On certain still nights some years ago, Jesse Galkowski and Matt Brady would haul instruments up to the fourth floor of the College of Arts and Sciences for some much-needed escape.
“He lived on Bay State, so we’d have those yellow bins and roll our stuff up and up the elevator,” says Brady, a CAS senior. “And so we could play, and all the janitors would be cool with it.”
“They were good guys,” adds Galkowski, a College of Communication graduate, from behind his patchwork drum kit. Galkowski (drums) and Brady (guitar and vocals), along with Luke Savoca (bass guitar) and Sam Taber (keyboards), seem to welcome a chance to reminisce before buckling down for a Friday afternoon band practice in Savoca’s fairy-lit Brookline basement. Collectively titled Milk, they’re only a few weeks away from releasing their first full-length album, Et in Arcadia. The title, Brady explains, comes from a Latin memento mori, or reminder of death: “Et in Arcadia ego.” Even in Paradise, there am I.
“Even in a perfect place, bad [expletive]’s happening,” he says.
If it is, though, they don’t seem too phased right now. They squeeze a couple of songs in before the interview and after a while they forget that anyone’s watching, dissolving into themselves with contagious chemistry. Savoca and Taber — both CAS graduates — eventually joined in on the fourth floor concerts, and the band settled on calling themselves Milk “once [they] were all sort of congealed as this unit,” both personally and musically.
“You can sense where people come from,” Brady says, and Galkowski explains.
“Honky Tonk blues,” he begins, pointing to Taber. “Musical theater,” he continues, pointing to Savoca. “Death metal,” he concludes, pointing to himself.
“I like funk,” Savoca interrupts. All four laugh.
In all seriousness, Brady describes Milk’s music as “hard, weird blues,” but obviously isn’t thrilled to distill it to that much. Whatever it is, it hits hard, due in no small part to the band’s passion for what they’re doing.
“It’s definitely one of the most ambitious full-length records for an unsigned band that I’ve heard,” Galkowski says of the album. “And that’s a lot to say, but I actually think it’s true, because the range of what we’re trying to do, without any guidance from a record label or anyone … We’re biting off a lot with this.”
Brady agrees: “I think we’re accomplishing a lot with it, too,” he adds.
Then again, there’s always that risk. Galkowski explained it more a little bit before practice. The summer after his freshman year, before Milk came together, he started a solo project, putting to work his production skills from film classes, his self-taught instrumental talent and his nagging need to create something new. Easy Elliot, as he dubbed it, quickly became as much an escape as it was an experiment.
“I was thinking about the movie E.T., that I love, that I used to watch daily with my younger sister, and I was convinced that one of the lines the mom said when Elliott finds the alien in his room and he was freaking out was ‘Easy, Elliott!’” he says with a grin. “I watched the movie again. She never says that.
“My goal became to record one album every year, and freshman year I spent all summer recording it, down on the Cape, and then I spent the whole year mixing it, layering vocals in my dorm room in my headphones at night,” he recalls, sitting on his bed in his Allston apartment. His shelves are packed with worn books and Nintendo 64 cartridges, while classic American names populate his nightstand: Ayn Rand, Cormac McCarthy, Jim Beam. Cutouts of the Beatles from Abbey Road cross his headboard. His desk, a cluster of keyboards surrounded by wall-mounted guitars and an electronic drum kit, looks like a headquarters of sorts. Galkowski gives it a proud once-over and continues his story.
“It was kind of my escape,” he says. “I found myself listening as I was walking to class to all the songs I was working on, all the time in my headphones, which I kind of was embarrassed by. ‘Oh what are you listening to?’ ‘Myself,’” he jokes. “But I’m working on something and I got to figure out how to make that snare drum pop the way I want it to.”
Four years later, he admits he’s ready to retire the name and put what he learned into Milk. Having an outlet like that just isn’t something he’s about to give up entirely.
“I’m putting everything else off,” he says. “The pressure, finding a job after graduation really bummed me out. All summer, I was like, ‘Oh my god, what did I just do? I could have bought a house for all this student debt I have now.’ But, you got to remember that you are an individual, and you have a vision that no one else has, and it’s kind of up to you to take that seriously and make it worth something to other people.”
The others share this philosophy that the music has too much potential to just abandon for something safer.
“Sometimes we get overwhelmed. Like, you look in the Boston Compass at the shows, and just the centerfold is just fine print shows, and it’s like, how do you make a name for yourself with all these people?” says Brady.
For now, it doesn’t matter.
“I don’t get any satisfaction from anything else the way I do this, and that’s why I do it. On a basic level, that’s the escape. Like, actually playing and sounding good is the escape from worrying about all this [expletive] that goes with it,” says Taber.
“Obviously the majority of our work is yet to be done,” says Brady. “Overwhelmingly so. I feel like we’re on the right path.”
With that, they start another song – something slower this time. Within seconds, they’re gone again.