Fresh off a recent run of East Coast tour dates, Matt Brady is in something of a candid mood.
“Some days you wake up and things don’t feel right,” the Milk frontman admits. His anxiety is understandable, especially in a world that seems to be reaching for new heights of batshit insanity by the hour. But Brady’s stresses are smaller, driven more by the stillness and banality of everyday life than headline-grabbing fare on the internet and 24-hour news networks. “Obviously the state of things in the world right now is pretty fucked,” he says, “but sometimes just being in the same place for too long can make you second guess what you’re doing. Just seeing people hanging out on the corner, walking by the same storefronts, it can get you down sometimes.”
Fortunately Brady, accompanied by pianist Sam Taber, bassist Brian Engles, and drummer Harold Lucas Weatherby, has a solid musical vehicle through which to air out his frustrations. Horestown Threshold, Milk’s second-full length effort, finds the band taking greater command of the many sounds in its eclectic sonic palette. The blues-tinged stoner jams are bigger, the throwback country sounds are more steeped in tradition, and more often than not the two collide headfirst into one another without much warning. This is all to say that Brady has turned his anxieties into inspiration, making for one of the year’s most interesting local rock records.
“For me, it’s like going to a shrink,” the singer and guitarist says of songwriting. “I was talking to some kid on tour who asked me what “Lord, Don’t Take Me To Prison” means. If I wanted to talk about it, I probably would. But I can’t, so I wrote a song about it.”
Brady has gotten pretty adept at letting his music do the talking, and many of the tunes on Horsetown Threshold spin a dark tale. “I killed her,” he sings on the Neil Young-inspired “Fishin'”, a grizzled tale of a relationship doomed to end in tragedy. “That’s all there is to know.” Other tracks such as “In A Truck At The Bottom Of A Lake” paint an equally bleak picture, at least on the surface.
“My ex-girlfriend’s aunt was saying there’s been a thing of people driving their cars into lakes in Maine to commit suicide,” he says. “I wasn’t even thinking about that when I was writing it. My mom was saying the same shit, like ‘Oh, it’s so dark.’ But it’s not. It’s just an image I came up with. I thought ‘What a quiet, calming, peaceful place to be.'”
Some of the songs that make up Horsetown Threshold have been lingering in the Milk set list for a while, but it took retreating to a one-story house in Chatham this past winter to get the new tracks down on record. The quiet solitude of the Cape’s offseason proved to be the perfect setting for Milk’s latest eight-song slate, allowing Brady to let the record take shape in its own time. “In a real studio, you have to think about budgets and money,” he says. “It’s a lot easier for me to lock down what I like and don’t like on my own time and not have to worry about taking a shortcut because I don’t want to spend more money in the studio.”
The end result is a shaggy genre mash up that succeeds not in spite of its eccentricity, but because of it. “Too High To Drive,” the record’s first single, is a case study of the record’s contrasting styles. The song darts all over the map, moving back and forth between the rustic sounds of a finger-picked acoustic guitar and fits of rancorous rage. It’s an odd, jarring combination of opposing styles that nonetheless works, in part because the band doesn’t sound the least bit hung up about it.
Arriving at that sense of musical freedom was a work in progress, says Brady, who co-founded Milk in 2009 while a freshman at Boston University. The band’s early releases caught people’s ear, but it took a while for Milk to settle into its own weird skin. “I think some of the old stuff is pretty overcooked,” he says. “You can record songs in a way that really saps the natural energy out of them. That’s a mistake we’ve made before.”
But Horsetown Threshold sounds anything but over-labored, letting blues, rock, country, folk, and psychedelia simmer and stew together in the same pot. The band’s love of Neil Young and Patsy Cline is evident, but Brady says other less-obvious influences also came into play on the new record, like MF Doom, who he cites as being “the best wordsmith around.” These days, Milk sounds not only unburdened, but inspired by how little the rules of genre actually matter. It’s a lesson the band’s learned from some of their local peers, with Brady citing Pile‘s Rick Maguire as a particular source of inspiration. “A lot of people tend to follow musical trends,” he says. “But I think the point of what Rick is doing is that it needs to be your own sound. If it’s your own sound, it doesn’t matter if it sounds like anybody else. The comparisons don’t matter. All that matters is that it’s good.”
MILK, BIG MESS, TAXIDERMISTS. FRI 6.2. GREAT SCOTT, 1222 COMM. AVE., ALLSTON. 10PM/21+/$10. GREATSCOTTBOSTON.COM