Frontman James McAndrew and bassist Dan Zangari from the Denver-based sextet Milquetoast & Co. were out on the golf course when they spoke with BandWagon Magazine about their nostalgic new single, “Nights in White Satin.”
“We come out here and just swing at things we don’t understand. And that’s life.”
McAndrew, Zangari and the rest of their eclectic band recently took a bold swing at a timeless classic with their rendition of the Moody Blues’ 1967 classic, ”Nights in White Satin,” a tale of a yearning, one-sided love.
Touching the Untouchable
A track that’s often considered untouchable by many found its way into the instruments and voices of Milquetoast & Co., and even McAndrew had his doubts at first: “I was almost embarrassed to bring it to the guys because it’s so well-known. I was waiting for an eye roll or two.”
Despite the reluctance, as the band sat down with the song, worked through the chord progressions and became comfortable with the sound, a spark turned into a flame, and the room was in agreement: ”It just felt good, so we said, ‘Let’s keep it!'”
Beyond having a feel-good session with the song, McAndrews explains the original Moody Blues track has held a special place for him since childhood. He notes, “As a kid, it was all about how dramatic and epic it felt.”
Innovating with Due Diligence
The charged, symphonic energy of the original tells a passionate story of a child who can feel without fully understanding, and the challenge Milquetoast & Co. faced was preserving that essence with their rendition. “There has to be a tip of the hat to the original, but we also have to add a little something,” McAndrews says.
A listen to Milquetoast & Co.’s rendition of the song reveals a reverent balance between innovation and respect, resulting in a track just distinct enough from its origins. He explains, “We wanted to emphasize what was already there.”
Whether it’s the slightly more intricate string portion, reimagined by Sam Oats, or the more gradual build to heightened desperation in the third chorus, or even the altered instrumentation with additions like the French horn and oboe, it appears Milquetoast’s rendition of the track moves with more audacity than the original. As McAndrew points out, “And although subtle, every change was intentional.”
That being said, a new voice singing an old tune is still a new tune, and there were plenty of voices in the session for Milquetoast & Co.’s “Nights in White Satin.”
The Musical Conversation
Collaboration played an integral role in the production of the band’s latest tracks, and this cover song is no exception. The sextet went as far as flying to California last summer to record the track and nine others with engineer Kevin Ratterman and mastering engineer Nathan James. During their visit, a plethora of musical voices emerged, culminating in what we are now hearing from Milquetoast & Co., and, more importantly, what we’ll hear on their album, Runt Rant Rave, set to release in October.
“Notably, we had The Section Quartet in the session with us, recording our album,” McAndrews explains. “They’re pretty heavy hitters. They’re one of the best studio string quartets in the business, for sure.”
The Section Quartet is renowned for collaborating with high-profile artists such as Beck and The Foo Fighters. However, for McAndrew, it’s not about the names he works with; rather, it’s about allowing room for musical conversation.
“The Section Quartet was so amenable to doing what we wanted them to do, but at the same time, they were really appreciative of us giving them a little bit of room,” he says. “Why ask a musician to make music with you if they can’t play what they want to play too?”
Milquetoast: The Genre.
As each track came together, one thing was undeniable. Everything still sounded, well, “Milquetoasty.” Every new voice, sound and thought funneled through the spirit of Milquetoast & Co., resulting in a flavor that’s as nuanced as it is controlled.
Although “Nights in White Satin” is a cover, the band is not leaving this release behind them. “We don’t do a lot of covers, but I’ll pick songs that have an impact somehow.”
This track left a profound impact on McAndrew’s wife more than anyone else, who ultimately decided it should be on the album.
“It’s her favorite song,” he says. “I couldn’t not put that on the album. She made the decision!”
So yes, “Nights in White Satin” will make its way back around this October, but for now, it’s available on all DSPs. The fingerprints Milquetoast & Co. left on such an enduring piece demonstrate the Colorado band’s ability to be who they are: nothing and everything at the same time. McAndrew concludes, ”In all that we do, we end up with a Milquetoast & Co. song, whatever the hell that is.”