As half of the much-buzzed London duo the Big Pink, Milo Cordell grew up surrounded by music. His father, Denny Cordell, was an in-demand record producer in the '60s, working with Joe Cocker, the Moody Blues, Procul Harum and Georgie Fame, among others.
"My whole family--brothers, friends, everyone I know--is completely immersed in music," Milo says. "So many different kinds of music were around when I was younger, it was like I didn't have a choice. Not that I was forced into it, but when you get that bug, especially if you fall in love with music at a young age, you're f---ed, because there is nothing else you can do."
Nevertheless, Cordell never planned on being in a band, and he didn't play an instrument until recently. His entre into the music world was as the founder of a small labor-of-love independent label, Merok Records, best known for nurturing the Klaxons and the Teenagers early on and, more recently, releasing the work of New Jersey art-rockers Titus Andronicus. But about two and a half years ago, Cordell was hanging out with his childhood friend, guitarist Robbie Furze, and the two started tinkering in Furze's home studio.
"We literally just sat down there one day and started messing around with synths and guitars, creating drones. That's what was great about Robbie: He said, 'Hey, man, you don't really need to be a musician to make music.' That's true: A lot of people in dance music and hip-hop aren't what you call musicians. I can't play guitar or piano, but what having a label taught me was that I was interested in original sounds. Instead of playing a guitar like a virtuoso, I can pick up one and put it through pedals to make it into something else--to use it in a different way from a lot of other people."
The spirit of creativity inherent in the merger of noisy guitars (think My Bloody Valentine and Spacemen 3), electronic keyboards and drum machines (M83 a big influence) and timeless pop melodies was enough to hook 4AD. The influential English label signed the Big Pink--named in tribute to the house where the Band famously recorded the Basement Tapes--and issued its debut album "A Brief History of Love" last fall.
For all of Cordell's talk of drones and the many comparisons the group has garnered from critics to the noisiest groups in the early '90s shoegazer movement, the most appealing aspect of the album is the sharp pop songwriting: Witness the unforgettable hooks of its underground hit, "Dominos."
"When we started, it was all about Spacemen 3 and the Velvet Underground," Cordell says. "Then we started getting into programming drums. You can't really program drums for 25 minutes--all that noise and drone stuff gets up your own ass at times, and that's just boring. So we went, 'Let's just condense it. We love it at 25 minutes, but just imagine if we could make it more palatable. Let's not weaken it, let's just concentrate it into three and a half minutes.' Somehow, these drones became pop songs, just through the timing. When you squeeze 25 minutes into three minutes, you actually have something quite good."
When the band began to play out, the tastemakers at England's NME quickly branded it "London's coolest new stars." But Cordell didn't even join the group onstage in the early days.
"When we first started, I didn't come to the shows--I just couldn't do it! It was Robbie and a guy named Daniel O'Sullivan, who plays in Guapo. Then I joined the fold, and there was a point where there were seven of us onstage. That was great; it was like this weird gang. We were like this Manson Family band that only played in art galleries and squats, and people were like, 'Who are these freaks?' It was really fun. Then things changed and we got signed and it was just too many people to go on the road. Now we've been touring with the same four people for a year."
And does Cordell enjoy live performance now?
"Yeah, I love it! I hit the turning point and never looked back. Since we did the last tour in the States, we're playing places that are double the size this time. That's amazing! The new people, the new places, the experiences--every night is different. It hasn't gotten to the point where it's repetitive yet."
Still, the reluctant musician is eager to take the next step in his band's accidental career.
"I can't wait to get back in the studio. I've had enough of playing this record: It's been 2½ years really. I think we're going to flip it on the next one. So many guitar bands want to make a hip-hop record that it's almost become a cliché, but I kind of want to make a hip-hop record. Maybe more minimal this time, but with maximum power. We're not going to put down our guitars, but I have this sound in my head. And last time, it was just a collection of songs and not an album. Now we have the chance to make a solid statement."
The Big Pink, A Place to Bury Strangers, Gatekeeper
9 p.m. tomorrow [Saturday, March 20]
(773) 549-4140, www.metrochicago.com