Catching Up With Milo Greene
Los Angeles band Milo Greene has been making waves fast in the two short years they’ve been together, touring with The Civil Wars and Grouplove before actually releasing anything. Now that the five-piece is on the road in support of their debut self-titled album, they’ve been consistently selling out shows throughout the East Coast. Taking on a band with four singers, four guitarists and four songwriters is no small feat, but Milo Greene comes together to weave multi-part harmonies for a cinematic and expansive sound.
Robbie and Graham, two of Milo Greene’s songwriters, took some time to talk about their tour, their name and Moddison, the film they created in their small amount of down time—all while on a boat called the Mystic Blue on Lake Michigan.
Paste: You’ve toured with the Civil Wars, but this is the first tour you’ve headlined, right?
Robbie: Yes, it is the first we’ve headlined.
Paste: How’s it been treating you so far?
Robbie: It’s been great. Every city we’ve gone through has been really supportive. We just got done playing a night in Canada, we were in Montreal and Toronto. You don’t know what to expect when you’re crossing the border, and Montreal—which was one of our favorite cities just to hang out in with the Civil Wars when we were there—was overwhelmingly great. And Toronto had the right amount of support there. We’ve had some shows on the east coast, and been lucky enough to have them sold out, so everything so far has been really, really great.
Paste: I saw you at the Drunken Unicorn on your first stop in Atlanta. You guys seemed very, very grateful, which was cool to see. It’s not something you always see.
Robbie: We really appreciate everything that’s come our way. We just released our first record, so it’s kind of a weird thing for us, this being our first tour. We got so much support from The Civil Wars initially. We’re just very appreciative. We’ve all been doing it a long time, with other bands, so to see some real Milo Greene love is amazing.
Paste: Tell me about your name. It came from fictional publicist, right?
Robbie: Andrew and I went to school together, and we were all in separate bands that needed to sound a little bit more professional. So we created this character—a Myspace, a Gmail account, a spread web presence—called Milo Greene, and he would call on our behalf. And then when Andrew and I actually started making music, it was like, “Oh, what do we call ourselves?” We decided to honor our late, great booking agent Milo Greene.
Paste: If you all knew each other in different bands, how did it coalesce into what’s now Milo Greene?
Robbie: It just started as fun project. When I left school and moved up to L.A. with my band, and Andrew moved up to Sacramento and was playing shows with Marlena. We just coordinated and talked about things and corresponded over email, and sent lyrics and melodies and influences. I went up there one long weekend, and we took over this house that he was house sitting for and wrote a few songs that ended up sounding kinda cool. We didn’t really know what we were doing. But then when I went back to L.A., we were exchanging emails and mixing it all together, the songs actually ended up being songs that made it to the record, that recording. Then I shared it with Graham, who was a friend of mine that played in another band in L.A., and Curtis who actually played drums in my other band. Andrew and Marlana decided to move down to Los Angeles, and it just formed from there.
Paste: Have you ever considered another name than Milo Greene, or has it just been set from the beginning?
Robbie: No, it just felt right from the beginning. It meant something to us. We had a history with the name, it wasn’t just a random: “What would be a cool name? Let’s put them in a hat and draw them out!” Because that’s what I did with my other bands.
Graham: I was pushing for the Band Before Time, but I didn’t getting any traction out of it.
Paste: I thought one of the really cool things about how you handled yourselves in a live situation was that you all switched around where you were standing on stage. Why do you do that?
Graham: Well there are four of us who are songwriters, and four of us who are mainly guitarists who dabble in bass and keyboard and percussion and banjo and what have you. So basically when we were getting the songs together, we kind of messed around with different people playing different instruments. And as the songs came together, we just ended up staying in positions where it felt right. So I’ll play bass on a song and then switch to guitar, just based on how we illustrated the songs for our first set of concerts. It just kind of grew into this thing where there’s just an ebb and flow with between songs where we’re constantly moving, changing. It’s a nightmare for our sound guy, but it’s fun to watch and keeps us from getting bored.
Robbie: I hope you can hear the overwhelming smooth jazz that is coming from the boat that we’re on right now. I hope that’s coming through. If you can imagine Graham and I are standing on this boat deck and there’s no one around right now.
Graham: We’re in like a formal dining room.
Robbie: Yeah and they’re blasting some heavy like Kenny G, and we’re just kind of pulsating through the room while we’re talking.
Paste: That’s amazing, and sounds like the perfect setting for the interview. Since you all write, how does the process work? Do you write a song and then bring it to the others, or do you all collaborate?
Graham: Every song is different. Both of those scenarios that you just described happen. One person or four people or two or three people will start an idea, and then it’ll end up getting flushed out by everyone. It’s definitely a collaborative process, and every song is an individual case.
Paste: Because of your layered harmonies, I feel like you get compared to bands like Local Natives a lot. Was there a particular sound you were striving for when you came together?
Graham: We were definitely striving more for a Fleetwood Mac-y vibe. It’s funny, we get compared to a lot of bands like that, but I think it’s because we all have similar influences. The Local Natives guys are actually good friends of ours, and one of Robbie and I’s first bonding nights was going to a little party their house where we were doing Jell-o shots and dove in the pool. I dunno, I think we had just come from playing soccer It was a very California afternoon. But those are all just pals and peers. When we set out, we definitely drew a lot on Crosby, Stills and Nash and Fleetwood Mac, and since there’s four of us who write, we have a really diverse pool of musical backgrounds. It wasn’t just one thing. We just wanted to make something we were all proud of.
Paste: You were on Letterman like a week ago, which was your television debut. How was it?
Robbie: It was cold. It was pretty exhilarating. We went from D.C. straight to New York. We had a show and then took off right after it, because we had to load into Letterman at 3 a.m. So we scurried over to New York and loaded our gear and did a sound check before we were really even awake. We were just kind of zombies throughout the whole day, and it happened so fast. It was really exciting. I think I was more nervous to actually watch it that I was to play, but it ended up okay. I think all of us were really, really
Graham: I was just nervous to make sure that I gave a firm strong handshake to Letterman. I didn’t want him to think I was a sissy with a limp wrist.
Robbie: He came over and asked us where we were from, and looked at me, and I was just this stuttering guy. L-L-L-L-Los Angeles. It was pretty fun, though. That’s a show we’ve all kind of grown up with, so being on it was really cool.
Paste: I saw he made sure to give each one of you a handshake.
Robbie: Yeah our drummer wanted the spotlight, so he jumped out from behind his drums and almost fell off the riser he was on. It was pretty funny.
Paste: Let’s talk about Moddison, because it seems like such an interesting project. Before I knew about it, I saw the video for “1957” and just assumed it was a very narrative-based video with an abrupt ending. And it’s interesting, because even without referencing it, you’re music is so often described as cinematic. Did you write the album with a movie in mind?
Robbie: Well we kind of knew going into the whole process that we wanted to have some kind of link to movies, because that was also always a big influence other than like Fleetwood Mac, and those band-based influences. We were all really influenced in movies, and things of that nature. We originally were thinking just writing music for scores and movies and things like that. So it was only fitting that we figured out how to do a movie to a record. We had a month when we were done with the record in between the tour, and we were just like—let’s try and make something happen. So we wrote a treatment, and I contacted a friend of mine who’s a filmmaker. We went up to a place where we recorded a bunch of the music, and just spent five days there and recorded super-low budget. We did it really quick, just called the label and we were like, “Hey, what’s up we want to make a movie around the record and we need some money and are gonna do it really quick.” And turned it around. They were supportive enough to go with us, not really knowing anything about our band. But they seemed to help us out. It’s turned out okay so far.
Paste: Yeah, it definitely has. It’s beautifully shot. Did you shoot it yourself?
Robbie: No, we had a friend Chad Huff who came out and shoot it. We had a little crew, and really just came out and made a movie. We really didn’t know what we were doing. We spent about a month and a half going down and brainstorming with him, we wrote it. We knew what we wanted it to be about, and then we had the idea of releasing separate videos, kind of having each song be a separate video, but to have it all be one complete narrative. Because I think that’s how we wanted the album to be received, as a whole piece rather than singles. I think it’s kind of a singles world right now, and we kind of went the opposite way, which it a good and bad thing, I guess. But yeah, the movie was supposed to tie in thematically, about how we feel about the mood of the music and stuff.
Paste: It’s cool seeing 28 second song next to a four-and-a-half minute song, because you’re completely right.
Robbie: Yeah, we just wanted them to tie in together, and each song kind of goes into each other. We meant for that to happen, we wanted it to be this blend that you can listen to and take a minute and chill out and relax and listen.
Paste: “Moddison” is one of the short instrumental tracks. Where does that name come from?
Robbie: That name is actually a street that Andrew lived on when he was up in Sacramento. That was his street name. Marlana and him wrote a bunch of music up there and so we decided to name it after that. We have a lot of address-type things. “1957” is also an address. We wrote a lot about where we’re currently living, or at in life.
Paste: Is it ever going to be released in sequence, or is it just going to have to be pieced together?
Robbie: Hopefully! We released a video yesterday, and then I think we’re going to release one more single video, and then hopefully we’re just going to release the film. What I would love to do is just go around and do little premieres of the film with a concert or a little intimate show or something. Just showing the film and the record and all that kind of stuff, doing something different with it.
Paste: I feel like narrative, multi-part videos are really starting to take off, I think because of the format that videos premiere in now. Did you gather inspiration from this kind of movement, or just wanting to make a movie?
Robbie: It was really just wanting to make a movie. We rolled in watching all kinds of movies going into the process. And throughout the whole process of Milo Greene has been inspired by directors like Terrence Malick. Just a lot of different inspirations for us. We wanted it to feel like a movie, one long music video rather than a bunch of different music videos.
Paste: Well you definitely seem to be a productive group.
Robbie: Yeah, we’re either writing movie scripts or playing shows or recording music.