Interview with Martin Cohen of Milk Maid

Manchester, England-based Martin Cohen, ex-bassist of Nine Black Alps, ventures forth with his new lo-fi, fuzz-rock band Milk Maid, releasing debut album Yucca on FatCat Records in June. Martin, along with Adam Carless and Ian Hodson, combine grainy, fuzzed-out garage rock, and sometimes bleak lyrics, with sunnier, beach-pop melodies. 

Milk Maid

Hello Martin!  You were the bassist of Nine Black Alps for most of the band’s run, but are now fronting and focusing on Milk Maid. What has the change been like, going from bassist to being the songwriter (And singer.  And guitarist.) of your new band?

it’s not been too traumatic. i’m not a natural singer, though, so getting my head around that has probably been the hardest part. singing and playing live seems easier when the gig’s going well and harder when it’s going badly… and that can depend on a million things.  i’m doing all the management side of things at the moment too, which can become time consuming and frustrating when you want to spend a day playing guitar but, i like to know what’s going on.  

other things like having control over the songs and artwork is a nice change.  we all had equal say in nine black alps but with any band you never get your own way all the time…i guess i’m spoiling myself in milk maid.

Where does your band name come from?  Is it any reference to Nine Black Alps?  Do you have an obsession with female dairy workers?

 no idea where it comes from! just thought it sounded good and funny.

You formed Milk Maid in 2010 and released a 7” single and your debut album Yucca in June. What has the U.K. reception been like for the band?  From your blog posting I see references to Steve Lamacq and the NME, so I’m thinking you’re in a good spot right now.

 we’ve just done our first headline tour which wouldn’t have been possible a month or so ago, so that’s a good sign. more people coming down to check us out, maybe just from the first single, “not me”, and that song doesn’t really sound like the rest of the album. saying that, there probably aren’t 2 songs that sound alike on there, but we had a bunch of shoegaze fans come to one gig cos of that song which was pretty weird, especially cos i’ve never really been into those bands. all i’m really thinking about at the moment is writing new songs.

You’ve also done some radio sessions, like for Marc Riley at the BBC. How did that go? Is there any way to hear your performance after the fact? 

 i’m not sure if it’s online anymore. it was the day after the second line-up’s first gig. someone had dropped out so we were called in. we were really hungover.

You’ve been playing a few gigs lately in England, including your album launch parties on June 16 and 17. What have your shows been like? From what I’ve read, you’ve added an extra guitarist, Rick Entezari, for your shows.

 my friend paul was playing guitar before rick but he had to leave cos of other commitments, so we’ve been a 4-piece for a while. the shows were good, especially the manchester one. most people have still probably only heard a couple of songs so everyone seemed to be listening.

How did you end up on the FatCat Records roster? 

 through jack cooper of mazes. he put the first single out, then his band signed to fat cat. the original plan was to put it out on suffering jukebox but fat cat heard it and were into it.

You’re very much into the DIY way of creation and recorded the tunes on Yucca in your apartment. What did your record to and did you end up disturbing the neighbors? Did you polish any material up in the studio?

 the drums were done at our practise room so i didn’t have to have those in my flat, but i live above a jazz club so i can get away with making loads of noise. plus you can make guitars sound loud even when you record them quietly.  

almost everything was done on my 8 track at home, including mixing. i mixed 2 songs on a friend’s computer but i think they suffered from it.  i don’t like taking up people’s time so they got rushed.

i really feel like i have ownership of the record and i know every note that’s on there. i know i pressed record every single time i did a take.

As I mentioned at the start, your songs blend lighter and darker elements together, with an up-front, lo-fi vibe to the recording and distorted guitar propulsion that is contrasted with the distanced, laid-back (in a Reid brothers way), half-buried vocals. Was this just a consequence of the recording process or did you intend for your sound to end up this way?

 i like close-sounding guitars and the rawer side of things. but vocal effects are just there to hide my lack of vocal efficiency and dodgy lyrics.

While I heartily enjoy the guitar freak-out portions of “Not Me” and “Such Fun”, I’m also into your low-key, contemplative tracks like “Same As What” with its acoustic guitar and “Someone You Thought You Forgot” with its deeper guitar line.  What kinds of guitars are you using?

 i used a les paul special for some of it then i got a new guitar halfway through recording which was a harmony rocket. it’s got a really thick neck that’s more similar to an acoustic which is what i play at home most of the time anyway. my acoustic is made by fylde. 

It’s a bit difficult to discern some of the song lyrics, but I did suss out some key lines like “You know you won’t change” on “Back Of Your Knees” and “A little bit stronger / A little bit longer” on “Kill Me Again”.  What are some of the lyrical themes running through your tunes?

 i like to keep things dark and poppy at the same time. someone described the songs as happy/sad. is that a theme? a lot of catharsis too.

someone asked about the album title and the reason is just cos i like the word. but then i started thinking about it more, and about the yucca plant and how it can be treated to really bad weather conditions and go for ages with little water, and i guess that ties back into the songs. going through bad emotional weather and coming out ok.

Lastly, can you list your blog and any other official site where we can find out more about you and pick up your new album?  Thanks so much!