An Interview with Melkbelly at Pitchfork Music Festival

Author: Zach Adams

 

Chicago noise-rock outfit Melkbelly crushed the first day of Pitchfork Music Festival. Comprised of husband-and-wife duo Liam and Miranda, Liam’s brother Bart and bassist James, Melkbelly is poised to take the rock world by storm. Aside from their early-afternoon performance at Pitchfork, the up-and-comers will be opening for Foo Fighters at Wrigley Field and will be spending much of the year recording an upcoming album. If it’s anything like last year’s acclaimed Nothing Valley, it’s sure to inspire some head-banging from old and new fans alike. Check out WSUM’s interview with the band below, in which they discuss blood siblings, being inspired by the jazz of Sun Ra, and the moment they discovered they’d be playing Wrigley Field.

Can you tell us how you all met and what inspired you all to start Melkbelly?

Miranda: Bart and I were playing in a band, and we needed someone to share a practice space with. And James needed a practice space. And also, they’re brothers [Bart and Liam]. So they knew each other.

Liam: Well Bart and I are brothers […] so that was easy, that was easy for me to fit in there. They met James, and I was just sitting around waiting to play bass for somebody. That’s kind how it came together.

Miranda: Yeah!

James: I have another perspective. So Bart and I used to play basketball together. And [he] approached me about this master plan to start this sludge rock, kinda doom metal, whatever noise rock band. And I was super into it because I wasn’t playing with anyone at that time. And simultaneously, with that, we decided to share a practice space. So that’s kind of, from my perspective, that’s how it started.

Would you guys say that the “family affair” dynamic increases collaboration? Does it cause tension sometimes? Or all you all just enjoying the ride?

Miranda: I say yes to both things. It increases collaboration, but then it also makes things maybe more emotional than it would be otherwise.  

Liam: Yeah, for sure. Because if you get in a fight at the practice space, you don’t get to leave, you go home together. So, there’s tension that exists.

Bart: Yeah, yeah. We all live, like, within seven blocks of each other.

Miranda: Yeah!

Bart: And we all hang out a lot, both in the band and outside of the band. So, it’s a lot of time together. But it’s good, it’s good because we resolve stuff. Because you have to see people every day. We collaborate a lot, it’s great.

James: Yeah, I would add that the family dynamic – being the non-Winters person in the band, it helps to have the family dynamic because it means the small stuff, like if we’re arguing about something little, it just kinda falls away and dies. And it’s not a big deal. And that means that there’s this built-in unity and “glue” between us as a group that feels like […] there’s a longevity there that’s, like, not spoken. Just the family longevity, I guess. [to Miranda] Do you wanna add to that?

Miranda: I do. That James is part of the family. He was born with the last initial “W” I think for a reason.

James: We pricked our fingers and shared blood.

Miranda: Yes, yes.

Your musical influences are vast and border on the relatively obscure, to say the least: the Hecks, Lightning Bolt, Sun Ra. How do you incorporate these wide arrays of sounds from these influences into your own music?

James: Well, we’ve been doing a lot of touring, and I think listening is a big part of our way of developing our own sounds. So, spending so much time in the tour van, each person takes a turn putting their music on.  And you’re just kinda forced…you can put headphones on, but none of us really ride with headphones, so we’re all subjected to each other’s music – for better, I think. And just getting a feel for where each other’s heads are at in terms of what we’re listening to. And then when we practice, you can hear, “oh, I can tell what you’re trying to do because we were just listening to that one Sun Ra track” or something. Or the Hecks is a good example […] We don’t necessarily have to talk about it or explain it to each other, we just know what our ears are hearing. But yeah, I mean, sometimes it’s challenging, but our songwriting is all…you know, it might stem from something that Miranda writes, but then it changes and morphs depending on what we’re hearing at the moment. So, I think it leads to a more kind of eclectic sound, possibly.

Your 2014 EP, Pennsylvania, was recorded in one day. Is your recording process normally that rapid-fire, or have you grown into a more gradual approach?

Miranda: Hell no! Well, we’ve done it – every time we’ve recorded, we’ve done it a little bit differently. So, this last full-length that we did, we took the opposite approach and we did it over a few months because we thought that there was…we had, like, romantic ideas about that. So, that was one way we did it. And I think we’re gonna be recording in October, and it’s gonna happen a little bit differently then, too.

Bart: I think it was super important for us as a band to record that early because it helped push us forward and gave us a lot of momentum. Even though we probably, you know, might have not felt completely ready to do Pennsylvania, it was really good that we did it because it just kept pushing us to record more.

You guys will be opening for Foo Fighters soon. Can you guys tell me when you found out, and how you’re feeling about it right now? Are you excited, nervous?

Miranda: Yeah, so I was driving the van home from the grocery store when I got that telephone call, and I almost crashed the car. And then I said, “this has got to be a joke.” But it wasn’t a joke. And I’m so excited. Oh yes – and then I text the whole group, like “SOS, 911, sit down, must tell.” No one was writing back so then I called James and…

James: Yeah, and I was at work, trying to get work done, and my phone was just buzzing, going crazy. And I saw that Miranda was calling – which, if Miranda is calling, something is up. And then she said “Foo Fighters. Wrigley Field.” And I thought it was a joke, too. But at the same time, it sort of seemed to make sense to me. I mean, that was the first show that I ever went to as a kid – my dad took me and my brothers to Foo Fighters and Red Hot Chili Peppers and Blonde Redhead in Kansas City in 1998, I think. Because there was a distant relative that was doing their lighting. And so that was the first big concert I ever witnessed. And so, it seemed like, oh, this kind of makes sense. Yeah, it’s coming back around.

So you see it as kind of coming full circle?

James: Maybe…that’s a simplified way of putting it. But yeah, sort of, yeah. It made it less surprising and more fitting in a way, for sure.

What’s next, what does the future hold for you guys? I know you guys are going to be recording in October, from what you’ve said. So, a new album?

Miranda: Yeah, a new album. Hopefully a new album. No, definitely a new album […] We’re recording. We get to kind of stay put in Chicago for a little bit and we’re really excited to focus on writing new material and recording it.

RAPID FIRE

  • Miranda’s favorite place to eat in Chicago: Chicago Diner
  • Liam’s most binge-worthy TV show: The X-Files
  • Bart’s first record that he ever purchased: Hootie & the Blowfish
  • James’ favorite throwback jam: “Return of the Mack”

Hear our full interview with Melkbelly here!