Hot Milk: “You only get one debut album, and we wanted ours to make an impact”

With their debut album out, Hot Milk aren’t standing still.

Words: Ali Shutler.
Photos: Frances Beach.

Hot Milk celebrated the release of long-awaited debut album ‘A Call To The Void’ by storming the Main Stage at Reading & Leeds. Speaking to Dork backstage, the duo explain how they’ve always written with those big platforms in mind. “We’ve always pushed ourselves,” starts Jim Shaw. “We’ve always said we want to headline this festival, and we’re constantly looking at these incredible headliners and stadium acts for inspiration.”

The pair have found this year’s festival particularly inspiring, with Sam Fender and Billie Eilish topping the bill for the first time, following Bring Me The Horizon’s grand step up in 2022. “Older bands can get stuck in the same cycles, and the thirst for it can die a little,” explains Hannah Mee.

“It’s really cool to see these newer acts at the top of these festivals. There’s nothing wrong with legacy acts like Muse or Foo Fighters, but you need the new era of music to step up, to keep these festivals going. The fact that Sam Fender and Bring Me are turning up and matching, or exceeding, the energy and production of these more established acts, it feels really fresh,” adds Jim. “Sam Fender was incredible because it felt really personal.”

“People don’t want refined anyway. There’s no character in that,” grins Han.

Still, the band aren’t afraid to do things their own way either, with ‘A Call To The Void’ a bludgeoning punk record that dabbles in everything from glittering theatrics to heartfelt vulnerability. “We write songs to deal with our own emotions and find a sense of catharsis,” says Han.

“People don’t want refined; there’s no character in that”

Hannah Mee

Hot Milk released their first single, the snotty pop-punk rebellion of ‘Awful Ever After’, in 2019, and a string of fiery singles quickly followed as the band expanded their vision. They’ve toured with Foo Fighters, written tracks with blink-182’s Mark Hoppus and earned themselves a reputation for being a band worth believing in.

“There was this running joke that we were just going to do EPs forever,” continues Jim, who’s been fielding questions about a full-length since the beginning. “I don’t think we were ready back then,” adds Han. “We were still trying to work out who we were as people back then. You only get one debut album, and we wanted ours to make an impact. You want people to want it.”

By the time they’d finished work on 2022’s ‘The Kings And Queens Of Gasoline’, though, they both felt ready for more. Still, the pair went into ‘A Call To The Void’ with no idea what they wanted to create.

“We were just really lost and burnt out,” says Han. They banned the phrase “debut album” from the three-month tour that came ahead of them entering the studio, and when they finally settled down in LA to begin work, Han had what she describes as a breakdown.

Instead of running from it, though, she poured that emotional turbulence into Hot Milk’s debut album. ‘Breathe Underwater’, a dreamy but brutal rock song dealing in imposter syndrome, self-hatred, and uncertainty, was written on the first day and set the tone for what was to come. “It was a very reactive album. Every song we wrote ended up on the album,” explains Han, with the pair pouring absolutely everything they had into the 11-track rager. “We didn’t want to overthink it because that leads to second-guessing.”

“We just let it write itself, and we grabbed onto it as it flourished,” says Jim. “Even though we came in scared, feeling the pressure and not really sure where we wanted to take the album, it was definitely the right time for us.”

There’s a loose concept flowing through ‘A Call To The Void’, but it’s more about invoking an emotion. “It’s about feeling like you’re on this precipice,” says Han, with their upcoming headline tour taking that idea one step further. “We’re really excited to show people what we’re made of.”

The band made a name for themselves with bratty pop-punk anthems before it was back in fashion, but rather than continue down that path, everything they’ve released has come with some degree of risk.

“I believe the next iteration of our band will be the most shocking”

Hannah Mee

“We absolutely could have come out and written a bunch of pop-punk songs,” starts Jim before Han takes over. “But that’s never what we wanted to do. We flirt with it because it’s what we used to listen to, but our influences are so much wider now. We really wanted to play around with sound on this album.

“We just got to the point where we weren’t scared anymore. We wanted songs that were atmospheric, rather than writing just singles,” continues Jim. “Having four years of growing up and learning how to write better tracks also opened our eyes to how important it was that this album was more than just good songs. Having that wider vision was really important to us. We wanted it to feel grand.”

Rather than a sonic style or visual aesthetic, Han believes that “Hot Milk is an emotion. It’s whatever we feel like,” she continues with their previous EPs, a chance for them to test the water. “Once you know what you can get away with, it’s a case of seeing how far you can push it,” she adds. The band aren’t veering away from that anytime soon, either. “We don’t know where it’ll go next, but I believe the next iteration of our band will be the most shocking.”

Hot Milk have always had a deep connection with their fanbase, writing such blunt, vulnerable anthems will do that for a band, but ‘A Call To The Void’ sees them take that one step further. Wrestling with self-destruction and resilient hope, it’s euphorically miserable. At stripped-back instore shows this week, raw lyrics have already been screamed back at the band. “The support has been phenomenal. We were so nervous about this record coming out just because we’ve been sitting on it for so long,” explains Jim. “It’s nice to know all those late nights tearing each other’s hair out in a shipping container in Manchester were for something meaningful,” Han says.

The instant, heartfelt reaction to the album has reaffirmed to Han and Jim that whatever they were feeling wasn’t so alien, despite how tough it felt at the time. “It seems like people are super grateful that they have something they feel like they can share in,” says Jim. “If people feel anxious, depressed or isolated and they don’t have the ability to talk about it, they can listen to this record and maybe they won’t feel so alone.”

“Not everyone can speak for themselves or articulate how they’re feeling,” says Han. “It’s the privilege of my life to be able to help other people. ‘A Call To The Void’ is a home for them, and it’s a home for us as well.” ■

Hot Milk’s album ‘A Call To The Void’ is out now.