A Brief History.
Many moons ago, Joe Easley (drums) and Eric Axelson (bass) were in the Dismemberment Plan, and met Leigh Thompson (guitar), who was in the Vehicle Birth -- the bands were good friends and played a bunch of shows together. The Dismemberment Plan released their records on DeSoto; Vehicle Birth on Crank. A few moons later, Joe, Eric, and Leigh played in Statehood with the legendary Clark Sabine in Washington, D.C. After Clark passed away from melanoma in 2009, the rest of the band tried to keep playing, but it just didn’t feel right.
Fourteen years later, and thanks to broadband, we now have Milliseconds. Leigh lives in Philadelphia. Joe in DC. Eric in Richmond. Once a week they head into their own basements, hundreds of miles apart, and go online for band practice. Like some bizarre Zoom call for band practice, Joe clicks in, and everyone starts on the one. It shouldn't work, but it does.
Milliseconds started in the wake of the Dismemberment Plan reunion shows in 2014. Joe found an online service that let bands practice remotely, gave it a test drive, and sent some emails to friends to see who wanted to play. Eric and Leigh did. Early on it went like this: mess with a riff someone brought…devolve into playing "Owner of a Lonely Heart." Mess with another riff for a bit…segue into "Walking on the Moon"…fix some tech and latency issues…new riff, but switch to "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" instead. You get the picture. But then riffs started turning into songs. Three songs turned into six, and it started to feel more like a band.
But that band also didn't have a singer. More emails to more friends resulted in zero new members, and still no singer. So one day Eric decided to try and write melodies and words to some of the early songs. It's important to know that singing is one of his lifelong anxieties, like cold sweat-panic attack anxiety, to the point where at birthday parties he'd mouth the words to "Happy Birthday," at Christmas, mouth the words to all the carols, even in the car alone he'd rather drum along than sing along to pop songs.
Enter: Vocal Growth Montage Scene.
1) Eric has a few drinks and tries to sing in a practice, it's awkward
2) Signs up with a vocal teacher, and when asked "ok, repeat back to me what I sing" replies "out loud?"
3) Sings a Queens of the Stone Age song in a vocal recital at an elementary school (has a minor panic attack in the grocery store an hour later…like panic echo, of sorts)
4) Gets frustrated, stops vocal lessons
5) Gets unfrustrated and starts with J. Robbins' vocal teacher, Pete
6) Lots and lots of drills…think the dance montage in The Breakfast Club, but in head voice
7) Lots of trial and error of melody and lyric writing
8) Slowly gets comfortable singing in front of the band
9) Finally 12 songs get completed, the skies clear, a rainbow appears, puppies and kittens spill out onto the lawn -- and, scene.
So that's how we got here, but what's it sound like?
The DNA of the Dismemberment Plan, the Vehicle Birth, and Statehood are clearly present in these songs, but with wide swerves into other territory. "Joe and I have been playing as a rhythm section for the better part of the last 30 years, so our tendencies will always be there," says Axelson, "I'm sure some sections will feel familiar to anyone who knows our past bands." However, as a three-piece, part of the Milliseconds journey was reenvisioning the sonic landscape -- trying to figure out how sonic space was filled or left open. A large portion of that experimentation took place during the production of the album.
"When it came to where to record, the conversation was a short one -- 'J Robbins at Magpie Cage, right?''' says Axelson. Having worked with him on multiple other projects, a rhythm was established. "In addition to being great at what he does, he just gets us. He knows the kinds of things we like, where our weaknesses are, where to push us, what we're trying to achieve. We also knew that he'd love the warm bath of effects that Leigh brought to the songs--it was a blast watching those two pore over the pedal board to milk out the right sounds."
Milliseconds evolved and grew so organically over time the record covers a wide sonic territory. "Early on we skewed more space rock, or post rock; lots of drones, and layers upon layers," sayd Axelson, "But nothing was off-limits, so suddenly songs closer to the Replacements and Hot Snakes creeped in. We even briefly dabbled with riffs that felt more like Kyuss, the Smiths, or the Kinks."
Lyrically, the record leans into darker spaces, often evoking themes of loss, struggles, or depression. Some of this stems from the shared experience of losing their friend Clark when they were younger. Also, Axelson's wife worked in palliative care while much of the songwriting was taking place–”We probably talk about death more than the average couple.”
So Milliseconds lives in three different cities on the East Coast, and end up on a label in Seattle? John Frazier from Spartan Records was visiting a friend in Richmond in 2018 and bumped into Eric in an ice cream parlor – that’s right, two ice cream eating motherfuckers, they’re not so tough–but they both liked punk rock and pretty vinyl, and when they finished their cones, John said “send me some music when your band is ready.” It took about five years, but they did. “I loved the initial four songs they sent me, and how stylistically they didn’t stay with one sound. But when I got the whole record, it expanded even more–I told the guys it felt like the 12 songs could have been multiple bands because of how varied the sonics were. It really is indicative of how the songs came together over various iterations of space and time.”
And that’s the whole story. So This is How it Happens comes out on Spartan Records on October 13th, with Milliseconds playing a series of shows on the East Coast. How a band in three different cities tours? That’s a different story.
No upcoming events.