A Memoir From Music Military with Milestones’ Matt Clarke

By | March 21, 2018 at 2:00 PM
Photo: Joshua Halling

Being in a new band might seem like a whirlwind of action and excitement but behind the scenes, it’s like music bootcamp. Just ask Matt Clarke, the vocalist for Milestones, who’s awaiting the release of the band’s first full length, Red Lights, when I talk to him a few days before.

Everything took off for Milestones in 2016 when they dropped their debut EP Equal Measures… again. “We did Equal Measures the first time, that was like a self release,” Matt tells me. Then, Fearless Records took notice of the Manchester based act and it was time to make their second debut. The label re-released the record, but the only actual repeat was the title track. “It’s not the same EP really, it just had ‘Equal Measures’ on it so we were like ‘Ah, fuck it, let’s just do it as a re-release.’”

If this wasn’t what I wanted to do then I think I would’ve given up already.”

Signing to Fearless made a difference at the beginning of Milestones’ career. Beyond finances and hype, being backed meant being respected. “People take you more seriously,” he says. “It’s a statement almost instantly, because there’s [so] much music going around that being signed to a label like that is always confirmation that it’s gonna be at least semi-good.”

The guys didn’t waste that platform—they’ve been touring for two years, have built a solid fan base, and have plenty of plans for the future—starting with Red Lights, a chapter that has been a long time in the making. The album was recorded when the guys were just getting started, when the label had just drawn up a contract, and when no one knew what they were doing.

“We [had] just signed to Fearless, but we would go into the studio for fun. They didn’t really know we were going, because our friend owns the studio and he was just like ‘Hey, come in and write.’” Those trips were something like music military. For six months, life for Milestones meant sixteen hour writing sessions, overnights in the studio through freezing temperatures, £5 weekly budgets, and only a few hours of sleep every night.

Photo: Christopher Porter

The struggle wasn’t without reward: They left with an album to be proud of and an assurance that, despite all of the struggle, what they were doing was right. “You know how you see these army training camps and they just break you down as a person so then they can build you back up? I think that’s what being in a band does to you.” Matt explains. “I kind of got a grasp on knowing that this is definitely what I wanna do. I don’t think you can do the things that we’ve done and plow through the things that we’ve had to go through… If this wasn’t what I wanted to do then I think I would’ve given up already.”

We really really hustled on that tour because we needed to feel like we deserved it.”

Matt’s experiences have solidified his dreams and broadened his character. “I don’t think there’s anything that life could really throw at me now that I couldn’t handle. As a musician as well it’s been incredibly humbling and inspiring to tour with the bands that we’ve been able to tour with and we’ve been so fortunate.”

One of the biggest experiences for Milestones was touring America in support of Equal Measures with a few bands you might’ve heard of before—y’know, like Mayday Parade. “The EP wasn’t even that good,” he laughs. He isn’t sure how they ended up running around the states with one of pop punk’s most notable heavy weights but, in the end, it only made them work harder. “We really really hustled on that tour because we needed to feel like we deserved it… No band releases an EP and gets to tour America on a tour like that.” The hustle paid off and the tour went down in the Milestone history books. “[It’s] just so romanticized for us now, where we’re like we need to go back to America again.”

“We’re not The Story So Far—I love those bands but we’re just not that.”

Since then, Matt’s become a stronger musician that ever before. His voice is steadily improving, he’s picked up piano, his stage presence has developed, and he’s ready to create a better Milestones than ever before. “We all kind of focused on where we need to get better, I think more than anything.” Their progression shines on Red Lights, a collection that stands out because it doesn’t fit today’s pop punk. “I don’t put us in the same boxes as all of the other kind of harsher pop punk bands—we’re not The Story So Far—I love those bands but we’re just not that.”

Photo: Gaelle Pitrel

“I think it’s an album that deserves to be heard and that’s all I want people to do. If they don’t like it, then that’s cool but I just want people to listen to it.” When they do, he’s ready to wait for the reaction. Milestones is here for a career that takes its time rather than takes off overnight, because they want friends over followers. “I don’t think kids are gonna explode when they hear the album,” he explains. “I think that’s the reason why we’ve got such a strong fanbase.”

“We want the fans who are gonna still come to the shows even when we release a bad record,” he jokes. You can’t go through the pain and struggle of bootcamp without being rewarded with incredible connections. When you’re a band, that means an incredible fanbase. “The fans who actually check up on us really like us. So we’ve got a very dedicated fanbase and I think that’s because of the fact that we’re not like a hype band.” When he talks about his listeners, it’s clear that they’re a lot more than that. They’re his friends and the reason he’s doing any of this in the first place. Matt might have dreams of Wembley Arena but he’ll never forget the real purpose of Milestones.

“If two years from now we’re not a band anymore I don’t think I’d regret anything because I know that I put out a record that means something to someone.” At the end of the day, it’s about impact. “I really really want to make a difference with kids,” he says. “The same way that music did for me.”