story / Britt Perkins photos / Shanna Fisher
There are five people in a rowboat. One of them plays drums. Four of them sing lead and backups and play guitar and bass. One of them is a woman. Four of them are men. Which one is Milo Greene?
The answer is all of them. As I watch from a safe and solid concrete sidewalk, the Los Angles-based quintet attempts to balance themselves in a white plastic rowboat that proudly proclaims it can hold up to three persons or 350 pounds safely as it floats in about 16 inches of water in a canal in Venice, California.
“I feel like we’re in Italy,” says Robbie Arnett, 27.
Marlana Sheetz, 22, our female band member, warbles a faux Italian opera and holds on to her straw hat for balance.
Often compared to Fleet Foxes, Local Natives and The Cold Wars, whom the band supported on tour last year, Milo Greene is a folk pop outfit with a penchant for music steeped in harmony and nostalgia.
It began with a group of friends in a cabin just east of Fresno in the Sierra Nevadas near Shaver Lake. Those friends included Graham Fink, 26, the other multi-instrumental member of the band that is now Milo Greene. Curtis Marrero, 26, later joined the band as the drummer and only single-hat musician of the group.
“We didn’t even know we were a band when we started writing songs,” says Andrew Heringer, 27. “We started writing songs as a little retreat—as a fun artist’s exercise among friends.”
But after two of these sessions, everyone knew the songs they were writing weren’t just throwaways. They were worthy of a band and being performed for an audience. And so Milo Greene, the name of the fictitious manager marionetted by Heringer and Arnett in college, was reborn.
Fade in: A man in his mid-twenties gazes out a smudged window across a lake surrounded by statuesque pines. He is not alone, but he doesn’t smile.
Chimes begin to clang, a ghost starts to sing, then the guitars.
And so begins Milo Greene’s first album, a self-titled cinematic folk-pop production released July 17 possessed of all the deep harmonies and sweet soul you would expect of a youthful yet slightly neurotic love letter.
The cinematic scene is actually part of the official music video for “1957.” But Milo decided to take things even further.
“When we were talking about making a record, we [said] it would be cool to make a film with the record,” Arnett says. “It was kind of a hoop dream at first.”
But once the recording process was complete, which took two years, on and off, the band found themselves with extra time on their hands and restless to keep busy. As a result, the band collectively outlined a series of scenes to accompany their record. There’s no dialogue. The project may be most simply referred to as a feature-length music video.
“We sculpted our record in a fashion where you can listen from the beginning to the end, and it all kind of goes together,” Arnett said. “Lyrically not so much, but in terms of tone and vibe and emotion…that’s how we wanted to tell this story.”
The description: A neurotic man in a beautiful place.
Directed by Chad Huff, a friend of Arnett’s, the film was shot in four or five days in, where else, Heringer’s grandfather’s cabin in the Sierras. This cabin might as well be a member of the band. Before the group even talked about a future, they wrote “Autumn Tree,” the first song they created together and the last song on the album in that very cabin.
“We knew we wanted to do it up there because of the landscape,” Arnett said. “We’ve done all of our recordings in remote locations. We wanted to mirror that with the visuals.”
The crew was a small collective of close friends and acquaintances. Similar to the cabin, the actor who plays the lead male character has elements of his personality woven throughout the album and the film. This man’s name is Spencer. He is Heringer’s roommate. An art piece he owns graces the cover of the album. Milo Greene also has a habit of writing songs about him.
“Think Woody Allen. That is Spencer,” Arnett said. “He’s extremely lovable and we’re all really close with him and so there are just certain things that have influenced our writing that pertain directly to the essence of Spencer.”
Now that the album is finished, it’s easier to wax romantic and nostalgic about the process. But power outages, snowbound coffee trips and the often nerve wracking experience of being full-time musicians are very fresh memories in the minds of the members of Milo Greene.
Though Arnett, Marrero and Fink all lived in Los Angeles, Heringer and Sheetz had to take the plunge and commit to a move from their homes in Northern California in order to make Milo Greene happen.
“It’s a gamble,” Sheetz said. “But you bet hard on yourself.”
“We started writing music and then we created the band so it’s always been led by good music,” Heringer adds. “[It has] always been easy to trust in the project because we had something we loved. I think everyone who has come in to work on this band has done it because they were sold on what we were doing musically.”
The democracy of the band also allows for individual ideas to be heard and supported. While one member may introduce a concept, the others have full reign to develop that idea and vocals and instrumental parts are chosen based on who has the best range or skills for the song at hand.
“I would say that I’m absolutely, completely proud of every song on the album, no matter what role I had in creating that song,” said Heringer, “and I think we all feel this way. We were just looking to make the best product we could—the most emotionally resonant album we could.”
And with a Letterman appearance in July along with their album release and a packed tour schedule, things aren’t looking too shabby for Milo Greene.
“If it all ended tomorrow,” Sheetz said, “I think I could die a happy woman.”