With a sound as big as the sky and a lyrical approach as densely packed as any metropolis, Milagres, a Brooklyn five-piece freshly signed to Kill Rock Stars after a major personnel shake-up, doesn’t need a compelling origin story for Glowing Mouth, its sophomore album. Still, as origin stories go, it’s hard to beat Kyle Wilson’s: “Our first album [2008's Seven Summits] was more of a calculated concept album, where I used mountaineering as a lens to talk about a lot of different things. And during the course of that album, I kind of got obsessed with climbing, and that’s how I ended up in British Columbia.” While climbing, he took a spill, and during a painful recovery, started writing the songs that ended up forming the material on Glowing Mouth.
Wilson doesn’t oversell the experience, admitting that the new material had other influences, too. But when he and bassist Fraser McCulloch spoke to eMusic’s Leonard Pierce about the process of making the record, it became clear that they suffered for their art in more ways than one.
On getting away from New York, and coming back again:
Kyle Wilson: The landscape [of British Columbia I was hiking] in was just massive — it’s hard to even visualize it. It’s this pristine vastness; it takes days just to get there. I wouldn’t say that all of the new material came directly from being there; all through my life, regardless of what my situation has been, I’ve been constantly writing music. It’s almost like something that I couldn’t help. No matter what’s going on in my life, when I haven’t got anything else to do, that’s what I do. But returning to Brooklyn after being out there definitely felt a bit claustrophobic, and I can see where I’ll want to go somewhere else again when it’s time to recharge. I have a whole pattern of going west when I start to feel frustrated.
On rebuilding the band from the ground up:
Wilson: It helps that we’ve had a lot of momentum moving forward. Really, being in a band is not that much different than being in a job or in a family — it’s actually right between the two. You’re going to get along better on some days, and other days you’re not. But the vision wasn’t just my vision — it was a collaborative effort, based on ideas that the whole band shared, and I think that’s why you hear it the way it is.
On the stress — and relief — of performing live:
Wilson: When we were recording the album, we made a decision that we weren’t going to worry about how the songs were going to sound live. When we started performing them live, we were nervous about it, because Portia [Sabin, Kill Rock Stars label head] had signed us before hearing us live. Which is an honor, but it also made me really anxious about playing. And the first thing she said to us after seeing us was that she thought we were actually better live than on record. So that was a huge relief for us.
Fraser McCulloch: I had to keep two contradictory things in mind when thinking about how to do the material live: first, how closely can we get it to sound like what’s on the album? And second, how can we make it exciting? There are some songs on there that are interesting in that context, but the arrangement isn’t necessarily going to sound that exciting live, so it’s up to us to give it something that will pull people in.
Chris [Brazee, piano] and I have basically been homeless a lot of the time we were putting the album together. Long story short, there were a bunch of fire code violations in the building we were living in, and it kept going back and forth — we are going to get to move back in, we aren’t going to get to move back in. At the moment, it looks like it might finally get settled, but honestly, I’m looking forward to going on the road just so I don’t have to worry about it anymore.
On recording on the fly, on the cheap, and in an earthquake:
McCulloch: Kyle is the songwriter of the band. What happened with [Glowing Mouth] is that he gathered a bunch of songs and brought them to me, and we did an extensive process of demoing the songs. We would put down a basic framework of each song, and I would tinker with that for a long time, doing a lot of experimentation with what instruments would work best with what parts of each song. We kind of had to do it that way because of financial constraints — it would have been preferable to sit down in a studio with everyone in the band, going through every song piece by piece, but because of our circumstances, we had to do it this way. I think it turned out all right.
We were actually down in Philadelphia, during the recent earthquake, doing a studio session for WXPN, and the room we were in has what’s called a floating floor. It’s totally isolated from the rest of the building. So we were in there, and when the earthquake hit, I looked up, and I could see the ceiling shake, but I couldn’t feel anything. It wasn’t until about an hour later that someone from the radio station asked “Did you guys feel the earthquake?” And we were completely confused, because we saw it, but we couldn’t feel a thing.