Heather McEntire knew Milemarker before she knew its members. Nearly a decade ago, she bought the Chapel Hill band's records while she was a college student in Wilmington, where her own band, Bellafea, got its start. McEntire admired the band's unrelenting kinetics and the political overtones of its post-hardcore blitz. Now, she's opening for Milemarker: "It kinda came full circle for us from admiring them to participating in music with them," she says. "It feels like they're friends and family now."
McEntire and Bellafea will join Milemarker for its only scheduled U.S. date and its first show in more than two years this weekend. The three-band bill—Milemarker, Fin Fang Foom and Bellafea—is beyond tightknit. "If you did a diagram, it would be a bunch of squiggles," says Milemarker's Ben Davis of the dizzying intersections among the three bands. "It's very interconnected."
Fin Fang Foom bassist and keyboardist Eddie Sanchez, for instance, also plays bass in Bellafea and keyboards in Ben Davis' other band, The Jetts. Milemarker guitarist Dave Laney lent vocals to Bellafea's new album, Cavalcade, and McEntire lends her voice to the forthcoming LP from Laney's latest project, Auxes. Davis and Foom guitarist Mike Triplett are both in Auxes. Milemarker 2008 will include drummer John Bowman, who plays in local hip-hop group Kerbloki and in Davis' Jetts.
Similarities connect the sounds of the three bands, too: Milemarker's moody post-hardcore bisects Bellafea's start-stop angularity and Fin Fang Foom's atmospheric swells and recessions. "I think we have a similar energy," says McEntire. "I think we all really love each other's music and are inspired and motivated [by it]."
The connections between the bands strengthen their respective approaches and encourage flexibility. "We all share," says Triplett of Fin Fang Foom. "No one gets too wrapped up in each other's stuff, selfishly. It's like Eddie playing with Bellafea: All of us are very into it and if it helps their band, that's great. None of us are very possessive ... we've all done it for a long time, so it's fun to kinda mix it up and play with other people."
Likewise, Milemarker is a band that rarely repeats itself, both in terms of members and music. Nearly a dozen people have played in Milemarker over the last decade, and Laney and Al Burian formed their own side project, Challenger, in 2004. The sound is built around a post-hardcore foundation of biting guitars, battering drums and volleyed screaming between members, but Milemarker takes detours that traditional hardcore bands wouldn't consider. Brooding melodies lurk within bristling guitars as the band takes lyrical aim at society. Electronic textures enter with 2000's Frigid Forms Sell and take on a much more prominent role on 2002's Satanic Versus.
"In the early days, we'd always say if one person in the band doesn't say, 'This is crazy, why are we doing it?' then we weren't doing something right," Davis recalls, highlighting the band's mission to push the boundaries of what hardcore should sound like. "I don't think we were the most innovative or craziest band around, but we always tried to change stuff."
He jokingly remembers playing with former Saddle Creek band The Faint before that band used keyboards. Milemarker used keyboards that night. The next time the bands played together, the story goes, The Faint had keyboards and became quite successful for their electronic riffs on punk.
But that's the past. Saturday's show at Local 506 is not only Milemarker's first in more than two years, but it's also its last before the band tours Europe on its way to the four-day Fusion Festival in Lärz, Germany, a small town halfway between Berlin and the Baltic Sea. The festival was willing to pay Milemarker enough money to make a tour out of it, so they booked 12 shows in Germany and Denmark.
Such logistical considerations have kept Milemarker apart for the last two years, says Laney. The band never actually broke up following its 2005 Ominosity album, but circumstances prevented performing or recording. Earlier this year, Burian returned to the Triangle from Chicago, following Laney's return last year. The original trio was back in its original geographic center. Playing suddenly became easier, at least for the time being. Davis says the 506 show is motivated by a desire to celebrate friendships. This is more a family reunion than band reunion.
"It's more about keeping it in the family, because it's just one of those occasions where we get to play together and hang out," says Laney. "We have a lot of history together with all those people, specifically with Fin Fang Foom." After Foom moved here from Florida in the late '90s and before Milemarker moved to Chicago, they toured together extensively. Their careers had followed similar paths, anyway—each forming around the same time in the late-'90s and each releasing records through D.C.'s Lovitt Records.
And, as is usually true of old friends, once everyone's in the same place, it's hard to tell any time has lapsed at all or what may happen in the immediate future. Milemarker may return to the studio, or it may not. It may hit the road with Fin Fang Foom again, or it may not. "Milemarker is the band we've all learned to not make plans for," Laney says. "If something happens, then it happens, and it's great."
Milemarker, Fin Fang Foom and Bellafea play Local 506 Saturday, June 21, at 10 p.m. Tickets are $7.