues 20 times that size.
Be Nice harks back to that time when grunge ruled the world. It may be a canny evolution, rather than a grand artistic statement – there’s certainly nothing radical about it – but Milk Teeth’s new music is wickedly smart and bloody good fun. This is feel-good punk-rock being made by a band who for the first time in their career are in total harmony. With their songs, with their record label and – most importantly – with each other.
The move to Roadrunner is something which, Becky says, has just added to Milk Teeth’s rediscovered enthusiasm for what they do.
For the band, the most significant difference they’ve found this time around is the level of support they’ve received compared to previous label experiences. “It’s given us a confidence boost,” Becky explains. “We’ve always been quite a self-deprecating band, but now that we’ve signed to Roadrunner we’ve started to believe in ourselves a bit more. When someone gives you an opportunity like this, you want to make the most of it, and we’re super thankful that they think we’re worth a shot. We’re going to work our asses off to do well!”
The Roadrunner family is a pretty special thing to be a part of right now. Sporting legendary acts like Slash and Slipknot, as well as some of rock’s hottest new bands such as Code Orange, Marmozets and Creeper, it’s one of the finest rosters in the world of rock record labels.
“There’s definitely been a shift in the scene recently,” agrees Becky. “I don’t think it’s been this exciting for a while. It’s exciting and refreshing, and Milk Teeth and Creeper are bands that are united in being different, but we’re not the same. When there was that big indie explosion you got bands like Klaxons and Razorlight, and it was all very similar, whereas the new bands coming out at the moment are each doing their own thing. The bands don’t sound the same, but there’s a crossover in approach.”
Rock journalists speaking of a new wave of exciting British rock music have certainly been keen to group Milk Teeth in with other up-and-coming UK bands, regardless of how little they tend to have in common. But as they continue to tour with a wider and more diverse cluster of artists, they seem determined to defy any media expectation – how many other bands can you think of that could tour comfortably with Tonight Alive, Against Me! and Employed To Serve? Milk Teeth are more interested in reaching new audiences than cementing their place as grunge-revival darlings, and that’s paying off in huge ways:
“We’ve never fitted in – that’s the beauty of it,” says Becky. “The reason that we can tour with so many different people – be it pop artists, heavy bands like Employed To Serve or emo bands like Turnover – is that our music doesn’t stick to one genre. It doesn’t fit a particular box. And that’s great, because it means we can play with a broad range of artists, which, as a musician, is a dream come true. I love that we can get booked on a bunch of different tours!”
She might claim they’ve never fitted in, but it has to be said that Milk Teeth’s eclectic roster of touring partners suggests otherwise. It’s also a testament to the work the newly-invigorated band have been putting in over the last 18 months. A willingness to put themselves out there and tour with any band, regardless of genre or audience, has seen Milk Teeth garner support from all corners of the rock scene.
Be Nice – the title a reference to the band’s “Be Nice Or Go Away” motto – is a record that embraces the band’s eclecticism. ‘Owning Your Okayness’ combats feelings of isolation in a buoyant, poppy manner. Meanwhile ‘Hibernate’, a slow-burning song that begins with just Becky’s voice and an acoustic guitar, treads a different path but arrives at the same destination.
“It’s a next-level version of songs like ‘Moon Wanderer’ or ‘Kabuki’,” Becky explains. “‘Hibernate’ came about because I was really feeling the pressure of wanting to be good enough and to not fail at what I do. Fear of failure is what that song is about.”
She might be on the brink of rock greatness, but Becky Blomfield struggles with the same anxieties and doubts that plague us all. Be Nice sees her laying those demons to rest. It’s an exercise in catharsis soundtracked by some of the best punk-rock you’ll hear all year.
Milk Teeth’s new record is born out of friends coming together and supporting each other. It’s the sound of weird kids uniting under a love of music, and of a band with a renewed sense of unity, confidence and ambition.
And the message the music carries?
“Never be afraid to speak out for what’s right or how you feel. Always be yourself, and own who you are… and don’t be a dick.”
Be Nice is released on July 28 through Roadrunner Records.