Daniel Topete

Melkbelly: Living the Yard Sale

The Pilsen-based band on the success of their 2017 release Nothing Valley, touring with The Breeders, and the origins of the name Melkbelly.

Melkbelly—comprised of Miranda Winters (guitar and vocals), Bart Winters (also guitar, and Miranda’s husband), Liam Winters (a bassist and Bart’s brother), and James Wetzel (drums)—recently sat down with SSW Radio in its cozy practice space in East Garfield Park. Amongst Christmas lights, a number of effects pedals, and jamming from adjacent practice rooms, Melkbelly’s members shared their feelings about their recent tours—headlining in Europe and supporting bigger names like Protomartyr and The Breeders—and provided a new meaning to the term yard sale. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Erisa Apantaku: You’re praised for your unique sound, which some people have said is like not quite noise rock but is definitely noisy, and it plays with poppy elements. I’m curious what sorts of non-musical influences you feel make their way into the music you make?

Miranda Winters: I feel like the places that we all come from and our families, that’s very influential. James and I both went to art school, so I think being exposed to a lot of performance and sound but also 2-D, 3-D artists, really has done a lot for us. Being a band isn’t just writing the music. There’s so much to that aesthetic.

Bart Winters: I’m trying to think of how to articulate this without sounding like a jerk. There are political influences for sure, but I don’t think it’s super significant. I know for Miranda with the lyrics, that’s conscious, but for me it’s more like just sometimes playing the guitar angrily. That’s usually anger that might have come from what I’ve read in the news recently.

EA: Nothing Valley was met with much acclaim by Paste Magazine, the Reader, the Tribune, and others. July 13 was exactly nine months since its release. I was wondering how you feel about people’s reception to it so far.

MW: I just want to say, oh my God, it’s only been nine months? Because it feels like it’s been a million years.

Liam Winters: I mean for me it was great. Any positive review for something we put out there always makes me happy. It was really great that people liked it, people enjoyed it.

MW: Yeah. I think when you make art that people respond to it inspires you to want to generate more material. So that was cool.

EA: Earlier this year you guys opened for the Breeders at the Vic; you’re playing Pitchfork; and later this month you’re opening for the Foo Fighters at Wrigley Field. How does it feel to be playing these much larger stages compared to DIY basements?

BW: With the Breeders tour, that was the first time we played big stages consistently. And you just don’t—I never got used to it. Every time we went to these old theaters it was just like, this is insane what’s going on here?… Then Wrigley Field is just absurd. I mean it’s like, that’s a whole different thing. Forty-five thousand people or something so I can’t even really conceive of that.

MW: When we were on tour for the first time on the West Coast, this thing happened where we had an issue with our car and we had to deal with this really horrible mechanic who said if we didn’t get this new part then—what he said was “yard sale”—essentially that we’re going to die and all of our stuff would be on the side of the road and we’d be flipped upside down somewhere. We always call back to that and make jokes about like, oh, this isn’t happening, we’re actually asleep in a ditch somewhere. Yard sale.

LW: We’re all dead.

MW: We’re all dead. So sometimes that’s what it feels like. It’s so unreal. We must have yard sale and be asleep. I’d like to say asleep, not dead.

LW: I like how you say asleep [laughs].

MW: Because I’m sleeping. I will wake up because it’s a dream.

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Listen to the full version of this interview that aired on SSW Radio, the Weekly’s radio hour and podcast:

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EA: Are you hoping to accomplish anything at Wrigley or just play and have fun?

MW: Not fall off the stage.

LW: Bart’s teasing about wearing a Sox hat.

EA: Cool. So not fall off and wear Sox gear?

MW: We haven’t talked about this but it’s something I’ve thought about […] I feel like it would be a nice opportunity to sort of like address underrepresented gender in rock and roll because I feel like there’s gonna be tons of dads with their daughters there, you know, and I think I’m the only woman on the stage that night. That would be cool.

EA: Bart and Liam are brothers from Beverly. Was there a local Beverly music scene or did you travel to different parts of the city to get your music and if so, what did that look like?

LW: When we were really young, the local Beverly music scene was all like jam bands, so we started off seeing a lot of local kids doing like Grateful Dead cover bands, which eventually pushed us to get out of there and go see shows up on the North Side.

BW: I was in a jam band, so I was into like the Grateful Dead and Phish and then eventually Dave Matthews Band, among other bad bands. The first show I saw was Dark Star Orchestra, which is a Grateful Dead cover band, so it was pretty brutal.

LW: But beyond that, our dad used to work for the city of Chicago and he did the hospitality [for] Taste of Chicago, Jazz Fest, Blues Fest. So most of our summers were spent at all of those festivals. I remember seeing James Brown when I was, you know, in fifth grade, or Goo Goo Dolls, like just everything. We spent our whole summers down at those festivals roaming around, seeing everything.

BW: I feel like there [was] a punk scene that existed [in Beverly, Oak Lawn, Evergreen Park], but I was absolutely never part of that. I was too deep into Grateful Dead and trading Phish tapes. So unfortunately I missed that part of it. [Liam and Miranda laugh]

EA: Where does Melkbelly come from?

James Wetzel: It’s ballet slang.… If you want to do pointe, you have to get rid of your milk belly.

MW: I guess like we wanted something that sounded kind of cute and gross at the same time.… But yeah, milk belly is when you’re younger and you still have kind of… like before your back straightens out and everything and you’re kind of… you got a belly.

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Erisa Apantaku is the executive producer of South Side Weekly Radio. Her team recently completed a multimedia project about the history of Robeson High School. During the summer, her favorite pastime is jogging to the lake and going for a swim.

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