Photo By Lauren Ray
A year or two ago, it looked like Watermelon might become Vancouver’s next breakout indie rock band. They released a solid EP called Cassette on Green Burrito Records in 2013, and word around town was that they had an album in the bag. A song from those album sessions, “Silver Surfer,” was released on Mint Records’ holiday compilation Hot Heros, and it was an absolute scorcher: sweetly pretty guitar licks and angrily thumming bass gave way a catchy grunge plod, and the whole thing exploded into a juggernaut wordless chorus and a jarring freak-out solo. But then, just as Watermelon seemed on the brink of breaking out, they disappeared. They played their final show in March of 2015, and the album never came out. By June, their Facebook page had been updated to forward people to check out their new project, Milk.
Milk features Watermelon’s principal members, singer-guitarist Thom James and drummer Akanee Rose, alongside guitarist Al Smith (Village, Soft Serve) and bassist Evan McDowell (Jay Arner’s backing band). Unlike Watermelon, Milk aren’t beating around the bush when it comes to putting out music. The band’s debut EP is called Late Bloomer and they’re self-releasing it this month on cassette. The tape’s six songs are consistent with the sleepy slacker-rock tone of Watermelon, but instead of grungy distortion, Milk favour clean, jangling tones and crisp electric twang. “Claim” is a haunting, knotty lament that’s filled with sighing harmonies, and James lazily drawls his vocal hooks before settling into a ghostly final refrain of “God is the water everywhere you see His face.” This haunting spirituality is replaced by good-natured crudity on the easygoing “Don’t Laugh,” a brightly catchy ditty in which James unabashedly croons about “throwing up and beating off.” “Marmalade” showcases Milk’s dark side, as atonal riffs bend out of tune amidst laser synth sounds and avant-jazz piano abstractions until it eventually coalesces into dreamy, aqueous indie pop, while “No Evil Oil” is a six-minute epic with slide licks that give it a rootsy classic rock feel, and “Standards” captures James at his most sweetly soporific.
To get to the bottom of this excellent EP, and to figure out what exactly the hell happened to Watermelon, Noisey met up with James and Rose at Our Town Café in Vancouver’s Mount Pleasant neighbourhood. Also listen to the exclusive premiere of the band's new track “Standards” below:
Noisey: What happened to Watermelon?
Thom James: We were called Watermelon until we went on tour with Kyle [Thiessen of Soft Serve] last winter. It was kind of a disastrous tour. A bunch of our shows got cancelled. I just felt like changing it. On the way back, I came up with the name Milk, and was like, "Yeah, we’re going to be called that now." Pretty soon after that, Kyle left the band and I started focusing on writing different stuff. We still have an album that’s totally done and has been done for like two years with Watermelon, but I just wanted to move on.
Are you always hungry when you come up with band names?
Akanee Rose: We spend a lot of time thinking about food
James: Just hungry for milk. Baby needs his bottle.
You were Watermelon for several years. Was it a difficult decision to cut the cord on that?
James: I was tired of the name, even though I went with another food name.
Rose: We were kind of over that, but I think it’s harder when people know who you are as that one name, and now we’re Milk and nobody knows who we are and nobody comes to our shows. It’s harder to book a show. But other than that, we were pretty tired of being Watermelon.
On “Don’t Laugh” you sing about “beating off.” Was there ever a moment where you thought that maybe you shouldn’t publicly sing about beating off?
James: No, there was not a moment like that. A lot of the songs are about being a weird, sweaty, gross teenager. It goes with the Late Bloomer idea. Not really feeling like an adult, and not feeling like a teenager anymore either. Not a girl, not yet a woman. I don’t have a problem with saying that in a song.
You can really shred on guitar, but you don’t really let loose on any of these songs.
James: There wasn’t anywhere in those songs that shredding was necessary. Also, I’m not that competent. For me to record a really shredding guitar solo, it’s not one take. I will fuck it up, I’m not that good. I did that with Soft Serve, where we recorded one song with almost a joke guitar solo—a really AC/DC stupid guitar solo. It took me forever to make it actually sound like that without screwing it up, doing that ridiculous do-do-lo-lo-do-do-lo-lo [Makes fret-tapping motion]. I learned to play, when I was a teenager, from Neil Young and Kurt Cobain’s kind of style. I didn’t mean to become more competent than that. It might occasionally sound technical, but there’s very little that’s technical about it. Beyond that, I know what key I’m playing in, sort of.
I remember seeing Watermelon play live once when you did a flashy solo and I said, "Where the fuck did that come from?"
James: I will do that once in a while, I guess.
Rose: Especially if you’re drunk. If you’re a little drunk on stage you will definitely do really long solos.
James: Yeah. The occasional drunk shredding doesn’t hurt anybody.
Alex Hudson is a writer based in Vancouver. Follow him on Twitter.