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In the Studio

Milk Music Turn Down the Fuzz for ‘Cruise Your Illusion’

Milk Music / Photo by Benjamin Trogdon

Depending on how clearly you remember late ’80s and early ’90s DIY guitar music, mention of Olympia, Washington, may ring a few bells. Home to longtime indie-rock institution K Records, founded by Beat Happening’s Calvin Johnson in 1982, Olympia has proven a fertile ground for the sort of ramshackle lo-fi beauty that K continues to release to this day. And while the Alex Coxen-fronted quartet Milk Music calls it home, their reference points have long been louder and more muscular. With the release of their 2010 EP, Beyond Living, the band drew instant comparisons to the fuzzy, ultra-melodic sensibilities of Dinosaur Jr. and Hüsker Dü, but don’t tell them that. “I remember Alex taking a lot of offense to that,” says guitarist Charles Waring. “Saying things like ‘Nobody gets it. They think we sound like Dinosaur Jr.!'”

So during the recording process, explains Waring, the solution was to “turn off the [fuzz pedal].” While Waring proclaims himself a fan of Dinosaur Jr. (“They were the first rock show I ever paid money to see”), he sees Cruise Your Illusion, the band’s first full-length record, as one in line with what he deems “classic albums.” By toning down the brutal fuzz that marked Beyond Living, Waring claims the influence of bands they’ve been drawing from all along (“The Velvet Underground, the Rolling Stones, Neil Young, and Meat Puppets”) will become a lot more apparent.

Between four recording sessions over the last year in Olympia with local legend Captain Trips, Milk Music hashed out what would become a sprawling, surprisingly ambitious debut full-length. And weighing in at just shy of 90 minutes, Cruise Your Illusion is meant to be register as statement capable of transcending punk. Its length and careful construction, Waring asserts, are testaments both to the spontaneity of Milk Music’s process and to the dedication with which Coxen handles his lyrical duties. “Alex will come in with an idea or a riff, and then we kick it through the Milk Music machine and see what comes out the other side,” Waring explains. “But he’s very much this Raymond Carver-esque figure. He’s writing these stories, these poems, and drawing these characters from his life and our lives. It’s like watching this messed up play and the players aren’t anywhere near as good as the atmosphere.”

And though it’s been nearly three years since Beyond Living‘s initial release, by Waring’s count the wait seems like it was worth it. “I just can hear so many things in this record,” he says. “I can hear Kate Bush and this lusty quality that’s really expressive. I don’t know if that’s going to be disappointing to people, but I think it’s the best fucking record ever made. I’m just fucking proud of it, I don’t know what else to say.”