Melbourne-based groove innovators Mildlife released their first album Phase in February this year, and will kick off their Australia-wide tour this weekend, playing Mojos Bar on Saturday, May 5, with support from Burundi Peace Choir and Bella Ndayikeze. Though Phase is Mildlife’s debut full album, it’s a full-bodied, ambitious piece, and has been in the works for several years – if not their whole lives. They’ve sold out the first and second pressings, with a big following in Europe already. JESS COCKERILL caught up with bassist Tom Shanahan to learn about the band’s past, present and future.
How did Mildlife come together?
I’ve known Adzy [Adam Halliwell, guitar, flute, vocals] since he was born, so that’s like a really long time. And Jimmy [James Donald, drums] and I met in grade 1 in primary school. And Kev [Kevin McDowell, synth, vocals] since high school. So we’ve known each other for like, aaages, and we’ve always just been really good friends, making music in various capacities. So I guess, it’s hard to say when it actually started. We’ve also played independently in some other bands, but we’ve always been really close friends, the four of us.
Have you always been making this kind of synth-driven groove music?
Maybe not, I mean when we were in high school we were probably doing Zeppelin covers with another drummer or something. I think the Mildlife sound has only been in maybe the past five years, and then that sound itself has been always changing… it’s a pretty liquid thing, and gonna keep changing I hope.
How would you describe your sound?
That’s a tough one, because I think there’s an element of Mildlife which is kind of long stretched out jams that evolve and take a few turns, and I think that we all like the idea of settling into a groove and drawing it out and seeing naturally where that goes.
But also at the same time, we’re not just a jam band, we appreciate the structure of the song because it’s the glue that holds it together. All the time we’ve known each other over 25-odd years, there’s been a huge backbone of that which is just listening to records together and analysing records, I’m sure that’s played a part in how we see and define a song.
What kinds of records have had an influence?
I suppose the bulk of what we listen to is ‘70s and ‘80s music, but even within that there are so many different genres. Can, Herbie Hancock, and then there’s the jazz element as well… Usually pretty groove-based stuff.
When you perform do you bring that jamming to the stage, or try to perform the same music each time?
If we’ve got a big section between songs, and we know that there is a doorway into that jam, then there might be a motif that someone will do coming out of it to signify that the free party’s over and let’s lock back down into the song.
There’s a few of these little “bubbles”, we call them, that we all know are free, because we’ve been playing together so long I suppose, we can feel when it’s ready to come back into a more structured form.
It keeps it fresh for us, and also for the audience, perhaps every show is going to be at least a little bit different.
Was Phase written as a complete piece, or an album of many different songs?
We like to think it has some kind of arc through it… there’s maybe a little bit of a science fiction, outer worldly, intergalactic side of it. It’s got a vibe of looking out, whether that’s at space or not, I don’t know.
There’s some other languages in it, and words that aren’t actual words, that could be described as being an alien language. And when I did the Mildlife logo, that initially started as something that was not human’s handwriting.
A lot of those Herbie Hancock covers and the great 70s and 80s airbrushed artworks, they’re depicting worlds that are kind of earthly but kinda not. As if it’s not in space, but it’s definitely not earth.
I saw that the album’s been pretty popular overseas?
It’s actually surprising, because Australia is so far away, but it’s been a little more hyped overseas, a bit in America but mostly in Europe.
Gilles Peterson, he’s a pretty big player in the game, in music, he somehow got into it… It’s interesting to see how one person can have so much pull, a surprising amount of interest has come from this one guy plugging it.
This will be your first time coming to Perth! What do you imagine our city to be like?
I’m stoked, I’ve never even been to Perth before. In my tiny mind it’s like…. I hear it’s really nice, I hear that there’s terrible water in Perth, like drinking water. It takes like sweat apparently. But I hear apart from that it’s really lovely. Do you remember drinking the water in Perth, Jess?
I do! But I haven’t really compared it with Melbourne.
Maybe you’ll go back and notice, or maybe our guitarist Adam was lying to me. Maybe he’s full of shit.
What’s up next for Mildlife?
We’ve got another album coming out, hopefully later in the year. We’re still writing, and we’ve got lots of shows, heading overseas. There’s a lot of interesting things happening this year, I’m not sure what else I can say. It’s mysterious and exciting. We’re busy.