Melkbelly’s Populist Post-Rock

Photos by Michael Salisbury

Photos by Michael Salisbury

Noise rock. Art Punk. Post rock. Whatever you want to call it, the sound is not an island to itself, but a peninsula connected to other genres by a thin land bridge. Melkbelly plants their flag slightly over the border from Fuzz Rock, looking out at their friendly neighbors. It’s often difficult for a band to find the support of these varying fan-bases, but Melkbelly’s archipelago is enjoyed by headbangers and arms-folded nodders, alike.  

After nearly a year of touring the states, then Europe, Melkbelly is feeling the change. Begrudgingly, they admit to success. Still outwardly anti-commercialist, I did catch them using words like “investment” to describe their recent string of tour dates. They’re finding a thin line to walk in that respect, their sparse show schedule for Summer 2018 so glittery it would have made a DIY guy flinch. They played Pitchfork’s Friday, and the following Saturday closed Subterannean for a p4k aftershow. From there, they became one of the most eclectic and anti-commercial openers to ever open for the Foo-Fighters - .one of Melkbelly’s highest profile gigs to date, a balmy evening in late July. Jokingly, Bart Winters (guitar) said “We should just have a meltdown onstage, just some unforgivable moment, and have that be the last Melkbelly show.” Wrigley Field received what feels like its first touch of experimental rock, at least that which doesn’t often conjure images of dancing technicolor bears. Melkbelly represents a different set. The non-deliberate. The accidental normcore. The cute dress in the mosh pit.

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They find time to tour between their (mostly) odd jobs. One Christmas season, Liam delivered pines and spruces, and Bart completes tasks for people he finds on the internet from time to time.  Miranda has a work history of pouring drip and pulling espresso shots, and a future in teaching guitar at Girls Rock Chicago. “Always in the mood for a job interview,” she joked, later uttering “gotta feed the dog,” Bart and Liam echoing the sentiment. It was a throwaway statement for her, but to me it spoke volumes about the type of people they are. They care about and are responsible for the choices they make, as a group. Their movements are deliberate and calculated, yet seemingly serendipitous. Exhibit A, their tour with The Breeders. With all the comparison to their elder stateswomen, it was both seemingly impossible and yet inevitable that Melkbelly would form a relationship with them.

The very first glimpse the mainstream world had of Melkbelly was on a compilation called Blooming, released by Fleeting Youth Records in 2014. Their single “Newed Snow” showed an overabundance of skill as well as potential. That same year, Melkbelly debuted their EP Pennsylvania, a triumphant and disgustingly well-written album, both crude and enlightening. Guitar chords ripped from a desert storm that led into choruses of angelic harmonies. An organized cacophony of sound, singular clarity still coming through from each echo pocket. Each member showcasing major prowess.A couple moments in their early recordings sounded like homages, footnotes for followers on the path to rock n roll righteousness. A riff reminiscent of Queens of the Stone Age. A drumroll smelling of Bill Stevenson. Using touchstones such as these, Melkbelly was able to show their audiences simultaneously where they were at the moment of recording, as well as where they had been.

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Bart and Liam spoke in hushed tones about a friend sourcing music for a certain Adult Swim show that may or may not pick one of their songs. Though they don’t want to admit it, fame is on their tail, and it looks hungry. As much as the quartet might try to convince themselves they’re still just some regular folks, having people in different countries that know your music and come out to a show to see you is no small feat, especially for a band that’s been official for less than 5 years. In awe of the accommodations on the latest tour, their eyes widened as they described the swanky hotels and comped meals, home stays with promoters or local audiophiles. They took in new experiences, both good and bad. “We were in France for five days and I kept buying cheese,” Liam recalls. “The band made me throw away my cheese collection.” “We stopped A LOT,” smiles Bart. “[our driver] was all about stopping every hour and a half. The gas stations on the toll roads were amazing, we’d get fresh bread and great cheese.” Later, he got down to brass tacks. “France was great. I don’t think we made money, I mean-- we didn’t make money” he gestured to his compatriots. “But it was worth it.” He hunkers down. “I mean, that is a way to make money, touring. You might play a good show and only sell a couple records after because people already have it… It’s kinda hard to gauge.

Bart seems like the numbers guy. He didn’t care to shy away from talking about the more nerdy and technical aspects of touring.

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Smack dab in the middle of June, Miranda blessed the public with something we didn’t know we wanted - a debut solo undertaking. The opus,  Xobeci, What Grows Here?,  captures attention with poppy rhythms and playful vocal melodies that are often echoed by at least one of the guitars. Some of them are songs you could imagine played around a campfire, others more brooding and somber, like “A Laundry List of Rabbits.” Evoking a real Dead Milkmen feel, “Mickey’s Dead Stuff” is taylor-made for a love scene in a movie that hasn’t been made yet.. All I can hear is Miranda Winters singing in my ear, going over the aspects of life left behind when one discovers a new interest.

Xobeci, What Grows Here? was written as an ode to Miranda’s mother, her halftone image gracing the cover, and its title taken from what Miranda’s describes as “one of my mom’s -isms.” “It’s icebox backwards… she used to say that when she was looking for leftovers.” The title is all the more apropos, as it seems that at least a few tracks from the album have been a few years in the making, and may have been refried. The instrumentation on the album, however, is all Miranda.

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An international tour down, a tasty full-length laced to the top, a solo album notched, and yet the group still feels earth under their feet. Rather than racing toward an imagined goal or swimming through a pool of money like Scrooge McDuck, they're taking their time. They're keeping their old friends in mind and raising an eyebrow at rumors of their upward flight. Melkbelly seems like they’re so tightly-knit, winking and nudging each other as punctuation to certain comments, grinning wryly and cracking inside jokes.

It's been 5 years since Melkbelly met up in the first place. They've since played countless stages of varying sizes, but still prefer to rock their own cradle; “there's a place where the ceiling is so low that there are holes for the taller people to stand in,” said Miranda with a gleeful grin. The rest of the group agree, that they'd rather be bumping their heads against a drop ceiling than a label's  sounding board. As much fun as those gigs are, one has to wonder if they're in Melkbelly 's rearview. Their status has risen so much that if they wanted to do a show as such now, they might have to perform under a different moniker, like their recent bill mates the Foo Fighters. If the sentiment in their interview is to be believed, there will never not be a Melkbelly show on a side street in someone's garage, continuing to strain against the yoke that pushes them in the direction of stardom.