In Conversation With... Hot Milk
Fresh off the Manchester music scene, one of the most exciting acts in new rock emerges. Hot Milk exploded onto the scene with their debut EP Are You Feeling Alive? in 2019, followed by their eagerly anticipated follow-up EP I JUST WANNA KNOW WHAT HAPPENS WHEN I'M DEAD. We sat down with the duo, Han Mee and Jim Shaw, during their tour supporting Pale Waves to discuss the bands creativity, Manchester history and being back on tour.
Ok guys well, it’s a pleasure to meet you, so this is actually quite big for me, it’s my first interview for No Party No Disco! and it’s a great honour to be conducting it with Hot Milk!
J: Congrats mate!
H: Yeah, well we’ll see about that by the end and see if you still think it’s a great honour!
We will! Well guys I think I’d like to start where everyone on our end wants to start, and I'm really sorry if this is a question you’ve had a million times already, but the origin of the name, I’m dying to know. Was it the alternate title of the famous Donna Summer song?
H: I think for us, well we were drunk, weren’t we James?
J: That’s a reoccurring theme.
H: We are low level functioning alcoholics. Basically we wanted a name that was something short, snappy, bit of an oxymoron… we settled on Hot Milk quite early…
J: … It was either that or Sell Fish.
Sell Fish! Well look they’re both great, but I think you went with the right one there, and in honour of Hot Milk there is hot milk in my tea!
J: Lovely, Bowie mug as well, very nice.
H: I think as well with the name, people say "I can’t believe that wasn’t taken" and I’m like "Me too!" … I think it’s something that goes well across multiple languages as well.
J: Names are always a bit of a mine field aren’t they, because sometimes you end up with just, just sh*t.
H: Yeah and what the f*ck is a name, a name is a whatever, think about Foo Fighters, what the f*ck is that? Until it’s its own thing… name’s a name until it’s not.
So I like to watch [your music] on YouTube, because you have all these great music videos, and I was wondering if there was a creative process behind that and what your guys’ input is?
H: I think with the music videos it’s a weird one, the guy that’s done most of them lives literally a few doors down from James…
J: … Closest mate.
H: … One of our mates, and I don’t know if you watched the I Think I Hate Myself video, but most of that was story boarded on my phone. I did a video of how I wanted it and used my childhood teddies, and basically shot the angles that I wanted and sent it to him, and that’s how that one came about. We’re very, very, very involved with all the [creative process] on everything.
J: When we write a song we’ve already thought of the music video, we’ve already thought of the album cover, it's not just like ‘oh there’s a song’, it's always a full visual, audio representation of that, of whatever story we’re trying to tell.
H: I'll be in the studio and say ‘oh we could do this for the video!’ and the song’s not even finished yet, ‘but oh we could do this and this!’ and i'll write it down… I'm one of those people where you get a thought and get a thought, etc, and it gets to the point where it’s like overload…
… You guys are big picture, right?
J: Yeah 100%. Always have been.
I think you can really see that in the videos. And that actually leads me into my next question which was, you guys are obviously a really strong partnership, and rather than what your singular musical or stylistic inspirations were, what are your joint inspirations; what are the great partnerships that you guys look up to?
J: Ooh, that’s a good one.
H: Partnerships, that is a very good question. I mean, I think my mum always compares us to Fleetwood Mac because we argue all the time… but I mean partnership wise, I’m gonna have to say May and Mercury because legendary, legendary people.
J: … Bonnie and Clyde?
H: …Yeah! I’m the more annoying and dramatic and moody one, and James can be dramatic but tends to be the one who’s a bit more grounded.
Ok, so you guys even up?
J: Yeah, Yin and Yang.
H: James can also be moody and dramatic but it’s usually when I am, which is quite lucky really.
That is lucky. So you guys are touring with Pale Waves at the moment, and I was wondering, how are you enjoying the crowds after all this Covid stuff, what’s been your favourite crowd, your favourite show?
H: I mean I think our crowds know what to expect, a Hot Milk crowd, it’s a party, so every single crowd knows what they’re getting in to…
… The ‘aggressive safe space’?
H: … Of course! It’s so aggressive, they literally let f*cking go, and honestly I want drag queens to come to our shows, I want people to come exactly [as they are], if they want to try something out, identity wise, I would love for them to be like "Well, I'm going to a Hot Milk show tonight so I can try it" you know? That’s what I would love for it to be like, this massive explosion of colour and vibrancy and people just really exploring themselves, I think that is the place that I want to create, and that would be such a joy and legacy for us when I'm 60 years old… to help them do that, that would be such a beautiful thing.
I think some of the Pale Waves fans were a bit shocked when we came out, I’ll put it that way, because, they’re a great band, but they are like a different flavour to us, but I think that’s why it’s working as well, because you’ve not got the same thing all night, you’ve got a bit of variety. In terms of favourite show, Jim over to you.
J: I mean obviously we’ve had to pull out of this weeks worth of shows, but the first weeks shows were great… again with that kind of "Okay, we’re not the same kind of genre per say as Pale Waves", and we weren’t sure of what to expect, but it works really, really well and we’ve had such a fun time, the crowds have been f*cking sick. We’ve only ever done one headline tour and that, for me, was incredible, it goes back to what Han said about having a place where people can go and be exactly who they want to be, and that was true of every single show; people were just letting go. We spoke to people, people were crying, it was just such a lovely moment, especially after a build up of no shows and not being able to leave your house and see people you love… experiencing that with everyone was really beautiful. It’s really hard to pin a favourite show…
I want people to come exactly [as they are], if they want to try something out, identity wise, I would love for them to be like "Well, I'm going to a Hot Milk show tonight so I can try it" you know? - Han Mee
… Well it must all be great after everything.
H: They’re all good.
J: It really has been… me and Han used to get really stressed out before shows, me more so, and I used to not enjoy the shows because of stuff that was happening before or after, I couldn’t get into the actual show, I’d get to the last song and be like "Oh well, that’s it done now", really not living in the moment, the whole f*cking reason why I started in this band was to play live, it’s like my favourite thing to do. So Covid gave me that perspective: "Well, if I can’t do that, what am I doing? Why am I doing this" So coming back into this world of shows… I want to take every single show and make it like my last show, make it the best experience I can, for myself and for anyone else. I think that’s why its been so difficult to nail down one show.
Well I think that’s really beautiful, and honestly I think it probably gets at an essence that a lot of musical artists are feeling right now, after all this stuff. But you guys have some awesome, huge stuff coming up, you guys are playing the Roundhouse, the Olympic stadium with the Foo Fighters again, but you’re also going to be playing Bottleneck Festival in Napa, you guys are going to be playing with Pitbull!
H: Wow, can’t wait!
J: The collab that nobody knew needed to happen!
H: Hot Milk x Pitbull.
Yeah I think you guys should really connect backstage on that, we all want to see that.
H: I’ll say "Tom Payne told us we should connect".
Yes, use my full name he’ll recognise it!
H: I think we’re excited to play the states because I think our music, as much as it connects over here, it’s obviously got a lot of American influence in there, a lot of the bands we grew up listening to are from the states, some of these songs were even written in the states, so we have that big strong connection there, we have American management, we’ve always felt like we would fit in really well with a lot of the artists over there. Blackbear, he messages us and says he loves the tunes…
J: … The Band Camino, All Time Low… a lot of producers over there we’re good friends with, so it’s nice to start finally getting over there…
H: … I think it’s a natural progression for Hot Milk to start taking on America, that is where our music will really find itself and find its footing.
Absolutely, I mean one of the acts on at Bottleneck is The Black Crowes, they must be an inspiration to some extent?
H: For sure.
Well guys I wanted to ask, at No Party No Disco we’ve got Music History 101, where we’ll write about an interesting part of music history that we might be into, maybe a band, maybe a moment with a band we love, maybe something behind a famous album, and we were wondering what moment you guys would write about; what important part of music history really interests you guys?
H: Lets see… see, I really love… I’m reading so many biographies at the moment, I'm currently on Nikki Sixx’s Heroin Diaries, so I just think that era of the 80’s is the reason why rock music is still so important and iconic today, it really pushed so many things forward, so I think for me, the whole Wembley show around Queen, and what that actually did for that band, because when you think about Freddie and when you think about Queen, you think about that show. I think for HIV awareness as well, and what it really did for lots of different varieties of people, not just rock fans, the gay scene as well, and how he was such a figure of strength for so many different people. I think for me, he’s the only dead person I’d really, really like to talk to, because I think he would understand a lot of things that I’ve gone through in recent years, especially with my sexuality and the shame that comes with that, especially when you’ve got parents that don’t necessarily accept it. I think for me, that moment of Queen playing that Live Aid show would be a really important moment to focus on, because of what it did outside of the music realm.
J: To parallel, and a little bit closer to home, I went to The Science and Industry Museum of Manchester not too long ago, and went round The Haçienda, the history of The Haçienda and the musical influence that it had on this city and the growth…
H: … Factory Records and Tony Wilson…
J: … 100% yeah, so that for me is a really important time, I don’t think necessarily that Manchester would have the same strong roots and definition of what music is; if you ask anyone "What is Manchester in the music scene to you"… I think that was maybe the seedling, sprouting into this multi genre, creative city, not just the music scene, it started something else that just expanded into this beautiful creative city.
H: Music and Manchester, it’s not just indie music, it’s house music, it’s drum and bass, and now with The Warehouse Project legacy… this city, it breeds a different type of person in my opinion… we’re party people man, this is a party city…
J: … It’s the new industrial export, isn’t it… the Northerners are known for it…
You’re also known for the Manchester weather being a huge creative influence!
H: Mate! The state of it right now. [Han tilts camera towards the window]
And the whole Joy Division, Buzzcocks, Van der Graaf Generator…
H: … Oasis…
… There’s so much angst and emotion behind it. I mean I guess I could include Take That in there but I don’t know if they would qualify.
H: Yeah we wrote a lot of songs in the same building that Oasis started at, on Whitworth Street, so we walk around this city and we’re surrounded by the history of people that came before, and I think you’re very aware of that, but it’s also such a small, like, town really. I can leave this flat right now and go to the bar I go to, and on the way there see 5 or 6 people that I know, and I have a spot at the bar that is my spot at the bar, you know?
J: I think now with gentrification and the kind of expansion, exponential expansion, of living quarters… it’s really difficult to balance that, the history and the creative places that have got such an interlocking part of this city.
H: Which is why we’ve had conversations with Andy Burnham, the Mayor, a few times about having to really hold tight to the creative spaces that are needed for future bands and future artists to grow, because with the massive investment in Europe.
J: You can see that places like Sound Control… we’ve nearly lost Gorilla, all these venues that have housed hundreds of thousands of artists that are now playing arenas or legacy acts are just disappearing, and people who are moving to this city don’t necessarily know about that history because it's gone.
H: Yeah, and even as close to home as the fact that our practice space where we rehearse has just been approved to be flats, so Hot Milk headquarters is no more as of in a years time, we don’t know where we’re going to go, we don’t know where we’re going to be able to have our gear… so I think it is really important to balance the history and the local people as well you know, we’ve lived here for ten years and over the last few years I’ve noticed a lot more southern accents, not that that’s a bad thing, but I think it’s just really important to make sure that people know what they’re walking into. People don’t even know what Peterloo is?! Do you know what The Peterloo Massacre is? The massive working class uprising that happened in St Peter’s Square in the 1800’s against the bourgeoisie. And Manchester created the weekend! We were the first place that created a day off for people that were working class. This city is so important on so many different levels…
… Suffragette movement...
H: [And Manchester is important] especially to me, because I come from an old milling family, you know?
J: … Yeah Suffragettes, absolutely.
H: Exactly. Andy Burnham has created a music panel of people, including Jade Taylor who’s like a local Manchester legend in the music scene, to help preserve that sentiment. Hopefully it goes far enough, I'm just very concerned because I love this city and I love the history.
J: It’s the reason that people move here so, in ten years time we don’t want to have the reason that people move here is because they move here, do you know what I mean; there’s nothing left.
H: … Sorry for going on a rant about that by the way!
No, that’s a better answer than I ever thought I could have gotten out of that question, thank you so much for that answer! I mean at least we have you guys as the voices of that, obviously this is a great platform to be able to talk about it.
H: Yeah, when we say we’re from Manchester, we f*cking mean it, and we mean every ounce of what we say about this city, you know? It’s not like we’re saying "Ooh, we’re from Manchester’, we are here, right now, in the centre of it. You know what I mean?
Absolutely. Well that brings me nicely into my last question for you guys: when we’re talking about Hot Milk, and the world is talking about Hot Milk, what are the 3 things you want the world to know, the world to think about.
J: Yeah. The balance of chaos and tranquility.
H: Expression. And just a f*cking party man…
J: … Love.
H: Love and party… chaos, love, party!
J: Seems like a very broad and generic answer, but it really is the ethos to our music and what we stand for and what we want to be a part of…
H: … Aggression but in a nice way.
Sounds like an album title.
H: Aggression in a nice way!