Whole Milk’s genre can’t really be pinned to one category, but it falls into the surf-rock spectrum with slight hints of jazz, poppy-psych, and garage in the mix. Aside from their unique sound, Whole Milk offer a “whole” lot more than just music. The band makes it a point to go out and engage with their friends and fans, and ultimately create an inclusive and expansive community. Whole Milk truly are the definition of #TourLife. They spend more time on the road than at home, but they wouldn’t have it any other way.
Alec, Mariah, and Nate of Whole Milk chatted with me about their mission as a band, their sweet videography skills, and adventures from their recent tour.
Who’s all here and who does what?
Mariah: I’m Mariah George, I play bass and sing.
Alec: My name is Alec Reed, I play guitar and I also sing.
Nate: I’m Nate, and I play the drums.
How did you all meet?
Alec: Nate and I met when we were 14 years old through a program called School of Rock, and have been playing together ever since. Mariah and I met out in Los Angeles while in school at the California Institute of the Arts.
Mariah: But we all grew up in Colorado. I’m from Colorado Springs, Nate’s from Erie, and Alec is from Denver.
Where are you guys based out of right now?
Alec: We’re touring full time though, so we do about two weeks back in Denver, and then we do four or five weeks on the road, then two weeks back in Denver, and then back to four or five weeks on the road.
Mariah: That’s changing now, it’s turning into more like seven weeks on the road and then a week in Denver (laughs).
That’s tiring. How do you manage all of that?
Mariah: We do it all ourselves, we book everything ourselves through Instagram, cold emails, and some not-so-cold emails now that we’re less rookie at it. The three of us have been traveling in a Honda Element – so all of our gear plus all three of our bodies live, sleep, and travel in this Honda Element that we’ve converted. But…
Alec: A new era!
Mariah: In the next week we will be acquiring a cargo van. We’re updating a little bit so it won’t be quite as cramped.
Alec: We’re bringing our dog, Charles along. Charles is really the only reason we’re famous.
Mariah: Today we were talking to a group of bands that we have a gig with in June in San Diego, and they were like “Don’t worry about anything, just make sure you show up to the gig with your dog.” (laughs)
So you guys do all of this touring, do you feel like you’re getting a lot of fans that way and that’s helping you be able to do that so much?
Alec: Absolutely. We kind of had this idea that a lot of bands will sit down and work super hard for two or three years to build their following in a city and get their name big enough to be able to spend their life playing music. And we were like, what if we just did that all across the United States and build that same following all around different cities.
Mariah: So now our presence is frequent enough, where every city we stop in, people are saying “oh wait, did you guys move here, do you live here now?” Like in LA, San Diego, San Francisco. So it’s nice that we get there every month and it’s like we’re as present as perhaps a local band, but we’re saturating every market.
That’s cool, that’s smart. It’s just consuming and not everyone can do that. You’re definitely the only ones.
Alec: What’s been interesting during this process, especially doing it ourselves, is seeing how much easier it really is than people are led to believe. But that’s not saying it’s not a stupid amount of work, like all we do is work almost twelve hours a day. It’s just time that you have to put in, you know?
Mariah: Well it’s a commitment to a lifestyle change too. I like to say that we meet two kinds of people on the road – people that are really stoked about what we’re doing and wish they could do what we’re doing, but might have obligations like a full-time job or a family, or student loans or debt – all sorts of obligations that tie you to a more sedentary lifestyle that keeps you in the same location. Or we meet people that just feel really bad for us, like “Oh my gosh that’s so scary, you’re living in a car driving around the country?”
Alec: But we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Mariah: Yeah, we really wouldn’t have it any other way. And it’s such a freeing lifestyle, it’s so nice. Like for example, we can live in a car and go play all of these awesome shows while we’re also traveling and meeting friends, and creating this larger artist community, but then in a day I get to take my grandma to her sixtieth high school reunion in Nebraska – and I wouldn’t ever be able to do that and spend that time with family if we hadn’t created this job for ourselves.
Alec: Every week or two we sit down and look at a map and get to say “where do we want to be in four months, or six months?” And we get to go there, which is super exciting.
Mariah: Yeah, it’s empowering and it’s exciting to choose your own fate. We make our own schedule which feels really great.
That’s cool, how long has Whole Milk been a band?
Alec: Two years now, to the month.
Mariah: It started as a different set up, though. Maybe you guys want to speak to that.
Nate: It started off as two or three guys, then went all the way up to five. Then we learned how to live on the road and slowly learned from mistakes and successes.
Mariah: Yes, talking about that commitment to the lifestyle. It was different with three, there was a keyboardist and Alec and Nate. Then with five of us, we added bass and myself, which I did the management and vocals. Then we hit the road for four months and we realized that it really is something you have to want to do and pursue. Alec, Nate and I loved the fast pace and traveling lifestyle so much, so we adjusted things a bit. So I’m playing bass now and the current set up is guitar, bass, drums, and two voices. It’s been a good evolution. We’ve been touring full-time for four months now. Before that, it was more playing local shows while we worked day jobs or went to school, and then we only toured in the summer.
Alec: But we quit it all and we’re eternal musicians now!
Mariah: Yeah, Alec and I quit our jobs in January, and then Nate just finished up school.
You just got back from a tour, right?
Alec: So Mariah and I just got back from the 2% tour, so it was just the two of us – Nate was finishing up Paramedic school… and now he has to hang out with us for the next year. But the tour was amazing, we went from San Diego, up to Vancouver, and it was nice. Over the last month we got to spend quality time in cities where we really met fans.
Mariah: Fans that are now best friends. And we also met really valuable collaborators – people that have really helped us grow our brand. Photographers that are helping us take product photos of our merchandise. Models – friends that are beautiful that are willing to put on our clothes and take pictures for us. We met other bands that are looking to start touring or have toured before and are just looking for a new sound to book shows with. It was a great opportunity for us to really dig deeper into those relationships and build meaningful contacts that make the whole booking process so much easier, and help us with our long-term goals of being able to help other DIY artists link up and just be able to do it for themselves too.
Alec: With frequent touring, we’re not relying on the internet so much to sell our music. We do spend a lot of time maintaining a presence online, but we get to go out and meet our fans and shake their hands.
Mariah: And then social media is the tool that keeps us in contact until the next time we meet again. Instead of having the only contact being through social media, which tends to die out if there isn’t some sort of personal relationship.
Absolutely. Did you have any favorite stops on this tour?
Alec: I would say San Francisco was unbelievable – we met a whole handful of people that I think redefine the reason that we’re doing this. But you’re right – you’re definitely at some point during a tour going to get really tired, but then you meet these friends that revitalize it.
What was it that revitalized you?
Mariah: Well it was so meaningful. We got there a little bit before the show and we work with a booking collective up there called Seance Party – which is our friend Jake Little who books us up there also lets us stay at his house with his lovely roommates whom we’ve had the opportunity to make friends with. And you get this nervousness when you play for new friends because there’s this expectation and desire to impress, and then they come up to you after the show and say “You had me in tears, I felt like you were talking to me.” They’ve only heard you play once but they’re reciting your lyrics back to you saying, “You spoke to me, thank you so much for writing this music.” It’s so humbling. When Alec and I are on the road we listen to this podcast called WTF with Marc Maron and he interviews all of these celebrities that have now made it and they talk about their evolution. He was interviewing Drew Carey, and Drew Carey was talking about the importance of when you’re talking to someone about their experience, to not say “Oh I did so bad or I fucked up this part,” but instead to just really listen to them, and let them take you on that journey of their enjoyment. I think that, in addition to the amazing feedback we got, is what made everything click. That people are actually hearing what we are trying to say and it’s no longer just like “Oh I liked your look,” it’s like making that real, personal connection.
That’s really cool, and that’s amazing that you’re reaching out to people in a new way. Did anything crazy happen on this tour?
Alec: Well I filmed my first skate video.
We’ve been getting into videography on our Instagram – @wholemilk.mp3.
Yes you have! More Iguana footage, please.
Mariah: I think one of the craziest things that happened was on one of our days off. We were camping on this reservoir, two hours north of San Francisco. It was so beautiful, we had this totally secluded campsite and no one was around for like a half-mile around us. At 2AM we were sitting in the back of the Element with the lights on, and then we start hearing footsteps. It was obviously boots of a large human person, circling our car. We then locked the doors, flipped on the headlights, and heard someone run and like, grunt. So someone was obviously hiding from us, so we jump in the front seat and drove to Planet Fitness and slept in the Planet Fitness parking lot, and got away from the murderer.
Dang, that’s scary. You’ll never know who it was.
Alec: That’s why we’re going back!
Mariah: Well the scariest part was that I left my Birkenstocks next to the campsite and I have a deep connection to my Birkenstocks. And as we were driving off I was like “Oh my god, those are my only shoes, we have to go back and get them,” so we risked our lives for the Birkenstocks, and now we’re here to tell the story.
Oh my god, that’s crazy.
Alec: I have one more story, it’s my favorite story. We were driving and were trying to go camping in the Redwood forest and go check out a bunch of tide pools.
Mariah: Oh yeah, we looked up low tides and everything and we were so ready to go check it out. Be mega-tourists.
Alec: But we’re pretty much nocturnal though – we usually sleep through the day and do all of our driving and playing and work at night. So we were driving through California, parked and woke up in the morning ready to go see the tide pools, and realized that we had driven through the entire Redwood forest at night.
Mariah: In the dark, and missed the whole thing (laughs). And then we were low on money so there was no turning back. And then we also realized while checking out the map that we had passed all of the tide pools in the dark.
Alec: Again, shout out to all of the homies in San Francisco and Salinas that made getting home a reality.
Mariah: Yeah, thank you so much for buying merch and caring about us. We were just about to hit the gas light when we got home to Denver.
Is there any story that stands out as super crazy from a previous tour, because these are all from the most recent one, right?
Alec: Yeah, during our tour before this one, me and Mariah were in the woods in Mount Shasta and we were like trying to grab a table at night. It was really, really dark, and I went to grab the table and she heard a really deep growl in the woods, and she was like “What was that?” And I just shrugged it off. then we heard it again, and I shined the flashlight deep in the woods and there were these giant wolves, or so we thought, that were just stalking us.
Mariah: We thought it was wolves all along, but I’ve been back to this forest and there are signs about bears everywhere, so I think they might have been bears. That was when we were a five-piece band, and our friend Kevin was off sitting on a stump meditating, and we had to grab everyone and get them back in the car. I don’t know, there was lots of supernatural events that were happening.
Do you normally camp when you’re on tour? I’ve never heard of that.
Mariah: That’s the huge difference between when we started touring and then now. We were in a car with camping gear, so we would just drive to a campsite every night and it became the most awful part of touring, because when you’re in the middle of LA, there’s no where to camp within 200 miles. And also, we don’t want to pay $35 dollars to set up a tent for a night at a camp site. It became painfully obvious that we needed a vehicle that we could sleep in, so that’s why we converted the Element, but that’s now too small for the three of us, so that’s why we now have the van! So we will basically just park in a Planet Fitness parking lot or park outside of a friend’s house.
Alec: And now we’re at a point where we know so many people in cities, we end up just crashing with our friends.
Mariah: Yeah, it works out pretty well.
Nate: Started from the bottom, and now we’re working our way up! It definitely gives you an appreciation for the process that people go through to really make their dreams a reality.
Mariah: You know how people describe passion as this really whimsical and beautiful thing. But really that’s not what passion is about – it’s more like, what are you willing to suffer for?
Yeah, I completely agree with that. You guys should do a Vlog of your tour travels.
Alec: We’re talking a lot about what our next steps are. We’re working on an idea for a YouTube account, Mariah and I are working on writing a book.
Mariah: And we’ve been trying to be a little bit more active on Instagram live and things like that. Interacting with people live, and getting feedback about what people want to hear. It seems like people respond really well to video and personalized video, like a Vlog type of thing.
Who does all of your videos?
Mariah: It’s Alec! Sometimes I do some of the filming, but for a majority of it, he films and edits everything.
It’s all original or is there some stock footage in there?
Mariah: All of it’s original.
That’s awesome, and it’s just like things that you see on tour or around town?
Mariah: Yeah, or stalker videos of Nate.
Do you have any new music set for 2018 you think?
Alec: Yeah, we have been writing a lot. That’s the nice part about touring a lot, is that band practice is pretty much every night on stage, and our sound has evolved a lot since the last time we were in the studio. So at this point, it’s about getting it recorded.
Mariah: We have a full album, or at least a full EP worth of new music, but just no recorded material yet. That’s number one on the list, we just have to find the right person to do it and fill up our pocketbooks some more.
You should convert your van into a recording studio.
Alec: We’ve been talking about that.
Mariah: We have been talking about that, like the vehicle after the classic cargo van will be an RV with a proper garage space in the back that we can use as a studio and screen print, and we just have so many ideas. Like having pop-up shows out of the back and having solar power. We talk about so many things.
Yeah, you know the way that you guys are, just like with your passion and innovative ideas, you can definitely do some sort of Vlog and just be that rotating van that travels around and has a studio and stuff. That would be sick, like Jam In The Van, but Whole Milk… on wheels.
Mariah: And honestly, we meet so many people that on our blog we could feature so many other artists, and we could do just that and do interviews. It’s not about us, it’s about the community and the people supporting us, too.
Are there any bands in Denver, or anywhere, that me or my readers should check out?
Alec: my top three are:
High Ghostly from Colorado Springs.
The band called Juicebumps from San Francisco. They’re like new-age Devo, they’re so good.
And then Miss New Buddha out of San Diego. They’re a hardcore band that’s just like on fire, they’re so good.
And Gloomsday, if you’re into sludge.
Mariah: You just stole all of mine. Well I’m gonna rep High Ghostly, because they’re from my hometown, I love them so much. Noah and Michael are killer musicians and they’re amazing people.
Let’s get some lady bands in here. We just met some awesome ladies in a band that has kind of like punky lyrics. They’re called Buzzed Lightbeer.
We played with another four-piece all-women band the other day, from San Francisco. They’re called Secret Secret.
Listen to Whole Milk’s self-titled album below:
Stay up to date with Whole Milk through the following social links:
THIS INTERVIEW WAS EDITED AND CONDENSED FOR CLARITY