Melkbelly aren’t strangers to Chicago’s bubbling underground rock scene. The band’s members from local noise rockers, Coffin Ships, and a drum duo, Ree-Yees, and it’s that collaboration of minds from different musical perspectives that shaped Melkbelly’s sound. Their songs are guitar-heavy in all the right places while not sacrificing melodies, such as in the frantic verse of their latest jam, “Doomspringa.” The song bristles with urgency while also, at times, convey a sense of impending doom as it spirals toward its noise-pop finish. And after first hearing “Doomspringa,” I just had to know more about this band. What follows is a casual email conversation written in collaboration by all of Melkbelly’s members (Liam Winters, Bart Winters, James Wetzel, Miranda Winters) in which we discussed their songwriting process, the name of their latest record and what’s next for the band. Finally, be sure to listen to “Hier Kommt Der Krampus,” the single the band recorded exclusively for LoudLoopPress.com by our own Damian Wiseman. It’s available for free download at the conclusion of this post and/or can be streamed in the Bandcamp sidebar to the right.
LLP: We usually like to start with a little background info on the band in case readers are new to the band, so can you tell me a little bit about the formation of Melkbelly and how long the band’s been around?
Melkbelly: We’ve been around for about a year now. We all have/had various other projects. Miranda brings a lot of really good Providence energy with her as Reddelicious. Bart and Miranda have played together for a long time as Coffin Ships, and James plays in a drum duo called Ree-Yees. Our paths all collided and with Bart’s brother Liam, we all decided to share a music space together and to play music together.
LLP: I’ve seen you all referred to as “noise-pop,” which I think fits to a degree – but I think that’s often used because it’s a simple way of categorizing something that’s just really different. That being said, tell me about your sound as a whole – was it spontaneous or more calculated?
Melkbelly: Before we ever played together, we threw around some ideas of what kind of music we wanted to create, but nothing really meant anything until we had a chance to feel out our sound. You can have these grand ideas about what sound you want to manifest, but once that concept actually becomes enlivened into sound vibration, it takes its own shape and then you go with it. A wise Ra once said, “It’s all what the music says of you, it’s not what you say of it”, so I guess you could say we are letting the music take us places.
As a whole though, our dynamic has mostly come out of learning to listen to one another and develop our own language, which is both spontaneous and calculated. James comes in with a bit of a noisier-freer approach, while Miranda is an excellent songwriter, so one of our original intentions was to slam those two approaches together and see what would happen. From the beginning we’ve stressed dynamics, so melding the cacophonous vocabulary of Ree-Yees with Reddelicious / Coffin Ships has changed from initially being a harsh juxtaposing of our weathered styles – a sort of binary noise or lullaby on-off switch – into something more amorphous that could be called our sound. We have a lot of very different interests musically, so our collective sound is always shooting off in various directions.
LLP: I read in your Chicago Tribune interview that it’s sometimes difficult for you all to get your musical ideas into a two and a half minute songs. Can you describe the band’s songwriting process, and how you know when you’re done with a song?
Melkbelly: Most of our songs have had painfully slow births and/or really long and drawn out deaths, depending on how you look at it. I’d say that’s true to an extent. When we first started playing, we wrote a lot of short sweet songs in a pretty short amount of time just to get the band rolling. Most of those songs fell off the face of the planet, mostly because they served their purpose and we got from them what we needed. Naturally it took some time for us all to feel comfortable with a unified sound.
As far as songwriting goes, it’s always a bit different. These days basically someone will toss out a melodic riff or a rhythmic idea, and we’ll play it over and over again and build it out from there. Getting into a zone and exploring various domains…it’s a very mutual and open creative environment. James records all of our practices on tape so we do a lot of listening back and structuring of new ideas that way. Nowadays, we’re working on these longer medley-like songs where we fuse two or three very different musical elements together and try to make it work as a song. But they are more like movements than songs, and I’m not sure any one of us knows when something is done.
LLP: As a band, you all have played all over in Chicago from rock clubs to festivals to DIY shows – where is Melkbelly’s favorite place to play in Chicago and why?
Melkbelly: Everywhere is fun because everywhere is different. But one venue that sticks out is ‘The Yards’ in Pilsen, because the space is wide open and attracts a fun crowd. It’s also very close to home. Wally’s World in Logan Square is also rad.
LLP: Is there any significance to your album being titled, Pennsylvania, and, if so, can you explain?
Melkbelly: Last December, we drove out to the east coast to play a few shows and while passing through Pennsylvania ran into an extraordinary amount of fog and dead deer. This experience influenced the lyrics for the song “Highway Meat.” Also, the Amish rite of passage, Rumspringa, generated the lyrics and weird frenetic feel of the song “Doomspringa.” And on this same trip in Pennsylvania, we saw a group of Amish people riding in a horse and carriage on an overpass as we drove by.
Miranda’s parents used to live in Pennsylvania. That’s where her sister was born as well and a lot of the spirit of these songs is derived from some sort of hazy family nostalgia. Not sure who suggested the name. Not even sure if we all like it as an album title, but after sitting with it for sometime, it just seemed like it was meant to be.
LLP: What does Melkbelly’s calendar look like for the next six months?
Melkbelly: A new 7″ right away in January, and then jumping into a second album hopefully to be recorded by spring. Chicago show dates sporadically, and then our first full tour probably to the west coast.
LLP: Finally, can you tell me about your new single, “Hier Kommt Der Krampus,” you recorded for Loud Loop Press? Maybe talk a bit about the story behind the track and recording it.
Melkbelly: The song was recorded on Krampus Nacht, so it’s kind of like a warning song to all the bad kids out there that the beast is on his way and there’s no hiding. Recording was mostly done live style meaning we recorded all at once in the same room and then added some other parts including the vocals afterwards. It was very spontaneous and quick, which was a lot of fun for us.