Meet Milkteeth, the Hong Kong-based band who are all set to give Phnom Penh a taste of the traditional, but with a modern twist
HANDS up who enjoys a nice bit of French musette in their spare time? And who likes it spliced with lyrics which reference both the 17th-century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes and the joys of oral sex in almost the same breath?
Milkteeth are a band who manage to shoehorn in all of the above and more to their debut EP, Chance, which was released last year. Based in Hong Kong, and set to appear in Phnom Penh tonight, the multinational three-piece constitute a curious mix of styles, influences and life experiences.
“That’s the beauty of it – we don’t have any pinups or primary influences; we’re all coming from different musical backgrounds and training,” explains Joey Basha, the band’s Canadian vocalist, songwriter, guitarist and mandolin player. “In fact, none of us actually likes any of the same music.”
That seems unlikely when listening to the band’s three members – Basha, Hong Konger Dixon Chan on bass and guitar, and Belgian Jeroen Brulez on drums – work their way around conventional folk styles such as country, pre-war jazz and the aforementioned musette on their EP. It is an interesting, whimsical mixture fuelled by Basha’s lyrics, which manage to be at turns poetic and puerile.
“The lyrics in Chance are all sort of double-edged,” explains Basha. “Milkteeth is a band that thrives on duality: the very low-brow smutty lyrics with a serious undertone; old folk tunes, new ideas. The word milkteeth is actually really sweet in English, but in Japanese it means something completely different, which I can’t explain in print.”
This duality is something which underpins the music at every turn. That Milkteeth are informed by traditional styles yet never sound ‘old’ is something Basha is keen to emphasise.
“We’re young and we really value being spontaneous – that youth and that energy make it impossible to play a folk song in exactly the way that, say, Woody Guthrie would play it.”
Another element which informs their music – unsurprisingly, perhaps, for a band which is two-thirds expat – is that very definite feeling of being in unfamiliar surroundings. This is most clearly touched upon in the song “Hobbes”, when Basha sings: “I read it on the subway platform/And everybody stared at me/And I knew that I was far away from home”.
Having forged a formidable reputation in their current city of residence – Time Out Hong Kong said that: “They’ve developed one of the more unique new sounds around” – Milkteeth are currently in the midst of a tour which sees them leave familiar surroundings behind once again.
“We’re all looking forward to testing out the music out on a different audience,” says Basha. “It’s usually the same crowd here [in Hong Kong], the same faces. We want to perform without that safety net.
“I’ve played outside of Hong Kong, but [the rest of the] band hasn’t … We’re all thrilled about the tour and we’ve been preparing like madmen. We want to make sure that everyone leaves those concerts with a smile on their face.”
Having played their first date on July 2, Milkteeth’s tour takes in four different towns and cities across Vietnam and Cambodia over the course of just one week. It is a hectic schedule, but an exciting one – especially as Basha has a particular affinity for the Kingdom.
“Cambodia is my favourite country in the world,” he says. “Neither of my bandmates have been there but I go whenever I get the chance. If the audiences are as friendly as the people I met on my travels, then I’m sure all the shows will be great.”
Milkteeth perform at Equinox (#3A Street 278) tonight, Friday July 8, at 9:00pm.