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MiLkBabY: an interview with Barry Bennett
 ~interviewed by Michael Otley

MiLkBabY's music is the kind born from true improvisation.  Even what I had guessed was based on a loose structure was but a mirage created by the vast land of common musicianship and understanding. Intuition's role here is open and expansive as these three artists mingle in the glory of self-expression, and what I might call contact improvisation.  Barry, Tracee, and David all work off of each other in slow transitions, stable ambience, as well as occasional abrupt changes in mood to create their own environment from the existing one.

Their first full-length implied muse-iks begins with the powerfully percussive "Cowboy Song" led by Tracee's dry and upfront vocals.  The lengthy, mostly instrumental "Climbing dREam: almost unteathered", is an evolving ambient journey reminding me at times of KIVA (Steve Roach, Michael Stearns, and Ron Sunsinger), but more modern where Christopher Lee (experimental guitarist and recording engineer formerly of Thought Industry) contributes guitar sounds that could never be recognized as such.

The second release, hUmaN, fully employs the heavy use of delay that has come to dominate much of their performances.  Track 2, "Chrysalis lake part II" brings Tracee's use of delay on her voice to the front, while Barry's extremely inspired and inspiring voice sings and chants wordless vocals behind the march of djembe and percussion.  Track 3, "poor soul", is sweet with delayed and looped electronic sounds and Tracee's sweet vocals on top for most of the song.

While all their recordings are bits of improvisation compiled without the use of overdubs, their latest, sTRangE JuKeBoX: Live at Mother Fool's as the title suggests captures them in their element, live performance. The first track, "that Drifter's song", lulls you into the album with gentle keyboards and empty atmosphere.  Most of the tracks here really showcase the percussive nature of this particular performance.  A very inspired album rooted in their experimental performances.

And speaking of performances, I was able to catch two of their shows on their most recent tour; the first of which was my very first MiLkBabY experience.  An eclectic array of instruments including electronics, drums, and mics covered the stage.  The performers created an amazing ambient background over which they tossed inspired vocals which they weaved in, out, and over with delay and looping equipment.  But for me the show laid the foundation for which I could expeirence MiLkBabY, this time prepared for the impeding atmosphere of their recordings and shows.  I saw MiLkBabY again the next week, and this time I allowed myself to be swallowed up into an unabrashed sphere of sound.  The bass of the electronics overtook the large club and I sat down looking up. I loved to see them move and bob, especially Tracee moving in her dancer's spirit, letting completely loose.  And Barry's voice, sounding as if inspired by an animal spirit from some lost tribe.
StarVox:  Barry, the other two members of Milkbaby just left on an extended trip for Europe. How do you feel?

Barry:  Well, now I am kind of excited about it, even though for a while the thought of it made me quite nervous. What to do without my cherubs? [laugh] The first thing to point out would be that this is not a break-up. You all might not know this, but Tracee is quite a modern dancer and has danced for several well-known companies here in the USA. It has always been a dream or goal of hers to try to dance in Europe for some of the wonderful choreographers over there. The band as a whole believes that we could have an audience there and we were working toward being in a position to get over there and play. This past tour and this new record on Uvulittle, sTRangE JuKeBoX: Live at Mother Fool's, are big steps toward that. I think more people have access to our music now than we've ever had before, but a dancer only has so much time to pursue things at a certain level. They needed to go for a while now and I would never stand in the way of people who are dear to me. I just am not in a position to want to head over there without a firm plan. I am lucky to be making my meager living through music completely and I don't fell like stepping away from that right now. I have a girl I love and a family I want to be nearer to at this time. I am totally in to touring in Europe, but not relocating. Their plans are more vague. So for now we fractalize and explore away from our musical siblings for a bit. I will create an entity called MiLkBabY pRiMitiVE, as in a primitive form of MiLkBabY. It'll be a forum for solo performance and for collaboration with other musicians on a show by show basis, or to try a specific experiment. MBP will tour in the states and perhaps do a recording for release, see how things pan out; I may do some things just under my own name. They'll do some performing under the moniker, eBaBy, as in Euro or Electronic BabY. [They have played a couple of shows in Hull, England already].  That's how they can spread the MiLk message. [laugh] Hopefully through that they can create an opportunity for us to do a tour together over there. Its all exciting and a bit scary which is fun. We've been completely into each other for four years. I am curious to hear the music that'll come out of being separated. It'll make us stronger for when we are all together again. I think we'll look back on sTrangE JuKeBoX as a great document of a time when were really firing on all cylinders as a band. Really happy with it. The Chris Lee sessions that  we laid down while on tour were very cool too, cause we were playing almost every day for three weeks.

StarVox: Speaking of Chris Lee, both your debut release, and the next studio release were recorded with Christopher Lee of Thought Industry fame. Tell us how Chris got involved and what it is like working with him.

Barry:  Chris is an intense guy. he is like a pit-bull behind the mixing board. He has a really great ear and is very inventive. We met through a mutual friend and when he moved to Chicago after he left T.I., we struck up a friendship. I actually played in his first post Though Industry band, Glassy. He recorded Implied muse-iks with hardly any gear at all. We were his guinea pigs for his and he made a real cool sounding record with very minimal gear, and that's tough. We place a lot of demands because we record so many tracks at once. You know we don't, or at least we haven't as of yet, laid down a single overdub on a record.  Anyway, he moved to Maryland and now he has a full blown studio and does it for a living. So when we decided to tour east, we knew we had to work with each other again. We spent our days off on the tour holed up in his studio and we laid down a bunch of great tape. It helps to actually be sleeping in the room you record in. [laugh] This time with Chris it is going to be a full on collaboration. We are going to leave him with the material and have the freedom to edit and construct songs from the tape. He might even lay down some guitar or bass passages. It is all pretty open to his contribution. As I've said, we've never had any overdubs before; and usually we are very involved in the mixing process. This time we are giving Chris some space. He can take it, cause we just released sTRangE JuKeBoX so we are not in a hurry with a release deadline with this material. We can let him tinker for months, mix, remix, and just check in on progress from time to time. 

StarVox:  On your most recent tour you had a lot of shows in my home state, Virginia.  Any reflections on playing in Virginia?

Barry:  I tell you what. I am an old southern boy from Arkansas so I was really pleased to soak up the vibe that the Virginians had to offer. [laugh] Really they were very very very warm to us there. Super nice folks and the tour would not have been as cool if VA was not involved. Props to Richmond and Norfolk especially. Did I just say props? In Norfolk we got stopped by the police for being a "suspicious vehicle". We were looking for the beach and our tinted windows and out of state plates aroused attention. Once the policeman decided we were not terrorists, he was very kind and gave us directions to expedite our late night quest for the ocean. [laugh]

StarVox: Your live shows are improvised, though I did notice a pattern in the two shows I saw on your tour, like there was a loose structure overall and that you were free to go anywhere, but maybe you were most comfortable with a kind of loose routine. Any thoughts?

Barry:  Well, I wouldn't really call it a structure. There is no plan going into a show, and on that tour in particular I, and sometimes David, would mix up what instruments we would play from show to show. Like maybe one night I would play djembes and keys and run a certain chain of effects on vocals and synth. Maybe the next night I play electronic percussion and switch all my effects chains around or maybe I bring out all the gear I am carrying. David would normally mix up more with combos between a larger electronic drum set and his small electronic pads, but unfortunately we were robbed after our 1st show of the tour and he lost his drum set. I was also working with an unfamiliar small djembe. I felt the skin start to finally breaking in around Pittsburgh and it was really singing in VA. As far as a pattern for the shows, many times we do kind of start more ambiently. More space to test your ears and see what sounds you hear, not come barreling out of the gate, do something quiet to let the audience in on the secret that they need to focus in and be there with us. Many times we do build to some really brisk tempos. It is usually a much needed release for us and the audience. I always tell people when they are complimentary after a concert that a show is as only as good as they want it to be. If the audience is open and giving and feeding us with energy, then we have no problem returning that light and energy tenfold. Sometimes we do come right out with up-tempo stuff at the top of the show. We did in DC and it was really cool. We ended with a cover of "Deuce" by Kiss. It all really depends on who starts playing and what they are playing. There is no plan in that. Sometimes Dave likes to go right up and play quietly before we even start, and he'll be serenading Tracee and I as we get plugged in.

StarVox:  On the tour you were paired with very different bands, from the progressive and aggressive "jazz-core" band Dysrhythmia to the very gothic Heaven Falls Hard as well as others. How does the band you are performing with affect your music, and how do you end up with such diverse support?

Barry:  First off, I must say that I really enjoyed both bands that you mentioned. Very very different from each other, and seemingly very different from us, well we are different from most groups. [laugh] But if you really think about it, you can hear a thread of brotherhood between all of those groups. With Dysrhythmia, we share that pure exploration that they have, plus there is a certain amount of technical proficiency going on in MiLkBabY. A lot of real give and take rhythmically and switches in tempos, not being afraid to play against each other. With HFH, it is that sense of darkness and the emotionalism in the music. Getting something out the only way you can imagine. Good bookers and promoters can find those links in groups that go beyond just a sound. Poor ones pass on us only because they can't think of anyone to book for support or tell us how much they love the record but are afraid that their crowd won't get it. That is one reason that I am very thankful for the goth community. Anyone who thinks that that subculture has narrow tastes are very sadly mistaken. I mean MiLkBabY has never set out to cater to any genres. The music takes us where it takes us where it takes us. When DJ Batty first heard us and putting us on goth oriented bills, I worried a bit that we wouldn't be goth enough for them. I was happily mistaken. I feel that MiLkBabY is not afraid to hold up a mirror to something that may be frightening and find unabashed beauty. I think anyone who can appreciate that could land in our camp. But to get back to one of the points you wanted to get at, the group with us on the bill does affect us a bit. If only that their energy becomes part of the soup from which we all will be feeding, right?