Nashville-based indie-rock/folk/pop trio Milktooth has only been a band for a few years, but already they’ve toured across the country and placed songs on TV shows. They’ll be in Asheville on Thursday, Sept. 27 for a show at The Lab with local folk/old-time/jazz outfit, Baby Rattlesnakes. 9:30 p.m., $5.
Here, Milktooth singer-songwriter/front man David Condos talks to Xpress about his band’s new project, the importance of romance in music and the secret pipeline funneling indie rockers from Nashville to Asheville.
Mountain Xpress: The way I understand it, Milktooth started touring pretty soon after forming. This seems like a daring approach — are you a fan of trial by fire/learning on the job/etc.? How do you feel this approach shaped the band?
David Condos: Yeah, we’ve tried to place an emphasis on touring for a couple reasons. I believe the “trial by fire” factor that you mentioned has definitely helped make us a better band. The best way for us to put on a better show is to play more shows. And since we can only play so many local shows per year, touring has been a great way for us to try out new songs and tighten up our performance through experience. We also enjoy getting to interact with new fans and bands in other cities. We love Nashville, but the city is saturated with good songwriters and musicians, which can leave many of us a bit jaded and overly critical. So it’s good to get a new perspective.
One area that I’d say this touring approach has influenced us in is our instrumentation for recording. When we are in the studio, we try to remain focused on how our recordings will translate to the live setting. That helps us not get tempted to layer an orchestra’s worth of guitars and strings on each song just because we could.
Watch Milktooth perform “If No One Ever Stops Me”:
MX:Your music seems to attract discriptives like “mesmerizing” and “romantic” — do you think those traits are inherent in you, as a writer and musician? Do you think modern music lacks romance, and do you seek out romantic inspiration?
DC:I don’t know if I’ve thought about it like that. I feel like, ultimately, this is the kind of writing that is the most satisfying for me as an artist. I’m not sure why that is exactly, so I suppose it may stem from inherent traits. I’ve been writing lyrics since I was young, so it has been a slow, gradual process to develop the style of songwriting that I’m doing now, though.
Since you asked, I probably would have to say that most popular modern music lacks genuine romance. In a lot of pop songs, half-baked lyrics get a free pass because the music is catchy. I wouldn’t say that it has been a conscious decision on my part to push against that, but I certainly have strong opinions about lyrics being genuine/meaningful or not. So I try to hold myself to those same standards.
Also, some of my biggest lyrical heroes are Nick Cave and Matt Berninger (of The National), who I would consider to have a sense of romance in their writing. So I’m sure some of that influence seeped in there.
Listen to “The Gate” from Milktooth’s EP, Wild Before Our Eyes due out on Oct. 19:
MX: Tell me what to expect of Wild Before Our Eyes — what was the process like recording it, and is there a theme or a storyline to it?
DC: In general, I’d say that Wild Before Our Eyes is our most accessible release to date, but still continues to develop the sound that we’ve wanted for Milktooth since we started the band.
We got to record this EP here in Nashville with the same producer (Tom Laune) who we worked with for our previous recordings. So the process was comfortable in a good way, meaning that we were all able to bring up our ideas and opinions freely and work together toward making the EP what we thought it could be. There were some really long days and late nights involved, which hadn’t been common in our previous studio sessions. But I feel that being up against such a tight deadline ended up pushing us musically and personally in positive ways. We had to work every day for two weeks at the end of the process to finish it up, but there was something nice about being so immersed in this EP at that time. Some of the songs were still unfinished when we headed into that final stretch, so the process gave those songs a bit of a “trial by fire,” which I think helped coalesce them together and didn’t allow us to over-think them.
We also got to try some new instrumentation ideas on this EP that we’re excited about. We had a few friends come in and play horns on three songs, which was a musical element that we’d been wanting to experiment with for a while. I also bought my first analog synth a few days before we went into the studio, and we ended up loving how it worked out for the two songs it appears on.
While there isn’t a conscious concept behind the EP, I would say that a lot of it has been affected by the fact that each band member has gotten married over the course of the last year and a half. I know that, for myself, the romanticism of the lyrics became more personal. I can look back at some of these lyrics and remember what was going on in my relationship with my now-wife at that time. Sometimes, it scares me a little to be that transparent. But ultimately, I think being stretched like that is good for the songs and good for me as a person.
MX: You’ve landed some songs on various TV shows (“Keeping Up With the Kardashians”?!) — do you know how that happened (are you actively trying to place songs)? How do you feel about TV shows as a vehicle for getting your music out there, and are there any TV shows you think are especially suited top your songs?
DC: Ha, thanks! We have worked with some great licensing agents and music coordinators who have helped us with those placements. From our experience, TV shows can be really effective for getting a band’s music out to a group of people who will often instantly associate the song with a show that they already like. We love gaining new fans from any kind of TV show, but it would be awesome to see one of our darker songs get placed with a gritty, intense show like “Breaking Bad.”
Listen to Milktooth cover Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean”:
MX: There seems to be a big Asheville-Nashville exchange. Is this some sort of program sponsored by the Nashville Chamber of Commerce? Are the indie-rock bands of Nashville meeting and mapping out a conquest of Asheville? Is it just a fluke that, like, at least 10 Nashville bands have played here in the last two weeks?
DC: There haven’t been any conspiracies that I’m aware of, ha. We began thinking about coming to Asheville this past summer when we played a show with Ashevillians River Whyless while we were all on tour in Alabama. Aside from being great musically, they were great people to talk with and they suggested that we come to Asheville. Even though they aren’t able to play this show with us, they helped connect us with the local band Baby Rattlesnakes, who will be playing on Thursday. So, from our small bit of experience interacting with Asheville folks, I’m guessing that the Nashville bands are attracted here by good old-fashioned hospitality.
Band photo by Luca Venter.