Interview with Manchester-based band Hot Milk

Hot Milk are a Manchester-based band comprised of the front duo Hannah Mee (Han) and James Shaw (Jim), alongside Tom Paton on bass and Harry Deller on drums. Han and Jim first formed the group back in 2018 and since that moment Hot Milk have quickly established themselves as an extremely exciting alt-rock act. Not only because of their heavy and varied sound but also due to their exhilarating and wild live shows. Over the past few years, the group have sold-out headline shows and supported the likes of Foo Fighters, Pale Waves, and The Band Camino. After releasing a slew of EPs, Hot Milk are finally ready to show the world their debut album, ‘A Call To The Void’. Dropping later this year and with a lot of details still under wraps, according to the band themselves, the record is essentially Hot Milk 2.0. Refined, improved, and ambitious. It’s a hotly anticipated body of work which will undoubtedly help to elevate them to an even higher level. Especially if the first single from the album is anything to go by. 

Acting as the first teaser of the forthcoming LP, Hot Milk have shared the infectious single, ‘Horror Show’. Not only does it offer the trademark sort of intense rock sound that fans have grown to expect from the emerging band but it also offers something new, something more mature compared to the previous releases the band have shared in the past. When House Of Solo Magazine sat down with Han & Jim via zoom call the day after Han’s birthday celebrations, the pair were in high spirits even after a heavy night out. So as ‘Horror Show is Hot Milk’s first new release since last year, it only made sense to ask about this release first. In a conventional album campaign, the artist or band will normally release a first single prior to the album’s release date in an effort to build up hype and interest around the project. As someone who’s fascinated about how the music industry works, it made sense to ask Han & Jim why ‘Horror Show’ was the right choice to put out as the first single from the record.

Delivered in a warm and straight-to-the-point way, Han answers “Because it kind of smacks you in the face a bit. It’s one of those songs that is very powerful. It’s a song that we’re very proud we wrote and it kind of encompasses a lot of our influences, it’s basically a drum-and-bass rock song.”

Following on from that Jim explains: “The album has been described as ‘maximalism’ by people who have listened to it. This track is sort of like ‘maximalism’ at its max. It’s quite similar to what we’ve done before but there’s more intensity and it’s more in your face. It has that ‘I don’t give a fuck’ kind of vibe. I think it’s always been really important for us to be like that. It also intertwines the tropes that make Hotmilk, Hotmilk.”

When an artist or band finally does release the all-important first single from an album launch, it can sometimes indicate what fans can expect from the album as a whole, sonically or thematically. When I questioned the charismatic duo if this is the case with ‘Horror Show’, the pair were quick to answer that the record itself pulls from so many different areas and “every song is different” states Han. Regardless, the new track is full of dynamics and it makes for an impressive release since their last EP which dropped in 2022. A concept-driven extended play called ‘The King and Queen Of Gasoline’. Before I asked them more about the new album, I was keen to look back and discuss the past several months with them following the release of the EP. So I wanted to find out about how they think they’ve progressed as musicians since the EP release.

Now looking back in a retrospective manner, the EP is a project that Han & Jim both dislike but they see it as a learning experience which has helped the pair improve as musicians. “It was us trying something we’d never done. We hadn’t ever done a concept EP” replies Jim. Han thinks the project was an important part of Hot Milk’s history as it allowed them to realise that they are now ready to take on a debut album. “ I think it’s one of those EPs where I wasn’t as proud of it as I am with this album. I think we really pushed ourselves sonically on this album. I think on that EP we kind of rested on our laurels a little bit.  We did three EPs on purpose in order to expand and explore every single part of what our songwriting is and then only after that moment, we felt like ‘okay, now we’re ready to do an album’. So we’ve taken all the bits that we liked from each project that we’ve done previously and said: ‘right, these are the elements that need to go into our debut album’.”

The EP and every project that has come before this new album have led the pair to understand what Hot Milk’s core strengths are. One of those cores is the live aspect of the group and they are now at a point where they understand how to tweak the Hot Milk live set and write songs that help make the live experience even richer. Han says: “We know what sort of songs we want to write and we can then see what connects with an audience in a live setting.”

Jim agrees: “I think that’s definitely where we’ve progressed as musicians, we understand how to product test our songs and be like ‘okay, well how does this song feel live?’ or ‘how does this convey with audiences?’ We’ve learnt that maybe some songs sound really good on record but they don’t transfer quite as well in a live setting.”

Yes, last year certainly was packed full of incredible moments for Hot Milk. The band underwent an extensive amount of touring, playing in the US, EU and impressively returned to the United States again. They also made their US late-night talk show debut on ‘Jimmy Kimmel Live!’. Hot Milk’s busy schedule is not something they moan about or take for granted. The band are driven, raring to go, and prepared to put in the hard graft to help break the band not just nationally in the UK but globally as well. The pair shared some of their ‘pinch-me’ moments so far and told House Of Solo a bit more about the Jimmy Kimmel experience.

“It’s funny because I was literally on Universal Credit at the time of playing it. I must be the first musician on Universal Credit to ever play Jimmy Kimmel. People don’t really understand the music industry, you can be doing something like that but you can still be poor as fuck. You’re in this nice hotel paid for by the network and you’re there like I can’t afford a coffee” laughs Han. 

Contrasting the glamorous lights of a TV studio performance, Jim opens up a bit about the sleeping arrangements whilst on tour, proving it’s not all fancy hotel stays: “To contrast what Han said we were in an RV and there were eight of us. Me, Han, and Tom slept in a bed together for a month. It was such a stark contrast but playing Jimmy Kimmel was definitely a ‘pinch-me’ moment.”

Even after the constant graft and their relentless touring schedule, you’d think that Hot Milk would give themselves a break to recuperate but that wasn’t the case. After the band finished their touring dates in 2022 they headed straight for the sunny blue skies of Los Angeles to start work on the debut album. When they touched down in LA to start the writing process the pair were physically and mentally exhausted. It was an extreme situation which pushed the band to either make it or break under the pressure. It was a very close call but due to the duo’s resilient nature, they pulled through. If any band or artist was placed in that situation, a lot would have buckled from the stress but Hot Milk came out on top. 

“I remember we did three months on tour, we did America, Europe, and America again. We didn’t even go home after that last month in America. Me and Han went straight to LA to do some writing, so we could get our heads from touring mode into album mode. We were just so fucking exhausted, Han broke down into tears. The producer we were working with said to us ‘what do you want to write about?’ and we were both like ‘I don’t fucking know’” states Jim.

Han follows up: “Yeah, we felt so pressured because they were kind of putting a bit on us. I said to our manager ‘get me a plane home because I need to go see my mum.’ I was physically exhausted.”

Jim firmly believes that although it was a gruelling experience for Hot Milk, in a way, it was a ‘pinch-me’ moment as well because it showed that the pair could get through any hard situation: “We did put a lot of panic into the label and our management. They were like ‘I think they fucked it’ and then we were like ‘okay, here’s four songs’ and they were like ‘how have you just pulled that out your arse?’ So I think that was a pinch-me moment in a way. Not just getting four songs out but it was four singles from the album, written right off the back of touring. I think that says something for us, although our bodies are broken, we’ve been mentally getting ourselves ready to blast it out and hyper-focus on writing.”

After spending time in LA, Han & Jim went back to Manchester to finish the writing process for ‘A Call To The Void’ before the pair made a trip to Sweden to record the vocals. Ultimately Han thinks the making of the record has been a “big labour of love” and has led her to produce her best lyrical work to date. Interestingly, Han also mentions that because they made the record in so many different locations it has helped inform the album’s sounds and its “big dance element on the record”.

As mentioned earlier in the article, Hot Milk have truly established themselves as a very fun band to watch live. They’re theatrical, energetic, and put on quite the spectacle. Now that the band are steadily approaching debut album territory, I was keen to find out how they plan to continue to elevate the group’s reputation as well as their live aspect. To help encourage the conversation, I suggested that playing in new countries is one way of developing Hot Milk. At the time of the interview, Han & Jim were about to embark on a tour to South America for the first time ever. Admirably, the pair want to continue their winning streak and to elevate the band by simply playing everywhere humanly possible. They’re also still very shocked about where some of their fans are in the world. 

“We’re constantly having conversations where we ask ‘can we do that? or ‘can we go there?’. So yeah, going to new places is one way. The fact that we have fans in places we’ve never been to before is just a bizarre concept in itself” says Jim.

Han starts to explain that she thinks simply by performing more they will continually get better. It will also help her confidence grow: “In terms of the show, I feel every single time we tour, I come back as a better performer and I would always say that’s where I feel most comfortable in this band, being a performer. I think the show is only going to get better the more we tour it and the more confident I get. I struggle with being at home sometimes because I suddenly feel like I’m not in a band anymore. I have such problems with self-confidence that I just feel constant impostor syndrome. I almost feel that I’m doing myself a disservice sometimes because I look at our peers and see that they are all so confident. When I have to pretend that I am. People think of me being a super confident person and I am in some aspects of my life. I also have moments where I completely crash and cry and ask myself ‘What the fuck am I doing this for?’”

Touring will undoubtedly help the band get bigger but the pair are now being more intentional with what they want from the Hot Milk live shows. They want to enhance the live show and improve its production qualities, especially as the band are now continually getting booked for bigger and bigger venues.  

“It’s got to be a live experience that people can really get involved with. You can really see that in people like the way that we make the show is a way that they really connect with it and I think that’s such an important thing because you can never replace that live experience. I just want to keep challenging and raising the standards of what a band from the UK can do. America is not fucking about with their artists. So it’s time the UK bite back and show them what we’re all about” says Han.

Jim continues: “I think now we are moving into bigger venues, especially in the UK, coming from a production background myself, I’m really wanting to grow the show in terms of what we can achieve when it comes to production value. I also want to see how we can start to build an actual Hot Milk show. It’s not just about the songs now, It’s about the whole atmosphere and about really creating something that is memorable.”

With the interview coming to a close, Hot Milk share with us some final details about the forthcoming debut album. The record is titled ‘A Call To The Void’ because it’s the English translation of the French phrase L’appel Du Vide. A saying that the pair feel is very fitting for the album title due to the themes that are explored throughout the album. There are darker and more poignant moments on the record, Jim explained there is a song on the album about his grandfather’s decline due to dementia. But they also contrast the darker moments with more light-hearted aspects as well. There’s a song on the album called ‘Alice Copper’s Poolhouse’ which was inspired after Han experienced a hallucinogenic dream. Ultimately, it’s a record that was made from feelings of “frustration, elation, and loneliness” that the pair had felt according to Jim.

‘A Call To The Void’ also offers a snapshot of where Han and Jim are right now at this point in time. “I’ve called the album a modern analysis of the dichotomy of the inner darkness and the outer darkness. Do you know what I mean? It’s that feeling of trying to feel and understand your place in this world. We’ve called this record ‘A Call To The Void’ which is essentially the English translation of L’appel Du Vide, a French notion of standing on the precipice. Shall I just jump? It’s that feeling that you’re being pulled in a certain direction” Han says.

Jim continues: “It’s quite a good analogy of what the album is for us. We’re at this point now where we wonder: ‘shall we jump?’ ‘shall we just fucking do it?’ The album is a really brutal look at ourselves and we try to snapshot our feelings into each song. The record is really the exploration of the light and dark sides of the human psyche. It’s all those feelings of the good times and bad times. There’s a song about my grandfather’s dementia and his decline, so it feels like a very adult album in that respect.”

Before parting ways, Han & Jim explain that once the record is out they hope to celebrate with some of their closest friends. Either way, Hot Milk have worked tirelessly to get to the position they currently find themselves in. Once ‘A Call To The Void’ drops later this year, it’s only a matter of time before Manchester’s best new alt-rock band goes stratospheric.

Album out 25th August

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