[BASEMENT PSYCH-POP] Prodding a band for the story behind its name is typically a major faux pas, but the guys in the We Shared Milk were asking for it.
"We were basically just making fun of hipster band names," says bespectacled drummer Eric Ambrosius, explaining the group's exceptionally awkward moniker from the couch in singer-guitarist Boone Howard's weed-scented Southeast Portland living room. Why milk, though? "We were drinking milk at the time,â he says, giggling.
See why you never ask that question?
Still, as unrevealing as that response might seem, it says quite a bit about where the We Shared Milk is coming from. It reflects the loose, shrugged-off approach the band takes to its languidly hooky, casually stoned psychedelic pop. And it exemplifies why, for a long time, the band existed on the outskirts of the local music scene. For Howard and Ambrosius, Alaskan expats who grew up in towns where pizza parlors doubled as the only rock clubs for miles, the worst thing a band can do is take itself too preciously. No wonder, then, that when they started the We Shared Milk in earnest in 2008, the group felt alienated from the Portland music in-crowd.
"It just seemed like every time you'd approach another band or go to a show, it was just that whole 'cool kids in high school' sort of thing," says Howard, sitting across from Ambrosius and bassist Travis Leipzig, dressed in a loose-fitting tie-dyed shirt and sporting what looks like a caterpillar above his upper lip. "As opposed to now when you go to a show, and the band finishes, and they go to the opening band and they're shotgunning beers together."
"It's much more friendly," Ambrosius adds.
That newfound sense of unity is represented on the We Shared Milk's full-length debut. Instead of isolating itself in the studio, the band turned the recording into a kind of community project, inviting its friends—including And And And, Hustle and Drone, Grandparents and Tyler Keene's Log Across the Washer—to each produce a different track on the album. As a result, The History of Voyager and Legend Tripping (let's not even get into the origins of that title) serves as a de facto survey of the Portland underground in 2012, filtered through the smeary lens of a single band. Although it has a uniform sound—bright riffs channeled through woozy guitars, languorous melodies flooded with lightheaded euphoria—the group says each contributor exerted an influence on the record.
"If we had put out all the demos of this album, it would've been a punk-rock album, mostly," Howard says. "And it wouldn't have been that good."
Indeed, History of Voyager is a long way from the two-man thrash Howard and Ambrosius bashed out in the We Shared Milk's early days. But even with the album's invigorated sense of songcraft, the band insists its attitude is still laid-back.
"I just don't want it to seem like we're taking ourselves too seriously," Howard says. "And that's perfect for our band name. We've already branded ourselves as not being super serious."
SEE IT: The We Shared Milk plays Mississippi Studios, 3939 N Mississippi Ave., on Saturday, Sept. 22, with Charts, Talkative, Old Age, Operation Mission and Log Across the Washer. 8 pm. $6. 21+.