Maine’s Coke Weed recently traded in a folk rock aesthetic for something that more closely (quite closely, in fact) resembles the fuzzy, gazey, and psychedelic beauty of ‘90s alt rock. The songs found on their third and latest album, Back to Soft (released this past July) sound like something that would’ve been introduced by Kennedy on Alternative Nation in-between selections by peers like Hole and Sonic Youth. Like the greatest sounds of the ‘90s, the songs’ edges are intentionally rough and clumsy, but at their core is brilliant pop songwriting. The band are currently on the road and will be stopping next Monday, November 4th, at Boot & Saddle. I recently got a chance to chat with Coke Weed guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Milan McAlevey, who told me all about what it’s like to live in the middle of nowhere, his deep appreciation for filmmaking, and the classic rockers who are actually his most significant influences…
Izzy Cihak: You’re based out of Maine, so I have to ask, what is it like up there? I’m pretty clueless about the area.
Milan McAlevey: We all live in Bar Harbor on Mt. Desert Island, which is Downeast, so we’re out there, three hours north of Portland, which is a cool city and kind of the only happening place in Maine, though Bar Harbor is unique with Acadia National Park, the hippie college, its gilded age history, and its heinous tourist scene. The best musicians in the state are anti-career and elusive. The yuppies are freaking them out. So the scene is fractured and sometimes we feel like aliens.
IC: You released your third LP, Back to Soft, over the summer. Have you had any particular favorite reactions to it?
MM: The super positive reactions from all over have been awesome. Doing well at radio was the best for us. Rolling Stone published our CMJ top ten chart in the issue with young Bob Dylan on the cover! We’ve been doing a lot of radio stuff on this tour and college radio kids are really sweet and usually the best fans ever.
IC: The album would seem to represent a pretty significant evolution in your sound. How would you characterize this shift and what are the things that most inspired it?
MM: We played around a lot and just got better. We figured out we weren’t afraid to rock or groove, which meant getting a little heavier and moving away from our folk rock beginnings. That opened things up for me to really write to our strengths. We have a body of work that we love to play, but our ears are wide open and I’m always thinking about what kind of vibes we can get into on future recordings.
IC: Is there a track on the album you’re most proud of or just most enjoy playing? I really love “Desert Sleeper.”
MM: Hey, glad you like that one. It’s the spookiest song on the album! “Sunseekers” is my personal favorite. I love Nina’s singing, the lyrics, the groove, the jam part, and so on. I’m still stoked on it after playing it for a year.
IC: What do you consider to currently be your most significant influences, both musical and otherwise?
MM The Stones are it! Really, what else do you need? We are all massive record nerds, so there is so much music to which we are constantly exposed. I also aspire to the weird cool and emotional heft of artists like Lee Hazelwood and Francoise Hardy. The Airplane continues to serve as a beacon. Royal Trux and its offshoots are another heavy trip for us but we always end up sounding like ZZ Top and Nico. Other influences are hippies in general, some 20th century poetry, the movie Notting Hill, and the fiction of John Cheever.
IC: You’ve recently put out a number of really cool music videos that remind me of the heyday of the art form and secretly staying up late to watch 120 Minutes when I was only in elementary school. What is it that inspires your video work?
MM: That’s so cool. I used to watch 120 Minutes, too! I loved and still love the classic Cure videos. We started doing videos a while ago just as a way to get noticed way up in Maine. And we were lucky to work early on with Nancy Andrews, a great filmmaker based on the island. Nancy is a big deal in her own right and I love the video she did for our 2012 single, “Magpie.” It’s like a Joseph Cornell box, which is art I love, along with most of the classic surrealists and other art of the subconscious. Zach Soares, our bassist, has collaborated with Nancy for years. He’s a videographer in his own right now. His short for “Sunseekers” is one of my favorites. Another guy worth checking out is Jamie Hook, who did our most recent video, “Manchester,” which kind of fed into this idea of Coke Weed are 90s alt rock revivalists.
IC: You’re currently nearing the end of a tour. Have you had any particular highlights, thus far?
MM: A house party in Burlington, VT with Rough Francis was wicked fun. They’re awesome. Three of them are sons of the guys in the Detroit ’70s punk band Death. We’re coming back from Chicago to towns we’ve played before, which usually means more people will be coming out for the shows, so we’re really looking forward to the back half of this tour, which will be in the North and Southeast.
IC: You’re going to be in Philadelphia next Monday. What can we expect of the live show?
MM: Writers like to emphasize that we play slow. Maybe it’s because we’ve usually recorded in the summer and we’re trying to take it easy. Live we are definitely tight and energetic and I’m not sure that people who’ve only heard the records are expecting a rock and roll experience.
IC: What are your most significant hopes and plans for 2014?
MM: Well, our guy is already booking a tour in March, so we will be doing SXSW, which I guess feels inevitable. We’ve got an EP mastered and ready to go, so I’d like to get that out somehow in the spring. Most importantly, we’re in the process of moving and upgrading our studio, so we’ll spend the winter getting started on a fourth LP that I’m hoping to have out in late 2014. We’re usually pretty good at meeting those deadlines.