Milk Teddy: ‘You Gotta Use Yoghurt’
Milk Teddy are a quartet of oddball kids who dish out playful, articulate indie rock with a gently psychedelic bent. On the eve of the launch of a new 7" at Yah Yah's in Melbourne, lead songwriter Tom Mendelovits revealed the recipe for perfect pop to JON TJHIA.
Tom Mendelovits, chief guitarist/vocalist of Milk Teddy - who are the other critters in your band?
Whoa. M+N readers, don't worry. I have a ghost inside me. Rachel [Helen Stanyon - keyboard, bass] slept in my room once - again, don't worry, we're cousins - and said the ghost looks like KES. Then there's Bobo MFC [Bo Potts – the MFC stands for "m...er f...ing clown" – accordion, guitar] and Chutz [Jonny Mendelovits, drums]. Jonny and I also play together with Peter Head as part of his Actor Buddhists. Jonny and Bron used to play in Seagull.
So your name comes from the brand of wallets and purses?
Yes! You can't make that stuff up. My sister, when she was maybe 10 and me 16, had a Milk Teddy purse and it was around that time that I was thinking about starting a band. We ended up as Down Payment but I always hoped to use Milk Teddy one day. Milk Teddy's not good enough for a pop-punk cover band, anyway. Pretty funny, a guy in Year 8 or something stole it and started a band called the Milk Teddies, of which I didn't approve. Jonny just told me he played drums in it for two weeks until he got replaced by Lee Parker, who actually plays in bands in Brisbane now like Slug Guts and Loomer.
Perhaps you could tell us a bit about this 7", ‘Going to Sri Lanka’. Did you ever go?
I actually have been to Sri Lanka, but I hadn't when I wrote the song. But I knew I would, in fact, I had just booked my ticket and was quite excited about going there. It's probably our oldest song and so it feels even better to have this one on our first 7".
Is there any particular idea that dictates your rather hairy lo-fi recorded sound?
Do you mean we are more polished in real life than our recordings would suggest? That's probably just because we usually have a good sound guy. So far all our recordings have been done at home, live, with not many overdubs, maybe just vocals. That's why it sounds like that but actually, the original mixes were quite a lot dirtier – this is our more clean attempt! That being said, I don't think lo-fi is an approach of ours. We were thinking the crustier mixes might have more energy but we decided to hope that they were decent enough songs and takes to hold up.
Tell us a little bit about your eight-song tape, Extra Texture, which was your first release.
We called it Extra Texture in an inadvertent homage to George Harrison [the group's favourite Beatle] and as a way of positioning how we thought of the songs that were to go on there. None of it was recorded especially for the tape, there was just a bunch of stuff that we had recorded that we thought would all fit well together. Something to listen to wherever it is that people have cassette players; like in the shower or your car. We're pretty much sold-out of the cassette though, and we do think it's pretty good, so we'll hopefully do another run. If anyone out there wants one just let us know.
A cassette and now a 7” render the term “discography” slightly ironic for Milk Teddy. Are there any particular reasons for choosing these formats?
Frankly, that's just the hand we've been dealt. Jonathan [Nokes] approached us about the cassette when he was starting Totem Tapes, and the same happened with Scott [Brewer], who runs Knock Yr. Socks Off Records. He'd done some good records previously and asked if we'd be keen on putting out a 7" with him. We think they're good first releases though.
Rachel's going away for a while after this show, but you've got a bunch of shows booked over the next few weeks. How will you cope?
Rachel says we won't cope. Bron just grabbed my arse thinking it was my brother's. We're actually getting Alexis Hall from the Motifs to play with us.
What lies in the near future for the band?
I think we've got enough good songs now to put on an LP and this guy called Josh Bach [Melbourne sound artist] just walked into the house (unannounced, but he can do no wrong) to get some demos we've been recording and plan a recording schedule, and to eat some watermelon. This is our last practice with Rachel but I reckon we've got maybe half an album's worth of material demoed to work on while she's away. We've got some cool shows coming up too, which is good, but less so for Rachel.
Will we ever hear a clean sounding Milk Teddy CD? And if so – when?
Daddy Josh Bach said we don't need to hide behind a lo-fi sound, and we're gonna put a bit more effort into recording from now on, so hopefully when the LP's ready it'll be something cleaner and more suited to CD. Rachel's back around July and we hope to have a good chunk of it done by then, so sometimes after that I guess.
“It's good to be considered part of a scene, with the support that it entails, and it is great to have people you can call friends who play in bands.”
For most of your life as a band – and for better or worse - you’ve been associated with other groups such as Parking Lot Experiments, Love Connection, Rat vs Possum and so on. However, it could be said that sonically you avoid some of the hallmarks of those bands like extra drummers, unconventional instruments, jammy vibes. What do you make of all this chit-chat about the Melbourne art/psych pop “micro-scene”?
It's good to be considered part of a scene, with the support that it entails, and it is great to have people you can call friends who play in bands, but I think it's more the trajectories of the bands - like when the band started playing shows - that is similar. I don't think there's anything similar enough sonically or approach-wise that a label like “art/psych pop” could be applied, though that is pretty broad so I guess your effort is more valiant than it seems!
We all have different motivations but maybe a continuum from wiggy to lyrical is a more applicable way of looking at it? And yeah, I do think it's definitely mostly about playing the same shows and being of an age.
Finally, what’s the Milk Teddy recipe for perfect pop?
We'd rather talk about the perfect recipe for biriyani, but basically anything the Beatles didn't do. Nah, maybe what they did do, but with better songs. You know, like the Silver Jews or Hall and Oates or something.
Alright, fine! What’s the Milk Teddy recipe for perfect biriyani?
Shan brand biriyani masala is the best spice mix you can buy, but you gotta read the ingredients list and add to it by half with roasted whole spices to get it nice and tasty. Lamb is most tasty, with peas, tomatoes and carrots, but potatoes make a good substitute. And you gotta use yoghurt.
Milk Teddy launch their debut 7" tonight at Yah Yah's with The Motifs, Seagull, Woollen Kits and Evan Meagher. Review here.