by trevor elkin
Come for the spiky, experimental noise-rock – stay for the melodic sugar rush. Chicago’s Melkbelly has both, with its confectionary hooks wrapped up in steel wool and screaming fuzz, you get two hits for the price of one. Whatever ‘melk’ means (an unsavoury eggcorn the band use to describe their unusual sound) we get a lovely belly full of it.
The band comprises Miranda Winters (vocals/guitar), her husband Bart Winters (guitar), his brother Liam Winters (bass) and James Wetzel (drums) and all have been involved in diverse other projects prior to Melkbelly, with eclectic influences from jazz, punk to indie-folk. This combination of close relationships and a strong sense of their own aesthetic certainly grabbed the imagination of their local DIY scene in Pilsen, which continues to be an important guiding light. Melkbelly’s album, ‘Nothing Valley’, is out this week on Wax Nine, owned by Sadie Dupuis (aka Sad13) and is a decadent, yet cooly controlled explosion of joyful, fraught noise. As on the new video, ‘Off the Lot’ below, Miranda’s voice is sometimes acerbic, sometimes soft (but never sappy) and occasionally gets washed away into the raw power of the band, only to rise out of it again like a demonic screaming manga character. Among the dark edges and shade, you can make out snatched lyrics full of the black humour and wit that the music intuitively lends itself to – the musical equivalent of a graphic novel drawn in the back of a copy-book.
Ahead of its release, we talked to Melkbelly about the album and their DIY scene, below…
Being the first band released on Wax9 is a definite privilege and the experience has been pure bliss. Collaborating with friends is always exciting but it’s especially cool when that friend is an artist you respected before you even knew them. Sadie was receptive to our ideas from the get go (about art and mastering and all the stuff that defines the final product) which helped us to maintain a feeling of that DIY existence we love so much.
The album artwork stemmed from wanting to work with Chicago based artist Ben Marcus. He volunteers at an organization in the city called “The Arts of Life” that works with artists with various developmental disabilities, and he collaborates specifically with an artist there named Dave Krueger. They do these really amazing and expressive comics together and we felt like their styles combined have an incredible amount of energy that matched well with the sound of our band. Dave comes up with the dialogue and Ben does the planning and the pencils and then Dave goes back in with color. Anyways, so we gave them the record and the title and just asked them to make a comic! The back cover and poster/lyrics sheet is all Ben though. At some point later this year we’ll be doing a cross-promotional show with “The Arts of Life” that also features a bunch of Dave and Ben’s comic work.
The best part of DIY is everything. It’s an exhausting and rewarding hustle that provides you the opportunity to have your hand in multiple pots. We choose where and how to preform, the visual art we want to represent us and how we want to share those things publicly. With DIY you can create art that exists as a moment in time for the audience that happened to be there and that’s a nice feeling in this super digital world.
Plus, DIY allows you to experiment with your aesthetic until you find a style worth committing to.
It’s fun to hear what people think about our family connections. A lot of people think Bart and Liam are twins. When people see that 3 out 4 of us have the same last name they want to know how we’re related. It’s nice to keep things vague. Liam (the bassist) was once told that he killed it on the drums after a show. Maybe we had real dim lighting that night. We spend so much time together as a group that we are a family, regardless of blood or name.
The family style closeness is crucial when you are constantly creating and working with each other.
We still want to play for all the sweaty, passionate people that you find in the basements of DIY spaces all over the world and now we’re ready to take that same energy out to larger venues (with more microphones).
Especially if it means we can help more people escape the brutal reality of life these days.
5 very different bands, to illustrate the brilliant diversity of the local DIY scene in Pilsen, Chicago.
The Hecks – “Sugar”
Blacker Face – “Riot Girls”
Toupee – “Mommy is a Mummy”
DEHD – “Sunburn”
Courtesy – “Jungle Juice”
‘Nothing Valley’ is out October 13th, on Wax Nine records