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If you’re a new band trying to break out in the UK it seems to be near enough impossible to do so without the national music press designating you a derivative status to an already established act or lumping you in amongst a geographically determined ‘scene’. For Milburn, a four piece band consisting of Joe Carnall 18 (Lead Vocals and Bass), Louis Carnall 20 (Backing Vocals and Rhythm), Tom Rowley 20 (Lead Guitar), and Joe Green 20 (Drums), the shackles are already firmly locked in place and they’ve got double the trouble; for not only are they being hailed as the new Arctic Monkeys but they’ve been freely associated with the all-new, all-improved ‘Sheffield scene’. Too many bands over the years have fallen apart stifled by the public perception brought about by such rigid labelling, but if Milburn have one thing going for them that should ensure their survival it’s that their skanking take on melodic jangly indie-rock is getting noticed purely because it demands and deserves the attention. Pulling in influences as wide ranging as punk, ska, garage, pop and even a little pre-rock’n’roll music-hall, this is a band that’s really starting to happen musically.
That Milburn and the Arctic Monkeys have been touring companions and mates over the past few years will most probably see them indelibly linked in much the same way as the Roses and the Mondays were at the height of ‘Madchester’. A blatantly obvious fact though at the recent sold-out show at Cambridge’s ‘Soul Tree’ (a gig during which Joe Carnall expressed genuine shock at the “mental” response from the stage diving audience, he’d clearly been expecting some bookish southern-softies) was that it wouldn’t require a huge leap of imagination or indeed some other subtle twists of fate last year to have seen Milburn as the trailblazing act with Britain’s fastest selling debut album ever.
Lead singer Joe spoke to Music-Zine at that Cambridge Soul Tree gig about life in a band whose position right now is akin to a coiled spring. With their first headline tour successfully completed and more groundbreaking dates on the horizon plus a newly recorded debut album ready for launch in the autumn, they’re in a mouth-watering position. Best of all, their heads appear totally un-turned by the sudden acclaim thrust upon them; the whole band adopting that single-minded attitude that caused over-excited critics to recall the “spirit of punk” last year when the Arctic Monkeys made it clear they’d call their own shots. As of now though it looks like the past was the Monkeys’, the future is Milburn’s’!
Interview - Danny Neill
How has the reaction been to this first headline tour?
It’s been brilliant to be honest, I mean we’ve done a few tours before but we’ve always been along with another band or doing other stuff. It’s just rewarding after doing so many support slots and stuff to be doing your own thing, it’s a different satisfaction level.
What kind of feedback have you had?
Brilliant, I mean the crowds have just been mental, we did a gig in Leeds the other day and it was crazy, and Newcastle seems to like us a lot as well so it’s across the country. Sold-out in London last night and that was good, about eight or nine hundred, and we’re hoping to do another gig in July. We’ve got all the festivals as well to come so it’s all looking pretty exciting.
How do you feel about being called the new Arctic Monkeys?
You’ve just got to get used to it, because we both come from Sheffield and we write about the same things and we sing in the same accent and all that. I’ve got no problem as long as in six months time we’re known as Milburn and not Arctic Monkeys. We sound similar I’m not denying that, that’s not a problem, it’s just whenever a new band comes along the initial reaction from journalists and indeed the audience is to just compare them to people. I don’t find it a problem, it’s just that over the next month hopefully we’ll step into our own category under our own name and be our own band. I mean I can’t fault anyone for writing that it’s just when it becomes too much like we’re talent-less, you know what I mean? We’re just like copyright / bollocks basically! We’ve actually been a band longer than them but we’re good mates with them.
Who else do you see as your peers / competitors?
We recently went on tour with a band called The Rifles from London and they’re just good friends now. It’s great comparing our situation to theirs because they’ve released a few singles and are gearing up for the album in July and unlike bands like the Arctic Monkeys, where it just goes through the roof, they’ve had to work for it. It’s really good seeing that side of things because 99% of bands really have to try harder, do these tours and then do them again and again and again and they might get a break. It’s great seeing The Rifles doing it all and us looking back and just learning from them or relating to them and that’s the band that we’ve kind of been close with because we’re at the same stages. We just tend to be a bit sarcastic and sceptical about modern day bands, I mean we appreciate what they’re doing but we don’t necessarily like them. I mean the Kaiser Chiefs, they’ve sold over two million albums and all bloody blah blah de bloody blah and they’ve done really well but I don’t particularly like them at all. You’ve got to respect them I suppose. I always have a dig at bands; I always have a go at people.
Who would you say is over-rated then?
I’m tempted to say Kaiser Chiefs but then they’re happy pop aren’t they so fair enough. I better choose wisely here; I’m going to say Kooks. I think they write catchy numbers and all that but if you look in the audience it’s like a hairdresser’s band. They think they’re something they’re not; I don’t know, I’m just not a fan.
What about under-rated?
The Rifles I feel, not sorry for, but I think should get more airplay or recognition because they do write catchy tunes but they’ve got a bit more soul about them. It’s that crossover thing where you’re doing your own thing and you’ve got soul and spirit and then you go into the market, whereas a band like the Kooks set out to be in the market and then create a spirit for themselves and that’s not really how you should start a band I don’t think. If a band has got spirit and soul it’s all about natural progression and how everything falls into place naturally. A band like The Towers Of London, I mean they’re just horrible in one word. They’ve obviously just thought about what shall we wear, how shall we cut us hair and how shall we write a song as in the most obvious shite! Then they’ve thought “oh right, now we’ll pick up us instruments” know what I mean?! The best bands are always musical, it’s ideas first; as a band we don’t even think about what we’re wearing. It’s all just general, natural fashion; it’s not even an issue. I can imagine bands like that thinking about what they’re wearing going into a practice room! It don’t even cross our minds which is a good start I suppose.
How did Milburn get started?
We were really young, I was thirteen when we started, now I’m eighteen; I’m really old now. We just started learning our instruments and the best way to do that is to cover songs and to mess around with songs. When we were mature enough we started writing our own material and then it developed again. It’s all like natural progression instead of being a flash in the pan. We’re really working towards that because I wouldn’t like all this hard work to be put in and then we’re just sticking around for three months, I’d just feel deflated, ‘cos some are in a band for three months and then after two gigs they get signed and it’s just bollocks really. Even if we’re just plodding along its still an achievement to be doing this as your job because it’s not a job to us. We still don’t think “oh we’ve got to get up and we’ve got to do a sound check”, it doesn’t even cross our minds.
Selling out an 800 capacity in London is a great place to be now surely?
We went out onstage last night and it was a real sense of achievement. You’re always aiming to progress, so we walked off and it was like “what about our next gig?!” We’re always thinking about when we’re playing next in London and what’s the next tour and that’s what it should be I think, especially at this early stage. Not rest on your achievements or your laurels.
Being so lukewarm about newer bands, can I take that to mean you listen to a lot of older music?
Loads of stuff, it’s a stupid variation. We’ve obviously had our parent’s influences like The Jam, The Specials and The Clash, and that’s really obvious. Since we’ve been on tour we’ve been introduced to new stuff by tour managers and sound engineers. Like our current tour manager he’s into all the 60s stuff, like the 60s psychedelia. I’ve just bought an album by The Sonics and it’s great listening to stuff that you never even knew existed. And while you’re getting into new bands and all that you can never hear everything and that’s the brilliance, you know what I mean? You can never listen to everything that’s ever happened, you’re always learning.
Are there any guilty pleasures in your music collection?
I really like…and I’m not saying I’ve got their album at home but I suppose my parents have, but I really respect Abba. I mean they just wrote perfect pop songs. We’re not striving to write today’s ‘X Factor’ generation pop songs but you’re always looking to write a catchy number or something. Not like a stereotypical pop song but something that just lingers and resonates in your brain and unfortunately or fortunately it’s a pop song normally. Abba just hit the spot for me, embarrassingly!
Are you Milburn’s main song-writer?
One of yeah, Tom the guitarist writes as well with me. We kind of have our individual ideas and then bring them to each other, bounce off each other and mark each others work. Together we’ll develop it into a song or put it into a more structured unit and then take it to the rest of the band and that becomes a song. It’s easy writing songs on acoustic guitars, that’s the easiest thing in the world but to get it to a band status where you’re really proud and pleased to play it that’s different, it’s maybe a month or two hard work to make it an actual band song. Ideas are the least of our worries; it’s just to make it into a song where you back it 100%; that’s the part where it gets juicy. Once you have achieved that, it’s really satisfying.
Is there one of you that’s the main lyricist?
Again it’s mostly a mixed bag, I suppose I like to think I’m mostly lyrics but I’m sure Tom would think we both chip in so again it’s a nice split. You can comment on each others stuff. All this observational Northern stuff has been highlighted in the press recently and I suppose it’s true but I like to think I’ve got a bit more of a general view instead of picking up pieces from everyday life. You see Mike Skinner, he gets a bit tedious, you know what I mean? His first album was great, it was like, “no-one’s ever done this” but by the third album you’re thinking “will you piss off now!”. We’ve heard it all before so I like to think we mix it into more lyrics that you probably don’t get at first. Like Coldplay, the more you listen to it and think about it, it unlocks ideas of what it’s about, even if it’s not what you’re thinking is accurate to what they’ve written about, it’s still the audience’s idea. They can take it as they will but it means something to them, know what I mean?
You’re going to have to devise ways of avoiding those ‘band on tour’ type songs
Oh yeah, hotel rooms and all that sort of stuff. Somebody told us about that and you think yeah, we need to get away somewhere, anywhere, other than on tour for a bit to write songs because you do hear things and you think “I know exactly what you’re writing about” and that’s too obvious sometimes. We’ve got to be wary of that.
How serious are you when you say that if one member of Milburn were to leave the band would be over?
You never know until you’ve experienced it I suppose. Because we’ve been going since we were thirteen, fourteen; if someone went it would be like we’re not having it. We might change our name to try and pursue it but it wouldn’t be the same because it’s not like a normal band meets up at Uni’, are mates for a few months and then…you know what I mean? We were kids together and it would just be really uncomfortable if that were to happen. I hope we would just call it a day, change the name or do something different. I admit that if one of us has gone it’s a different thing. Stereophonics got a new drummer didn’t they? I think they went back a bit more because they were playing together five or six years before they got signed.
Can you tell me then what irreplaceable element each band member brings to Milburn, including yourself?
Alright then. Me and Tom, we sort of bring the ideas that start off the fire; start off the songs lyrically and musically. On stage Tom brings that big moody thing, he’s not bouncing around he’s just solemn. Sometimes he gets excited, and he’s a pretty boy as well (don’t tell him that!). Me, I tend to bounce around and just get a bit mental which is good. Louis, the other guitarist, as far as songwriting goes he brings that original spikey riff or a bit of skank; he loves his Specials stuff. He likes his weird little things that just puts a little layer on it that makes it just so much more interesting. Then onstage he does tend to skank like the vulture out of the Jungle Book! That neck sort of thing going on, he does like to dance a bit onstage but don’t tell him that because he’ll stop doing it. He’s really self conscious but when he lets go he’s great. And the drummer’s a bit mad! That’s it, just sums him up. Onstage, as something to look at with the arms everywhere screaming at people. In practice he’s frustrating because he’s like “oh yeah I forgot that, I’ve forgot this” but when it comes to it and you look back nearly a month or two later and you’ve written a song and you’re listening to a demo of it and the drumming you’re like “that’s fucking brilliant, when did you do that?” You’re laughing at him or swearing at him because he’s messing around but then a month later you’re thinking that’s brilliant.
Who has supported you so far in the media and have you made any enemies?
I hope so! Jo Whiley’s been good so far, she’s started to pick up on this single. Between me and you I don’t really like the NME; it’s just like a comic to us. I think it is up to kids to say if they don’t like it because its got all their favourite clothes, it’s got all their idols, it’s got all the right colours and it’s got the sort of graphic design thing going on but we just think it’s bollocks actually! We actually read it and it’s a load of shite. I suppose you can’t print that because they have just done a review on us which is good and we’re not in a position to fuck everyone off because we’re building a career out of it. I’ll leave that for you as a journalist to put your own opinion in because we can’t be seen to be ripping them to shreds but then again we are not going to bend over for anyone.
Alright then; well the NME don’t really break bands anymore, they seem to have to wait for a band to have a number one album before they give them a front cover. And you’re right; they are much more of a comic these days.
The NME have been alright to us but they’ve not picked us up and taken us under their wing so we owe them nothing. We’ll take the good bits but we’re not going to do everything just because they like us. I mean they just did an NME piece actually and they’re going to do an article, but they wanted us to do stupid things and gave us disposable cameras because we were on tour with the Arctic Monkeys. They wanted pictures of us together and we just thought “fuck off” so we just said no. They just want that so they can make stories up, we’d much rather just be ourselves.
What do you think of the UK music scene right now?
I think it’s alright, could be a bit better. There could be better bands around but it’s better than being flat and all concentrated on ‘X Factor’ or ‘Pop Idol’, it’s still busy. There’s all sorts of people our age who are into their music, you’ve got to say that’s healthy even if you don’t necessarily like the kind of music they’re putting out, you’ve got to say it’s better than what it could be.
Do you think reality pop shows may have actually helped bands like Milburn, giving people something to react against?
Yeah, at first it was great but now it’s kind of tripped itself up. I mean, we didn’t think it was great but the success that it had, the creators thought “oh we’re onto a winner here” but obviously it’s run out of steam because at the end of the day everyone’s tired of it. It’s like ‘Big Brother’, nineteenth series of ‘Big Brother’, no one gives a fuck really but at first it was original but now it’s just getting tedious. It’ll open a gap for bands like us by exposing how weak the product is that they’re coming out with.
Has the Arctic Monkeys success fired you up at all?
Yeah it can be done, especially where we come from because we’re not a million miles away from each other it’s actually like one or two miles away. Sheffield’s never really had a big music scene and when it has had it it’s been ABC or Human League and that’s not really an indie-rock vibe. The only band I can say is Pulp but that was ten years ago now. Yeah, it is inspiring and especially more sentimental for us lot.
Any nerves about the upcoming Reading and Leeds festivals?
Shitting ourselves with excitement and fear! Leeds is going to be massive, hopefully it’ll be mental. I think Leeds is kind of in the bag sort of thing. It’s just Reading we’re kind of sceptical about because we know what London can be like. All our fans in London are great, but we just hate London gigs as far as press; you get so much more press and so much more people talking to you and saying “you were great” and up yer arse, you just can’t be arsed with it! We’d rather go up to Leeds and have a great gig, although the Reading fans are great. It’s just all the attention you get. You just think “if we were in Newcastle, would you be giving us this attention? Would you ‘eck!” Reading’s sort of like the underdog, come on let’s ‘ave it! Leeds is more of a celebration sort of thing.
How’s the debut album coming along?
It’s just getting mastered in New York so it’s there I hope, we’ll see what we get back but I just hope it’s there. We’re really excited because we’ve got a few more songs that we’ve not been playing live that we’re going to chuck on the album just to spice it up a bit. The tracks have earned themselves to be there sort of thing. It’s not like we’re putting in new songs that are maybe a bit weak just for the sake of it, we’ve put ‘em in because they earned it. The old songs are kind of a given for us because we know what they can do and all that, but these new songs are a really exciting part of the album.
And you had Dave Eringa producing…
Yeah he did the early Manic Street Preachers stuff and he’s done some other stuff since, but we didn’t actually pick him because he was Manic Street Preachers blah de blah de blah or because of his back catalogue. We just picked him because he did this remix of our ‘Send In The Boys’ single and we just got on with him; he was just a good laugh. He was passionate about his music and his good rock side of things, the traditional kind of in your face thing, but we just got on with him. We thought if we were going to be cooped up in a studio for five or six weeks it might as well be with somebody we liked, that’s how he got the job I think. He loved his vibes sort of word, when we were recording he was all about the vibe so yeah, if we were up for it then perfect.
Finally, what albums are central to the Milburn universe in the summer of 2006?
(Joe consults the rest of the band before answering and they contribute the following): The Sonics; Elvis Costello’s ‘This Year’s Model’; Bedouin Sound Clash.
(Joe’s own choice): I’ve just got the Zutons new album but that’s not the answer, it’s Johnny Cash ‘Live At Folsom Prison’. That’s what I was trying to explain about the spectrum of stuff that’s going on, it’s great because everyone likes different things. It’s good music that’ll last isn’t it? Simple as that!