THE NEW GILDED AGE (Part 2)
THE NEW GILDED AGE (Part 2)
Milligram Smile: Beautiful Scars & Memories
31st May, 2007 0
Milligram Smile - as is true with any great rock band, young or old, is much about contrasts, contradictions, and dynamics. Hailing out of Breckenridge, Michigan, the group formed a mere two years ago with the goal of creating original music and a distinctive sound that would cause people to look twice and listen more often. But mainly, they wanted to have fun with their creativity.
Insofar as they were voted Rock Band of the Year at this year's 21st Review Music Awards Ceremony, also nailing the coveted Best CD Release of the Year for their debut album Beautiful Scars & Memories, it appears the group has definitely hit its target.
Consisting of songwriter Jake Matthews on vocals & guitar, Ryan Burt on vocals & bass, and Steve Palmer on drums, Jake originally approached his best friend Ryan about forming the band to develop new songs Jake was churning out on almost a daily basis. The one drawback: Ryan had never picked up a bass in his life.
"Ryan and I are so close and he has such a great critical ear for music that I knew any ideas that I threw out there he could help me improve upon and develop. It didn't matter that he couldn't play," notes Jake.
"I picked up the bass and started learning it in a few weeks," laughs Ryan. "We started our first practice on March 15th two years ago, the first time I ever played bass, and then performed at The Machine Shop two months later. It was pretty intense. It felt good and I was playing by the seat of my pants, but I hit the right notes and it was good that the club was packed, because that's easier than playing in front of five people looking at you in a microscope."
The result of this erstwhile collaboration attests to the strengths of group chemistry. Propelled by the power of Steve's drumming and Ryan's passionate bass lines, Jake's music is framed in a rhythmic foundation that enables his guitar playing and voice to follow the dynamic highs & lows of the storyline behind any given song in a manner that will showcase rather than bury the lyrical message of his music.
When asked about the topical content of their material, Jake explains how it flows thematically from the title of their CD. "Basically, the songs are about how everything that happens in your life, whether good or bad, defines your future. Our lives are made up of tiny fragments of time and each moment plays its own part in the next. As minutes bleed into days and bring new experiences that we label as either 'beautiful' or 'ugly', essentially bad things lead to scars and good things memories and life is full of both."
"You can't have the good without the bad, or the bad without the good," he continues. "Thus you can never have all 'good' days, especially without anything to compare it to. There is no perfection and ultimately we learn from each experience, which takes us to new levels of knowledge."
Instantly, it becomes easy to get knocked back by the fact one is listening to not only a young and blossoming rock musician, but also a philosopher to boot. Again, just another example of the potent power behind contradiction, which also leads into the story of how the band adopted their name.
"The band Ashes to Ashes have a song called 'Milligram Smile'," notes Ryan. "They're one of my favorite bands and when we were looking for a name, I wrote it down and asked the guys what they thought. They all liked it because you can interpret it in several ways. Some people immediately thing, 'Oh, they're into drugs', but that isn't the case. The original song is about how so many people are on prescription drugs to make themselves happy, so it's a weird spin-off on that."
So do the songs come quickly for Jake?
"As with anything, you have to work on them," he reflects. "I try to follow the moment. If I'm working on something that isn't going anywhere, I'll wait until the mood strikes and pick up the guitar and complete the tune. Then I'll bring it to the band and they add their interpretations and wrap it all up. That's the nice thing about being a 3-piece band - it gives you a compact flexibility yet no room for anybody to become sloppy. It affords us the ability to put on a good stage show. If something works they let me know, and if it doesn't, they speak up. They're good at that!"
"I like to take Jake's guitar riffs and mess around with different tempos," interjects Steve. "If they don't like it that's fine, but as a drummer, I kind of view it as my job- I try to introduce different rhythmic feels into the material."
Obviously, their recipe is working, which leads me to ask what Milligram Smile feels defines their sound?
"I think just the fact we're good friends and open with each other enough that we can explore different directions and have a good time doing it makes all the difference," answers Jake.
"There's too much competition in music today. To my mind if you're headlining a show or opening it, it doesn't matter. If you're playing, you're playing. Our practices are just as intense as our stage show, because to my mind, we're having fun with it."
With 23 original songs under their belt now and new originals that can be heard on their website at milligramsmile.com, the band's musical influences are as divergent as everything else about the group. "I'm more into 'metal'," notes Steve, "and very eclectic. Ryan is into just about everything, as is Jake."
"I listen to a lot of different genres", responds Jake. "My life is full of different influences throughout my day, so I listen to music accordingly. I like rock music, but I also love Hank Williams and those country songwriters that can tell a good story lyrically. I like to meld a good story to rock music be positive without preaching."
Though originals are the cornerstones of their show, Milligram Smile is not immune from pulling out the occasional cover song and opening it to re-interpretation. "One practice I started cheesing around with a Ryan Adams song," laughs Jake, "and we started working up this really cool version of Cuts Like a Knife. I figured the audience would either pay attention or start throwing things. There's no such thing as a great song if you don't have the crowd's attention."
"The way I see it, and I've said this a thousand times, if I can't get into something I'm playing we'll never get anybody in the crowd to get into it," he continues. "When I see a band, if they're not enjoying themselves and if the audience isn't jumping around and enjoying themselves, I'll probably just stand around, too. When I'm on stage I feel the music and let it animate me."
"It is great watching Ryan and Jake go to it on-stage," agrees Steve. "Sometimes I'll be drumming away and think to myself, 'I never knew you guys did that stuff!'"
Although Jake was rehabilitating himself from some serious surgery around the time of Review's 21st Music Award Ceremony and the band were unable to attend, each member admits they were blown away at the news they received two of the top honors.
"It's kind of overwhelming," notes Jake, "because I feel we're just a little band still. But we've got a great fan base that is very committed. We play at a about a hundred venues down in Detroit, and Rubbles in Mt. Pleasant is like our home town bar; plus we play at The Hamilton St. Pub a lot, and Kathy at Hott & Bothered Productions helps us out with a lot of gigs. So we definitely are pleased at all the exposure. It can be rough because we all have full time jobs."
Given the tightness of their musical package, how does that elusive quality known as 'image' fit into their musical puzzle? "We don't dress up and particular way and you won't see me in eyeliner," laughs Ryan, so I think the image comes from who we are and what the music propels us to do on the stage. I think it's easier for a band when you're not depending on it for anything more than friendship. If you're not having fun, it's not worth it. When it becomes a career you have to do it whether you want to or not, even if people aren't on board. One of the things we're blessed with is that we are friends and share an open-mindedness. Let's go be loud - let's be creative - let's be boisterous - let's go have fun!"
"The way I see it, if you're the same person you are onstage that you are off-stage, I'll buy you a beer," sums up Jake.
The group also agrees that the 'state-of-the-scene' is in a pretty good spot creatively. "There's a lot of good bands out there and a lot of different originality going on in our area," notes Jake. "We went to Toronto recently and it seems the farther away from home you get the more you hear the same thing over & over. The bigger the stage, the more the bands sound the same. Around here everybody sounds different."
"Especially with Rock music," interjects Ryan. "Over the past couple of years Rock has made a big resurgence commercially. On MTV you see heavier music and kids are listening to heavier rock and R&B over Rap and Hip-Hop. It's come full circle. We've done a couple of all ages shows at high schools and the responses are ridiculous - the energy!"
With the new songs they've been working on since Beautiful Scars & Memories, does Milligram Smile detect much evolution in terms of their sound?
"Yes and no," responds Jake. "The songs are getting a little more heavier but there's also more dynamics involved and more melodies added into it. It's heavy stuff with more dramatic feeling. We're letting the music speak for itself behind the lyrics."
When asked about topics not touched upon, Milligram Smile is as humble as they are energized. "We'd like to thank all the people that supported us at the Awards and at our shows," concludes Jake. "It's incredible. I was in the hospital with back problems and our first show since then was last Saturday, so we've been off for two months. We got votes while we weren't out playing that much, which I find really humbling."
Will Jake be writing any songs out of his recent health experience?
"I'm sure I'll get a few songs out of that. Trust me, we're working on it!"
Milligram Smile will be performing live at The Hamilton St. Pub on Friday, June 1st. To get a copy of 'Beautiful Scars & Memories or to find other show dates, go to their website at www.milligramsmile.com
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THE NEW GILDED AGE (Part 2)