by Sebastian Buzzalino
In an age where relationships are measured in milliseconds with swipes right and digitized hearts littering our notifications, 36?’s newest album, Milk Mountain, comes across as the soundtrack for figuring yourself out amidst all the noise and chaos. It’s a complex record, one that takes frontman-songwriter Taylor Cochrane’s precocious talent for putting together (and pulling apart) undeniable hooks and elevates it all with intensely personal songwriting that comes from a position of self-realization, acceptance and love.
Although it’s the band’s most ambitious and most polished effort to date, their signature sound, a free-spirited collision between art and pop, remains intact. There’s a more complete confidence driving it forward, catching the attention of the taste-making Vancouver label, File Under: Music, who will release Milk Mountain this month supported by a tour through the States.
It’s also an album that represents a major evolution for Cochrane as a songwriter. Since he first started writing music as a teen, Cochrane has always considered himself “a medium for the art to speak through,” rather than mining his own personal experiences to transmute into song. But on Milk Mountain, for the first time, he offers up a direct conduit to his innermost feelings.
“It took me a really long time to think that way. To really think that the way I felt about things was actually worth hearing about. I’ve always had a lot of confidence in my ability to create melody and soundscapes, but it’s always been a struggle for me to write directly from experience. I’ve always kind of felt like the art isn’t mine, that I’m just this beacon that it contacts and comes through. It’s never really felt like my own actual life experiences were really worthy.”
What makes Milk Mountain so powerful as a record is that it offers a glimpse into an identity in flux — Cochrane in transition not only as a songwriter, but a person who is learning to accept who he is and what he is looking for in his personal, romantic relationships. Placing himself as an artist into the songs front and center, rather than writing through fictionalized characters, Taylor came to terms with who he is in his own life. On the song “Jealous,” he straddles his changing sense of self in order to explore his emerging identity as a polyamorous person.
“With that song, I don’t understand jealousy at all, but through the music, I’m trying to explore what that it feels like, based on trying to get into the mindset of the other side of a situation that I was a part of.”
That particular situation was realizing that his monogamous relationship at the time wasn’t necessarily who he really was, and that he was being unfair to himself and his partner by erasing his identity as a polyamorous person. With the track “But I Don’t Know Myself (Suddenly),” Cochrane continues his exploration, bridging the chasm between his old identities and his newfound confidence — a “catalyst,” as he puts it, for his self-realization.
“I wrote the first half while still in that [monogamous] relationship. I came home from Montreal knowing that I couldn’t stay with this person because I knew they wouldn’t be okay with a polyamorous relationship. And that I couldn’t be myself without some serious self-hate staying in a monogamous relationship… She was at work and I recorded the first half of the song. She came home later that night and we broke up, and I ended up recording the second half of the song. And that’s the only song that I used the original vocals from the demo, because there’s a moment that’s captured in there, the realness of the situation.”
Embracing his polyamorous self and understanding that his “feelings are valid, even if they’re not the norm,” Milk Mountain is driven by the massive changes in who Cochrane is and being willing to accept himself for that.
“The album is almost like the beginning stages of me figuring out who I actually am. I guess it’s an exciting time, for that reason. I feel like I’m on the cusp of actually believing in myself.”36?, File Under: Music, Milk Mountain, Taylor Cochrane