INTERVIEW: Matt Nelson from The Milltown Brothers


From Colne in Lancashire, the Milltown Brothers first burst onto the indie scene in 1989 with the ‘Coming From The Mill EP’ getting single of the week in NME. The second indie single ‘Which Way Should I Jump’ started a bidding war between the majors. Signing to A&M worldwide in 1990, ‘Which Way Should I Jump’ was re-recorded & broke into the UK charts at Number 38. America liked it & put it to Number 10 in the US Rock Chart. The album ‘Slinky’ was a revelation and pushed the boundaries for their peers. Defying the critics who had incorrectly labelled them as baggy the Milltown Brothers delivered an absolute classic album of catchy, punchy songs, perfectly paced & well-balanced. The band had their ups and downs and released 2 more albums ‘Valve and ‘Rubberband’ before going their separate ways. They got back together 2 years ago and have just released their fantastic new album ‘Long Road’ (8/10 from XS Noize).


What is your best memory of being in the band back in the day?

Looking back on it, it was a great up until we started recording the second album where it all went wrong. We got noticed pretty quickly. At our 6th gig, Steve Lamacq watched us in front of 6 people at the Bull and Gate near the Town and Country Club. We had a review in the NME, then we got a deal at Strawberry Studios in Manchester, they set up a label and put out 2 independent singles for us. We were 18-19 with no real care in the world it was fantastic really. Even when we released the album Slinky through A&M, recording the album in Bath was a great time in early summer.

The pinnacle was touring with The La’s, we really enjoyed that. We were in the charts, they were in the charts, it was a really great tour. Those 4 years getting there and getting to the point where we were beginning to get recognised was a great journey. It was only when we got there that it turned a bit sour. Looking back The La’s tour was a highlight, we felt we had made some ground and were established. We spent time playing in front nobody over a couple of years and suddenly people were turning up to watch us and enjoying the music, and that was a really good feeling.

I read that Oasis supported you at one time.

Yeah they did, they supported us in Manchester at the Academy, to be fair we were pretty much on the way down and they were flying up, so it was a brief meeting. Looking back it was a great thing to have done at that age and I have only fond memories of it, to be honest.

So why did the band split up the first time around? What happened?

If you wrote a classic band story of signing to a major record company, we struggled with the second album. It all just got a bit difficult, it took us a long time to get the second album out. We got a bit lost and frustrated, it didn’t do very well. The music landscape had changed it became very grunge orientated at that time. I think we just lost our way, we didn’t really have the will and desire to keep going. In retrospect maybe we should have hung around a bit longer because it all came back with Britpop, but I think we had run our course. Looking back I’m quite glad because we have all gone off and done other things in life which led us to where we are today.

You also recorded another album after ‘Valve’ called ‘Rubberband’.

Rubberband was similar to this current album. I had quite a few songs and we got together and one thing leads to the next. This one definitely feels a bit different we have all really enjoyed it. We set out with a certain idea of what we wanted to achieve and it feels like we have done it. When you get to the age we are now, we are doing it for ourselves really and hope everyone else likes it, it’s something we wanted to do. We had a chance to go to Spain, I think that’s what really sparked it. James our bass player was living out in Spain, he found a recording studio, so it was like 6 days away with a group of mates in a recording studio.

Did you continue writing songs in the interim period before you decided to get the band back together?

I hadn’t been bothered about it at all, I had been doing other stuff, then for some reason, I started writing a lot of the songs at night at home. I thought they were quite good, so I approached the band, I was quite nervous about it because I hadn’t done it for a while. There was a general feeling that they were good, then the opportunity with James in Spain came up. It’s one of those things, it’s been easy and good fun and enjoyable and everyone’s got something out of it, it’s kind of been organic that way and it just felt good. To get the album finished was a success for us and now that people are putting it out and people are taking it seriously is a great feeling.

It’s a great record I really like it.

I appreciate that you never know when you put yourself out there it can go either way. We’ve got no real expectations, you kind of do it and see what happens. It has been a good experience so far and wherever it goes, if it ends up that nobody listens to it or none buys it, fair enough, but we have enjoyed the whole process.

How do you find juggling the band with your normal day family life and job?

So far there’s been no problem at all, we’ve only done one gig. Which was great it was a surprise to us we did the Gigantic Indie All-Dayer in Manchester. We played in front of a full house with people really getting into it, it was great. It doesn’t really interfere, luckily enough I work for myself, I have my own company doing TV production and visual effects, so I’m my own boss which gives me a bit if time. So far no interference at all it’s been a good thing.

It must have been great playing the Gigantic Indie All Dayer alongside Echo & the Bunnymen, The Inspiral Carpets and other bands from the early days.

Yeah, it was, I was really surprised, we were first on which in hindsight was a really good slot. Literally 25 minutes before we went on there was nobody in the room and we were thinking it might be a little bit difficult, but then it filled up with 6-700 people packed to the rafters. We went on and everybody really got into it, it was a really great experience for us. That was really positive, it made us feel like doing some more gigs, we thought let’s promote this thing and see where it goes.

It’s great that you are getting a good reception, you are also playing the Shiine On Weekender in November.

Personally, I was thinking do we really want to be touring as a throwback to the early 90s? but actually, people have a real fond memory of that. I think it was a great time for music, we are well up for it.

How are you finding adapting to the music business today, compared to what it was like back on the 90s?

I think it’s a lot better, not that I know a lot about it. For us, there’s no pressure anymore. It feels like when we started because we had a small independent label, everyone seemed very positive and up for it. Everyone wanted the same goal to get some exposure and get out there. When we got to the major label, it all got a little more serious and a bit more corporate and that all became weird then. It sounds very familiar because of stories other bands have said, but it’s all a bit out of our hands. Whereas now if we don’t want to do anything we just don’t do it and if we want to do something we do it. We’re not coming back to take on the world, we’re just putting an album out, but it feels very much in our hands, which is a good thing for bands we can control things more and have a bit of flexibility in what we are doing.

It’s hard to get a copy of Rubberband nowadays.

I probably have a garage full of the CDs I could definitely get you one (laughs). Even back then, ten years ago it was different, you had to do a physical thing, you had to get manufacturers to do all the printing and make it. We didn’t quite do it right last time. It took us a long time to get the album made, we didn’t know how to promote it, so I’ve got a few. I think it was a pretty good album, but it didn’t register very highly on people’s minds. Doing an album every ten years seems to be the way we are going at the moment. It would be nice to do another one if people enjoy this one to do another one a bit sooner this time.

Do you have songs left over?

Yeah, we have actually, because I’ve had two years writing we had quite a few songs to play with. There’s few left over and a few written since then. It’s difficult to know, we are putting the album out there and seeing if anyone has any interest at all then we will see where it goes.

What music influences you now?

Neil Young has always been my go-to influence. I like Future Islands the guy with the funny dance. I thought that was good I really liked that actually, I like that electronic sound. Ian the drummer managed a band called The Heartbreaks, he has kept his eye on music over the years. We have always had that sort of American folk feel in our sound. My son listens to Joy Division, Stone Roses, Happy Monday’s so I kind of listen to what he listens to now. He loves all that older stuff rather than any of the newer stuff I must say. Whatever I have done in my day job I have always bumped into people who know The Milltown Brothers it’s something that has followed me through my life, and it is a positive thing. The five of us shared some heavy experiences and intense times, so I look back on it as a good thing.

Once the album is released what is next?

We are debating about doing some gigs before the album came out or after. We got offered some dates in London in October, we might do a little mini-tour around then, leading up to Shiine in November. My feeling is if there is any momentum with the album then it will slowly grow over a period of time. We are there to promote it in bursts rather than a big launch, it’s not the game that we are in, we are there to gently nudge people and see if they are interested.

We wanted to write something about being in you’re 40s and is a bit real and honest. We set out to do that, there’s no point doing another Slinky or something like that, it had to be something that was worthwhile and I genuinely think we have achieved that.

The new album from The Milltown Brothers ‘Long Road’ is out now! BUY IT HERE!

Xsnoize Author
Mark Millar is the founder of XS Noize and looks after the daily running of the website as well as hosting interviews for the weekly XS Noize Podcast. Mark's favourite album is Achtung Baby by U2.

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