Milk teeth were left almost completely toothless after a wobbly few years, which resulted in singer Becky Blomfield as the sole survivor from their debut album.
Just a few weeks before the release of ‘Vile Child’, back in January 2016, co-vocalist and guitarist Josh Bannister quit the band, the first of a spree of line-up changes in the coming years.
Some departures were amicable, like drummer Oli Holbrook who left for a change of career just a few months ago, and after helping Becky navigate some of the band’s darkest days. But, guitarist Chris Webb’s sudden exit from the band left a cloud hanging over Milk Teeth. Whatever led to the end of his time in the band doesn’t get discussed, but it rocked them irrevocably.
That summer of 2018 almost destroyed Milk Teeth with Becky admitting, “It was just myself and our drummer, Oli, at the time and I didn’t really know what we were going to do or if either of us had the mental energy to keep it going.”
Lesser people and more established bands would have walked away. “As much as we found it incredibly hard, the situation we were in, there was a sense of ‘no, I haven’t done anything wrong, so why should I have to give up everything that I’ve spent the past five years working towards?’
“There was a stubbornness there and a determination to keep it going and be like ‘no, you don’t get to do this to me and to us and end the whole thing on your terms, I’m gonna keep it going on my terms’.”
In the end, it was the simplest reasons that were the biggest motivation for Becky. “I love writing too much. I always had the songs. I just needed the confidence and support to get back out there.”
That nightmare Becky has faced in the last few years has been two-fold. While the line-up changes and instability within Milk Teeth are obvious, the loss of confidence, control and motivation in the band were also shaken loose, too.
“It wasn’t that we didn’t have the material because I had written the songs at that point, but it was more a lot of stressful stuff going on and ‘am I able to keep doing this? Am I able to be in public and tour and be in a studio right now?’
“I didn’t know if I had the headspace at that point to do that, but we got to a point where we found our feet again, found our confidence again and went and demoed four tracks out of 16 that I’d written for the record. And that demo stage was actually really cool because I think getting those four tracks back really got the excitement back.”
Going back to the same studio that they had recorded both the ‘Be Nice’ and ‘Go Away’ EPs also gave Becky the chance to exercise a few demons and purposefully lay a marker of how she wants Milk Teeth to sound now.
“I knew sonically what I wasn’t happy about with the EPs, and was definitely conscious of how I wanted it to be less produced; we all did. Less produced and more representative of how we sound live when we went into making this record.”
What felt like an evolution at the time, was actually Becky losing her control on how she wanted Milk Teeth to sound. From their frenetic debut, which felt like the un-bottling of 90s grungy teenage angst, the follow-up EPs had a gloss which wiped clean the grunge and left just a more straightforward rock sound.
“I just felt like the EPs were sort of a runaway train where it was lots of boys saying ‘add more layers, add more this, add more that’, and I didn’t have much say or as much say as I would have liked at that point and it went down a hyper-commercial route with those songs,” she explains.
“When we play those songs live, even now, they don’t sound anything like they do on the EPs; they’re gritty, and they’re raw and noisy, and I didn’t feel like they represented the live show that people came and watched with the way the production ended up on those songs.”
Getting back into the studio and making their second album took a lot of motivation after the fall out of the band and its subsequent effects on Becky’s mental health too. Thankfully, Em Foster’s addition to the band proved to be the catalyst that got Milk Teeth (and Becky) back on track.
The Nervus singer filled in on guitar when shit hit the fan in 2018 and became a permanent member of the band soon after. Her inclusion in the band had a direct impact on keeping Milk Teeth together and in the making of their second album.
Em’s addition was a shift to a more collaborative relationship as, between herself and Becky, they understood how Milk Teeth should sound and how to create a natural progression from ‘Vile Child’. She joined with 16 demos for the album already pencilled in, but still added her own personal touches as she sped up opening track ‘Given Up’ from a “swung and slower” number which was reminiscent of Incubus’s ‘Drive’. She added the guitar parts to the second verse of ‘Better’ knowing Becky would dig that Pixies vibe she added. As a singer already, she also added as the dual vocals that have become a staple in all of Milk Teeth’s releases.
But she also added something more important. “Mostly, she brought me a lot of confidence at a time when I had none. She definitely gave me a shove with getting those demos done at a time when I didn’t know if I could. And saying that I wasn’t shit on the days where I thought I was doing shit, or [when I wasn’t] in a good way. She kept morale up.”
The result is the band’s second album. Eponymously titled, it is a definitive marker of who Milk Teeth are now as Becky explains. “It was very intentional to make a statement of ‘this is the band now, and this is what we sound like’. It’s not ‘forget the past’, but this is where we are at now. It’s almost like starting again really with all the changes.”
Despite those changes, the core of Milk Teeth remains intact. She adds, “I don’t think I’ve changed or we’ve changed in what we speak about and what we care about; our morals are still the same.
“My political views are still the same, my openness about my own mental health is still the same, but I just think that I have progressed as a writer and these are the songs I’m most proud of to date that I’ve written. I hope that they’re accessible to a slightly broader audience and people that have grown up with us too.”
Segueing around the EPs this album is sonically the next step on from ‘Vile Child’. It’s an older head on the same creative vibrancy that refuses to be stuck to one sound. It’s confrontational with tracks like ‘Destroyer’ but also vulnerable in the way lyrically the albums centres a lot around finding and then harnessing self-worth.
Given the last few years, this album’s lyrical content was always going to come with more weight than any of their previous music.
“When I write, it always starts quite a selfish process because I’m writing to get out what is going on internally with myself. So I don’t write thinking, ‘is someone going to connect to this or not?’ It’s more, ‘I need to get this out and put this somewhere’. I hope that people are able to connect with these songs because I am baring all of myself.
“I feel like these are the most vulnerable songs I’ve ever written. They’re not as tongue in cheek as stuff on the EPs, and there is less of a sense of humour, they’re baring my soul more I guess.”
‘Smoke’ was written during a difficult time a few years back while on tour with Creeper; surrounded by Snickers in her bunk on the tour bus. ‘Medicine’ finds a deeper emotional depth than before as the limits of her relationship are tested. Closer ‘Wanna Be’ unites her and former drummer (but still good friend) Oli in shared hardships while ‘Sharks’ started life more delicately on the piano which you can find if you trawl far enough back on Instagram.
But, it is ‘Better’ which anchors the album. As well as the first song written for the album, it’s the emotional centre for it too as Becky’s voice straining as she cries “I deserve better” in the chorus line.
“Recording that song, the vocals, was one of the weirdest experiences I’ve had,” she starts.
“It was the same at demo stage; it’s all this feeling that I didn’t know would come out quite like that. It was like an out of body experience doing those choruses especially. The song, out of everything we’ve done in our back catalogue, is the one where you can really connect the emotion and the feeling to what I’m singing and what I’m saying which is really special.
“It’s the song a lot of the album was formed around, and it’s such a pivotal moment in my personal life, it definitely carries the most weight of the record.”
The track is empowered and defiant and, coupled with ‘Transparent’, its the destruction and rebirth of both Becky Blomfield and Milk Teeth as one in the same.
While becoming the front and centre of Milk Teeth (and managing the pressure which comes with that too), the album is about Becky putting herself front and centre too.
“I’ve even had a few epiphany moments in my personal life where I’ve always been such a giver, and I’m not going to stop that, but I also need to think about myself a little bit more. I’m consciously trying to put myself first more, as a rule, these days,” she admits.
The transition in Becky’s outlook, her struggles with her mental health in that time, her role within the band has resulted in an album brimming optimism, and the energy they have for the future comes in abundance.
“There were definitely points in our career where it didn’t look like it [the album] was gonna come out,” she keenly points out. But the fact it did is such a deeply personal victory for her.
While bursting with anticipation for the album’s release, Milk Teeth are also looking ahead to their UK tour which follows soon after.
“I’m so excited,” she beams. “I’m excited to have new sets. In all honesty, I mostly want to play the new record live and not too much of the old stuff because I want to move onto this next bit. And, like I said, it’s my favourite work to date, and I want to enjoy playing these songs live.
“The EPs represented a time in my life where none of those people are around in the same way anymore, and it was not a great time for us, and I definitely want to close the book on that somewhat.”
On par with her cathartic writing experiences, having the chance to take this album out live will be another huge step forward for the new and improved Milk Teeth.
They’ve been through a lot in making this album. They were defeated, bloodied and broken but they dusted themselves down, learnt from it and still have plenty of teeth left to show.
Taken from the April issue of Dork, out now. Order a copy below. Milk Teeth’s self-titled album is out 27th March.
Words: Alex Bradley