Interview: Mazes and Milk Maid

A passer-by strolling on Walton Street on the night of Tuesday the 11th might have noticed a particularly voluminous wave of sound emanating from The Jericho. The venerable tavern was playing host to Mazes and Milk Maid, both emerging lo-fi acts from the Manchester DIY scene, and throughout the length of their set every floorboard and panel shook with the wall of fuzz produced on stage. It’s been noted by some that the American nineties indie rock scene has been most faithfully recreated across the pond in recent years, and this evening was a case in point. Over heavy, distorted riffs and calculatedly messy instrumentation, Jack Cooper and Martin Cohen, lead singers of Mazes and Milk Maid respectively, wailed of lost youth and adolescent longing.

I caught up with both before the show. Milk Maid’s Cohen was first up, his features peeking out from behind a thick beard and pork pie hat. Formerly the bassist for Manchester alt rock quartet Nine Black Alps, Cohen’s solo efforts caught the ear of Mazes leader singer Jack Cooper, who’s own DIY label Suffering Jukebox put out Milk Maid’s first single, ‘Such Fun’. The single, like the rest of Milk Maid’s debut Yucca, is noisy, grimy guitar-led tune with buried vocals, but with hooks that stubbornly lodge themselves into your brain. Played live, Yucca‘s material was deliciously loud and jagged.

‘When I first started writing and recording, it was very acoustic based, but once you’re in a room with a drummer everything starts getting louder,’ Cohen noted. ‘I originally wanted to play quieter for a while [after Nine Black Alps], but that went immediately out the window.’

Yucca was originally due to be released through Suffering Jukebox, but when Mazes’ label, Fat Cat, heard the Milk Maid material, they begged Cooper to release the material through them, and Cohen found himself promptly signed to Fat Cat as well. ‘Amazing’ was how Cohen summed up the experience of working for small DIY and indie labels as opposed to Island, to which Nine Black Alps was once signed. ‘You can’t compare the two,’ he told me. ‘It’s something I’m getting more and more into. Instead of paying someone else to record me, I can just buy some gear.’

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Mazes, for their part, have been long-time advocates of the UK’s growing DIY scene (which has spawned, among others, Male Bonding, Pens, and Cold Pumas). They’re soon headed stateside to tour with Sebadoh, 90s lo-fi pioneers, recently reformed. Cooper cites them as an important influence: ‘I think they’re probably the one band we call agree on, ’cause we don’t agree on much.’ Mazes’ debut, A Thousand Heys, has received nods from not only Sebadoh’s Lou Barlow, but from ex-Pavement frontman Stephen Malkmus as well. Its brand of superbly catchy lo-fi is distributed in array of bite-sized tracks, outsized sketches packing superb pop hooks. The approach is deliberate; ‘Jarin [the guitarist] and I are really into capturing the initial idea into a song,’ Cooper tells me.

Lyrically, the album pines for the loss of insouciant adolescence. ‘I wrote most of the songs when I was 29-30,’ Cooper confided. ‘You realize how good you have it between 15 and 20. It’s harking back to that, when you don’t have any real worries.’ Mazes’ attitude is perfectly exemplified in their single ‘Summer Hits’, whose lyrics champion (and regret the loss of) carefree and jobless existence. Cooper told me the literal style of ‘Summer Hits’ owed much to the influence of San Francisco trio Noddzzz and the Modern Lovers, noted documenters of the adolescent experience. Given the enthusiasm with which Milk Maid and Mazes were met at the Jericho, their approach, both in terms of emotional forwardness and throwback style, is certainly resonating with many. With this year’s preponderance of blasé vocals and reverb-drowned synths, gritty instrumentation and noisy enthusiasm are a welcome respite.