A conversation with Conor King of Dublin four-piece milk. about SXSW and performing in the U.S.
The four-piece group from Dublin, milk., publicly launched their band on New Year’s Day 2019, immediately ready to showcase their special Irish indie flare. With their unique electronic production and bedroom pop sound paired with Mark McKenna’s soft vocals, it’s no wonder the band is starting to take off. From releasing their debut single “Drama Queen,” to racking up 5 million streams on another early release in 2019, “A Little More,” McKenna, Conor Gorman, Conor King and Morgan Wilson are beginning to watch their music take on a life of its own.
Now, the alternative pop group is set to make their SXSW debut along with upcoming New York and LA shows, eager to see their international audience. We spoke with King about songwriting, inspirations, performing as an Irish band in America and the band’s first SXSW.
District Fray: How did all of you meet and then form the band?
King: We all went to college together. We were all studying music, and the Dublin scene is very small. So, we had been aware of each other from playing in bands and playing with different artists, and then we basically started writing some tunes together. I think it was just a little fun project at the start. Initially, I was like, “I don’t know about being in a band.” I was more like a session player. I really liked the tunes, but I didn’t know if I could commit. But the guys had a couple of tunes written at the time and when I heard the music, I was like, “No, yeah, this is great. Count me in.”
Tell me why you all decided to launch the band on the first day of 2019. Why was “Drama Queen” the first song you all decided to release?
At the time, it was just the most finished thing. Obviously, it’s so hard to try and break through any sort of noise, so we just put the song out. We were happy with it. We thought it was fun. We enjoyed playing it at gigs. We though, “Let’s just put this one out and see how it goes.” And then we put out “Temperature,” which was the next song, and then a little more at the end of that year. I think it was one of the things where I was like, “We need to put this out or we don’t.” I think that’s a good thing about music nowadays — you’re not really reliant on labels or whatever. You can just put songs out there, which is good.
Tell me about your latest release, “Human Contact.” This song is super relatable being in a digital age, especially after the pandemic having very little human contact. How was the songwriting process here and what does the track mean to you?
“Human Contact” was a funny one because if you look at it purely through the lens of the pandemic, it is a bit on the nose. I think it kind of had to do with that, but also on the lens of long-distance relationships as well, which can be tricky. That song came together quite quickly; things obviously were different globally. But in Ireland, I think there was like a brief period in summer 2020 where we were able to meet up in groups of more than three. So, we were just over at our friend Adam’s studio all the time making music. I’ll be honest, it’s all a bit of a blur. I think we wanted to wait until we were past things so it wouldn’t be super on the nose. You know there are a lot of young Irish people living abroad, immigrating; it’s tricky. Like, I haven’t seen some of my best mates in four years because they live in Canada or America or Australia. So yeah, it’s that angle too.
How did you find your sound?
In terms of influence, it was like a Venn diagram. Like I come from listening to a lot of like Motown, R&B and Soul growing up, but then also I was a teenager who loved The Strokes and Kings of Leon’s first few albums. Myself and Conor Gorman are like huge Kings of Leon geeks. But then I know Mark and Morgan are probably as passionate as myself and Conor about Kings of Leon, but they love Bon Iver. I like some of Bon Iver’s tunes too, but I think it’s just kind of finding what works. Recently, it’s all felt super organic. We just like to make changes that we like, and we have fun with it. It’s not that deep. It’s music. I’ve listened to lots of very music — all the lads do. And we have lots of different things that we like, and it’s like, “Well, why can’t we have fun?”
Recently your song “A Little More” reached 5 million streams on Spotify. How does it feel to watch your music gain traction like that?
It’s really cool. And it’s weird to think that that’s roughly the population of Ireland. I think as well, we just came back from the UK and it’s nice to see that there are actually people into the songs versus numbers. So much of kind of being an artist online now is your metrics. Obviously, it’s a nice thing to hit 5 million streams, but I’d much rather 500 people love the songs than 5 million people who have just passively listened.
On that note, being from Ireland and going on tour throughout the U.S., how does it feel to see your music travel overseas and receive such great support, especially as you’re coming up on your performances at SXSW?
That’s where, in the end, it becomes validated. Even if it’s like 1% of the 5 million streams that are actually people who come to the show, that’s worth it. That’s what it’s all about. I love playing live. And I think we all have really grown into it as well and we’re really confident in the live sound. It’s really exciting. For shows at home, you kind of expect your friends to come and they might bring people, but there’s no reason for anyone in Austin to come or New York or LA — but still the New York and LA shows are sold out. It’s super rewarding.
What are you most excited about performing at SXSW?
I’ve just heard so many good things about other Irish artists that have gone and they’ve really enjoyed it. And I’ve heard Austin is a beautiful city, so I’m really excited to see it. From what I’ve heard about South by Southwest, it can be a bit mental and you can be doing a set in a barber shop or something. We’re just gonna go and have fun and just try and make the most of it. If you said to us when we were releasing “Drama Queen,” like, “Oh, you’ll be doing South by Southwest in a couple of years,” we would have beat your hand off, you know? It’s a different world. And I think as a band, America is like — the pavements are still made of gold. There’s still that thing of like, we’re in America, you know?
milk. plays SXSW on March 17 at Esther Follies. Tickets can be found here.
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