Interview: Spits Milk
I guess when you don’t have an obvious genre it can be lonely but I like it that way. I say we are punk but I don’t think we are your standard punk band or noise or whatever.
Regular readers will have noticed Birmingham noise punks Spits Milk pop up a couple of times here recently as we both previewed their disturbing new video and gave you a chance to hear their splendid second album Hells Lapels a day early too. A team of local scene veterans they specialise in short sharp blasts that tend more towards the absurd than outright nihilism, work in an impressive breadth of influences and still find time for hooks and melodies and all that stuff that makes the album’s half hour rattle past very agreeably indeed.
To be honest, because everyone seemed to be in other bands (Sunshine Frisbee Laserbeam, Opium Lord, Stinky Wizzleteat) I had previously had the vague idea that this one was a bit of a post lockdown side project type of thing. I had a word with vocalist Tom Whitfield about what he thought he was up to.
Tom: The band started just after lockdown. I’ve always been able to write songs in some form but the lyrics were never honest and definitely didn’t match how I actually felt about the world. So, basically I started recording songs and lyrics became easy. Like I accessed a new part of my brain, as small as it may be. I wrote loads of songs on GarageBand and sent them to Bruce and Pete who seemed intrigued. We kinda just thrashed the first record out if I’m honest, we probably only practiced 10 times then just recorded it. I played guitar on the first record with an octave pedal so the sound was different. The album was mainly a way to get the songs out there so at least people might know our name.
E&D: I was a bit surprised by that record even existing, or already existing, when I first heard of you. This new one feels stronger and more focused. How do you feel the band has developed, and were there particular things you wanted to do or change this time around?
Tom: With Hells Lapels we spent more time and actually wrote as a band. Also we got Neil on bass. I still did demos but once the boys got hold of the songs they made them so much better. Lyrically, I guess I developed as I didn’t have to think about playing the guitar which, to be fair, I’m pretty shite at. I think mainly with this album we had played together more and we just naturally developed. I guess it’s different writing an album as a band as you can gauge what it needs more or less of. Recording took a while though, as I fucked my voice, I think you can actually hear my voice is a bit more grainy on the record at times.
E&D: What’s the meaning of ‘Hell’s Lapels’?
Tom: Fuck knows really. Well, the whole record is about my relationship with life and death and then I guess my observations of how I and other people play out their life. A lot of it is based on experiences and then sometimes I ham it up I guess.
E&D: Filled with candy coloured suburban environments melting and queasily distorting the video for ‘Disgrace’ has an unmistakeable AI vs Barbenheimer energy about it. What was the goal with it?
Tom: Ha! I love that. I make the videos also, so with ‘Disgrace’ as its probably one of the more poppy songs, I wanted it to look aesthetically vomit worthy. Some bits made us look really pretty so I cut those out and basically kept all the bits where we looked odd. That song is about old party people getting wrecked so it kind of works.
E&D: Hard relate. The album’s first song is called ‘Maybe We Can Be Friends’ and again in ‘Supersonic Kids’ the chorus is “Lets be friends, put the music aside” are you a lonely band?
Tom: Sometimes! ‘Maybe We Can Be Friends’ is an inner dialogue I had whilst looking in the mirror. It’s basically about learning to accept yourself and reinventing yourself whereas ‘Supersonic Kids’ is a commentary on niche social scenes in general. I guess when you don’t have an obvious genre it can be lonely but I like it that way. I say we are punk but I don’t think we are your standard punk band or noise or whatever.
E&D: That song is a good example of the kind of genre bendiness in your band, there’s a real width to the sound, it starts like an amped up post-punk tune but later there’s a crushing doom metal section before it flips back. I guess that comes from the variety of the other bands you guys play in but you seem able to do that stuff without unbalancing the songs. Does it just come out that way or do you have to work at it ?
Tom: Yeah, so that was the first song we wrote from Hells Lapels, so it was a sort of showcase of what we wanted to be. The doom part came from the other guys and it’s probably the best bit. It takes a bit of a while sometimes in the practice room to get all the parts to fit. I normally just watch and have a beer. Liam Gallagher style.
E&D: I know at least some of you have played at Supersonic Events, is it even anything to do with the festival?
Tom: The festival’s decent really, especially back in the days of Oxbow and Shellac.
E&D: I love the little taped interludes, particularly the one that kicks off ‘Solihull’ wonderfully looping the very Brummie “sorry Bab” in an echo of Ozzy’s cough off of ‘Sweet Leaf’, but do these mean one of you is constantly taping everyone, and who was the recipient of the accent based scorn? Mostly though, why write a song about Solihull?
Tom: I can’t really say where the sample comes from but me and Pete are from Solihull. We went to college together and played music together ever since. There is always that love/hate thing of the place where you were born. ‘Solihull’ is Pete’s song essentially, although I added to it. I loved the idea of writing a song about a place like Solihull. I think in terms of songs though there is nothing that is out of bounds really lyric wise. The next album I want to be exclusively about paying tax.
E&D: It seems a fair trek from ‘Solihull’ up to ‘God Is In The Mountains’, which is less absurdist and a little more epic than the other songs. Or is “there’s something in this water that changes us” another microdosing lyric like the one in ‘Freshly Squeezed’?
Tom: ‘God Is In The Mountains’ is my battle with religion and again death essentially. The water is holy water although some microdosing could be involved. Depends what kind of day you’ve got ahead of you.
E&D: How are you feeling about Ozzy the bull moving into New Street Station, do you think he’s going to become a summer destination for Birmingham’s tripping youth? I think you could spend a good while staring at that thing.
Tom: I didn’t even know about that. I think most likely it’ll be a destination for selfies and a meeting point for tinder dates.
E&D: What do you hope people are getting out of your music, either this new record or live?
Tom: I guess it’s a bit of an escape. Some fun and hopefully people can relate in some way. Live I just want people to freak out! Although I probably wouldn’t.
I don’t really like big crowds.
Spits Milk play Die Das Der’s Yr Welcome festival August 18-20th at the Dark Horse in Birmingham