"I DON'T MIND TALKING—it gets kind of lonely up here in the woods," says Milk Music guitarist Charles Waring toward the end of our phone chat. He's fully aware of his band's reputation for being recluses living off the grid in Olympia, Washington. And while there is some truth to it (he and vocalist/guitarist Alex Coxen both admit to not owning computers), Waring comes across as more of an old soul than anything. He adds: "I don't want to harp on the internet. I'm not a Luddite—I have my face in my phone just like everyone else."
If their reasons for cutting themselves off from technology go beyond music, Waring says it does carry over into Milk Music. The band's new LP, Cruise Your Illusion, aside from its unapologetic Guns N' Roses reference, has a foothold in a few different subcultures—most notably the hardcore scene in which Waring and Coxen spent their formative years. Yet there's a bit of a patchouli lilt to it. Comparisons to Hüsker Dü and Dinosaur Jr. run rampant, but it makes more sense that Waring holds Black Flag's My War and Neil Young's Tonight's the Night so dear.
"This record shows we can turn off the Big Muff and write good songs," he says. "We want to make something that will hold up in 1,000 years with Stones records."
Cruise Your Illusion is a more leisurely trip than their 2010 Beyond Living EP. And these songs—whether they're fuzzed out or not—sound like they'll be around for a while. Guitars, and especially Coxen's vocals, are up front, and just ramshackle enough to keep the human element intact. "Illegal and Free" is an anthem minus the trappings of being an anthem. Likewise "Cruising with God," which shows Coxen's ability to reach rock 'n' roll nirvana with very few words.
"Alex has got this beat-poet style. He pays attention to words," Waring says. "When I met him, he had his trip dialed in. I'd never heard that from anyone."
It was Coxen who insisted on extending the recording sessions for Cruise Your Illusion. Milk Music hit the studio four different times over the course of a year—recording live to half-inch tape, of course. What initially started out as a fast and punky record eventually transformed into something with a little more swing. As Waring explains it, "We started out making one record, and ended up with something different."
There's an authenticity to what Waring says, especially how he says it. Waring says he doesn't want to give the impression that the members of Milk Music wish they were from another era—but he doesn't shy away from talking about a simpler time when scenes were championed and critics were sometimes regarded as highly as musicians. (Those were the days!)
But it's a good thing we're talking about 2013 instead of 1975. Rock bands like Milk Music are harder to come by these days—it's tough to name one that has emerged in the past five years that could still be here in 2033. Milk Music is a band for all occasions. That may sound boring, but it's not an easy thing to pull off.
"You can listen to it a lot of different ways," says Waring. "It's not made for that reason, but it's something I've always appreciated. Even dogs and grandmas can get into it."