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MILLY: An Interview With Brendan Dyer

Photo by Christian Kim
29 September 2022

Photo by Christian Kim
Milly make songs that simmer and spark. The Los Angeles-based band, led by songwriter Brendan Dyer, finds power in the slow burn: their music carries the tension of a lake’s surface moments before a storm hits, or a cracking pane of glass moments before it shatters. Their debut album, Eternal Ring (out September 30th on Dangerbird Records), is kinetic, physical, and often a little bit volatile — a mixture of emo music and 90s-indebted indie that tastes as if it’s been fermenting for years, feeding on itself until it becomes something new entirely. A profound first full-length statement from Dyer and his closest collaborator, bass player Yarden Erez, it’s a record that takes the anxiety of modern-day America and filters it through a prismatic, powerfully individualistic lens, resulting in something intense, bracing, and deeply modern. Using 2021’s Wish Goes On EP (also on Dangerbird) as a blueprint, this is Milly with the fat trimmed and the frayed edges cut off.
 
To understand Eternal Ring, you have to go back to Dyer’s childhood. Learning guitar and drums from his uncle, a musician, from the age of ten, Dyer was one of the only young people in his rural Connecticut town interested in anything other than sports and other stereotypical markers of American life. Naturally, Dyer began to gravitate towards emo — the closest thing many teens have to outsider art — as an art form he could identify with, bands like Hawthorne Heights subconsciously laying the groundwork for the music he would make as an adult.
 
Those seeds, though, lay dormant for a long time before they came to fruition. Before Milly, Dyer was the leader of the bright, well-liked garage-pop project Furnsss, a hard-touring act that, at one point, Dyer thought he would play in forever. While on tour with Furnsss in 2016, he began to discover a strain of noisy, anxious dream pop bands, typified by acts like Swirlies and My Bloody Valentine, that he had never delved into before. In the back of his head, he knew that his next project would, in some way, incorporate these influences. A year later, while on tour, Furnsss imploded, and Dyer returned to Connecticut; when he arrived home, Milly began.
 
The Milly of Eternal Ring, though, is a vastly different project from the one Dyer began in his childhood bedroom. Where the band’s old songs were dazed and gorgeously laconic, Eternal Ring is muscular, punchy, almost alarmingly direct. You only need to hear album opener and debut single Illuminate to understand the change: slipping quickly from emo balladry into something heavy and intoxicatingly intense, it’s a clear marker that this is the work of a tighter, more dynamic Milly. There is no slack to these songs — even the nine-minute Stuck In The Middle is an impossibly taut endurance work, jumping from emotive build to gut-wrenching squall in a second. At other times, as on Nullify, Dyer is in full-blown pop mode, the melodic-but-mystifying influence of classic avant-garde indie progenitors like Pavement clear to see.
 
The influence of bands like Pavement and Guided By Voices on Eternal Ring run deeper than just aesthetics. Inspired by the rough-hewn, somewhat miraculous vibe of records like Slanted and Enchanted and Bee Thousand, Dyer chose to approach recording in a way that honored and emphasized initial recordings, resulting in an album with an unfussy immediacy. You can hear this quality in a song like Marcy, a track whose frayed edges coalesce into something tight and driving, before unspooling again as the song peters out. This song, and others on the record, are like living, breathing documents of in-the-moment creativity.
 
Written during the early days of the pandemic, Eternal Ring often deals with the cataclysmic feeling of modern society — a sense that the world could end tomorrow, or even today. Songs like The End, an ethereal dirge unlike anything else Milly have ever made, speak to these fears. Recalling the apocalyptic dream-rock of former Milly tourmates DIIV and Swervedriver, it’s a standout moment on Eternal Ring — a reckoning with past, present and future that carries the illusory texture of an oil painting.
 
A record about the chaos of the world, though, can’t exist without seeing some of its beauty, too. Ring True, a late highlight of Eternal Ring, is one of the most ornate songs Milly have ever written, double-time drums interlocking with Dyer’s guitar to create a rich, finely-drawn tableau. A surefire anthem-in-waiting, Ring True highlights a richness and accessibility of melody that seems to come naturally to Dyer. It’s an exciting moment for Milly that places them in an emergent milieu of expansive, quietly virtuosic rock bands like True Widow and Gleemer, and it speaks volumes to where the group may go next.
 
Ultimately, though, Eternal Ring is an album entrenched, deeply, in the here-and-now — an elegy for the modern world that still manages to bring in threads of love and light around the edges. It’s undeniably some of the heaviest music Dyer and company have ever made, as well as some of the most beautiful — a record about care and compassion that’s raw, real, and, at a time like this, totally vital.

Special thanks to Nikolas Soelter at Grandstand for coordinating and to Brendan for taking time out.

James Broscheid: Congrats on the impending release of your debut LP Eternal Ring. You’re on a label with one of my favorite bands in Swervedriver! How did the relationship with Dangerbird Records come about and what was enticing to you about working with them?

Brendan Dyer: As the story goes (to my memory), Jim Fairchild (our A&R) found Milly via someone who worked at his local Trader Joe’s. The guy working there played in a band we shared a bill with and he checked the bands out and heard the 2 songs I had out on bandcamp. I’m pretty sure he just DM’d me on Instagram and I was already familiar with who he was as I’m a big Grandaddy and Modest Mouse fan. I think he just invited me to come hangout at Dangerbird’s spot in Silver Lake and the relationship naturally progressed from there. It was easy to sign with them cuz Jim’s a cool dude and I have always felt like he knows exactly what we’re doing. Everyone there is really supportive and chill and they were the first people to holler at me. I trusted my gut and it’s proven to be a great thing. They also have a great facility and recording studio which is a big bonus getting to use it.

JB: Can you give us a brief bio on the band – how did you meet Yarden initially and how did Milly evolve into a collaborative effort between you two? Where did the name come from?

BD: I met Yarden via a couple of ex drummers we had. The first ex drummer put him on the list at one of our shows and we met and then months later the newer drummer at the time got him to hop on bass duties last minute as we needed someone before going on tour. That was in 2019 and he’s stayed ever since and has grown a lot as a super important role in the band. I’m holding down songwriting duties and he’s doing everything else for me – he is a genius with the logistical and financial aspects of being in a band. Things that melt my brain I couldn’t do without him. And he loves playing live.

Photo by Christian Kim
Photo by Christian Kim

JB: Is Milly a full band now? If so, could you introduce us to the band members and how it all came together?

BD: We’ve had a weird year of trying to figure out what we want. Sometimes a consistent band sounds great but other times I think we want all the control. Right now though, we’re going on 4 months of being a 3 piece. It’s been cool because I never thought that could work but it’s proven to be really fun. I like the space. We’ve had our buddy Kraus playing drums since March. He’s a bit older and keeps me and Yarden in check. He also shares the same can-do attitude that Yarden and I have. It’s no BS. We just get shit done together. Been such a positive thing for us after not so positive experiences of the haunted past.

JB: You came from back east as well (I’m originally from Cleveland and headed west too!). What prompted the move to L.A?

BD: I needed something new desperately. I think once I got here it became apparent how much more it worked for me than East Coast vibes. No disrespect though I still rep the East heavy but at this point, I’m a proud 4+ years deep as a Californian..

JB: What was it like to first settle into the L.A. music scene and how is it now?

BD: I always felt like people gave Milly attention from the get go. I don’t really know why but it worked out that way. I like L.A. because I feel like there’s more opportunity to carve your own path here or be an individual in a musical sense. Or at least more so than I experienced playing on the East Coast. 

JB: You mentioned gravitating back to the music you listened to in your youth in the run up to writing Eternal Ring. What pulled you back to those inspirational touchstones and was that the driving force behind how much more direct this record is compared with Wish Goes On?

BD: I just had so much time in 2020 to relish in the past. It was super fun to reconnect with music I grew up with. I think all that sitting around and working on demos made the scope a lot more focused.

JB: Speaking of your youth, I understand your uncle taught you how to play drums and the guitar. Was he your inspiration as far as wanting to become a musician or did he see something in you at an early age? I remember being put into sports as a kid and it never sat well with me. My siblings are extremely competitive but I just recall being turned off by that and gravitating more towards listening to music at 13 or 14.

BD: I was born in 1996 so by the time I was aware of music, I was really into the Backstreet Boys. I wanted to be one of those guys. I think my uncle saw that and was like OK he likes music – there’s interest there – but let’s try this instead. It was cool because my brother who is 2 years older than I am was also in the same sort of realm with music. And we would visit our uncle in Pennsylvania and he would have a Ludwig drum kit and a Les Paul (guitar) and would just let us fuck around. Fast forward a few years, with my dad also like randomly picking guitar up at 40 something, the path was laid out and ready. Don’t get me wrong though, I had fun playing baseball and basketball growing up but it was cool to find that true form of self expression you can’t get with anything else like music.

JB: You’ve actually played live with Swervedriver and another favorite in DIIV. What were those experiences like for you?

BD: Touring with Swervedriver was cool. I consider myself a student and there’s always more to be learned so it was obviously really inspiring getting to see them play every night. We only played 1 show with DIIV but it was in LA which was really surreal. It was cool that they liked our music cuz I was 16 when the first DIIV record came out and have followed them ever since. Definitely heroes for me.

JB: Was there a philosophy the band settled on prior to going into the studio to record? Also, was it a challenge relinquishing control by letting sounds develop based on intuition or was that a natural process?

BD: It was really unspoken but I just have to say we were all very ready to be doing it. We were like perfectly prepared, not overly prepared. We kinda just let the record guide us. It was great.

JB: There are a few live dates coming up in October. Any talk of a more extended or national tour? Any other bands you would love to play live with if the choice was yours?

BD: We’re gonna be doing a headline tour in late November and early December. All west coast dates with some of our favorite bands. There’s a lot of bands we wanna play with some day. Some hero bands and some contemporary ones. I have them written down but I can’t tell you cuz it’ll jinx it!

JB: What have you been listening to lately? Any local bands you could recommend?

BD: I’ve been listening to a lot of Aerial M and Silver Jews lately. Blake Babies too. As far as Los Angeles bands go, I play drums in one called Seko with my friend Justice Vaughn Ott who used to play in Milly and he directs the majority of our music videos. There’s a new band called Rocket that are the latest craze. Draag is great. Final shout out goes to Kraus. He’s originally from Dallas and would probably scoff at me calling his project a “Los Angeles band” but he’s been here for 2 or 3 years now so he’ll have to deal with that…

Upcoming tour dates:

October 13, Santa Ana, CA at The Constellation Room
October 14, San Diego, CA at Casbah
October 15, Phoenix, AZ at Valley Bar
December 01, Los Angeles, CA at The Echo

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