hot milk
[Photo courtesy of Hot Milk]

Han Mee and Jim Shaw took a big risk when they quit their jobs in the music industry to start Hot Milk. But soon enough, the Manchester-based band, rounded out by bassist Tom Paton and drummer Harry Deller, were supporting bands such as Foo Fighters and You Me At Six.

In May 2019, they released their debut EP, Are You Feeling Alive?, a rush of pop-rock excitement, and since then have released several singles, including the electrifying “Candy Coated Lie$” and the explosive “California’s Burning.”

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Now, they’re gearing up to release a second EP, I JUST WANNA KNOW WHAT HAPPENS WHEN I’M DEAD, on Sept. 10. They recently put out the title track—a song that starts with a dark and heavy opening and works its way to an anthemic pop chorus and was inspired by My Chemical Romance. Its dramatic, high-energy video in which the band “paint the town dead,” according to Mee, matches the song and encapsulates a band who are bold and not afraid to go all the way. (“I’m still finding soil in my house,” Mee says.)

Their sound blends together pop, emo and pop punk, along with classic-rock and older punk influences, but Hot Milk are careful not to pin themselves down as any one genre. They can go heavier or poppier with every release, keeping their listeners on their toes. Their songs are energetic with a punk spirit. Most importantly, they’re not afraid to speak up about important social issues in and outside of their music, tackling issues such as mental health, LGBTQIA+  rights, gun violence and the climate crisis in their songs.

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Mee and Shaw, who now front the band together, are so close that they finish each other’s sentences. “We’re like an old married couple,” Shaw, who produced the five-song EP, says. AltPress got on a Zoom call with Mee and Shaw to talk to them about their upcoming EP, not following any one genre and building a community around music.

How did the band form? I was watching an interview where you said you met on Tinder. Is that true?

JIM SHAW: We met on Tinder. Me and Hannah were together for a bunch of years, and then we just realized that we were friends. But also at the same time, we were both working in the music industry. We were just so jaded. Our love, [like] anyone in the music industry, is music, first and foremost. And we were doing what we were doing because…

HAN MEE: We couldn’t do what we wanted to do. We were quite young as well. I got into it at 16, and so did [Jim]. We got very far in our careers at a very young age. But it gets to that point where you go, “Hang on a sec.” I think we weren’t happy. And also, we went through a lot as a couple together, and I think that’s why we can stay so close now is because we’ve gone through a lot of things that nobody else has to go through in their lives. We’ve lost things and lost people, and I think that makes you have a stronger bond than just someone that you were dating. We’re family now.

How do you describe your music? 

MEE: Indecisive rock ’n’ roll.

SHAW: We love so many different genres of music. We’ve always said from the start: Genre is a lie. Especially in the last five years, genre is taking a big old U-turn. 

MEE: twenty one pilots are probably the quintessential example of that. They can do whatever they want, but that’s what we want, ‘cause as people, we do what the fuck we want anyway and don’t give a shit. If one day we want to go and start doing fucking drum-and-bass house tracks, then we will do it under Hot Milk. It’s basically how we feel on that day. On this new EP, there’s one particular track that I think people are going to be like, “What the fuck?” because it’s a drum-and-bass screamo track.

As you touched on, we’re at a really interesting time in rock music and just music in general. What about making rock music in this time seems really exciting to you?

SHAW: You can’t really beat a live rock show. Live has always been our background. When we were working in our secondary jobs, I was doing production, and Hannah was promoting. 

MEE: For rock music, even if it leaves the mainstream, even though it’s coming back a little bit, it’ll always be underneath somewhere. I love ’80s punk. I love Rancid, Joan Jett, the Replacements, Bikini Kill. That is the kind of movement that never dies because it is more than just music—it’s a statement, and it’s an energy, and it’s an attitude, and that can never be killed.

I heard the new single. It’s the heaviest you’ve ever gone, right?

SHAW: There’s heavier. [Laughs.] That one was the start. 

MEE: It was the first song we wrote for this EP… It’s definitely a radio song as well. They’ve all got elements in them that match up to each other. A big influence on this record for us has been Queen and also the Prodigy

I remember walking around Manchester, listening to Queen and thinking, “This is making me cry, and I want to take that element of Freddie and put it into our music.” I’m glad that we’ve managed to do that.

For the upcoming EP, are there any themes tying it together?

MEE: Two of the songs are about basically when you get to the point where you’re like, “What is the point?” and you go out and fill that gap with certain things. 

We live in the city center of Manchester, and when you live in the city center of a place like Manchester, it’s very, very easy to get caught up in all this stuff. It’s very easy to become this cycle of, “Let me go out five out of seven days.”

“Woozy” is about being on sertraline, which is this antidepressant you get over here, and it just makes you absolutely mental. It makes you numb but also not knowing what’s going on. When you do get down to that existential level of thinking, you start thinking about the society in which we live. And so “Good Life” was sprouted from that same train of thought, but thinking about capitalism and the way that we absorb information and the way that we live.

But also at the end of it, you go, “We might as well just try and make the most of it.” 

SHAW: So that’s what “I JUST WANNA KNOW” is. We get one shot. Let’s give it a go. 

On “California’s Burning,” you talked about a lot of different social issues. And you’ve always been very outspoken about these issues. It sounds like that is continuing through this EP.

MEE: There are elements of that on “Good Life,” for sure. And we’re definitely not shy to talk about it. That’s my background as well. I did a politics degree. I still feel very passionately about a world that I want to see. And that world is one where everyone can just get along, and anyone can be who they want to be, without being fucking judged for it. And it’s not hard to actually think about that. I think we just have to be more understanding and accepting and respectful of each other.

What does success look like for your band? 

SHAW: I want to do this till I die, until I physically can’t do it anymore.

MEE: As long as we’re still connecting to people and still writing songs that make people go, “That really helped me,” or “That is what gets me up in the morning,” or “That was really fun. Me and my friends had a really good dance to it,” that’s enough. And I was always told that if you follow what you love, money comes later. And I believe in that. I’ll just keep going and following what my heart is telling me to do, and hopefully one day I can buy a nice Mercedes.

You’ve been on a lot of “ones to watch for this year” lists, without even having a full album out. What has that been like?

MEE: I don’t really know if anyone is going to like [the new EP]. What if they don’t? What if it’s not ones to watch but ones to avoid? [Laughs.] I think they’re our best songs, personally, but we’ve been sat on them for so long. 

When we do an album, I want it to flow. I don’t want it to be a load of songs put together. And so I think we need to do another EP after this and figure out a bit more where we want to go, and then we’ll probably be ready to do it. But there’s no rush, as long as we’re releasing songs and people are enjoying those songs. When an album comes, it needs to be ready to fucking blow people away. And I think we’re slowly getting to that point where we’re ready. 

SHAW: Hopefully we’ll just stay on these lists. Keep watching us! [Laughs.]

What do you want people to take away from your music?

MEE: I want them to go, “I need to go fucking watch this live.” Because we love parties, we like going out and that’s how we want our shows to be. We want people to walk in and go, “Right, I need to prepare for this.” It’s not just going to be them standing about. They need to get involved. That’s our gigs.

I want people to feel empowered, firstly, because of songs like “Good Life.” I want them to be informed. But I also want them to feel like, “Yep, I’m going to join this Hot Milk family. Come to a gig” and feel like they’re part of something, meet friends at these shows and walk away and go, “That was fucking fun”—how I felt when I used to go to gigs. It was so powerful. I used to feel part of something, and I think what we need more than ever is this community, and so I just want to build a community around music, which is the most beautiful thing ever.