By Chris AyersAfter the 1980s signing frenzy that resulted in R.E.M., the B-52's, and the Indigo Girls being added to American pop music history, Athens, Georgia's dust had already settled for many years until Harvey Milk switched on their amps and cranked them to 11. This trio, comprised of vocalist/guitarist Creston Spiers, bassist Steve Tanner, and drummer Paul Trudeau, has weathered false starts, bankrupt labels, and indifferent popularity for nearly 20 years. Always a cult favourite, their music is often direct, sometimes obtuse, but always loud. Like the Melvins but more consistently heavy, like the Jesus Lizard at 16 rpm, Harvey Milk released the monumental 1994's My Love Is Higher Than Your Assessment of What My Love Could Be and 1996's Courtesy and Good Will Toward Men to sadly little fanfare, and now their hard-to-find records (some compiled on a handful of Relapse re-issues) fetch hundreds of dollars. Hydra Head has now released their self-titled album from 1993, and the band is on tour with hardcore heroes Coalesce this spring. It didn't take Spiers long to return my email inquiries about touring, how they are too old for the music scene, and how their latest studio full-length is their worst.
All the songs on the self-titled ended up on other albums and singles, so why bother to release this now? I'm not sure. I guess there is some interest out there to hear what was supposed to be our first album. In my opinion, better versions of these songs appear on other records, with a couple of possible exceptions. We probably won't make any money from this, so it's definitely not a profit motive. I can't think of a good reason!
I'm so glad you didn't choose to release it as-is in all of its raw glory. Whose idea was it to remaster and clean it up? Kyle's. How did you originally hook up with Bob Weston to do the recording? I don't know, but I'm sure glad we did. Bob's a great guy and still a friend of the band. Paul or Stevie might know the answer to this one. This was intended to be released on Charlotte's 227 Records but never was. What happened? The whole story is pretty succinctly spelled out in the liner notes. Basically, the guy who was supposed to release it cut off all contact with us and disappeared with the tapes. Why Charlotte and not Athens? I'd figure that there'd've been plenty of Athenians interested in putting the album out. Charlotte was such a dump back then, and no one gave a damn about local bands, unless you were playing lame hair metal like Firehouse. We've always done better outside of Athens than inside it. Don't know why. I also don't know how we got hooked up with the label. I'm on a "need to know" basis when it comes to band business ― and there's so little that I need to know ― that I'm probably not the best member to answer these types of questions. What do you think about the self-titled debut floating around for all these years? Even Henry from Chunklet Magazine posted a downlink link on his website a few years ago. Sounds pretty bad. In general, what do you think about the current availability of Harvey Milk records, or lack thereof? You still can't get Special Wishes anywhere, which is our best record, least till the new one comes out. Do you still have lost recordings that would qualify for a future box set? Nope. Your Wikipedia page is horrid. It reads like it was written by a six-grader. Couldn't you get a publicist from Relapse or Hydra Head to rewrite it? At least for an accurate update of your discography? Never read it. Can't anyone write on those things? Did the band break up before recording The Pleaser? And was the different direction of The Pleaser due to the input of different members? No, Paul left and we brought Kyle in. It was all amicable and perfectly smooth. We changed it up on The Pleaser 'cause we were all a little bored with what we were doing. What was your opinion of the critical reaction to The Pleaser? I don't think I ever read one review about it, and I didn't even hear about it until a few years later. We had no publicist or manager and as far as I know, there was no reaction whatsoever till years later. Why did you release The Pleaser Live? But never a live document of Harvey Milk with the original line-up? I think 'cause we had that radio show from Boston to put out. It was a great quality recording and we pretty much nailed the performance. I don't think there were ever any high-quality live recordings from the earlier days. What happened to put the band on hold between The Pleaser and Special Wishes? Marriage and baby. What spurred the reunion that resulted in Special Wishes? We never really said "we're broken up" or anything, It was Steve's idea to do a new record. I think 'cause people kept bugging him for unreleased stuff. So we figured, "Why not do something new?"
Why did you choose Troubleman/Megablade for that album? Good question. The press for Special Wishes was small compared to the glorious ruckus that Life...The Best Game in Town caused. Do you think it was because Life... was released on Hydra Head, a more prestigious label? Yes. Has to be, 'cause that's our suckiest record yet.
Life... is amazing, and it's no wonder that it made lots of year-end lists. Were you happy with the critical response? And the popular response? Oops, guess I spoke too soon ― glad you liked it. As I said, I think it's our worst record, so I was a little bemused by the praise it got. I saw a couple of notices that recognized it for the crap that it was. What was it like touring for that album? Did you have fans coming up to you and saying things like "I never got to see you in the '90s, and I'm glad I finally did," etc.? Almost word for word! Do you consider the Creston, Pauly, Steve trio to be the definitive Harvey Milk? Do you still keep in touch with Kyle? Kyle is with us currently. They are both key members of the band and both equally important to our legacy. Stevie and I are VERY lucky to have played with the two greatest drummers and greatest guys in the world. Kyle also records us and manages us, so he is doubly essential. Are you satisfied with your new level of popularity? What do you think about being the older guys on a primarily young heavy music scene? I'm not sure what our popularity level is, but yes, I'm satisfied with it. And we are way too old to be in the scene. How do you feel about being such a big influence on so many younger bands nowadays? I think that our influence has been overstated. It is always very flattering and gratifying whenever ANYONE likes our music. I feel very grateful and touched when people say kind things about the band. What are your plans for the future? More touring? Yep, Spring Break and summer tours are in the works. I know that you guys have children and wives and mortgages. How long do you see yourself making music together? I guess as long as the songs keep coming. We get along very well and aren't gonna break up anytime soon as far as I can see.