I’m sat with a friend in the bleacher seats at Manchester’s Deaf Institute. She is a radio DJ and, like me, has just interviewed Brooklyn-band Milagres backstage ahead of their set. We are comparing notes. While I quizzed the band about their influences and how a mountaineering expedition catalysed Milagres’ excellent new album Glowing Mouth, she discovered that lead singer Kyle Wilson’s favourite UK chocolate bar is a Double Decker.
“Why don’t I get killer insights like that?” I muse out loud. My friend does her best to comfort me, although she does emit a little sigh as she glances through my painstakingly-crafted set of questions. I make a mental note to ask questions about confectionary in future interview situations.
Indeed, sitting with the five affable chaps that make up Milagres (which means ‘miracles’ in Portuguese) it is easy to see how conversation could happily meander in any direction. While they may be yet another band from Brooklyn dressed in the customary plaid shirts and sporting a sliding scale of scraggly facial hair, their new set of songs were inspired by something much more stratospheric. When the band’s principle songwriter Wilson set off on a month long expedition of Canadian glaciers, he would return a changed – and injured – man. As he prepares to devour a mountainous veggie burger, Kyle reveals how Glowing Mouth became such an unrestrained, expansive rock record.
So, let’s do the dramatic medical questions first. How did you injure yourself?
I was climbing and I fell not very far but flat onto my back and I was laid out for a couple of weeks. Technically, I didn’t have any serious injuries, but I had to take a lot of painkillers and watch a lot daytime television. It was not much fun.
So, did your period of convalescence provide the time to re-evaluate the band?
Well, sort of, but what was more pivotal in terms of my career as a musician and in the way that I thought about music was actually the expedition itself, which was a really intense experience.
This was a trip into the mountains of British Columbia?
Yeah, that’s right. It was 30 days long and we carried everything. Every ten days a helicopter would come with food for us. It was all on glacier – we had to start below the tree-line and make our way up.
Wow – that sounds incredible. Was that your first expedition?
I’d been on shorter expeditions for a few days that I could organize in a very amateur-like fashion, but this was way more serious.
So, what made you want to take on such an adventure?
Before we made Glowing Mouth, we had another album which we released ourselves. I don’t know if it is available in the UK. It was essentially a concept album that came out of an obsession that I had with high-altitude mountaineering. I’d read a few books and got really fascinated by this idea of people doing something that was incredibly difficult and incredibly dangerous – going to great lengths and taking great risks – and the reasons they were doing were ethereal. No one really knew why anyone would want to go through that.
I got really fascinated, so I started writing about it. Pretty soon the obsession turned into research and the research fuelled the obsession and I became more interested in climbing than I was in writing music for a while. But it all started with music about mountaineering.
I’ve never even been on a scout camp, but I would imagine that such an expedition would be completely life-changing.
It was completely life-changing experience. I was thinking about this only yesterday. We were watching an episode of South Park on our laptop. In the episode everyone freaks out because they don’t have internet access, so they all move into these refugee camps so they can get 40 seconds of the internet apiece. For me, being in that kind of mountain environment really forces you to focus on what is actually important. The things that really get to you during normal daily life no longer matter at all. So, when you go back to civilization, you have this whole new perspective on things that seemed to matter before suddenly don’t matter at all anymore.
What happened after you had recovered and went back home?
The expedition clarified a lot of things for me and I changed a lot of things about my life including the way I thought about the music I wrote. I changed where I lived – I changed everything.
Is there a big difference in the Milagres sound between that first concept album and Glowing Mouth?
There is a huge change, the first record was more based on acoustic sounds; it was simpler and more folk-based. Lyrically, as it was a concept album, it was much more focused, but there is still some commonality between the two. Musically I tend to be constantly branching off – I don’t like to do the same thing over and over again. I get bored too quickly.
I read another interview in which you stated that Glowing Mouth was inspired, in part, by Prince. I’m a huge Prince fan – what aspect of his music was an influence for you?
Well, the Prince albums I was most interested in was his debut album and Purple Rain. But, during the period of time when I was writing the songs I was not as familiar with his material as I am now, but I kinda intentionally didn’t expose myself to too much of the content and tried more to focus on the style. I wanted to bring in elements that sounded like something that he would do.
Were all the songs on Glowing Mouth written post-expedition?
No, there is an arc to the writing. Some of the songs were written before the expedition when I was in a really unhappy place. After the expedition I was in a particularly happy place. But it is not in order – we thought about it, but if we had ordered them chronologically, it would have been an awful album.
There seems to be a myriad of influences on your album. Which bands do you all agree on?
Well, without sounding obvious, we all love The Beatles and Radiohead. We love Deerhoof and artists from the Kill Rock Stars label. Nirvana was a touchstone for all of us in our adolescence. And, we all like Sir Thomas Petty [laughs].
Are there any artists that cause friction with Milagres?
A couple of guys in this band will bust into Foo Fighters’ songs during rehearsals. I have an intense dislike for the Foo Fighters.
You are from Brooklyn, which seems to supply an endless stream of new bands. Is there a downside to making music there?
Absolutely. A bunch of reviews focused purely on that we were from Brooklyn. It was like ‘oh great, here is another Brooklyn band wearing plaid shirts and with plans to take over the world’.
During my extensive research ahead of this interview, I discovered that there is a town in Brazil called Milagres. Any plans to play there?
Ha. We have tons of Facebook fans from Brazil because I think they thought they were clicking the ‘like’ button for their town. The reason I came to this conclusion was because I was wondering why we got some many people from Brazil and I would go their page and I would look at what they liked. It would be U2, Lady Gaga and Milagres. Or, even more severely, nothing – except Milagres. So, you know they clicked ‘like’ by accident.
If you were trying to get as many Facebook ‘likes’ as possible, maybe you need to be called Tokyo or Mexico City, or some other megalopolis?
Yeah, also, we could have named ourselves Miracles, but there is a Brooklyn band called that.
But they won’t be as popular in Brazil…….
Glowing Mouth is out now via Memphis Industries.