The high school band is a well-worn cliché, and Spilt Milk fit right into it. The five-piece group got their start at Mount Spokane High, adding members as they moved into college and deeper into their music careers.
But don’t be fooled by their humble beginnings because with their latest EP, “See You Around,” they’ve proven that they’re well beyond the sound of “high school.”
“I knew Sam (McQuarrie) played the bass,” guitarist Landon Spencer said of the group’s beginnings. “I just told him one day that he was going to be in a band.
“And I found out later that he hadn’t really started learning how to play the bass yet. So, we all just kind of learned through playing in the old jam band setting.”
A lack of deep musical experience in their earlier years had an unexpected creative consequence: It made imitating the group’s favorite bands more difficult than just working out their own sound.
“We all have this kind of intermingling common influences, like Creedence Clearwater Revival and Nathaniel Rateliff,” keyboardist Ian McTamaney said. “But we all come from extremely different musical backgrounds.”
Figuring out how to unite those musical backgrounds, though, was far from a glamorous experience. “Hanging a microphone from the ceiling and wrapping it in two sweatshirts to record drum parts didn’t feel like what a real band would do,” McQuarrie said.
“We spent probably three weeks making this just horrible, horrible sounding recording of a song that we don’t even play anymore,” Spencer said.
A lot has changed since those early days. Spilt Milk have put the sweater-wrapped mic and basement recording sessions in the rear-view mirror and broken onto the scene.
The years of practice have paid off, and the jam band aesthetic is now supplemented by a constructive and collaborative writing process.
Spilt Milk’s first major effort, the EP “See You Around,” was released a few weeks ago. It’s a bright four tracks with a great deal of sonic diversity, folksy overtones and clever lyrics.
The title track, “See You Around,” recounts “an awkward conversation with someone you haven’t seen in a really long time just realizing that we have nothing to talk about,” a situation no small number will encounter as the pandemic continues to taper off.
It establishes the buoyant and romping beat that drives most of their songs. “I feel like a lot of the music from the EP is reflective of where we all are in life,” singer Cailin Spencer said (the Spencers are siblings).
“Which is that weird in-between, early 20s stage where it’s like you have no idea what you’re doing, and everything’s changing really fast.”
The lyrics broadly talk of futures to be minded, others to be ignored, at least until the moment comes. As the band puts it in “Shoulder,” “don’t you sit there / with the weight of the world on your shoulders.”
In the delicate handling of sound and volume, “Shoulder” is the EP’s outbreath, its moment of release. The group’s lyric writing drives the song, and the soft acoustic guitar line contrasts starkly with the surges of synth and Cailin Spencer’s vocals.
The whole EP is polished just so, in part due to the band’s openness to learning as they went into the studio – Seattle’s London Bridge – for the first time.
“What sounds good on a record versus on a stage” is different, McQuarrie said. The EP “turned out probably as well as it possibly could have. Making our first EP was more of a learning experience than a creative experience.”
“In the movies, you always see the band plays one time, they’re like, ‘that’s the take, we got it,’ ” drummer James Ott said. “In actuality, a lot more goes into it than I initially thought, so that was kind of eye-opening.”
With their first sessions under their belt, excitement is high for their next project, which they have already begun to record. The addition of McTamaney in the past year will stir things up going forward, especially as live music becomes a more realistic prospect.
The music means a lot to these five young adults, but not just for its own sake. Spilt Milk has used and will continue to use their power as performing artists to help benefit the Jonah Project, a local charity that fights human trafficking.
Whether it is performing for the Jonah Project or at one of many local bars and stages, Spilt Milk is intent on delivering vivacious, Spokane music to the whole world ’round. Looking back, it’s crazy what can happen in high school.
Julien A. Luebbers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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