Q&A: Milo Greene's Robbie Arnett on songwriting, tour and San Francisco

Milo Greene, Los Angeles-based indie-folk quintet, is set to perform at The Independent in San Francisco, Nov. 16. The band recently released their debut album via Atlantic Records and is currently touring the United States. Photo courtesy to Big Hassle Media

Los Angeles indie-folk quintet, Milo Greene has been on quite the tour lately. After their debut self titled album peaked at number one on the Billboard Heatseaker 100 this summer, they have embarked on a North American tour, expanding the membership of their already dedicated fan-base.

Instrumentalist and vocalist for the band, Robbie Arnett, took time out the band’s busy schedule to have a conversation with Xpress about the tour, break-ins and their film “Moddison,” before the band makes its way to San Francisco to perform at The Independent on Nov. 16.

Thanks for your time, Robbie. How’s the tour going so far?

The tour is going well. We are about five weeks into the North American tour that we’re doing for the fall (and) winter; we just pulled into Denver tonight and we are excited to be here. Hopefully we will miss the storm that’s coming in tomorrow.

And you’re on tour with Bahamas right? How are those guys?

They’re great; really lovely people. They’re sweet and, uh, it’s cool to listen to them every night. They’re pretty talented.

So as far as my research has taken me, the pseudonym, ‘Milo Greene’ was your idea.

Yeah, it was just something that was created in school. When, in an attempt to book our respective bands — I was living with Andrew (Heringer) at the time — I kinda created an alter-ego persona of a man named Milo Greene, and set up a website and Gmail account, trying to set up gigs for our respective bands. When we started recording together as friends, we kinda just labeled everything ‘Milo Greene.’ And when we became a fully formed band, we stuck with that theme to honor our fictitious booking agent.

You guys seem to be very visually inspired in trying to make an album listenable from beginning to end that flows like a film. Where does that inspiration come from?

We’re just very inspired by film and cinema in general, that’s why we made a film ourselves that went along with the album. It was just something that we initially wanted to incorporate into the whole collective of projects that we were doing as Milo Greene. I think that we definitely wanted a piece of music that could be listened to from front to back which is why we include instrumentals and we wanted to create a soundscape that could be made into a movie score or something that’s cinematic. We did a lot of recording in beautiful mountainous areas and we wanted to express that with visuals.

I noticed many portions of the film took place at Shaver Lake. Did you guys record at Shaver Lake or in different, mountainous areas in California?

We recorded most of the record in that cabin where we shot in Shaver Lake. We did a lot of recording at Bear Creek studios, which is in Seattle, and a little recording in LA and in Northern California.

It really works, too. It adds a whole different element to listening to an album from beginning to end, and it’s pretty powerful. You guys wrote the film yourselves, right?

Thanks, and yes we did. We wrote the treatment for the film and we had a friend of ours, Chad Huff, a Long Beach director come up and help us direct it. Small crew, small budget. We did it in between touring and we had about five days of no sleeping. The guy who’s the star in the film is a close friend of ours who owns the painting on the cover of the record so it’s kind of all in the family.

I noticed on your band’s blog that your van was broken into while you were in Chicago a few nights ago. Tell me about that.

It was only a minor injury, I suppose. There wasn’t any gear stolen or anything like that, other than some crew members losing some tools. No major insurances were stolen. It was mainly our beloved DVD collection and that kind of stuff. It was unfortunate.

So are you guys taking DVD donations now as you are traveling the country?

(Laughs). No, no. That joke was kind of a playful gesture backstage that we put on the blog. We’re not turning anything down though… But we’re definitely not asking fans to bring anything.

Do you guys have any immediate plans after this tour wraps up?

We have a little bit of a break over the Thanksgiving holiday and then we go back out again in December. Then we’re pretty much on tour indefinitely for the next year. That’s pretty much what the future has in store for us right now. The record is still fairly new, it came out a few months ago, it’s our fist record. We’re still being introduced to a lot of new cities that we’ve never been to and trying to meet people and share as much as we can.

How was it performing on ‘Late Night with David Letterman’?

It was great. The television experiences that we’ve had so far have been wonderful. It’s something that we’ve all grown up watching and hearing about and, um, it was pretty surreal. You get there and you’re on the set and you’re like “Wow, this is television, this is something that I’ve watched as a kid, this is something my parents have watched their entire life” and it was a bit surreal. Mid-song I started laughing because I looked over and it was like, wow we’re on ‘David Letterman.’ I mean, Milo Greene is a new band considerably, and we’ve been involved in local bands and have done touring with our other projects in the past, and we’ve been working really hard for a while, so to have Milo Greene open some doors for us is really special for us and we’re very thankful for the opportunities we’ve had so far. Letterman and Conan were definite highlights in our young career.

Conan was amazing, personally, for me, because I worship Conan. I think that guy’s a genius (laughs). So when we got to meet him and hang out, it was really awesome because he enjoyed the music and we talked for a while after and it was really flattering.

Stemming from the fact that the four of you were lead vocalists in your previous bands, are there any ego clashes? Are there four David Lee Roths in the band or does everyone share?

(Laughs). No we all came into this project knowing there wasn’t going to be a focal point, and that it was going to be a collective. We all had that notion and the way the songwriting works is it’s different every time. One of us can bring in a song or three of us can bring in a song. There’s no real rhyme or reason to the way it pans out, but I think it has a way of keeping us on par, that if a song came from me or came from Marlana (Sheetz), it doesn’t really matter. We were going for a particular sound on this record and if it didn’t have that feel to it, that vibe if you will, then we’d set it aside for a different time. I don’t think anybody takes any offense to it, it was all kinda discussed openly and communicated. No egos were tarnished.

In regard to instrumentation and how you guys switch off playing different instruments, is that something that’s planned or is that just a natural thing?

We’re all guitarists, first and foremost. I think that, um, we really wanted to focus on the arrangements and we took time figuring them out and working through them. We didn’t really hold boundaries to ourselves in terms of using different instruments. There’s a song on the record called “Silent Way,” and the original idea was to take a banjo and some kind of electronic PAD or ambient sound and that was the idea of the song and nothing else.Andrew just picked up a banjo and started plucking some chords and took a synth and we kind of just built a melody around that.

That’s how songs happen. We just kind of find an instrument or a tone that inspires us and we kinda figure, “Okay that will be the bass,” and then we just decorate and arrange different instruments that we would love to hear and although we’re not ‘pros’ at any particular instrument we just like to sit down and figure it out and as Milo continues we’ll incorporate more instruments and just get more knowledge on how each is played. I also just bought this cool, vintage synth and I’m hoping to incorporate that in new music.

Do you guys plan on adding visual or film elements to any future releases?

You know, I think that we’ll always enjoy putting music to film. I think that that’s something that we’ve kinda based this band on, whether we’ll do an entire film for every record, I don’t know. We would love to collaborate with other filmmakers and directors in the future, whether it be a product of theirs in scoring a film, or a project of ours. I think that the two for us, the music and the film element, is something we’ll always try to keep closely tied together.

So on Nov. 16 you guys will be playing at The Independent in San Francisco. Have you guys played a lot in San Francisco?

My family lives in San Francisco and I went to high school there, so San Francisco is really close to me. We’ve played in San Francisco a fair amount. We played the Fillmore supporting Civil Wars, which was amazing and kind of a dream come true for me growing and going to the Fillmore.

There’s a few other venues, we’ve been very lucky in San Francisco. The people have been very very supportive; I think the last time we were there the venue was sold out. It was very nice reception and I love San Francisco as a city I think it’s my favorite city in the country, if not the world. I actually have never been to The Independent, ironically. I’ve heard cool things so I’m really excited to get there and hang out a little bit in San Francisco.

What’s in store for the future in terms of music? I know you guys are touring a lot because that’s the current business model and that’s how you make money, but are you guys working on anything while on the road?

Yeah we’re always kinda working here and there, bits and pieces. Usually when we’re on tour there’s not a lot of downtime to get too creative on new songs. But, um, hopefully once we’re done touring we’ll be able to sit down and get some new music; we’re all kind of acquiring new instruments while on tour and it’s always inspiring for us when we get new stuff, writing on something new. We’re still living off this record, which is really fresh for us, so I can’t tell you when new music is coming out cause I’m not real sure, but we’ll continue to tour for this new record and see what happens, when it happens.

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