Some people know they want to be in a band before they know how to play an instrument or have any sense of what kind of music they even want to make. Lavender Milk was a little like that. The duo, from Southern Pines, a small town in Moore County, have been playing music together for about two years. They’ve been writing and recording originals for a little over a year.
The two, Jon Carlson on guitars (and bass and drums) and Chase Jourdian on vocals, met through their former guitar teacher. But they came from different musical backgrounds.
Carlson was steeped in ‘80s rock.
“I grew up listening to Van Halen and Motley Crue,” Carlson said.
Jourdian’s father is a musician whose tastes range from indie rock to old time.
“My dad introduced me to ‘70s and ‘80s punk,” she said. Jourdian, a sometime Winston-Salem resident, worked for a time at the excellent but short-lived Mesmerizer Records last year as well.
Before she started playing in a band, Jourdian said there were personal, emotional hurdles to jump.
“I’d always say to my dad, ‘Oh, I want to be in a band, and I want to write music,’ and he’d say ‘What’s stopping you?’” Confidence was the main stumbling block. Forming a band was a way to formalize the ambition to write and perform.
“It’s kind of just become this,” Jourdian said. “It’s just been about our friendship and creating art together.”
Lavender Milk is a young band. Jourdian is 18, and she’ll be heading off to college in Western Massachusetts next month. Carlson is 20, and he’ll be returning to school in Nashville, after having studied abroad in Paris this past semester. They plan to keep collaborating from a distance.
Carson views the project as a way of growing both as an artist and as a person.
“It’s more about being comfortable with myself and loving myself,” he said. Carson’s photos are used in a lot of the band’s online artwork. The photos have a curious sense of perspective, proportion, composition and color, often resembling collage. In one, a Renaissance sculpture appears cropped strangely against a vaulted ceiling, creating a sense of cramped and teetering claustrophobia, or a wall tile and a string of decorative lights and other contrasting patterns disorient one’s sense of where background starts and foreground begins. The aesthetic relates to the music, in a way, with its mix of up-close and remote associations.
Lavender Milk’s music is a bedroom project, with skeletal production and a vulnerable sound that comes through in their recordings. The pair has posted a number of new recordings on their Bandcamp page over the summer, with finished tracks and demos offering a glimpse into how they assemble the music. Jourdian often records her vocals in a bathroom, a setting that adds reverberations to her voice. The guitars are bathed in stereo chorus effects, harkening back to the sound of British bands from the ‘80s like the Smiths, the Cure and the Cocteau Twins. 10,000 Maniacs might come to mind, too. Lavender Milk has something in common with more recent bands like the Drums as well. This is dreamy pop, but not sleepy pop. There’s not a ton of bottom end to the recordings, either, giving some of the songs an almost brittle quality that’s heightened by the stabbing, rhythmic quality of Carson’s guitar parts.
A song like “Scares Me,” released in February of this year, captures the feeling of people trying to make sense of themselves. “I find solace in washing dishes — but I never do it. Does that say anything about me?” goes one lyric. The idea that taking action — cleaning or making music — is a way of coping, comes through in the songs. “My head is okay, but better with noise,” goes another line from the same song.
Both Jourdian and Carson write lyrics. There’s something tentative in the music sometimes. It’s not like they’re stumbling toward something, but more like they’re taking steps and pausing a bit before moving again.
Carson has written songs, such as “Framboise,” which was posted last month. It’s a song about raspberries (“framboise” in French), and about how something so mundane can also be otherworldly. He wrote it while in France. “Put it in your tea or in your hair like a flower. I like it in yogurt too,” go the first lines.
“I was kind of in love, I guess, with what was around me at the time in my life,” Carson said.
Sometimes one imagines that playing in a band or writing songs is something one does because one feels the need to express something specific. But Lavender Milk toys with the idea that playing in a band — writing songs, making recordings and performing — is a means of learning about what it is you might have to say. It’s like those writers who feel that writing helps them learn what they think.
“I love writing — it’s been hard,” Jourdian said, “because I think I have a lot to say that maybe can’t be expressed without music.”
John Adamian lives in Winston-Salem, and his writing has appeared in Wired, The Believer, Relix, Arthur, Modern Farmer, the Hartford Courant and numerous other publications.