Interview: Milk White Throat

Words by Maddy Howell

Brighton's Milk White Throat began their venture into the world of music in 2011 as a six-piece progressive metal outfit, with their debut EP bringing in an array of exciting new concepts into the genre. With a sound perfectly targeted for the live experience and a passion for creating new and exciting soundscapes, the band have spent seven years creating and shaping their own unique sound. 

With a flair for the eccentric and a love for all things extreme, their seven year existence has had it's fair share of line-up shifts and exits, leaving the current outfit only half the size of it's original incarnation. However the trio are letting nothing stop them in their tracks, having recently released their triumphant latest EP, 'House of Fire'. We caught up with frontman of the trio, Brian Thomas, to talk line-up changes, family life and the impact of the digital age. 

Burn After Writing: For those unfamiliar with Milk White Throat, who are some of your biggest musical influences?

Brian Thomas: The list of our musical influences is incredibly eclectic and vast. From our sound you can easily identify some of the most obvious influences such as The Mars Volta, Tool, Deftones, Neurosis etc. but to be honest a lot of what we listen to doesn’t influence us to make music, at least not in the way you might think.

The way that music can inspire you to create is purely by exposure and that has a way of creeping into your subconscious and without you knowing it, dictating how you might play something as opposed to what you might play. That being said, some of the most recent bands on our playlist are Elder, Big Big Train, Deathspell Omega, Kayodot, The Contortionist, Caligulas Horse and Deafheaven but the list goes on and on.

BAW: You recently released your latest EP, ‘House of Fire’, how has the reception been so far?

BT: The reception so far has been positive, we’ve received a lot of nice feedback about the direction we’ve taken with this one. It is a little bit different from how we’ve sounded in the past and I think it was a natural move for us and something that people are enjoying so far.

BAW: How did the writing process for this release differ to that of your previous work?

BT: The writing process for this one was quite a bit different as this is the first time we’ve been writing as a three-piece. It has made things a lot easier for us as there are generally fewer options and fewer things to consider when you’re writing for three instruments as opposed to four or five. The biggest difference is there is less opposition with the guitars as there is only one so Tom [guitar] will generally conduct what we are playing in a lot of ways.

I think for Tom [Humphrey, guitar] it is a lot more freeing to have reign over the guitars and parts and how to arrange them, often when he is writing music he will generally write the bass parts as well and I will put my own style on them and they develop from there. The other thing about having one guitar now is there is generally less to hide behind for the guitar so it is important for the parts to fit together very well. I felt in the past it was easier to just chuck an extra guitar on that might hide the real problem in the arrangement. Overall the writing has been very different for us and a lot more concise.

BAW: It’s been four years since the release of your debut album, why has there been such a long gap in between releases this time around?

BT: I guess the main reason behind us taking longer is a that I had a daughter, now two years old. We didn’t at any point stop seeing each other or writing music but having a child can change things in a lot of ways, a lot of the time in imperceptible ways, a huge drain on mental energy but not in a negative way. At the same time we had a member leave the group to pursue other things so everything changed for us very quickly.

It was too different for us to try to play the music from 'Death Of Beauty' without the additional guitar, we did attempt to recruit a new member but nothing worked, we never encountered anyone who fit with us the way we wanted to. Ultimately we decided to carry on as a three piece as the core writers were still in the group. It very much felt like going back to square one in a lot of ways, so we scrapped all the music we were working on and started again, subsequently taking a break from playing shows at the same time.

BAW: This release was recorded in a rural setting within the county of Hampshire. What sparked the decision to head outside of your hometown to work on the EP?

BT: We didn’t set out to record there specifically but we were afforded the opportunity from our friend Chris Edkins who we had recorded Under Duress with. He had managed to build a studio in an old oasthouse in the country and invited us to record with him. It was a lovely experience on the whole. We had already finished writing 'House Of Fire' so we had five days purely to record.

In the future we would love to get maybe a month booked in the country just to write, that would be the dream. It really is essential to remove yourself from the daily grind to solely focus on the music and achieving what you set out to do, staying in that creative headspace.

BAW: There’s something quite flamboyant and almost pleasantly excessive about your sound, with a clear influence of genre-defining bands such as The Mars Volta. What is it about this eccentric style of music that intrigues you?

BT: I guess we’ve always been into the excessive side of things. Tom and I have always been drawn to the most extreme forms of the genres we listen to, whether its electronica, black metal, prog or whatever, we always seem to enjoy the bands that are the most developed of the lot. Some of it has to do with the fact that we are heavily critical of music and defiant at the same time, so when an artist comes along that is doing something we’ve never heard before, it's always good.

One thing that is certain is that we are voracious consumers of music and always seek out new stuff. If you’ve heard every band under the sun, you very easily see the similarities and tropes of the genre. We’ve always been this way since we were young, its really hard to put your finger on why it is we find the music so seductive.

BAW: Your sound seems carefully designed for the live experience, with an expansive soundscape and an intricate showcase of talents. What is it about the act of live performance that is so important to you as a band?

BT: Personally I find live performance to be cathartic, invigorating and stressful and something not replicated anywhere else. In all of your life, it is extremely rare (in the grand scheme of things) to find a way to be able to put yourself out there in front of an audience and demonstrate who it is you are really trying to be. Especially as a singer and lyric writer, you get the chance to not hold back and expose yourself.

As far as I can tell, you can’t do that within your job, your social life, relationships or anything else, at the very least you will always hold something back, never getting the opportunity to enact your desires of what you truly want. If you’re doing this honestly and correctly, the rewards are tremendous and if you can learn to be completely honest about who you are and what you want and then get up there and show people your true self, while the sole focus is on you, that is as close to living as you can get.

BAW: Having been around on the music scene for seven years now, what’s the biggest change you’ve noticed in the music industry that has impacted on how you operate as a band?

BT: Whilst we haven’t been the most active artists out there, we have had the opportunity to observe a few things along the way. The biggest change I would say is that the sheer amount of music that is available now is staggering. Through the internet, anyone with a laptop, guitar, and microphone has been able to present themselves as artists and saturate. The things that are available now are unreal, Spotify giving you all the music ever in your pocket, whenever you want, it certainly has impacted how people consume music.

The way people access music has to be so user-friendly and intuitive that often if something is not immediately available, you won't get the listen. Sometimes the act of clicking a link is too much for some people. You see these things from the post engagement statistics on your marketing platform. It tells you exactly how many people clicked on your link and how long people listened for, the meta data is insanely detailed and shines a light on how fickle people really are. You have to be doing something really special to get people to listen, and this is replaced in my opinion by the addition of what we know as ‘content’.

Generally, empty additional tat that is included in releases to simulate value. We're talking about 'behind the scenes', 'makings of' etc. with some bands going to the extremes of having the individual files available so you can mix the music yourself! There was a time when music was enough, now I feel we are approaching the event horizon of what music is and what it will be, luckily there are still many bands out there who don’t subscribe to these practices and thankfully live music remains as vital and important as it ever was, perhaps more so now.