Dan Milligan speaks with Brandy Powers-Crowe on behalf of ReGen about his latest musical endeavor, The Joy Thieves, assembling more than 30 musicians (and growing) into an exciting new creative collective.
An InterView with Dan Milligan & Ania Tarnowska of The Joy Thieves
By Brandy Powers-Crowe (BPCrowe)
Based in Chicago, The Joy Thieves are a well coordinated band, the combined minds and talents of over 30 musicians. The members currently represent from outfits such as MINISTRY, Marilyn Manson, Stabbing Westward, My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult, Blue October, I Ya Toyah, and 16Volt, and the list goes on and is ever growing. This allows for a glorious versatility throughout the six tracks of the group’s debut EP, from the brash rock of the title track “This Will Kill That,” to the fired up ’90s sound of “Tempting the Flame,” the heavy beats and industrial edges of “Violent Lucidity,” and of course, the remix of Drownd’s “Sick Like You” must be mentioned. Following the debut EP in June, The Joy Thieves also released a free-to-download EP in October that showcases a cover of the Siouxie & The Banshees hit “Cities In Dust,” including an array of remixes. So, how does such a large collective come together to create an album? What influenced This Will Kill That, and what’s next for The Joy Thieves? ReGen Magazine caught up with producer/songwriter/drummer/Joy Thief Dan Milligan, along with “Cities In Dust” cover vocalist and fellow Joy Thief Ania Tarnowska (I Ya Toyah) to find out.
So, we are hearing the terms ‘supergroup’ and ‘collective.’ How do you define this project?
Milligan: While almost everyone else likes referring to The Joy Thieves as a ‘supergroup,’ I simply prefer the word ‘collective,’ which is why you’ve seen that word used on our website and our social media pages. For whatever reason, I just have a negative reaction to the word ‘supergroup.’ It makes me think of something formulaic that was created as some sort of marketing gimmick… and that is the complete opposite of how and why this band was formed. Creating some sort of ‘supergroup’ was never the goal for The Joy Thieves. The fact that many of the Thieves came from other, more well known bands… well, that just happened organically. It was certainly not a part of the original design for the band. And while I suppose this is just a quirk of mine, I think I just have a problem referring to myself or anything I’m involved in as ‘super.’ I am extremely proud of the work The Joy Thieves have done, but calling the band a ‘supergroup’ just makes me feel uneasy.
What’s your musical background?
Milligan: I won’t bore you with the mundane details, but I started playing drums when I was five-years-old, and my life has completely revolved around music ever since. I currently make my living as a professional musician, a producer, and a remix artist here in Chicago.
What are the inspirations/influences for your first album, This Will Kill That?
Milligan: Sonically, I don’t consider TWKT to be influenced too directly by any one band in particular. However, I can say that the sound was very heavily influenced by the Chicago music scene back in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Many of us Joy Thieves were here in Chicago during those years, following bands like MINISTRY, The Jesus Lizard, Smashing Pumpkins, RevCo, Pigface, Big Black, etc. Musically speaking, those bands left a certain imprint on many of us, and those influences seemed to come to the surface while writing music for The Joy Thieves. I like to think that the band walks a fine line between a lot of musical styles – industrial, hard rock, punk, alternative, post-punk… they are all a part of the sound of The Joy Thieves.
As far as what particular bands were inspiring me as I was writing music for This Will Kill That… I spent that whole year listening to a lot of Killing Joke, MINISTRY, Ho99o9, and Bad Brains. The inspiration for the EP’s aesthetic, as well as some of the lyrics, comes from a set of disturbing dreams I have been having for many years now. The dreams involve having my body taken over by various nasty creatures, such as wasps, moths, worms, leeches, etc. The twist is the creatures in the dreams don’t attack me from the outside… they come from inside of me. Knowing this, the artwork and lyrics might make a little more sense.
A few years ago, a friend of mine noticed that these dreams often coincided with the impending release of my music. It was his theory that the bugs symbolize negativity that I need to get out of my system by putting music out into the world. Letting these dreams influence this EP was my way of trying to purge these thoughts from my system. And while I can’t say that it has completely worked, I have had them much more infrequently recently, so maybe I’m on the right path.
With over 30 members contributing to The Joy Thieves, how are you all able to work together? And how did you contact/involve all the Thieves? How did you record given that this is a collaborative effort?
Milligan: The process for contacting and working with the members was slightly different for every single person who contributed. Some were highly involved with the recording process, but many of the Thieves worked out of their own studios and then sent tracks to me, after which I sifted through all of their contributions and arranged the songs as I saw fit.
Many of the Joy Thieves have been good friends of mine for many years, so contacting and working with them was a no-brainer. For me, the exciting part was reaching out and connecting with musicians that I admired but did not know. It was a little overwhelming at first, but many of these people seemed truly receptive and they seemed to like both the concept of the band and the music. And after a few successes, it slowly became easier to put myself out there and reach out to complete strangers. And, of course, one of the best parts about having reached out to these people is that I now count many of them as true friends of mine.
Now that the band is a little more established, I see this whole process undergoing some changes. More people will be involved in the music writing process, and you can bet there will be more instances of groups of Thieves getting together in the same room to collaborate. And that is something I am really looking forward to!
Who are the key players? Isn’t there another vocalist leading a track or two besides Connelly?
Milligan: Every single Joy Thief brought something to the table that I consider ‘key.’ Otherwise, I never would’ve have approached them. There are many vocalists in The Joy Thieves; more than any other position in the band. It happened that way because my initial plan was to do all of the music by myself, and then use many guest vocalists – an approach I have used in several other musical projects I have been involved in. Things obviously changed quite a bit on that front, but that was certainly the original plan. Therefore… many vocalists. Chris Connelly has received the most attention because many music fans already know who he is, and he happened to be the vocalist on the first single/video, ‘This Will Kill That.’ But there are several singers on our first EP, including Jaysun McBain, who sang the song ‘Joy Thieves,’ Eric Liljehorn (Ravens) sang ‘Chemical Dreams,’ Michael Allen Gould (Spyderbone) sang ‘Tempting the Flames,’ and James Scott (She Rides Tigers) sang ‘Honeycomb and Silk.’ And many, many more to come.
You have musicians that have been around forever, but also relative newcomers?
Milligan: Absolutely, and that’s one of the things I love about The Joy Thieves – the band involves many different kinds of people from many different walks of life. Some of the Thieves are musical legends that have toured the entire world, and some are just getting started. Yet somehow, we all seem to be doing this for the same reasons… the right reasons.
Involving the other musicians, you and the website say ‘and more,’ so can you tell us the ‘and mores’ you are working with?
Milligan: When I was writing up the description of the band, I simply couldn’t include every single project from every single member, which is why I added the ‘and more’ part. For the sake of brevity, it just had to be done. But in the larger scope, the ‘and mores’ represent all of the musicians who will eventually become a part of the band. And there are already quite a few lined up!
I read that this included members of Blue October?
Milligan: Yes, it does – Matt Noveskey, the bassist for Blue October, played on several Joy Thieves tracks.
When I first approached my buddy Matt Clark him about becoming a Joy Thief, he was living in Austin, TX. He owned a recording studio there and he had been hanging out with Matt Noveskey from Blue October, who owns The Orb Recording Studio in Austin. Matt Clark played him some of the music we were working on, and he apparently liked it a lot, and so he asked to become involved. Since then, I have gotten to know him a bit and he is a truly great guy. Not only does he play bass for Blue October, but he owns and works at The Orb, he mentors young bands, he does production, he writes music, and much more. And honestly, he’s just a genuine, excitable, hard-working guy, making him exactly the kind of person I wanted to include in The Joy Thieves.
On your latest release, The Joy Thieves have covered the 1986 track ‘Cities In Dust’ by Siouxie & The Banshees. Why did you choose this track?
Milligan: Back in high school, some friends and I formed our very first original band; we played very technical math-metal. And so, for the span of a couple of years, I listened almost exclusively to metal and hard rock music. During that time, I had a friend who was really into bands like Depeche Mode, The Cure, and Siouxsie & The Banshees. She made me a few mix tapes that introduced me to darker, gothier, more electronic-based music. And although I never would have guessed it at the time (thanks to my metal-obsessed ways), I eventually came to love that kind of music.
So, why did I choose ‘Cities In Dust?’ I chose it because it was the very first song in that particular genre that grabbed my attention. It lured me in and made me curious to hear more. And it sent me down the path towards discovering electronica, post-punk, and ultimately industrial and industrial/rock. For that reason, this song means a lot to me.
And with that, we move to talk with Ania Tarnowska of I Ya Toyah. Ania, I love the strength in your voice. How did it feel channeling Siouxie Sioux? What can you tell me about your work as I Ya Toyah and becoming a part of The Joy Thieves?
Tarnowska: Thank you! The feeling was amazing. I wanted to give my own voice to this version of the song, and rather than following the interpretation of the original version, I added a personal message and love to it; definitely transcendent feeling in that way – singing a song that has been such a strong pinpoint in goth music history and goth culture in general… an honor. And the same when it comes to being a Joy Thief. It is just such an effortless, natural fit; great people and vibes!
Also, what does I Ya Toyah mean?
Tarnowska: ‘I Ya Toyah,’ when spoken out loud, in Polish means ‘It’s Just Me,’ which in my project comes down to my one-woman-army vision. Also, behind I Ya Toyah’s meaning in the visual form – the logo – there is a message of peace and anarchy blended together to symbolize chaos and balance; the rebel psyche, which is my true nature.
In addition to I Ya Toyah, who are some of the other ladies of the Joy Thieves?
Milligan: I have known Ania from I Ya Toyah for a few years now and I have always just loved her so much. She is insanely passionate about her music, and her energy is beyond contagious! I had a feeling when we first met that we would eventually work together somehow. And without giving away too much, that has come true in many different ways recently.
Yes, there are several more female Joy Thieves. In addition to Ania, we count Mimi Wallman (ONO, Ampyre, and Host Body), Katzen Hobbes (The Human Marvels and the 999 Eyes Freakshow), artist Lana Guerra, and solo artist Laura Glyda among the ranks of the Thieves. And as the band progresses, there will be many more.
Would you tell us about the other remixes on the new EP?
Milligan: Having my songs remixed by others is a relatively new experience for me, and I have to tell you, it was strange hearing what other people did with the music that I spent thousands of hours perfecting. The first time I listened to each of these remixes, it was a pretty surreal experience. More than anything, I honestly found it a little overwhelming, which is something I didn’t expect. As time went on, I found myself more and more able to step back and listen with the ears of someone who wasn’t as involved with the songs, and I grew to love each and every one of these mixes so much.
The Treuhand Mix of ‘This Will Kill That’ by Howie Beno and Brandt Gassman… I love this remix for so many reasons. When I first heard it, I thought it was great, but the real magic happens if you continue to listen to it. Different layers reveal themselves to you the more you listen to it. Before he sent it my way, Howie kept sending me cryptic messages about the mix; things like, ‘It’s like ’90s industrial jazz,’ ‘I put a lot of jokes of a musical nature into it,’ and ‘It’s more like a mixtape than a remix.’ As per usual, I had no idea what he was talking about until he sent it my way, and then it all started making sense – genius… truly, genius.
John Fryer’s Psychic Dissent Mix of ‘Joy Thieves’… for me, having the chance to have John Fryer remix a song was a dream come true because I have been a huge fan of his for so many years now. As if his extensive catalog of production work wasn’t enough, I love John because he continues to release amazing songs to this day. He completely gutted the song, and then re-imagined it from scratch. I am still in awe of what he did with it!
In the mixing process, there are often many ideas that you want to include into a mix, and most of the time, there are too many. That was the case for the original mix of ‘Honeycomb and Silk.’ And so, creating our Hollowed Be Thy Brain Mix gave me the chance to go back and make some different artistic choices.
Gary Robertson – a.k.a. i! – is a fellow Armalyte Industries artist. I did not know him previous to this, but the guys at Armalyte have always spoken highly of him, and they thought he might be interested in doing a remix for me. He was, and he just killed this Hacked Mix. It’s a really fun interpretation!
When I’m remixing my own songs, I find it difficult to completely reimagine them… simply because I have already crafted my vision for them; for better or worse, I just can’t escape that vision. And so, I look for more subtle ways to twist them. In he case of the Life in Grayscale Mix of ‘This Will Kill That,’ giving the song a swing feel totally gave it a new vibe, and it was a vibe that I loved. I have to give huge props to guitarist Andy Gerold, who delivered some stellar guitar work on very short notice; he truly pushed this version over the top for us.
The Joy Thieves will soon be dropping a new video for ‘Cities In Dust.’ What can you tell me about the idea behind it as well as production?
Milligan: Joel Lopez of Lumbra Records did the video for ‘This Will Kill That,’ and I loved how it turned out, so we worked together again on the video for ‘Cities In Dust.’ It’s a simpler video than ‘TWKT,’ but I really love how it turned out. Since the song is ‘Cities In Dust,’ it just seemed like a great excuse to cover ourselves with corn starch and just rock out in a cool looking place.
The Joy Thieves are quite literally a revolving cast of members, and so it was fun for me to work with a different group of musicians for the live band segment. In addition to Ania Tarnowska (I Ya Toyah), who sang the song, I was joined by several Thieves who have contributed a lot to the recordings, both released and upcoming – bassist Mike Czarnik, vocalist/guitarist Eric Liljehorn, engineer/bassist/vocalist/guitarist, James Scott, and guitarist extraordinaire Louis Svitek, who played the guitar solo at the end of the track.
Is this mostly based out of Chicago on Armalyte Industries?
Milligan: When the band first began, we were based exclusively out of Chicago. But as time went on, we started involving people from other areas of the country, and ultimately, people from around the world.
As for Armalyte Industries, they are our record label and they are located in London.
I understand touring would be difficult given the members and their locations, but just as you managed to record a first video, do you think some of you will come together for a festival or other live event?
Milligan: The original plan was to have The Joy Thieves be strictly a recording project, and while the recording and the release of new music will always be the main focus, I think there’s a good chance that we will bring some form of The Joy Thieves to a stage. Now that we are a little more established, it has become much easier to envision, but the circumstances would have to be right.
Are you taking the joy and giving it out to people who rightfully deserve it?
Milligan: Sort of a Robin Hood thing, right? Except we are stealing joy from the happy and giving it to the joyless? I’ll never tell. But I certainly appreciate the irony of a band called The Joy Thieves that has done nothing but bring me pure joy for the last couple of years.
What’s next for the Joy Thieves?
Milligan: We are also preparing for the release of our second EP of all original songs, which will be coming out in the early part of 2020.
Lastly, we have been working on a lot of remixes for other artists, including Chris Connelly, <PIG>, Machines with Human Skin, and I Ya Toyah, many of which will be coming out before the end of the year. 2020 will prove to be a very eventful and exciting year!
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