Indie Pop Band Milk Want You to Know ‘Pop Is Not a Dirty Word’ (INTERVIEW)
Pour yourself a glass of milk and spike it with a shot of whiskey: there’s a new pop band in town. Dublin, to be exact. We’re sitting inside iconic Dublin venue Whelan’s with the faces of Hozier and Grimes plastered all over the walls. “Pretty much everyone played here at some point,” Milk’s frontman Mark McKenna says, giving us a tour.
In his slick black suit, white shirt, bulky ring and anchor tattoo on his right arm, 23-year-old musician-turned-actor-turned-musician-again McKenna looks exactly like you expect an Irish indie rocker to look like: a stylish, brooding heartbreaker-in-the-making. It’s also a far cry from the movie roles that turned the Dublin native into one-to-watch on the young Hollywood scene. Gone are his ‘70s glasses from Sing Street, bloodied army uniform from Overlord and worn-out hoodie he wore over the course of critically-acclaimed YouTube Premium series Wayne — which is still to be renewed for a second season (fingers crossed) but will surely end up on more than one list of the best shows of 2019 come December.
McKenna’s Wayne was probably the biggest Conan the Barbarian fan in the history of television, but Conan won’t be making any appearances in Milk’s lyrics. “I won’t be crossing careers any time soon. Maybe I should just come up with a new stage name, so you can’t even figure it’s me.” Yet McKenna agrees that his growing fame does help to bring the band more recognition: “It’s good to not be one of these bands that have to start from absolutely nothing.”
And it’s not just McKenna’s movie career that helps. Despite the band taking baby steps (the night we talk marks their third show), the members (they call each other “sweet boys”) are hardly a bunch of inexperienced amateurs. They’ve each played in other bands before. Milk started with McKenna and guitarist Conor Gorman bouncing song ideas back and forth and eventually recruiting drummer Morgan Wilson for a session. “Eventually we asked King [bassist Conor King] and he said yes. It’s a bit like asking someone to be your girlfriend,” McKenna offers. “King is playing for almost every band in Dublin, he’s like a spy."
Milk’s Instagram page introduces the guys as a “four piece pop band from Dublin, Ireland.” “Pop can mean so many things,” King comments. “If you look at the pop charts, Drake is on top, so is ‘Old Town Road.’ Pop isn’t a dirty word anymore.”
“When you first get into music, it’s uncool to love pop but then you realize it is cool,” McKenna agrees. “The word pop almost became void of meaning at this point.”
“We’re definitely an indie pop band,” McKenna stresses. “We’re doing everything very independently at the moment: no labels, no managers. We have no one taking money from us.” But signing with a record deal isn’t completely out of the picture: “It will depend on the kind of deal we’re offered really. We don’t want some label taking something that we’ve created. As long as we have full control and we’re not getting like 2% of the money that we should be making, we’re cool.”
“A lot of the DIY musicians are much more aware of the industry now,” King adds.
Based on the band’s first single, “Drama Queen,” it’s easy to hail Milk as “the next The 1975.” “I feel like nowadays if you’re a four piece band with a guitar everyone is going to be like. ‘They’re exactly like The 1975,’” McKenna shares, laughing. “It’s one of these things where there’s a million other bands that sound like that but they’re not as popular. Our music is heavily influenced by pop and R&B. Down the line, we’re definitely going to test out genres and sounds but our music will appeal to [the] masses. We’re setting up the groundwork at the moment. Whenever our debut album comes out, it will say, ‘This is us,’ and then we’ll move on. That’s the plan.”
McKenna’s Instagram bio states that he is “the male Britney Spears." “I am,” he nods with a smile, saying that he’s up for covering “Toxic” at some point. “We will get violins on stage to play this one.” But don’t expect McKenna to go all Britney and play various characters in Milk’s forthcoming music videos. “Don’t expect scenes of dialogue or story-lines from us. I want it to be arty, not just us playing the song.”
“Mark’s knowledge of how cameras work is very helpful,” King comments. “We haven’t filmed anything yet, but I’m sure it will come handy.”
Even though their song “American Girls” is about “how celebrity culture is the religion of 21st century," McKenna hasn’t embraced the wild Hollywood lifestyle yet. “I hate nightclubs. If the party’s at the house of someone I know, then it’s perfect. But if I have to go to some random place with loud music, I would not be going at all,” he shares. Of course, this means asking this lot about the most rock 'n' roll thing they’ve done doesn’t make much sense—but how about the least rock 'n' roll thing then? “I did my washing today,” King boasts, “And changed my sheets, too.”
“But it was quite rock 'n' roll when I made Sting cry once,” McKenna suddenly recalls. “We were at Sundance premiering Sing Street and me and Ferdia [Walsh-Peelo] played a song after and someone said, 'Sting watched you play the song and cried.'" Speaking of crying (and since “Drama Queen” somewhat references Lesley Gore’s “It’s My Party”), when was the last time they cried at their parties? While McKenna says he can’t remember the last time he cried at all, King has a perfect answer: “It was my birthday two days ago, I cried there.”
The band’s EP is expected to drop before the end of the year, and the second single is coming “sometime in June.” If it's like anything from Milk’s Dublin set, then we’re certainly in for some hook-heavy indie pop bangers.