Vinyl | CD and Digitally
Released 14th May 2021
London based four-piece Fightmilk release Contender on May 14th via Reckless Yes, on vinyl, CD, and digital.
Formed in the beer gardens of South London in 2015 when Lily and Alex decided to turn their then-recent respective breakups into Fightmilk, they created an indie-pop soundtrack by which to navigate millennial life. When the previous album, 2018’s Not With That Attitude, arrived it was a step up from their first EPs, Curse of Fightmilk and Pity Party, which had been released on the legendary Fierce Panda. This album marks another step forward with Fightmilk appearing more confident both lyrically and musically and also welcome new member Healey (formerly of Wolf Girl) on bass.
Slightly delayed by the pandemic, I guess you could use the adage, good things come to those who wait. In the case of Fightmilk’s second album, this is indeed true. Although who am I actually kidding? It’s not just good, it’s fucking brilliant.
There are many things I like about Fightmilk, which I think you will too, here are my Top 3
1. Their insane ability to knock out catchy tunes with the occasional barbed lyric, reminiscent of Kirsty MacColl.
2. The fact they have fun and don’t always take themselves too seriously. (Just check out the video for I’m Starting To Think You Don’t Even Want To Go To Space). It is The Wiggles do Star Trek on a shoestring budget.
3. Despite the fun and frivolity, the songs themselves aren’t superficial. The aforementioned track in particular calling out those who commit to delivering but then back out.
What Fightmilk have delivered with Contender is, at its core, an ‘indie pop’ album but it has a depth and sensibility which rewards repeat plays. Tracks such as Lucky Coin, Cool Cool Girl and Overbite will have you punching the air while simultaneously playing imaginary drums and air guitar. What you find underneath the hooks though is a new level of maturity and perception in the lyrics from Lily Rae, as well as offering positivity and encouragement she is also challenging motives and behaviours.
Sitting comfortably amongst the more up-tempo pieces are more reflective moments, such as Girls Don’t Want To Have Fun and the slightly darker If You Had A Sister. When the latter was released as the second single from the album it was at odds with anything Fightmilk had released before. Now it fits in perfectly as part of the album and delivers one of the many high points. The song builds slowly allowing the lyrics dealing with misogyny to resonate before the band let loose ahead of the final, cutting ‘maybe if you had a sister, you wouldn’t be this way’.
Rather than take you through track by track, which would get repetitive, I sat down with Fightmilk to talk about the making of the album, the stories behind the songs and much much more…
LTW: Firstly congratulations on Contender, it’s a great album!
Thank you! We’re very, very pleased with it and can’t believe it’s finally out.
LTW: It must have been frustrating that the album was so close to completion when the first lockdown hit?
Lily: It was and it wasn’t! When we went into the studio to do the bulk of the record in late 2019, we hadn’t written three of the songs, and the aim was to get that sorted and record them in May 2020. We were almost ready to go pre-lockdown, but actually having that time to rethink some of what we wanted Contender to be was quite beneficial. For example, we wrote ‘Girls…’ very close to when we were initially due to record pre-lockdown and it was a very, VERY different song prior to having some time to take a step back and really think about where it would sit on the album and how it should sound. It’s one of our favourites off the album now.
LTW: What will Fightmilk be doing on the 14th May to celebrate its release?
Nick: We’ve got something in the works! It’s been tricky being so on the verge of potential normality but having no certain timeline to book gigs, but we’re trying to cater for that and have something for people to enjoy on release date and compliment the album itself. A bit cryptic, but as soon as we’ve concrete plans we’ll be sharing them EVERYWHERE.
LTW: I’m looking forward to getting an actual physical copy. The artwork for the album and the couple of recent singles using old photos look great. Is there a story behind this?
Lily: Thank you very much! The girl on the album cover is actually my grandma Patricia, competing at a sports day (and bossing the high jump) in Malta in 1941. She was very sporty as a teen and won Champion Girl Athlete that day. She’s also third from the front on the Hey Annabelle! artwork. It was just luck that someone caught such an amazing photo of her mid-jump sixty years ago, I feel like it embodies the album perfectly – she looks absolutely fearless. And she might not do as many high jumps now but she’ll decimate you at table tennis.
LTW: One of the things I really love is that there is so much going on musically yet there is always space for everything regardless of whether it’s harmonies, a guitar solo, a drum fill, or some keyboard. How much of it was mapped out before going in to work with Keith TOTP and Jonny Solway at Dean Street?
Lily: For this album, we had to wait a long time between recording sessions but it forced us to sit on the songs we had and work on them for longer than we had previously. Some things only really occurred to us after we’d had a while to listen to the songs and rewrite bits (Girls Don’t Want To Have Fun had three iterations) and think of all the fun extra things we could do like vibra-slaps, rounds of applause, getting our mate Michael M in to do some Mclusky shouting (also we’re gigantic children and love funny noises.)
Alex: One of the things that we were hoping we could achieve with Contender – and to some degree the p*ndemic has really emphasised it – is have the album be its own separate thing from how the songs come across live. There’s a few songs where we’d need an entire other Fightmilk to play it onstage exactly like the record. So I think that sort of allowed us to be…not exactly indulgent with it, but to be a little more considered and less satisfied with just getting a good live track down and leaving it at that. Like, we’re probably never going to bother getting a synth player in, there was no way we were going to let ‘Overbite’ out into the world without a super-emo Moog line at the end.
LTW: It really feels like a ‘proper’ album the way it’s structured as opposed to a handful of tracks thrown together, especially with the short instrumental passages which open each side and ahead of the closing track. Was there much deliberation around running order or did it come together quite naturally?
Nick: Thank you! We knew we wanted those instrumental passages to break it up a bit, and act as sort of reprised versions of some of the songs, but in terms of the tracklisting, it was a bit of a back and forth, to the point that we got external help!
Lily: All the band were certain we wanted Cool Cool Girl as the closer for THE LONGEST TIME, and Overbite opening side 2! But then our friend Miles suggested Overbite as the closer and it just really, REALLY works. I feel like after Maybe and (bartender) it almost acts as an encore to the album? It’s glorious.
LTW: With the opening track, Lucky Coin, I’m reading this as someone getting themselves out of a shitty relationship and focussing on the future. Is it about someone specific or more generally about a situation someone could find themself in?
Lily: It’s about standing up for yourself. Lyrically it was inspired by having a real fuck-this-I’m-out moment after years of dealing with the kind of friendship that leaves you drained and which you’ve piled a lot of unreturned energy into. We’re a hilariously anxious band and I like opening the album with a big announcement that says “I AM FINISHED WITH THESE AGONIES”. I was a people pleaser and desperate for everyone to approve of me for a lot of my 20s. It’s a good song for turning 30 to!
LTW: Similarly Banger #4 and Overbite appear to be very empowering, the latter especially leaving the album on a positive note/message that you should love who you are and everyone potentially is a contender?
Lily: If our first album was our ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ record, this one is definitely more ‘actually, you know what, it is you.’ We’re a cursed generation where everything has gone wrong and we’re being constantly blamed for it, and there are impossible standards to meet all the time – whether it’s ‘you don’t look right’, or ‘you’re not productive enough’, or whatever. I’d like the take-away from listening to it to be ‘you’re a good person and you’re doing your best, even when everything is terrible.’
LTW: Why Contender?
Alex: We settled on the title halfway through recording. Contender was just a word we all liked in Cool Cool Girl, which is the oldest song on the record, so it wasn’t exactly a manifesto, but it had definitely been in the ether for the entire time. And there’s definitely a running theme of coming out the other side of something as a better person, isn’t there?
LTW: Whose idea was it to add Tim Curry into I’m Starting To Think You Don’t Even Want to Go To Space?
Alex: That was a moment of studio brilliance from Keith! We’re a bit gutted we couldn’t include it (on the digital version) of the song because we’re too scared of getting sued by EA.
LTW: What are your Top 5 video games?
Lily: Overcooked, Overcooked 2, The Last of Us, The Last of Us 2, and Peggle.
LTW: I’m an INTJ. Do you think with Cool Cool Girl you could be the first band to mention Myers Briggs / Personality Tests results in a song? Have you checked that Fightmilk, as a band, are compatible?
Lily: I had a “job” once where we all had to take the Myers-Briggs test together as a team and then talk about our results and it just turned into us all being profiled by our boss in a very creepy corporate way, so I’m very sceptical of stuff like that. I don’t think I’ve ever had the same result twice? But I think I’d be more interested in knowing what kind of biscuit I was or which member of Westlife would be my boyfriend. I think there are definitely more insightful personality tests, but ultimately nobody wants to be told they’re a prick, do they?
LTW: Do you have a favourite moment on the album? Mine is the way the bridge extends and takes it up a notch leading into Lily’s vocal at the close of If You Had A Sister
Alex: Aw cheers. I really like that bit too – I’m morally averse to guitar histrionics, so that’s my Slash-outside-the-church moment, relatively speaking. My favourite bit is either the harmonies on the second verse of Maybe (the closest we’ll ever get to sounding like Yo La Tengo…) or the last minute of Girls…, because that was the most fun to assemble in the studio. Lots of extremely fun trial and error there.
Lily: I love the horrible throat-shredding screaming I get to do in Cool Cool Girl, and the beautiful drop after the big climax in Girls Don’t Want To Have Fun. Oh, and the little opening homage to Bruce Springsteen in Lucky Coin!
LTW: For all the fun in your music and how you portray yourselves, there are some serious moments to this record which shouldn’t be ignored. You have a track questioning individuals commitment after they’ve nailed their colours to the wall but don’t deliver, and one looking at how expectations of women are placed squarely as a focal point of men’s actions. Would you say this more mature element has come as you’re growing in confidence as songwriters and musicians?
Lily: The first Fightmilk album was very much a painful heart-on-sleeve break-up album, and it was very cathartic for both me and for Alex writing it. (It does mean that I think now sometimes we get pigeonholed as a “break-up band”, though!) I feel braver and better as a writer with this album. I don’t feel like I have to resort to self-deprecation as much, I can back myself and my writing where I used to feel like all I could do was write songs about exes (though I do still love those…). My own politics, particularly feminism, have been a lot more front and centre with Contender, though I still seem to end up writing in code a lot. I love noticing little motifs and Easter Eggs in records, and there are a lot of fun tiny things that I hope at least one person notices in this album.
LTW: Tell me about Cool Cool Girl.
Lily: It’s loads of fun to sing and to play and it’s a huge rock monster but it’s also supposed to feel a bit tragic. It’s about being constantly told that ‘feminist music’ doesn’t appeal to a male audience, but even if you adopt the same sexist attitudes to try and succeed, you’ll still never really be seen as a contender. I find it upsetting to see women in bands, in the same position as me, dismiss and distance themselves from other women artists by saying things like “I’m not like other girls,” “I don’t get on with other women,” “Other people can complain about misogyny, I just want to make music.”
Nobody wants to have to complain about the inequality of the industry we’re in, but belittling our sisters isn’t going to unlock some secret door to the Dudes Club – that door is closed to us. We have to support and respect each other. Cool Cool Girl believes she can do anything and be anything, but only if she’s not like other girls.
LTW: I guess this is an apt time to mention something else I know you’re passionate about… female representation at festivals…
Lily: We got informed by a promoter recently that the only reason there isn’t equal representation on festival line-ups is cause men have more hustle, so there’s still a long way to go to even convincing parts of the DIY scene that we’re worth the effort. The argument used to be ‘there just aren’t that many women and nb people in bands!’ (there are) and then it was ‘audiences don’t like it’ (they do) and now it’s ‘you just can’t be bothered to get off your arses and book your own festivals’ so as long as the goalposts keep moving, the headliners will still be boring, white, straight, cis boybands who all went to Dulwich College.
Any artist or band that doesn’t – literally – fit the bill has to prove so much more just to be heard, let alone taken seriously, to be seen as a contender by men. You’re either Florence and the Machine or you get one tiny stage to share between all of you. Men are not pitted against each other like this.
LTW: Are there any particular venues or towns/cities you’re looking forward to playing later in the year? Is there a tour planned?
Nick: Oh man… there’s not really any particular place we’re more excited about than any other just the very idea of playing a gig is enough! Realistically we’re a bit wary of booking a full-on tour just yet, but we’re starting to look at doing a few little shows here and there. We’ve missed it so SO much.
Lily: Give us a gig. Any gig.
LTW: Which Fightmilk track would you recommend to someone to listen to who’d never heard you before?
Nick: Oh boy we’re all gonna have a different answer here. I’d say ‘Overbite’ is us in our most accessible and condensed form?
Alex: Actually, Nick, I’m with you. If your first exposure to us is Overbite, you might peg us for a purely pop-punk band afterwards, but hopefully, you’ll like what you hear next.
Lily: Lucky Coin is my favourite. It’s the happiest, most upbeat and jump-up-and-down-getting-beer-everywhere song we’ve written and it makes me feel like punching the air in a jean-jacket every time I hear it.
LTW: You’ve had some great merchandise Bandcamp. After tea towels, mugs, pennants and coozies (or Stubbie Holders) what’s next? I believe Supergrass used to do ironing board covers?
Lily: Erm. Nappies?
Alex: A physical copy of our new album.
Lily: Alex’s answer is better.
LTW: Has Nick found the Fightmilk fridge magnets/bottle openers which were part of your early merch but lost (He’s had a year to find them?)
Nick: I really don’t want to talk about this
Lily: But we do need to talk about this.
LTW: Have you had a chance to play/rehearse as a band in the same room again yet?
Lily: Mid-April, we finally did it – we all saw each other in person again at Brixton Hill Studios and tried to remember how the songs went. We played them VERY fast because we were all so excited to see each other. Alex was too loud, I forgot most of the chords, Nick sped up more and more in each verse, Healey’s bass made some impressive fart noises. It’s like riding a bike. And then we had a pizza party round at Alex’s. Everyone had a good time. It was all so refreshingly normal. Here’s to more of that.
LTW: At the risk of sounding ungrateful, have you been writing/planning Fightmilk album No 3 when you’ve been stuck indoors?
Lily: I had six months of absolutely sod all, then had a mad burst of creativity and wrote a ton of songs – some of which might survive and make it to album 3, but writing in a weird vacuum means you have absolutely no idea if they’re any good, so I might have just written a nine-minute ode to pickled eggs or something without realising. Now it’s back to nothing again, cos Nick bought an Xbox.
Nick: There’s bits and pieces of demos in various forms, but as just mentioned, we’ve only just started getting in a room together again so it’s been a case of learning how this album actually goes first before stepping into the world of writing Album #3.
LTW: Finally… when we spoke back in June last year Lily said to celebrate the end of Lockdown she was going to take everyone for bowling and shakes at Rowans. Have you booked it?
Nick: Woah! Very well remembered! Every ounce of my being wants to go to Rowans, but it was a hotspot for muck and grossness BEFORE there was a pandemic, so we might wait a bit for it to fully heal before we go and get loaded on their extremely strong slushy cocktails and bowl a perfect 13 point game.
Lily: That offer still stands! I will not consider lockdown officially over until we’re all in a karaoke booth together, doing bad harmonies for Heaven Is A Place On Earth and trying to keep a Rowan’s Kiss from coming back up.