All photos of Milemarker at the Rock N Roll Hotel (August 26, 2016) courtesy of Christopher Grady.
My friend Brian sent me an email asking if I knew any journalists out in L.A. that would want to cover Milemarker’s upcoming tour. My response was something like, “Not really, but how about me?” I loved reviewing everything off his Lovitt Records label when I edited GR mag and would gladly cover the band’s triumphant return for my humble blog. And, oh yeah, Milemarker’s provocative blend of post-hardcore electronic music with pitch-black lyrics is rad.
Thanks to Dave Laney for answering my often uninformed and sometimes ridiculous questions with gusto and go see Milemarker as they work their way from Texas through California and back to Chicago. Right now. They’re based in Germany nowadays, so don’t blow it!
Here’s a Devo-related question… Your sound was kind of futuristic a decade ago. Is it vintage now?
I’m not sure how futuristic our sound ever has been. We’ve often sided on the more dystopian angle lyrically, and perhaps synths + dystopian lyrical content gives the impression of a futuristic sound, but most of the keyboards and synthesizers we began using were essentially bottom of the barrel Casio garbage that friends gave us or we found lying around, unused in someone’s garage collecting dust. At that point, they were already “vintage” so to speak, but not in a presumably “desired” type of way. It wasn’t intentional, rather more out of necessity as we didn’t have any money, and also because we tended to break them quite often on stage. We’ve always been more of a working-with-what-we-have band.
But to speak to the “vintage” question, I hope it’s not! I’ve always felt that our albums were quite different from each other, or at least that’s part of what we’ve always tried to achieve as a band.
How did you guys wind up in Germany? Playing songs again?
Al and I moved to Germany at roughly the same time, a little over seven years ago, but for different reasons. Al’s mother is German and he has dual citizenship, so he decided to try out a new place and has been working over there on his writing, comics, and art stuff. I had been spending a lot of time in Hamburg and married a German woman and moved there for that reason, focusing on and touring with another band I also play in which is currently based there. Al also had his hand in my other band from time to time, with recording and filling in on some tours. After a few years it seemed like we should be doing our own thing together again, so we asked a few friends if they’d be interested in playing together. It came together very naturally and smoothly, so we let it roll. The lineup has been the same for the last few years with Ezra Cale and Lena Kilkka.
Did the songs and song writing come right back? Was there some rust or was the muscle memory and chemistry there right from the start?
Well, we never stopped playing music together, nor did we have a time when we weren’t active with other touring bands, so the process of playing music is something that we’ve been doing for quite a long time. While writing the new album, it was fun to feel the influence of Ezra and Lena, who both approach music a bit differently than other people we’ve played with in the past. So in that sense, it’s always interesting to play music with new people and figure out what their strengths are and develop songs using those strengths of everyone.
That said, it was informative to learn some of the old songs again. We’re obvious in different places than we were in, say, 1997 – physically, emotionally, and interest-wise. I think Al and I both agree on the idea that some of the lyrical content would be written differently if we were to write the same songs today. But that’s an unavoidable consequence to learning songs that were written up to 20 years prior. I think we both realized that we were really angry then. And while we’re both still naturally angry with many things, we’ve been trying to focus more on the positive side of things in more recent years. That doesn’t necessarily mean mellowing out, but I’m implying a slightly different approach to life and dealing with negative situations.
“Conditional Love” is a rad song but also a really cool looking 7″ single. Can you tell me about the design?
We wanted to keep it minimalistic.
Has being in Germany had an effect on your music or lyrics? Lou Reed and David Bowie in Berlin, Kraftwerk being Kraftwerk, Clash in Hamburg. Is it as rockin’ as it seems from the outside? Does anyone call you Kilometer Marker?
Sure. I think any place people live has an effect on their music, and Germany is no different for us, not only in terms of just Al and I living there for a long time and the societal and political differences, but also from the influences of and musical interaction with Lena and Ezra.
Germany has a long history with good music and there are plenty of good bands there. No one has ever called us Kilometer Marker until just now.
Have you been playing shows in Germany? Is it still a blast being back on stage after so many bands, so many years?
We have been playing quite a bit around the EU. Being back on stage with Milemarker is a blast. Everything came together naturally and easily and we’re all having a great time doing it. If it wasn’t like that, we simply wouldn’t be doing the band. No reason to spend 3+ weeks at a time on the road if you’re not having fun doing what you’re doing.
Any cool bands, scenes, zines, or cryptoids in Germany we need to know about?
“Need to know about” could be strong phrasing (depending on one’s individual reliance on new things), but there are loads of things happening over there. It is a country of 80 million people with a rich history of interesting things in terms of music and art.
It’s too complicated to fully get into for a little Q&A, but what’s it like coming back to the U.S. right now? I think it used to be an adventure going to Europe from the U.S but now it might be the other way around!
Personally, I’m having a great time touring the U.S. I’ve been touring primarily in Europe for the last 9 years, so what used to be the “unknown” has become normal. You know the bad cities, the good cities, and probably how to get around a lot of them, at least in terms of finding that good coffee shop of the music store. So it’s more or less reversed roles with the relationship I used to have with the U.S.
On the other hand, there is a very in-your-face type of reverse culture shock coming back to the U.S. I’ve been in Europe so long that I’ve literally forgotten how to do some things in the U.S., and technology has progressed here at a dramatic rate compared to that which Germany has embraced. For instance, we “need” a credit card reader at the merch table now. That’s a new concept for us. I mean, we’ve heard about them but I’ve never seen anyone use one in Europe, and it seems that everyone here has one, regardless of their age or what they sell. Just taking a guess here, but I imagine vendors at flea markets here have them and the patrons at flea markets have some sort of fleamarket.xxx type of app where they can find out the median price for a rusty candle stick made out of antler and iron.
On another note, I’m always amazed by how much trash we generate during a tour in the U.S., compared to the same length tour in Europe. That’s always a shocker to come back to. You wouldn’t necessarily think that 7-8 years of living outside the U.S. would be long enough to evaporate the rhythm of being here, but it is amazing how quickly one becomes acquainted to different standards. I saw a woman yesterday in a truck stop filling up a 1-gallon plastic cup with cola and immediately had the urge to take a photo of her as if she were a woolly mammoth in a zoo (I refrained). That’s the type of thing that seems “exotic” to me about coming back to the U.S., though it’s clearly something familiar to it all. Like finding a photo buried deep in a box I haven’t looked into for years.
But the obvious other element involved in your question is the current political situation. In that sense, it is a curious time to be touring here. Lots being said about that at the moment from every imaginable angle. In attempt to keep my bit on it short, I find it sad that there is currently such a tremendous divide between people, but I also find it encouraging and heartening to see the political push back that is happening. That gives me hope. Brian Eno wrote an excellent article on the current political situation roughly asserting that this was not the beginning of the end, but the end of the ending and thus the beginning of a new era. Everyone is disenfranchised and soon there will be a time that we all figure out how to work together for the good of everyone. Let’s hope the optimistic vision weighs out here and we can wrap up this ending.
Besides seeing Brian in D.C., what do you look forward to most about the U.S. tour? Foods, dudes, gear, classic rock while driving on freeways instead of autobahns?
Unfortunately we’re going to miss Brian as we’re not hitting the East Coast this time. But there’s a lot we’re all looking forward to. I love driving through the desert, so I’m excited to be going back there. Part of the idea of the tour was to escape Germany during the winter. It’s dark and grey there with very little fluctuation as to those elements: dark and grey. As such, we decided to go towards the best weather we could find. Texas to CA. Certainly can’t argue with those climates during February. So yea, call it our vitamin D and sunshine tour.
Tuesday, February 14 – San Diego at the Casbah
Wednesday, February 15 – Los Angeles at the Echo
Thursday, February 16 – SF at Bottom of the Hill