Milagres - Kyle Wilson on His Writing Process, "Inexcusably Arty" Songs, and Their Second Album | Under The Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Milagres - Kyle Wilson on His Writing Process, “Inexcusably Arty” Songs, and Their Second Album

Imagination Is Stronger Than Reality

Mar 26, 2014 Web Exclusive
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Kyle Wilson, central focus of the New York-based Milagres, is aging backwards. The now-beardless prolific songwriter sits in his living room, its walls adorned with framed posters as random as an Andy Warhol movie poster to that of the Next Wave Festival, a music festival at the Brooklyn Academy of Music from the ‘80s. With this new fresh-faced look, Wilson looks a decade younger, too young to have experienced the music Milagres’ second album, Violent Light, is informed bynamely, the new romantic and synth-pop sounds of the ‘80s: think Roxy Music, Simple Minds, David Bowie, and even The Sugarcubes.

Wilson was recovering from a serious back injury as a result of rock climbing accident when writing Milagres’ debut, 2011’s Glowing Mouth. For Violent Light, he was just a regular guy, without pain meds, trying to write that “difficult second album.” Trimming and shifting the group’s line-up, it now encompasses Milagres regulars Fraser McCulloch (who also produced both albums) and Chris Brazee, with the addition of newcomer, drummer Paul Payabyab.

In between pointing out the different art pieces in his apartment, including a fraying copy of Shepard Fairey’s “Hope” Obama poster, Wilson talks about how the songs he imagines in his head are so much better than the ones we hear on his albums.

Lily Moayeri (Under the Radar): The songwriting for your debut was in a very different setting than this album.

Kyle Wilson: When we made the first record, the record was completely finished, mastered, everything, before we signed with the label. As the songs were being written and as the record was being put together, we had no idea that it was going to see the light of day at all. When you know people are going to hear it, then you try a little harder to make something that’s great. If you don’t know people are going to hear it, you make something that you like. That’s a huge difference. Otherwise, this record was a challenge to make as well.

What was the songwriting setting like for this album?

When we were touring for the first record, it didn’t occur to me that I needed to write songs for the next one. When we got off from tour I realized I hadn’t really written a song in a year or more. For me, writing is an incredibly manic and solitary experience. There are a lot of real sharp ups and downs. I can’t do a lot of other things when I’m writing. I grow a beard and don’t really brush my teeth and don’t take care of myself. So it’s always a challenge, regardless of whether you’re in a Vicodin- and pain-induced haze.

It sounds like you wouldn’t have been able to write on tour even if you were aware of it.

That’s something I’m going to be working on this tour, seeing if I can make that happen. It will be an interesting experiment.

Do you have the ideas for the songs in your head already?

Sometimes the very little seedling will come from playing around on an instrument, but usually, the meat of the song is written in my head. I like to take pretty long walks and I work on whatever aspect of the song is in production at that point in time. A lot of the last record, I would be at a bar or something and all of a sudden something comes to me and I’ll sneak into the bathroom and record it a capella into my phone. Hopefully the next day I’ll have recorded it in a way that I can understand it and turn it into something a little more fleshed out.

I do really full-fledged demos out at home but I try not to write too much in the studio because I think that your imagination is always stronger than what you’re capable of doing. If you can imagine something and then try to accomplish that, you’re going to end up with a better result a lot of the time than if you noodle around until you find something that seems like it’s cool.

Did you have trouble getting started writing for this album?

Yeah, there was a lot of inertia. If I go back and listen to some of the first things that I wrote for the record, they’re inexcusably arty. There is nothing there really. My bandmate Fraser [McCulloch], who did the production for the record, he’s really good at holding me to a standard.

Does [McCulloch] get involved in the songwriting at all?

The last song on the album, “Another Light,” is the only co-write we’ve ever done. It wasn’t a collaborative experience where we sat down together and wrote a song. I brought in the verse and the pre-chorus of the song and everyone in the band was like, “Wow, this is really great, what about the chorus?” And I’m like, “That is the chorus, the pre-chorus is the chorus.” And they’re like, “No…that’s not a chorus.” I played it for some people and they were like, “That’s sort of a chorus, I guess…” Fraser eventually wrote the chorus to the song and I was like, “I don’t know about this,” but it grew on me over time and now it’s one of my favorite songs on the record.

Was it easy for you to recognize the “inexcusably arty” songs?

I listen to a lot of pretty arty music so it’s not always that evident to me. You know when you’re standing in the shower in the morning and you’re thinking about all the things you’re going to do in your life? I always want to write an opera. I have a dream of writing a series of art songs that are from a more classical contemporary music perspective. My bandmates realize that right now, we have an opportunity to write some really good pop songs, so, we should probably do that. I’m probably better at that than I am any of those other things anyway.

Was it the band that stopped the “inexcusably arty” songs from ending up on the album?

I’m definitely the main writer in the band, but I think that there’s huge value in the filter bandmates can offer in a situation like ours. We collect everyone’s opinions on what’s good and what’s not. If there’s somebody in the band that doesn’t like something, then we don’t put it to tape unless we can convince them. It’s a consensus. If I had different people in the band that were picking and choosing what I was writing and pushing me into different directions, we’d end up with a totally different recordwhich is another reason why the previous album is different from this one. We have different people in the band.

How did that line-up change affect your sound and working process?

So far having less people has been great for us, just in terms of traveling and streamlining decisions. This line-up sees us more able to get things done and get to a consensus about things instead of battling too much.

As far as effects on sound, [McCulloch] being from the U.K. speaks to a lot of our British influences. He’s introduced me to a lot of music over the years of working together and he knows a lot of stuff I don’t know.

The album definitely sounds ‘80s British, very new romantic, like the groups whose music is enduring and credible.

The focus was more on songwriting in the ‘80s. I wrote over 30 songs for this album, we recorded 16, there are only 10 on the album, and it’s really short. We wanted to make a short record with shorter songs to have a lot of impact. We didn’t want to waste anybody’s time. I think this record is kind of like a grower.

The record doesn’t need to grow at all. It’s very instant.

I take that as a compliment.


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