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Interviewed by
Thursday 21st July, 2011 10:03AM

Originally hailing from Auckland's Eastern Suburbs, Milkshakes have parted ways (thankfully) with the "Cowboyz" which used to end their name and are set to release their excellent self-tilted EP this Friday (22nd July).  Frontman Michael McClelland, who you may also recognise round these parts for his contributions to the site and commentary elsewhere on the net and airwaves, fills us in on the band, EP  and potential conflicts between music-writing and writing-music.

Hey, how’s it going?

Struggling to pay bills and yet, somehow, I’m overworked. Am I a musician yet?

What are you listening to at the moment?

A friend of mine recently hooked me up with the mother of all pop music compilations – the top 100 of every US Billboard chart since 1956. I’ve been rocking out to Avril Lavigne and TLC ever since.

What initially inspired you to get into music?

I think it was when I got into Johnny Cash when I was fourteen. My interest in playing guitar started from there, and I guess the rest of it spiralled out of control. 

How would you describe Milkshakes?

Depressing, loud, angry, frustrated, desperate… something negative, I guess.

Tell us a little about how Milkshakes came to be?

Euan and I wanted to start a band, and we couldn’t find a bassist. So I bought an octave pedal and we started playing gigs anyway. We were pretty naïve back then and had to do a lot of stuff ourselves, but we’ve come a long way since then including two tours and a lot of shows. Ary Jansen joined us at a point when we felt there was a need for someone to fill in the gaps. She clicks with me on many levels, helped by the fact that I’m good friends with her and the bands she plays in (Onesie, FATANGRYMAN, Hissyfit). I think she’s one of the few people I know who would put music above absolutely everything else in her life. So we changed our name in pursuit of a new direction and a fresh start.

Are there any bands in the particular that you all find particularly inspiring and influential on your sound?

Sometimes I listen to shoegaze bands like My Bloody Valentine and Chapterhouse and I wish we could be just like them. And then there’s The Mint Chicks, who are basically my favourite band. Big Black, as well, affected a lot of my writing and production style. What I feared from all of this, though, was taking too much from my influences – or worse, being called out on it. But I think it’s healthy to question yourself like that. As long as you’re not ignorant to something bad, you can do your best to avoid it.

You seem to really enjoy playing live, is this your favourite part of being a band?

Parts of it, maybe. I usually feel tired and deflated after a show, and though I try, I find it hard to produce a connection to the music on stage sometimes. For music that is essentially about the core of my being, it’s too easy to forget what the songs are about when you’re just trying to be loud and angry on stage. I’m trying less and less to fool myself these days, and as a result we’re playing better shows.

Any stand out shows to date?

Our best show was Onesie’s album release in Auckland at Whammy Bar. That was just after we returned from our second tour with them and I guess we were in the right zone to nail everything with conviction and accuracy. Another one was a few weeks afterwards in Wellington where we opened for Diana Rozz. Some drunk asshole in the crowd was giving me shit so I screamed in his face for five minutes.

You’re about to put out your first release, tell us a little about it?

They’re all songs I came up with roughly a year ago and have been playing live ever since. Damian Galfinopolous recorded them for us in March, and I sat on them for a period of months during which I mixed the tracks with my friend Tim Berry. Over this time, I pained over many hours to write lyrics that I felt would finally serve both the music and the way I felt. A lot of this was written over last summer, where a combination of poor nutrition, no money, a very labour-intensive job and an unhealthy perception of life reduced my mind to psychological ruin. Probably the darkest period of my life, and these songs reflect that. Cool eh!

What formats are you releasing the EP on?

We’re doing only a limited run of CDs to be purchased via mail-order or at shows. I see cassettes as too gimmicky, while vinyl isn’t quite universal enough. Both are cool, sure, but not on our (very) limited budget. I hate the internet, also, so online streaming options will be limited.

You hate the internet?

I'm just being exaggerative, but I do resent that modern technology and social media has closed the real-life windows it has opened online. I would be ignorant to deny it, especially in regards to music distribution, but I think there are ways to use it to your advantage. There's Prince, for instance, who recently vowed not to write another song until online piracy is stopped. I don't need to explain everything that is wrong with such a scenario - but it's obviously the wrong way to do it. For me, it's more a matter of preserving a tangible connection to music and keeping it in the real world. I think traditionalism is a subtle loyalty among music listeners, so at the very least you can be smart about it as a musician. That's why I'm doing the mail-order thing - people can receive their music as effortlessly as a digital download without losing something to look at while it copies to their hard drive.

You also contribute to a lot of music press as a writer, do you ever find it hard to do both?

Tell me about it. I don’t think people remember that I was a musician before I was a writer. I love music, and writing about it and creating it are just different ways of expressing that. Big ups to all the folk who compliment me on my ability as a writer, but sometimes I wish they’d see the same in my music. Because to me, that reflects me a lot better.

Do you feel that people are especially hard on your music because of your music writing?

I can’t WAIT until the cynics chime in with the word ‘nepotism’ hiding below their breath. I regret that getting into music journalism has affected my position as a musician – I wish that I could just focus on one thing that people would pay attention to. But like I’ve mentioned, I have to do both if I really want to feel like I’ve said what I want to say. All I hope is that whoever gets the chance to review our music suffers from no preconceptions based on people’s opinions or their experiences with me. That would be unfair to every other artist who might not get the same opportunity.

What are your thoughts on the music scene in NZ at the moment both as a writer and a musician?

Auckland sucks. The people are bitter and hostile, no-one dances at shows, it’s hard to even tell who your friends are most of the time. And it all comes from dumb teenage self-consciousness. In this great escapist dick-waving contest of whose-band-did-what, everyone considers their own voice to be a great valuable possession – yet we struggle to even use it in day-to-day interaction! I’ve noticed a lack of music coming from Auckland where the narrative convention is open and forthcoming – for a culture founded on rawness and honesty, there sure isn’t a lot going on. Instead, we hide behind veils of poetic self-reflection and gibberish lyrics to quell the fact that deep down, we all are doing this for the very reason it exists – to tell people how we feel. It’s a petty fear of judgement, and no, it’s not ‘punk’. Nothing is punk anymore, especially not us. Chris Rakete might be the only dude I know who is capable of expressing his actual thoughts and feelings to anyone, and it’s sad that people like him are in the minority. Auckland suffers from this psychological impasse bullshit, while musical cultures in other parts of the world are doing big things. I think things are very much at a crossroads right now where something big is bound to happen for us, but so long as the ego-mania and hysterical nonsense keeps up, nothing ever will.

Where do you hope Milkshakes to be in a year?

We’ll be dead. Euan is leaving to go to Spain, and we’re not replacing him. So this is what we are, I guess.

Listen to Milkshakes debut EP in full via their bandcamp link below.


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