INTERVIEW 68. thomas mendelovits (milk teddy)

(All photos by Carbie Warbie)

To start talking about Milk Teddy, we have to mention their debut album Zingers, released last year.
Zinger - I've learned recently - means, "a sudden shock, revelation, or turn of events". A very fitting name when applied to Milk Teddy's music.
This album was #11 on my list for best albums of 2012... but if the list had to be made today, it'd rank way, way higher. When I discovered them I thought "Wow, this is good!" but a month ago I started listening to the whole album again and it was, indeed, a revelation. A superb, warm and vivid revelation.

This 5 friends from Melbourne (Australia) make pure guitar psych pop (what is it with Australia and its insanely good number of artists playing around with psychedelia?) combined with walls of sound, reverberations and delays. But there's something special about their melodies: something that I should be able to describe - since I have a music blog. But there are cases when you simply feel and can't quite put into words what is the experience to listen to certain groups or songs. That's the case of Milk Teddy.
While you keep reading, listen to the opening and title track of the album Zingers below... you'll understand what I'm talking about.

Ok, continuing...
Maybe the difficulty to describe Milk Teddy's music comes from the the abundance of genres in the fabric of their melodies - that goes from psychedelic vibes to punk, synthpop and 60s pop - and the way they're arranged to create something effortless, catchy and breezy. Wrapping all together, is Thomas' soothing and emotional interpretation of lyrics that - as their sound - aren't answers but clues, pieces of a bigger picture that we slowly unveil.

Music to discover. Rediscover. Carry along. And feel it.

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Now we get into a train in Melbourne to talk with Thomas... origins, processes, seriousness of creating music and experimentations are some of the topics.

01. What time is it now? Where are you and how's your day so far?
It's 1030am and I'm enjoying Gmail on my phone while on the train to my job at a library in the city. I have night terrors and I woke up pretty shaken this morning; I think because I'm moving house at the moment and all the stress and dirt of that. Anyway, I decided to try to enjoy the walk to the station so I put on Rickie Lee Jones' first album and focused on the preferred large pedigrees of the suburb (my favourite was a large St Bernard - a bit like Beethoven - who was being walked by a man in army fatigues).

02. Tell us about the origins of the project: how it all started? And why the name Milk Teddy?
Milk Teddy started with what must be a common realisation: an interest in pop music and the blind faith to do it more satisfactorily than others around you. Unlike some bands though, we aren't a bunch of bros or an efficiently pieced together group of proven musicians. We're just family and old friends and that made sense for us.
The name Milk Teddy was something that seemed funny and weird when I first had the dream of having a band, which began in high school. It still seems funny and weird now and is maybe only as horribly cute as the Beatles.

03. Pretend Milk Teddy's music is a landscape or a planet. What do we see?
We have a song called 'Hollywood' on our first release (Extra Texture cassette) so maybe Planet Hollywood? More seriously, I think every one of our songs is different so I don't think much in terms of landscape/geological features for our music, unlike maybe how you could for minimal techno/drone/shoegaze/etc.
But I like thinking visually and making music videos and for each of them I think of a suitable atmosphere and movement (because music is the only pure art of motion). Right now I'm planning one using CCTV footage and one with very slow motion falling seeds we call 'helicopters' - maybe together, even.

04. I'd like to know how do you create your music? What kind of references and subjects resonate and inspire you to sit down and write/compose?
Thank you for using the terms 'write/compose', it feels very dignifying for me. I take life/music/art/etc very seriously so writing and composing always takes a long time for us, and it's always different because I don't want to overdetermine the process with narrow opinions. The whole band of Milk Teddy is so amazing and we are usually very sympathetic so we just try to feel natural and believe the song could come from anywhere. None of us listen to the same music or even hang out much so it's always interesting. But all this poses challenges, too...
Sometimes the most silly subject could be useful in writing a new song. One example is 'Laksa', which is a kind of Malaysian and Singaporean noodle soup that anyone who ever tries it can't help but be obsessed over. Somehow it fitted well to just put this word/idea 'Laksa' with the original part - which was on a chord organ - of this as yet unnamed and unfinished song. It gave a certain elegant and vaguely 1960s cosmopolitan feel that we needed to complete the song in a satisfactory way; even if it changed from 'Laksa' in the end.

As for lyrics, I pretty much write them all so it's slow going here too. Again, it's serious even if some people in a downer town like Melbourne may not agree. I try to pay attention to everything and to be curious: e.g. if someone says "it's bonkers I haven't seen you in yonkers" I would definitely NOT put that in a song. On the other hand, if I had an idea for a song with a verse about L. Ron Hubbard and then, after reading the first chapter of Dianetics: the modern science of mental health (with it's explanation of how shamanic song and other 'pre-' as well as modern audio/health systems are inadequate), noticed an English learners fiction title called 'Dolphin Music', set in a hellishly hot future where humans live in underwater bubbles and listen solely to dolphin song for relaxation, then this definitely MUST go into the song. So it is slow.

05. In November 2012, your debut LP - Zingers - was released. Spacey, dreamy, synth-y and with melodies that could've been part of an album from the late 80s british scene or the early 90s jangle guitar pop from the US. A warm, psychedelic and lush album that works as the soundtrack for a summer party and as the contemplative companion for some time spent alone. What you had in mind while making the album? And how was the process of creating it?
Thanks for the kind words. Imagining our record being played at a party in São Paulo makes me want to keep on. Anyway, it seems everything goes slow for us and the album was no different. Luckily, at the right moment we found the right person to have fun finishing the record. There was no real plan apart from to make an LP that sounded good from start to finish and was fun, distinct and consistent too. For example, I was experimenting by rerouting drums through amps with effects and we realised this would work really well, so for every track we did something interesting like this. It was really fun (and expensive) and maybe you can tell?

06. What's next? What are your plans for the rest of 2013?
We're just finishing up a run of shows supporting the Zingers LP and both Rachel, who plays bass, keyboard and some guitar, and I are going to Europe soon so now it's time to record demos for the next album. We have over a half record's worth of material and I'm excited to start planning the arrangements/production and find new people to work with on that. Also, Zingers should be coming out in the States soon so I'm planning a few new videos around that.

07. Time and place to listen to Milk Teddy
What you said in introduction to Q5 sounds good. If it suits both a summer party and as a contemplative companion we're happy, though maybe we are better as a live band...

08. Anything else you feel like saying?
Among my friends, everyone always talks about Gal, Gilberto, Milton and Jorge, and if you listen to our community radio stations you can hear all kinds of Brazilian music. But how about some of your favourite stuff from the past thirty years?

I sent an answer to Thomas via email with some of my favorite Brazilian acts, but reading now, I'm not sure if he meant favorites from Brazil... anyway, here's a short list:

MPB (stands for Música Popular Brasileira or Popular Brazilian Music): Chico Buarque, Marina Lima, Os Mutantes, Rita Lee, Gilberto Gil, Marisa Monte, Secos & Molhados, Roberto Carlos.
Rock: Legião Urbana, Engenheiros do Hawaii, Ultraje A Rigor, Inimigos do Rei, Blitz.
(kind of) Indie: Los Hermanos, Bidê ou Balde, Penelope, Pato Fu, Mallu Magalhães, Wander Wildner.

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