• Charlotte Hardman

Louder with Matt Clarke of Milestones

It’s been a mammoth 18 months for Manchester-based pop-rock quartet Milestones- off the back of their 5-track debut EP alone, the band have toured extensively across the UK and Europe as well as the US, and have garnered a small but dedicated following to go along with it. Now they’re back on home soil, and embarking on their first headline tour with fellow bright sparks of tomorrow, The Gospel Youth, and when we caught up with vocalist Matt Clarke at the band’s homecoming show at Manchester’s Sound Control, it was clear that as amazing as their journey has been, there really is no place like home: ‘I think being over on the other side of the world and then coming back over here, it’s just a completely different feel. To be able to do a headline tour just off the back of an EP is a bit weird- we’re obviously not in a place where we can do a headline tour in the States or anything like that, so to be able to do that here is a good feeling.’

Tonight’s rotation of the tour line-up had The Gospel Youth set to kick the night into high gear after a solid warm up from local band Autumn Ruin, and they certainly delivered. While these two bands run in similar musical circles, they wouldn’t necessarily be the first couple to spring to mind when concocting an intimate co-headliner. But as Matt explained, this tour has advantages for both bands: ‘I think both us and The Gospel Youth are in a very similar position in terms of the fact that we’re both the ‘baby bands’ on our labels- we’re the small bands that are just starting out, so it makes sense to do a co-headline if you’re not capable of doing a headline tour on your own just yet.

Everybody in that venue will know both of the bands, which is probably because there will be The Gospel Youth fans who before this tour will have been like ‘Oh, we like them but we didn’t check them out’ and vice versa, and so it’s a good way to get people to listen to a band who they’ve been thinking about listening to for quite a while, and just haven’t gotten around to yet.’

They might be sharing the limelight as far as the tour posters are concerned, but Milestones refused to be content with simply taking their half and keeping quiet- from the moment they came on stage, they were there to be heard. After the heady heights of touring the States with emo-rock legends Mayday Parade, returning to these more intimate venues and smaller crowds could have been a somewhat sour return to reality, but what the small crowd of fans that lined the barrier of the historic little venue might have lacked in raw numbers, they more than made up for in passion and spirit, singing every word and punching the air with the swoop that heralded each chorus. For Matt, playing venues of this size has its own unique set of charms: ‘I think my favourite small venue is Key Club in Leeds, it’s such a cool venue- I think it’s the layout, the way it corners in towards the stage means that all the focus goes towards the band, so when you’ve got a crowd that’s going mental and wanting to get up on the stage, it just makes it really fun. I also really like Think Tank in Newcastle, and they’ve got another one called Surf Café which is really cool. The sound isn’t great, but it’s like a little café/surf shop, which was really cool- it’s kind of like playing in Hawaii!

Milestones have been frequent visitors to these small venues during their time on the road, having toured with a range of bands from post-hardcore electronic rockers Area 11 to sun-drenched Aussie pop punk quartet With Confidence. Both of those tours have had an influence on the band’s progression with regards to laying the foundations of the fanbase which now stood, feet tapping the Sound Control boards with anticipation, and creating the buzz around their band’s potential. ‘Area 11 was a really cool stepping stone for Milestones’ Matt explained ‘and their fans were incredible on that tour- we’ve actually got Leo Taylor, Area 11’s drummer, drumming for us on this tour! With Confidence I think their music is very similar to ours in terms of style and fan-wise in terms of the demographic, but above anyone else, the tour that has influenced us the most was Mayday Parade because they’re such a nostalgic band but they’re still big enough to do this late on in their career, that’s really inspirational in itself. I went to their shows when I was 13 or 14, and that record was one of the records that got me into playing music, so to be able to just listen to that album every night was a pleasure, let alone getting to play with them.’

The influence of that tour with Mayday Parade, and the band’s career as a whole, is one that has fed heavily into Milestones’ own sound, as Matt explained: ‘That record that we toured with was quite fitting because Milestones isn’t a modern day pop punk band, we’re a very 2007 pop punk band! We’re not a Neck Deep or a The Story So Far, you know, I can’t shout like that, my vocals are a lot more fairy-sounding!’ Perhaps that goes some way to explaining the insatiable appeal of this band that has pushed them on in this huge upward trajectory- it’s nostalgia blended with something new and exciting, a fine balance that is difficult to perfect, but something that Milestones seem well on the way to doing, if the reaction of the crowd to songs like ‘Equal Measures’’ lead single ‘Call Me Disaster’ (dubbed ‘the one that people actually know’ by the band themselves!), which boasts swinging guitar lines and an anthemic, fist-pumping chorus, with enough sway and gloss to keep it suitably ‘Milestones-esque’!

However, a song that takes that expectation many people have of Milestones’ sound and completely flips it on its head is guaranteed crowd-pleaser, ‘Shot in the Dark’, a track filled with soaring melodies and euphoric glow emulated by the cluster of sparkling phone lights that lit up the darkened venue, a stark contrast to the typical atmosphere of a pop punk show. And according to Matt, that is exactly what the band intended this track to be: ‘That song was us trying to do something different. You’d never hear a song like it on a solely pop punk record- it’s very rock- sounding, there’s no pop punk riffs in there, and the vocals are all very powerful and emotional. I think that song is representative of the fact that we like to be classed as a pop-rock or emo-pop or whatever people want to call us, so I feel that song is our way of making this record sound different and making sure not every song sounds the same. When we look back on the EP now, we don’t love it anymore, but we’re at least proud that in time if I played you a song you’d at least know that, if you were a Milestones fan, you’d know what it is instantly.’

So what’s next for pop rock’s shining diamonds-in- the-rough? Preparations for their first full length album are now well underway, and while the band are keeping quiet for now on an exact release date, Matt did give us this coy update on when we might get to hear some new material: ‘We’re releasing it early next year! I can’t say when yet- well, I do know, but I can’t say! It’s going to be within the first three months though, definitely! We’re just working it all out, we’ve got one mix back and all the rest are being mixed literally right now, so definitely next year!’ So it looks like this is one band whose upward shot at stardom is showing no plans of slowing down any time soon! Definitely get out to see Milestones in one of these intimate venues while you can, because if this year’s success is anything to go by, they won’t be there for much longer!

Photo by Nick Neuenhaus