The first time I reached Brendan Dyer, the leader of Los Angeles rock band Milly, he was rolling through the Midwest in a rented van that had already broken down once before, forcing his group to cancel a Pittsburgh gig.
Fortunately, the van got fixed, the group made their next few gigs on the East Coast, and Dyer was able to call me back. We discussed his new band and their new EP record, “Our First Four Songs,” which will be released this week by Los Angeles-based Dangerbird Records.
Dyer grew up in Bristol, Conn., but the 23-year-old singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist recently moved to Hollywood and formed his new group. Milly’s grungy, guitar-heavy style is commonly called “Shoegaze” or “Slowcore,” and the band will showcase its distinct sound on Nov. 5 at The Independent in San Francisco. For tickets, go online at theindependentsf.com/tickets/.
This Q&A is based on the nearly 60-minute phone conversation Local News Matters had with Dyer, as he and his band headed west in that unreliable vehicle. The Q&A has been edited for space and clarity.
Subscribe to our weekly arts & culture newsletter
How is your van running now on this tour?
This morning, the van had a flat tire and would not turn on. One of us left the lights on last night. I don’t want to name any names. (laughs) So we had a guy jump it for us. We have it running now. Our fuel pump had to be replaced last week, so we had to cancel our Pittsburgh show. But for now, we’re in good shape.
You played the East Coast last week and will play the West Coast this week. Where are you now?
We’re about to pass through Lincoln, Nebraska. We stayed in Omaha last night, and our most recent gig was in Chicago. The gig was OK, we had some weird technical issues, things like guitars not staying in tune. It was frustrating. But Chicago itself was great. This whole experience has been new for me. With my old band, we’d play art spaces and even people’s houses. This has been the first tour, where we’ve primarily played venues. Don’t get me wrong; I‘ve been loving it. It’s nice to play a place where you can do a sound check. But it’s a breath of fresh air to play a place like a thrift shop in Portland, because you get to play on the floor and you can talk to people. We’ve been playing in front of adults — people in their 50s, etc. I like it, but it’s just nice to play in front of people your own age.
What made you make the move from Bristol, Conn., to Los Angeles?
I actually lived in Brooklyn in 2017 for six months. I don’t think I was ready for it. It was a classic cliche. The pace of it and where I was in life — it didn’t work out for me. I had my own band and we broke up. We’re fine now but it was on bad terms for a little bit. My now-girlfriend, she was born and raised in L.A. She came out to New York and hung out with me in Connecticut. She said, “You should come see California,” and she invited me to stay. I took her up on that. I went out there in March 2018. It was a test, like, could I live here? I didn’t have anything going on in Connecticut (laughs). My tax return came and that paid for my trip to LA.
What was your first band and why did it break up?
It was called “Furnsss.” Yep, that’s how it’s spelled. (laughs) Generally, I felt like I was carrying more weight than everyone else. I feel like I exhausted myself booking tours and shows, trying to push the band forward. But it felt forced and unnatural. That approach over time kind of killed our friendships. And it all kind of capsized on this one tour we were all on. Truth be told, it was on me, but I felt I was pushed beyond my limit.
How is it different now with your new band, Milly?
Not to go all hippie on you, but with Milly, I was just recording on my own at home and my approach shifted. It went from me being on every tour doing every show and being stressed out and it shifted to me doing music just for fun; doing it for the reasons why I started doing it in the first place. At first, I was doing (music) because it feels right, and I’m continuing to do that. With the new band, it has felt more natural.
Do you like Los Angeles?
I really like it. I was surprised at how much I like it. I was lucky to have someone there. I live in Hollywood, in a nice little neighborhood called Franklin Village. It’s not as overwhelming as New York was for me. My girlfriend’s family lives in the (San Fernando) Valley. It’s suburbia, which is like where I grew up. It’s nice to have that to go to if the pace of Hollywood gets too hectic. Ventura Boulevard (in the Valley) gets slow at night, so it’s definitely more comfortable for me, as opposed to New York where you can’t really escape it.
How would you describe your music? Describe Slowcore?
I was just talking about this. We make fun of that name, too. We get tagged with the label “Shoegaze” or “Slowcore.” Shoegaze was a movement, not really a genre. There’s no sound to those terms, but they’re used (to characterize) for genres. Shoegaze started in the 1980s in the United Kingdom. A lot of bands coming out of that scene were doing similar things. They had a lot of effect pedals, so they’d look down at their shoes as they played. That’s why they called it Shoegaze. It was a rebellion against hair metal and punk music. It was like their own piece of punk. They were going to play slow songs, rebelling against what was going on around them.
How do you describe your music?
Depends on who I’m describing it to. I say the 1990s rock music is the most influential music we listen to. We’re into a lot of music from that era, music fueled by heavier guitar music, with 1990s bands like Sonic Youth, Nirvana, Dinosaur Jr., and Pavement. Also, Beck and the Red Hot Chili Peppers or late 1990s performers like Jimmy Eat World, Codeine and Elliott Smith. But I don’t want to go too much on a nostalgia binge because that can be bad, too. Today’s bands influence us, too. A band like Waveform — they’re from Connecticut, too. They’re super young but super prolific songwriters. We just played with them in Brooklyn. I feel like they’re up next. They’re on track to do awesome things
Gleemer, which is from Colorado, is another band that’s super influential on us.
What inspires you to write your songs?
Isolation is the number one thing. I have to be totally alone to write music. I’m feeling super influenced seeing other bands. Also, seeing the country on tour has been cool. I’m writing a bunch of things down. It’s easier when you’re somewhere new, you can see a sign or a name and that can start something for me. We have a song called “Crazy Horse” because I like Neil Young and “Crazy Horse.” The song isn’t influenced by their sounds, but the name sounds cool, and I wrote a narrative around whatever that meant to me at the moment.
I’m curious if your lyrics have clear meanings. For example, what inspired your song “People Are Forever”?
That one actually, specifically, has the most (clear) meaning of any of my songs. With my old band, lyrics would come last, there wasn’t a lot of thought there. But that song (“People Are Forever”) is pretty literal. When I wrote it, I was going through a phase of not having a band. One of my old bandmates was my best friend of four years. People are in your life and then suddenly they’re out. But they’re in your life forever anyway because they affected you in some way. Their sense of humor, for example. Also I was riffing on the idea — the title is kind of a mantra — because it repeats over and over again. I wasn’t intentionally writing about death, but I feel it can be one of those messages where someone in your life can die but they can still be with you forever. The song is fun to play live, maybe it helps someone who’s lost someone close to them.
Your song videos are distinctive. How do your video ideas come together?
I’m not that visual. So, usually I let whoever’s filming it take the reins. I’m better with words and music. Long story short, I send the songs to my friend (a video director) and ask them to do what they want with it.
What can you tell me about the record you’re releasing soon?
It’s a record of four tunes, so we’re calling it “Our First Four Songs.” It will be released on Nov. 6. All the songs have already been out in some capacity, but they’ve been repackaged in some shape or form for this new record. Two of the songs I’d already released myself. Our label, Dangerbird Records, put out two other songs, then got the rights to the other two. I like the older songs, but I’m especially looking forward to writing and recording new stuff. That’s definitely on tap for next year. The band (Milly) is fun because the project started out as solo vehicle, but now I feel like we’ve become a band. We’ve had more collaboration and I’m looking forward to recording with other people in the studio.
Have you played before in the Bay Area?
Twice. In San Francisco, we played at Cafe Du Nord. Another time, we played at 924 Gilman in Berkeley. We had fun there. It was cool.
What’s next for you?
It’d be nice to make at least a modest living out of music. I’d like to release a couple more records, tour for a few months every year, and live comfortably.
What do you love most about making music?
It’s the only thing that makes sense to me right now. It’s cathartic. It’s a little self-indulgent but I think that’s OK, too. It grounds me. Touring is fun. With the exception of these weird off days and the van breaking down, you feel productive. It’s good for me to have a schedule and it’s fun to see other cities. It feels like we’re out here really doing the damn thing.