A band capable of the moments that make music so exciting, Hot Milk aren’t here to compromise or back down.
Words: Jack Press.
Photos: Jessie Rose.
We bang on a lot about moments in music. We all want to witness those points where bands change their fate in a single set. The ones that send shivers down your spine.
Ask anyone who went to Slam Dunk 2022, and they’ll tell you they witnessed one. They played just after lunch, yet you’d think they were headlining. Who conducted the coup? Hot Milk.
“They felt really special to us. I don’t know what it was about them. There was just something in the air,” muses co-vocalist and guitarist Han Mee, stealing some precious time at home on her sofa before flying out to the US, as her partner in crime and fellow co-vocalist Jim Shaw jumps in.
“It was proper electric. We were blown away by how many people came – they were piling outside the tent. It was insane!”
Insane is an understatement. Some bands have to set off fireworks to stand out, but Hot Milk are the fireworks. If stage headliners Neck Deep weren’t already on alert, they were standing to attention soon enough. Like Slipknot and Download, it’s Hot Milk and Slam Dunk.
“Dell [drummer Harry Deller] has been going since he was a kid, so we always say ‘born here, die here’. It’s one of those moments where it’s our people, Slam Dunk understand what we’re trying to do, and everyone’s there for a party.”
It’s that party-hard mentality that’s pushed them to the front of the queue. They’ve not even got an album written, yet they’ve skyrocketed to the top by going hell-for-leather night after night. As Jim says, “it’s a big party. We just happen to be the hosts.”
“I’m like my mum. I’m a host saying, ‘come into my house for a little bit, let’s have a party and when we’re done, have a party bag on the way out’,” laughs Han. “It should be a time where everyone goes ‘fucking hell that were good fun’. I don’t want anyone to feel like they’re just watching a band. It’s an event.”
Storming stages and playing sets that make headliners quiver in their boots won’t curry any favours, but they’re not about to go changing who Hot Milk – completed by bassist Tom Paton – are for anyone.
“We don’t pull any punches, we don’t treat any show differently to another, we are who we are, and we’re not going to hide that,” Jim says defiantly. “I’m not gonna tone it down because it’s a festival show,” Han adds. “That’s not me. I’m never toned down. I’m either myself, or I’m not. I can’t be anything else. I don’t really care. We’re there to be judged, so like us or don’t like us. We’re there to fucking have it, and we know what we want.”
It’s their all-or-nothing nature that’s endeared them to so many so soon. Having only formed four years ago and written most of their songs in a tiny bedroom in Salford, they’ve become the people’s champs. It’s “never a ‘them and us’ thing, it’s a together thing,” whether they’re playing live, promoting their music online, or pushing out records.
“If I see a band, I’m gonna go get involved, and that’s what I want for everyone – if they want to, they can, and for anyone who’s not got the confidence to, maybe our show’s the one they can try it out at,” Han says, like reeling off a mission statement.
“I’d love for our shows to be an experimental space for people to try new things. If people wanna come in drag for the first time or jump in their first mosh pit, they can. Loads of people are coming up to me saying it’s their first show ever, which is mad”.
When Hot Milk play sets like Slam Dunk or sell-out headline shows across the UK, it’s easy to forget they’re still growing up themselves. When the show is said and done, they’re still humans coming to terms with being rock’s next big thing. But they’re willing to give us their all if we give ours back.
“It’s nice, it’s surprising, and it makes me cry, but I’ve always found it quite easy to connect with people. I’ve always been a bit of an empath in that situation. When I meet these people, I give them so much – if I’ve opened that conduit, it’s a two-way street. Once you open yourself to people, people are more willing to open themselves back up.”
“There’s no façade, there’s no front; if you come and speak to us, you’ll realise…” starts Jim, as Han, like a telepathic twin, finishes, “we’re just a bunch of dickheads trying to do some cool shit and take over the world.”
Taking over the world is a tall task for bands selling out stadiums, let alone some teenage runaways from Salford. And while they’re more than up for the fight, they’re not immune to the toll it takes.
“We put on such an energetic, in-your-face show that after the last couple of shows, we’re finding we’re struggling. We sleep on a really hard mattress, and then we get in a really cramped van, and we drive for 10 hours, then we get out, we bang our heads for an hour and jump around and then get back in the van and our bodies are like ‘what are you doing?” Jim shrugs, as Han backs him up.
“It is a high-energy situation, and I don’t go to the gym or owt; I’m not very healthy. Suddenly going from sitting down in the van to doing that, when you’ve done it for two months, by the end you’re broken – I’ve been in bed for two days, my muscles cannot do anymore!”
There’s that old saying about burning the candle at both ends. And then there’s the Hot Milk approach – burn the candle at both ends, then set everything else alight, too. It’s that living life on the edge of battering yourself black and blue, burning yourself out, and breaking down that usher in their next chapter. As their new EP arrives, welcome to the era of ‘The King And Queen Of Gasoline’.
“The whole title is about how me and James were living a bit too close to the underworld,” Han explains. “We were living life so dangerously that our lives became a bit flammable. It could’ve gone up in flames at any moment. And part of me wanted it to; you get so self-destructive and self-sabotaging that you think, ‘you know what, fuck it, maybe it should go up in flames’.”
When the going gets tough in any walk of life, it’s easy to think tipping a jerry can over your world and setting it ablaze will solve everything. But for Hot Milk, it helped them crack the code. Struggling with writer’s block, they dubbed themselves the King and Queen of gasoline as if they were superheroes donning capes.
“We’re really good at nearly destroying everything. We go out till fucking 10am doing loads of gear and living a little too close to the bone. But the record reflects on where that feeling comes from. Like, is that from parents or from your peers, or what you deem the world to be? I think we’ve both felt oppressed growing up.”
It’s easy enough to connect the dots between oppression of any kind forcing you into a mould, only for you to break out of it and rebel later down the line.
“Looking at the news, and I’m trying not to, there’s something worse every day. That’s why it’s ended up being a concept record. We’ve personified all this frustration into two fictional characters,” Jim explains.
The EP might only be six songs long, but they’ve crafted a multiverse of Hot Milk madness to dive into. Whether you’re following the plot and finding all the easter eggs, or getting caught up in the videos’ Bunny Cult bonanza, this is Hot Milk at their most conceptual. Yet some of it might not see the light of day, according to Han.
“Making the videos, we wanted to represent the oppression with the Bunny Cult; we wanted to create something that was visual, and we wrote a comic and everything, but labels are pieces of shit, so I don’t know if we’re able to put it out.”
They’re ready to rage against any machine they come up against.
“I always feel like you can feel the energy people put into songs, and for us, this feels like frustration and anger. It’s a bit of a riot, like fuck you, you told me I couldn’t, so watch me do it now.”
That anger isn’t anything new for Hot Milk. 2021’s ‘I JUST WANNA KNOW WHAT HAPPENS WHEN I’M DEAD’ EP saw them question their mortality. They spent a lot of time down in the dumps during those sessions, and they had to come to terms with that record before they could break through to being the King and Queen of gasoline.
“There’s a lot of helplessness and hopelessness all the way through that record,” Jim sighs, clearly still catching up with the trauma they’re left with. “We were constantly like, ‘am I good enough? Can I do this? Is it going to be good enough? Will people like it?’ Blah, blah, blah.”
Looking back, simply living through it nearly broke the band. We’ve all had those tears in our ice cream moments, but this was a flood of blood.
“When I think about it, it makes me upset because there were so many times we were sat in my Mini Cooper asking ‘what are we doing? Should we even still be doing this?” Han confesses, getting deep into just how dark their mindsets got. “Me and Jim were in this bedroom in the middle of lockdown going mental in the rain and dark.”
Stuck in their bedrooms during a global pandemic has put a taint on that time of their careers. Songs like ‘Good Life’ and ‘Woozy’ aren’t looked back on with fond memories. They’re seen as the songs for Jim that “didn’t quite tickle my pickle.”
That taint toyed with them for too long. They spent six long months dreaming up the concept of ‘The King And Queen Of Gasoline’ before a single song snuck out of their pens. It was like it was happening all over again. They were well and truly back inside their heads.
“I remember myself panicking at one point going, ‘fuck, I’m so shit, I can’t think of anything, like what am I even writing about? Who am I?’ And then it all came very quickly in the last month,” Han frets, getting caught up in memories. For Hot Milk, the floodgates opened when they wrote the title track. Only this time, they weren’t in a bedroom in Salford. They were in a hotel in LA.
“It’s got a lot of power in that song – it was written on Dave Grohl’s guitar and Mark Hoppus’ bass in a hotel room in LA, just me and Jim, cause we couldn’t bring our own instruments. We feel like we summoned some kind of magical demon, but I came up with it in the shower, and I was yelling it to James in the shower.”
“Most of the record happened that way, like when you turned up and just sang the first verse of ‘I Fell In Love [With Someone I Shouldn’t]’, and I was just like, fuck sake, come on upstairs, let’s go,” Jim laughs looking back. “All these songs started from a small spark and then immediately went up in flames. It wrote itself pretty much.”
As an EP, ‘The King And Queen Of Gasoline’ sends them off into the stratosphere of sound once more. Getting bigger and braver in their bedroom studios, they’ve made music to pop confetti to on tour. From creating entire choirs out of a single voice layered over and over and over to dropping in Baker Street-style sax solos, they’ve dug deep.
It’s not just musically either. They’re baring their souls for all to see in every song. It might be a concept record, but it’s as autobiographical as it gets. For example, take the title-track and its generation encapsulating rally cry, “It’s all for nothing, and we’re no good, an alien since childhood”.
“All I know is it’s the most truthful song I think we’ve ever written,” enthuses Han, proud of the catharsis poured into every lyric this time round. “I think the alien since childhood thing is something I still feel now. I’ve always said I don’t feel like I’m a human being, like people misunderstand me because I’m weird, and I’m slightly on the spectrum.
“I’ve always felt like an alien, and I used to have a lot of escapism when I was a kid by just imagining that the lucid dreaming I was doing was real, and I still do to this day to get by because I prefer the worlds I create in my head a lot more than the real one.”
Being alien shouldn’t make you feel so at home inside your skin, yet it’s a feeling so many of us have experienced time after time. That’s where Hot Milk take their role as the people’s band to a new level. It’s music for outsiders, made by outsiders.
“If it helps other people who also feel like that, then that is helpful for me as well because it makes me feel like I’m not absolutely strange. If everyone connects with that, then I’m gonna be okay, and that’s great because it’ll help me.”
Listening to each song is like listening to Han and Jim’s diaries. They’re voyeuristic voice notes that share their inner sanctums for all to see. On the standout ‘Secret To Saying Goodbye’, Han poignantly sings, “I’ll never be the person I always hoped I’d be”. It’s a line that lives on in her never-ending struggle with imposter syndrome.
“I have this idea of the person I wanted to be when I grew up, and it’s like trying to get to that point of realising ‘is that person who I’m actually going to end up being’, or is all this other stuff gonna get in the way.
“At the moment, I’m letting myself down by going down stupid dark rabbit holes. Like all day yesterday, what was I doing? Just crying for no reason, like I just want to be a happier person, I want to be someone that can give the world what I want, I want to be someone that can be an example to others, but at the moment, I don’t know if that’s ever going to happen because I’m just not in a good mental state.”
Despite their mental states being stapled together by pure adrenaline some nights, they’re not afraid to take aim at others in the music industry. It’s a Hot Milk policy: wear your heart on your sleeve and be brutally honest no matter the cost. They sing of being their own martyrs, of killing their idols – and they talk of becoming positive ones themselves.
“We always say we’ll meet as many people as possible, and we’re honest with them. I’m not a perfect person, but I don’t think anybody should be. I think we’re just human.
“The bottom line is, all we can be is nice, and that’s what we try. It’s very disappointing when you meet someone that’s your idol, or you’ve looked up to, and they’re fucking dicks. We’ve been on the receiving end of that, so we never want to put that feeling on anyone else.”
Whether in a song, on stage, or somewhere in a venue car park, Hot Milk are willing to right the wrongs of their idols to create a better space for their fans to grow.
“If through my mistakes in life, I can be some kind of guide, that’s my aim. I see our fans as my little brothers and sisters. I’m not perfect, but this is what I would do, so do as I say, not as I do, because I’m not a perfect individual. If I can be something that someone looks up to for something good that I’ve done, then the job’s done.”
If ‘The King And Queen Of Gasoline’ does anything for Hot Milk moving forward, it’s opening that door between them and their fans even wider than before. It’s the warm hug you long for when you’re far away from home. But they’re not about to be walked over, either.
“We’ve always said the more, the merrier. We’ve got an open door. That’s what has got us to a place we’re at. We’ve not made any enemies of anybody because we’ve always been as open with them as we would want them to be.
“But when a dickhead comes along, I do punch ’em in the face, so it’s not like I’m a pushover. I got in a fucking fight four days ago. When it comes to blows, I’ll fucking stick up for myself, but ultimately it’s never me that really causes those fights – I’ve got a strong moral compass.”
Han’s strong moral compass has kept Hot Milk in the headlines, not just because of the music. It’s her spirit that permeates all they do as a band, and it’s seen all over their social media, too. Whether they’re talking about their own music or weighing in on subjects like Roe Vs Wade, they’re not afraid to use their platform when they feel it’s needed – even if they’ve got their fair share of backlash for it.
“I don’t give a crap what religion you are. What I care about is the fucking US trying to flex their muscles aboard. That’s what I care about, because I am anti-American, and a lot of my degree and master’s was in American politics.
“I have strong opinions on stuff, but I think it’s important to know when to shut your mouth as well, especially being in a band that sings about heartbreak. It’s not like I’m in Rise Against, is it? Knowing when to speak is just as important as when not to speak, because sometimes it’s none of my business because I can’t speak on behalf of a group of people.”
The older they get, the more they learn about the way of the world and what works for them. They’re beginning to realise that just because they can doesn’t mean they always should, but that they do have a responsibility to speak wisely when it’s right.
“You’ve got to know when your voice is required and when to let other people have a voice,” Jim chips in. “Just because you’re there doesn’t mean you’ve got to have a fucking twopenny on everything.”
“I think that can make opinions too over-watered and lets some important voices dwindle a little. I would rather use my voice when I 100% know this is important and it needs to be said rather than putting my two pence in on absolutely everything.”
While they’re willing to raise their fists and fight for what’s right, at the end of the day, Hot Milk are here to have a good time. They’re here for those Slam Dunk moments. They’re here to make people feel like they’re part of a family. And they’re here to be the King and Queen of gasoline no matter what.
“We just want to play songs that make people cry, make people love, make people rage, and make people party – we want a diversification of tunes that are fucking good songs that mean something. If we do that, then it’s job done; see you later.”
Taken from the September issue of Upset. Hot Milk’s EP ‘The King And Queen Of Gasoline’ is out now.