Artist Spotlight: MILLY

    MILLY is a Los Angeles four-piece that began as the solo outlet of singer-songwriter Brendan Dyer, who grew up in a rural Connecticut town. The band’s name came straight from Dyer’s notes app, where he jots down many of his lyrical ideas. Ever since their 2022 debut Eternal Ring, MILLY’s approach has been to channel chaos through rock music that’s equal parts fuzzy and punchy, and their sophomore album, Your Own Becoming, is their tightest and most dynamic effort yet. After demoing songs for a few months, Dyer, bassist Yarden Erez, drummer Connor Frankel, and producer Sonny DiPerri (NIN, Narrow Head, My Bloody Valentine) decamped to East West Studios and Dangerbird’s Recording Studio in Los Angeles, where they recorded the album in July and August of 2023. (Guitarist Nico Moreta joined the band after recording.) The songs are a thrilling combination of towering, infectious, and emotional, even when the emotion in them is filtered through a dreamlike, fantastical lens. “I know you’re hanging on/ I know you’re changing/ When it’s all too much,” Dyer sings on ‘Bittersweet Mary’, tapping into all the ways a record can be a lifeline.

    We caught up with MILLY’s Brendan Dyer for the latest edition of our Artist Spotlight series to talk about his musical upbringing, the making of Your Own Becoming, his relationship to LA, and more.

    ‘Running the Madness’, which just came out, is one of the songs where the sense of anxiety that runs through the album is most palpable. Do you need to be in that nervous headspace when you’re writing that kind of song, or are you already out of it by that point?

    With this one, it did lend itself to being in that sort of headspace. I try to look at each song like an assignment, or at least I definitely did with this record. Even if I wasn’t feeling that way, I could sort of turn it on to channel something, especially when writing the lyrics to a song like that. Obviously, if you heard an instrumental version of that song without the lyrics, your takeaway would still be that it has this nervous energy. The way we were writing a lot of these songs, the instrumental was done separately as a group. I would take a voice memo from practice, throw it on the computer into Garageband, make it sound kinda pretty, beef it up, and then set up a microphone in my room and start writing thoughts and feelings the music would evoke. From there, I’d start to craft it into a little bit of a story. I would walk to work every morning, and I have this one note on my phone that’s so long – it would have all these phrases, thoughts, observations, etc. It was kind of my master copy to pull from. I’d go to write lyrics to a song, and that would be my starting point. I’d flick through it, find a line – I honestly think the first line of the song was in there. You try a couple of things, land on something, and then go from there.

    In what way did taking these walks help your writing process?

    Moving your body sometimes is enough to pick you up and start feeling things. I care so much about this project, and lyrics are everything to me, so they have to hit. Sometimes, if I’m in my room where I work on the vocals, if I’m just sitting in a chair with a pen and paper and have my mic ready to go, that alone can feel so daunting. Sometimes it would be just be matter of: I have a nice neighbourhood, I gotta just walk around and allow myself to push through that feeling. Just the act of that alone was helpful in letting it flow as you are walking.

    I’m curious if writing more collaboratively with Your Own Becoming came from a similar place of wanting to take off some of the pressure of writing alone.

    It was nicer this time to focus on being a guitar player and not having to worry about what other parts were, necessarily. To Yarden, I was like, “You’re in charge of all bass duties.” For background, Yarden would typically play bass on the record, but he’d be playing the same lines I would have written and recorded on the demo. But with this one, everything essentially stemmed from us being in a room together. We made suggestions to each other, but everyone was ultimately responsible for their own playing. It was nice to focus on just being the guitar player, singing these songs, and making that connection between the music and the lyrics to tell a story.

    You said in a press quote that you grew up on slowcore, which is interesting because that kind of music is usually more about withholding anxiety and tension. Can you talk more about the music that was important to you growing up?

    My connection with music really stemmed from music that made me feel something. I would consider myself an emotional person and very feeling-based, so music that evoked something in me – that’s the most important goal to me, as a reflection of the music I grew up on or was influential on MILLY. That quote that you bring up I always thought is kind of funny – it’s a little bit tongue-in-cheek, because obviously, I wasn’t 10 years old listening to Codeine or Red House Painters. [laughs] However, I identify with the idea of growing up on those groups in the sense that when MILLY began, if you want to call that a stage of growing up in terms of being a new project for me – my previous band’s music was different from MILLY, so discovering those groups made me realize I could make a different type of music. The first time I heard Red House Painters’ ‘Katy Song’, it became such a big song for me –  granted, we’re not making long structured songs like that, but it was a moment where I realized this music is so vast and filled with feeling; I could listen to just the instrumental on loop and feel something. Codeine’s Frigid Stars was a big one for me as well. The thing Codeine that I like so much is that it kind of felt like Neil Young but slower and darker, as if Neil Young got into Joy Division or something.

    Where did you find that emotion you craved out of music before getting into these bands?

    It sounds cliché, but in my youth, I had the thing that I feel like every kid has, at least for my gen – you start off with bands like Green Day or My Chemical Romance, bands that made me want to pick up a guitar. I was a little late to finding the Beatles, I didn’t get into them until I was 13, and that was a classic moment where you find the Beatles and it’s like game over – you get completely obsessed with melody. Around the time I was 15 or 16, there was this band called Yuck. When their self-titled album came out in 2011 – I don’t remember how I found it, but that album, to this day, is a perfect 10 out of 10 for me. It pointed in so many directions for me. I watched The Needle Drop on YouTube, his review of that record, I read Pitchfork as a teenager. It sounds so funny now because my music knowledge has obviously grown, but they’d be like, “This band sounds like Elliott Smith, Dinosaur Jr., Hüsker Dü,” just name-drop stuff like that. And I’d be like, “What’s Dinosaur Jr.?” That was big for me in my teenage years because it shot me straight into finding a lot of the bands I still listen to almost every day.

    With Your Own Becoming, it’s clear you wanted to make songs that sounded immediate and explosive. When did you realize that was a crucial goal?

    Something we’d never done before was talk about what kind of record we wanted to make as a group. For this record, we were like, “We’re a band, let’s make a band album.” We would have these conversations, and we’d meet up with Sonny [Diperri], who produced the record, a lot and talk about records that were aligned with our goals. At a certain point, what we were going for all felt like it had a similar energy –  these influences all gave us an immediate emotional response, they all felt cathartic, anthemic, and just big. I think some of it, too, was we weren’t satisfied with Eternal Ring, our debut album. In hindsight, there were so many things about that record that we weren’t happy with, whether it was the recording technique or the amount of time we put into the songwriting. We felt a real need to prove to ourselves that we were better than we were being. Sonny was extremely instrumental in encouraging us that we could be a better band than we had been in the past. Having somebody on call more or less, just getting to talk about these things and set goals really lit fire under us. You’re either met with the pressure of it, falling down and getting nervous, or you have to be, almost like it’s a sport, like, “We have to train to get there, and we want to give it our best effort.”

    At the same time, some of the songs revolve around mystery and the otherworldly, which relates to the storytelling aspect you mentioned. Did those feel like conflicting qualities in any way?

    Not necessarily. When you’re working on a record like that – and granted, we took about six months just to write it before recording it – you’re so in that world. It’s not a lack of self-awareness, but you’re so locked in, you don’t really second-guess yourself all that much. In hindsight, it does feel like there is a world where those two things can coexist and it does make sense. It can be anthemic but also have that side that feels mysterious or dreamlike.

    I’m thinking of ‘Bittersweet Mary’, where there’s a scream that’s drenched into the noise instead of towering over it, which might have been the more straightforwardly anthemic decision. It also felt like a callback to ‘Pass the Glow’ and that “Never want to hear you scream” line.

    Oh, that’s so cool. That scream – we finished tracking the record months before we added that in. It’s a pretty simple answer, but after we tracked the album while it was being mixed, we did a full US tour and started to play ‘Bittersweet Mary’ live. At a certain point, Yarden started to do a scream there, and we were like, “That is so sick.” By the time we got off that tour, we hit Sonny up, and we were almost done with mixing the whole record, but we told him, “We need to add this scream there, what do you think?” He was like, “Yeah, let’s do it.” We recorded it remotely and sent it to him, and he threw it in there. The way he mixed it is so interesting because it’s not upfront like you would usually hear a scream. It’s kind of weird, but I like it. It’s buried but not buried.

    Another one that stood out to me is ‘Los Angeles Filter’, because the lyrics are more directly about your current environment. What can you tell me about the subject matter of that song?

    It’s interesting you pick up on that because we were considering not putting it on the record at first. When we tracked the whole thing, that song was pretty tricky to play with that drum part. He starts the song with one of those maracas that you can hit drums with, and then he drops it and switches to sticks. Our timing was always kind of weird on it, so we were uncertain about it. But when we were getting rough mixes, we heard it and were like, “Wait, this song rocks, we gotta put it on the record.” We were happy we ended up doing it, because it’s definitely one of my favorites. The title, I think I pulled from that master list I was telling you about where I had a bunch of things written down. There’s two meanings to it. This one’s funny, but if you go on Instagram, if you’re on Stories and swiping filters, there’s literally a filter called Los Angeles. But truly, relative to the lyrics, as someone who’s lived in LA for a little over six years but came from a different background than many of my friends who grew up there, I do feel like there’s kind of a filter to it.

    When you live or spend enough time somewhere, you become your environment; I was imagining a sort of filtration, like a water processing plant, where you’re succumbing to your environment. At this point, LA is home for me. I feel like I have a great support system and group of friends there, my job’s cool and stuff. But I do feel like as someone who’s not from there, at the end of the day, you tend to feel like an outlier in some ways. There are also things relative to social life, like nightlife, and materialistic things that I don’t identify with, just coming from a different background. Some of it is a little bit of social commentary on that.

    You’ve talked about feeling like an outsider where you grew up and that driving you to move to LA, but it’s interesting how that feeling doesn’t necessarily go away.

    It’s funny because I moved there from a very suburban background and had a stereotypical high school experience where I had one friend who liked the same music as me, and everyone else was concerned with, like, football – shit I didn’t give a fuck about. Obviously, you move to LA to feel part of a scene, but ultimately, the longer you’re somewhere like that, you don’t forget your background. There’s a part of that small-town person in you, thinking, I’m from a small town. I didn’t go to high school in LA. All my friends there have known each other for over 10 years or even longer. Not in a self-pity way, but it’s easier to feel like an outsider in that regard. There’s one line in that song, not to keep dissecting it specifically, but “Don’t wish the world away” – that was a shout-out to this song ‘Wish the World Away’ by American Music Club, a San Francisco band. It’s an amazing song. If you listen to it, the spirit of that song aligns with the mission statement of the whole album. It’s so anthemic and kind of feels like a “fuck you,” but in a playful way.

    Another thing that’s spiritually at the core of the record is this idea of time running out. I like the phrase that opens the final track, ‘Nothing to Learn’, “life’s take” – this overarching lens that puts everything into context.

    “Life’s take,” and everything that follows after that was, in a big picture way, kind of life’s view on how I’m doing in my life – the grander scheme of watching how we are operating as a people on this planet, if we’re doing a good job or not. By the time we finished that, we were like, “This is definitely the album closer.” Even down to how the song ends – it was always played that way, with just vocal and guitar and feedback at the end. And it came in an interesting way. About halfway through the song, there’s a drum break, just snare, and then we come in and it’s “I’ve got nothing to learn from” all the way to the end of the song. That chunk of the song was its own jam that we would play. I was driving home from practice with the voice memo of just that end of the song, and I was just playing it in the car on loop, trying to think of what to do over it. Out of nowhere, I got that line and voice memoed it into my phone.

    I thought that phrase was so funny because it just sounds so hopeless and kinda ignorant – if anything, the whole time I was working on the record, I was learning so much and trying to have that mindset of, “There’s so much to learn from.” So it’s funny to have the last song be this sort of send-off of kinda feeling defeated, almost. It was definitely loosely inspired by Isaac Brock from Modest Mouse; I just felt like that was such a line that he’d say. And the chorus is relative to the concept of time and whether I’m properly abiding by it, using my time wisely, and that ties in with the beginning of the song, the “life’s take.” It’s like, “Is life’s view on me what I want it to be?”

    As I was listening to ‘Running the Madness’, the word “unsung” stuck out to me because obviously it has a specific definition, but it almost has a deeper resonance in a musical context. Do you think about what it means to be unsung as a bandleader?

    That line’s kind of an ode to all of my favorite artists that never got their time of day until after they passed. You ultimately just make art or music because there’s something inside of you that’s driving you to do it. You come from such a pure place, and a lot of people will do that, and they’ll make such profound stuff, but they’ll never truly understand the impact that they’ve had on people around them. Their time is up, and suddenly, they never got to witness that. Mark Linkous of Sparklehorse comes to mind for me. Big Star is clearly one, with Chris Bell dying so tragically young and not getting to see how that all panned out for alternative music. It’s kind of a double entendre, though, because the lines right there say, “To be unsung, to become undone,” and those are little Easter eggs to songs that inspire us as a band: the band Helmet has a song called ‘Unsung’, and Failure has a song called ‘Undone’. So it’s a nod to our influences, too.

    This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.

    MILLY’s Your Own Becoming is out now via Dangerbird Records.

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