Interview – 5/15/22 – Hot Milk

Norene Bassin, Editor

On May 15, British pop-rock band Hot Milk performed an incredible show at The Magic Bag in Ferndale. Ahead of the band’s performance, Entertainment Editor Norene Bassin was given the opportunity to chat with (and internally fangirl over) the co-founder and singer/guitarist of the band, Han Mee. Read ahead to learn about the band, their upcoming EP, music in the age of social media and more:


Bassin: Would you mind telling me a bit about the group, where’d the name Hot Milk come from? What’s your vibe?


Mee: So me and Jim [Shaw], we were together for a long time, and we had something bad happen in our lives, and to get over that we just started writing music together in our living room. And then when we were kind of like, “Oh, should we call it something?” We were two bottles of wine deep, and that’s kind of why it’s a bit short and snappy, a bit of an oxymoron. The name doesn’t really mean anything: I just thought it sounded cool, and there wasn’t a Hot Milk in existence. And that’s what we called it because when you get to names of bands, they don’t really mean anything when you get big and busy. Like, you’ll get Foo Fighters or Green Day or whatever— it doesn’t really mean anything does it? 


Bassin: So besides MCR and Green Day —I read your Kerrang! interview— who are your musical influences?


Mee: I mean, I love The Prodigy and I love a lot of old school punk stuff like The Replacements and Operation Ivy. I’m a big fan of a lot of drum and bass as well, like the Haçienda era in Manchester. All the main love in life is like house music, so we kind of have a bit of an influence in that, and especially some songs, l just want to know the drum and bass. A drum and bass rock song, we just made one. I have a lot of political and philosophical influences as well, instead of just musical, you know what I mean?


Bassin: Tell me a bit more about those [influences].


Mee: That’s a big part of our music. Now, I’m a bit of a nihilist. It’s like the idea that to perform and to create is what freedom is. To me, that is kind of at the heart of what Hot Milk is. It’s that ability to almost be enlightened and be free of the restraints of what life throws at you. All the things parents told you not to do, we want to do basically. [Laughs.]


Bassin: I listened to your most recent single — I’m so excited for the EP — so it’s about how you were viewed in your youth. Is that  something we can expect in the rest of the EP? Like teenage rebellion, freedom [and] defying expectations?


Mee: Yeah, because I’m still doing that now, believe it or not. No matter what we do, it always feels like… it’s kind of hard when the rest of the family is doing the “normal” thing — getting married and having kids and doing all that shit — and I’m here fucking about, playing gigs with my mate. One of them makes you feel like “Hang on a second, am I the fuck up? Like, am I the one that’s gone wrong?” And you kind of have to remind yourself that it’s because you’ve found a love for something that they’ve not. And they judge you based on their own reality, and that isn’t the same as mine, which is really hard to remind yourself about— especially for the past few years when our reality hasn’t been our reality. So you have to cling onto this idea that music still is a thing. This record touches on that, but it also touches on the fact that because there wasn’t, like, a music scene [during the past few years] we were getting fucked up and getting to the point where we were treading a very dangerous, thin line and we called ourselves the king and queen of gasoline because it’s almost like we were dousing our lives and it could have gone up in flames at any moment. Like, we nearly completely quit it. We were really just living quite carelessly, honestly.


Bassin: So I was wondering if you want to maybe walk me through the creative process of coming up with the songs that you’re coming up with for this EP.


Mee: Yeah, the whole thing was pretty much written in like a month. It was weird, the pandemic ended and our label that we’d signed to during the pandemic — that we had only met like once — were like “Oh alright, cool, do you have an EP ready?” Jim was just like “No,” so we started writing at home a little bit and then we were like “You know what, this isn’t working. It’s cold. It’s fucking wet. Why don’t we just go to L.A.? Let’s get some sun. Let’s go see our managers there. Let’s go reconnect the whole point of what this band was about. Let’s go and live a bit through this band.” So we flew out to L.A., we stayed in this really shitty hotel room. We didn’t have a guitar or anything, and we were racking our managers like “Oh, we need a guitar to write, can you hook us up with one?” and next thing we know, Dave Grohl’s guitar shows up at our hotel room because he found out that we needed a guitar so he sent us a guitar. So we’re there with this guitar that’s worth more than our lives, and we wrote two of the songs on the record with that guitar. And that’s where the power comes from because that was his shit, but we wrote most of them in that hotel room, one of them at home, and we wrote one with John Feldmann when we were out in L.A. But, to be honest, we mostly write, just me and Jim. Sometimes, if we feel a bit experimental, we’ll go write one with someone else just to kind of keep the juices flowing. But the whole thing is produced by Jim as well, so it’s like most bands go into it with a producer and stuff, but we’ve got full control of absolutely every effect of this record


Bassin: Yeah. Are you, like, kind of thankful that it’s all within the band?


Mee: Sometimes, sometimes not. I don’t know if we’ll do it for the album, honestly, because it is really hard work. To produce and record it all, and when you’ve not got an engineer. Like, we try to put out a record that’s as good in quality as our peers, and James ain’t really a producer. Like, he is, but he’s learning as he goes along. It’s not like he’s an actual award-winning producer or anything like that, but he is trying to put out something that’s as good quality as everybody else and we’re learning as we go. But I think for our debut album, we might get someone else on board just to help James out, but we’ll still regain full control because that’s our big philosophy. I never, ever want anyone to tell me what I’m doing with Hot Milk. I know what I’m doing and I don’t need anyone to tell me, and if you do, then you can fuck off. 


Bassin: Absolutely. For one thing, it’s so cool you got to play with Dave Grohl’s guitar. The creative autonomy that you guys have is really important to you. Respect. So the pros and cons are like pro: you get full creative freedom, but the con is just it’s a lot of work.


Mee: One hundred percent, it’s a lot of work. There’s not a lot of time for anything else. Honestly, it’s a lot of pressure. It’s a lot of extra responsibility. Like, if it fucks up, it’s our fault and I do have those moments just going “Is this record even good?” I don’t know. I don’t know if it’s good enough. And then people in our camp — at our label and stuff — don’t actually give us much feedback. I need a bit more reassurance, I think, and I don’t think they give us as much reassurance as we need but that’s probably because I’m a needy bastard. [Laughs.] I don’t know man, who knows, it’s the people who will know whether it’s good or not. 


Bassin: How do you think your sound has changed from your first EP to The King and Queen of Gasoline? Because, like I know you said that you’ve matured, but are there any, like, themes you’re wanting to phase out and replace in your songs? Like any sort of vibes that you’re kind of tired of?


Yeah, I think we’ve kind of grown up and we’re a little more jaded, I guess. There’s kind of happy vibes in the song [“Take Your Jacket”] from our first record that doesn’t really represent who I am right now. I feel like this upcoming record is a bit darker, having sonic similarities to the first one and second EP but I think it is more mature. Nowadays, we write with big rooms in mind. I wanna be playing in big spaces where I feel most comfortable, where I feel I can be more of a showman. I love sweaty club shows, but for some reason I just fancy myself as a bit of a Freddie Mercury for some reason. I just love the songs that have these massive impactful moments, and I think that’s when I am my best performer because that’s when I can be like “Right, this is a bit of a song that’s gonna hit you in the face” So these new songs are definitely written with more of a grandiose environment in mind, and I think that’s a natural progression for us. It’s still Hot Milk through and through because it’s still Han’s voice and Jim’s voice, you know what I mean? It’s still our voices, but as always, there’s a lot of flavors and I think we can’t really be narrowed into one specific genre just because we do take up a lot of elements of lots of different kinds of styles. Like, we’ve got a jazz saxophone solo in one of the songs on the record. I feel like we’re good— I don’t know what’s gonna happen next, which is quite exciting. I think we’ve got the ability to change.


Bassin: Like you literally just said you don’t confine yourself to one genre, but like when you describe yourselves to other people and what kind of music you make, what do you tell them?


Mee: I just tell them it’s a rock and roll band! Because it’s like we flirt with pop punk a bit, but we’ve got a wider sensibility than that. Rock and roll at its core: That’s something I like to carry with me. That kind of energy of like, hard and not necessarily always fast, but strong riffs. I think the backbone of Hot Milk is what we do with really strong riffs and I think there are songs on this record you could never, ever really consider pop punk, but we do get labeled as that sometimes, but I do think that’s wrong, honestly. We do have elements of that, but that’s because you’re in a rock band in a popular music scene. Our next single is probably leaning more towards that vibe than normal, but you know what: fuck it, whatever’s come out has come out. That’s just what we’ve written. It’s just Hot Milk. That’s what I say: “It’s just Hot Milk.”


Bassin: You mentioned one of your songs that you like, just don’t feel is you anymore. Do you like, do you view your songs like children? And there’s just some that you just, like, aren’t as proud of anymore?


Mee: [Laughs.] No, I’m still proud of them. “Take Your Jacket” was the first one we ever, ever wrote together. Like, there was never a song before that we had ever written together, so the fact that it’s something people still want to hear is mad. I’m so proud of the fact that we showed we could even write together. I’m proud of it. I just feel like I need to feel confident on stage playing what I want because I do struggle with self confidence quite a lot. So, I think for me, I need to feel like I can perform those songs to the best of my ability and with that one I always just lose interest because I’ve got such a short attention span. I have to be in the songs. I don’t want to dread a song on the set. It’d be see-through if I played a song I didn’t like anymore, but that’s the thing: If it’s one liked by people, of course I’ll play it. We’ll see what kicks off and who wants it. 


Bassin: I have some questions about the tour itself. How is the tour going and have you been enjoying the U.S. thus far?


Mee: I mean, we’ve never been here. The fact that we are even doing a headline tour is a bit silly. I was like “What the hell, we’ve never been here. No one’s gonna come. What’s the point,” and then our manager was like “No no, just go. Let’s see. You’ve gotta start somewhere,” because we’ve had offers for support tours in the past but we said no because it wouldn’t have been the right fit. So, for me, if we do a support tour it’s gotta make sense for Hot Milk to be on that. So we said “Fuck it, let’s just do a headline tour. Let’s see what happens,” but we’ve had these rooms packed like hell most nights, and the fact that these people found our band via the internet or whatever is insane. Our drummer’s never set foot in the U.S. before and it’s crazy that he can come to this country and play our songs to people that he’s spent most of his life 5000 miles away from and they’re connecting. So it’s mad and I have to pinch myself a little bit at the fact that we’re sold out in Nashville, and going to sell out in L.A. It’s a bit mad. 


Bassin: The place you’re playing tonight, Ferndale. Do you know much about the Ferndale music scene?


Mee: I don’t know much about it. It’s very gay around here. Gay Detroit. We’re in Gay Detroit right now. It’s a bit hot out— I quite like it. Might go for a walk later. I have been to Detroit before, and I went to Buddy’s last time. 


Bassin: This is a question about jokes. In the U.S. thus far, have you encountered [people making] British jokes? They’re like a big thing on social media right now. Do you encounter those in real life at all? I don’t know, like Americans tend to make fun of British people’s accents for no reason.


Mee: Not really, but I’ll tell you what’s interesting in terms of jokes: I did make a joke on stage in Philly, and because it was so sarcastic, I don’t think people got what I was saying and I think they might have been offended by accident. I was like “Shit.” I was being fully sarcastic, so sarcastic that it sounded serious. Like, it went full circle and then James looked at me and said “I don’t think they got that.” But it’s alright, it happens to me all the time. Sometimes I really can’t read the room, and it’s really embarrassing quite honestly. I’m a really embarrassing type of friend. Like, I’m loud. I’m mouthy. Sometimes people take it a bit wrong, you know what I mean? 


Bassin: Speaking of your accent, I’ve always had this question my whole life, but I’ve never had the opportunity to ask. Where does your accent go when you sing?


Where does it go? I grew up on American music, so an American accent does sing better. Like with “Mr. Brightside:” [When singing with a British accent] it don’t come out right, you know? More and more recently, I have to do more of my actual accent, which I am quite happy with because I feel like the more confident I am in my own singing ability, the more I can put more of myself into it, but when I was growing up, all I listened to was American music so that was kind of how I learned how to sing. I’ve never had a singing lesson. I’ve never had a guitar lesson. Like, I’m completely self-taught. It’s just habit. 


Bassin: I’m sorry if that was, like, a little weird, but I’ve just always been curious. Like, a lot of times when I hear English people sing I don’t hear their accent then I feel like something’s disconnected. But figuring out that you were influenced by American music, and it just sings better makes a lot more sense.


Mee: You will hear in this new record that there’s a little more of that northern English in there on some words because I feel like that’s just how I’m more naturally singing now, but I feel that people’s voices change as time goes on. Also, the songs on this record: my voice is a lot deeper because I’ve been smoking more. [Laughs.] Like, it’s a bit different. Your life changes. Your vocals change. It’s all trapped in it. 


Bassin: How did the pandemic affect the band? Like your development into a full-fledged being, you know what I mean?


Mee: Pre-pandemic Hot Milk was definitely different. I think it gave us time to think about who we are, what we are doing. Me and James had so many conversations like “Should we even still be doing this?” There are times when I was like “Oh my god, I’m wasting my time and my life. The whole reason we like playing in a band is because we love the live shows, right? Some people are in it for the studio and some people are in it because they want to be famous or whatever, but for me it’s always been the live shows. I feel most at home, I’ve spent my whole life in venues. When you remove an element from the thing you love, it makes you think it’s not worth it anymore. Especially when all the income stopped, the whole growth of the band kind of halted. We had to come up with different ideas to help grow the band, and that is when you turn to things like the dreaded TikTok and stuff because I fucking despise TikTok. I despise it because it’s the opposite of what rock and roll is about. You can’t tell me that Alice Cooper had to do fucking TikTok in the ‘80s. It’s dogshit. A lot of musicians aren’t built for that. A lot of musicians are introverted people and fucking talented. A lot of TikToks are quick and then they’re done, and on to the next thing. That’s not how music should be absorbed, it’s like the enemy of music if anything. We used it a little bit and doubled in size as a band during the pandemic, which is quite surprising. Now we’re on the other side and things are semi-normal aside from the occasional blip and I think we can say we didn’t do too bad with the pandemic situation. We did okay. 


Bassin: Yeah. So you said you weren’t the biggest fan of TikTok, in fact, probably the smallest fan of TikTok. So social media, like TikTok, sounds like the antithesis of rock and roll because it’s essentially just like an advertisement in front of a dance or something.


Mee: Absolutely, and that’s not very cool, is it? It’s pretty lame, if you ask me. It’s not very rock and roll at all in my opinion. That’s not what I want to be. I don’t want to be that kind of person that’s fucking about in front of a camera, doing a dance or whatever. It’s a bit whatever isn’t it? It’s not really conducive to anything with actual balls. I’ll play the game, but I’m not going to pretend I love it. It stresses me out because this isn’t what I signed up for. I’m a musician, not a TikToker. But unfortunately these days, they gotta come hand-in-hand.


Bassin: Besides TikTok, how else has social media played into your growth?


Mee: I don’t mind a bit of Instagram because there’s no pressure to come up with something funny. You show your life and be more of yourself, I feel like. But we’re a modern day band and we use the tools that are available to us and that’s what we got. And it’s a great way to spread awareness for doing the right thing in life and helping people be who they are. We want people to come to the fucking Hot Milk show and go “Right, I’ve never dressed in drag before, but I might do it because I’m going to see Hot Milk,” knowing they are going to be safe there and that’s something I will support them with. That’s the thing I want with this band: I want people to walk in and feel the ultimate freedom. And that’s what social media is great for, it helps people find other people who’ve got the same mindset. It’s one of the only beautiful things that comes from social media. Social media often destroys humanity a little bit. 


Bassin: It’s a very fine line to walk. That appears to be the end of my serious questions I wrote down. Now, I was curious. Did you hear MCR’s new song? What do you think of it? I am obsessed.


Mee: I think the mix is weird. The song’s interesting. I definitely think it’s an interesting song to bring out, but the vocals are so muddy. It was a strange mix and that’s all I could listen to. As someone who’s finicky with details, I couldn’t get past the mix, but it’s an interesting song for sure. 


Bassin: So last question: The Impact, our audience is mainly like Midwest college students. Is there anything you want to say to the readers about you guys that they should know?


Mee: If you like to party and you like a good time and you’re open-minded and you like people that speak their minds and represent people who don’t have a voice themselves, then Hot Milk is the band for you because we are hard, but we are also very truthful and, ultimately, just want the best out of life. We just want to have fun and that’s what everybody should come down to at the end of the day, being a good person. And that’s where we’re at. 


Hot Milk is available to stream wherever you get your music. Listen to their single, “Bad Influence,” here and stay tuned for their EP, The King and Queen of Gasoline, coming later this summer.