In a cozy house in Downtown Binghamton are four budding musicians pushing the boundaries in songwriting and representation in the industry. The Binghamton University students, three undergraduates and one graduate, seemed like the typical college friend group — they laughed alongside each other around a small, wooden dining table and communicated with inside jokes through facial expressions alone.
Behind the humorous vibes and friendly smiles of the group is a band called Serial Milk. Rock and punk bands are notorious for serious attitudes and dark lyrics, making their personalities a bit surprising.
Serial Milk’s duality and musical abilities can be heard when they perform their songs such as “Analysis Paralysis,” an indie rock song about overthinking with a verse of high-energy screaming. The fairly new band is full of surprises and humor, from their band name to their lyrics and song titles, which only adds to their creativity and originality.
Serial Milk began with Embry Barnett, a senior majoring in biology. Barnett was attempting to form a band for the past year. The bass guitarist experimented with other combinations of musicians, but ultimately none panned out.
Cate Reynolds, a junior double-majoring in comparative literature and politics, philosophy and law, plays the electric guitar. Barnett and Reynolds teamed up, and the string duo began jamming together.
Sitting in front of drumsticks laying on the table was the next member to join the band, Lilly Griffin, a senior majoring in biology. Barnett met Griffin through music classes at BU and invited them to be a drummer and write songs together. The trio meshed well, but every band needs a strong lead singer.
Eventually came along Charlie Monsour, ‘21. When Monsour joined the band as the lead singer last July, the band was officially formed and ready to rock and roll. The four musicians quickly fell into sync with each other and began working on songs and their sound, but a band is never quite official without a name.
Every band hopes inspiration will suddenly strike them and they’ll think of a memorable name with some sort of meaning. In their seemingly usual humorous energy, all four members burst into a fit of laughter when asked how they came up with the name Serial Milk.
“The fun answer is I came up with a premonition, and it hit me,” Griffin said. “But the real answer is that we couldn’t come up with a band name. We were all sitting in my basement, and we had 20 band names that we went through and just crossed out.”
Instead of a single idea inspiring the group, it was an affair of forced creativity. The unusual process took around two hours with a long list and a system of brackets.
“The ideas were flying around in that room,” Monsour said. “I feel like that paper with all our possible names on it should never see the light of day. We should’ve burnt it, for sure.”
Regardless, the band name is somehow fitting. It’s a bit edgy, but silly at the same time. It may not have a deeper meaning, but it’s a perfect representation of the vibes of Serial Milk and its songs — playful and punk, inside and out.
“It’s not so serious, and it’s a little bit of a wordplay, which we love,” Monsour said. “I feel like we have a little bit of punk influences in our music too, and when you see ‘Serial’ written out it kind of has a rough connotation.”
Deciding on Serial Milk may have been different from the ordinary band name selection process, but the members’ childhoods mirrored stereotypical music kids’ backgrounds. They each grew up with musical experiences and a love for performing.
Monsour used to put on little shows for their family, and Reynolds strummed campfire chords on an acoustic guitar. Griffin played the drums as a young 5-year-old, and Barnett harmonized with their family to pass the time on road trips.
Serial Milk’s members have come a long way from their younger selves as presidents of their school bands and classical musicians performing in the New York State School Music Association (NYSSMA) yearly solo festivals.
“When I got to college, I was more about instruments, layering, GarageBand and figuring out how to make music on my own instead of just singing,” Barnett said. “That kind of opened my eyes to starting a new band because I just thought doing it with other people would be more beneficial and fun.”
Monsour now jumps around performing with a confident stage presence, and Reynolds writes riffs and funky progressions on an electric guitar. Griffin’s drumming is precise with a lively energy, and Barnett rocks out on a bass guitar covered in a variety of stickers. The musical influences from their childhoods and families were all quite drastically different.
Griffin is a fan of Dave Grohl from Nirvana and the Foo Fighters, drummer JD Beck and jazz music. Reynolds admires guitarist Johnny Marr from The Smiths but also draws inspiration from rock and blues guitarists. Monsour hopes to emulate riot grrrl-era vocals, like Kathleen Hanna from Bikini Kill and Le Tigre. Monsour also loves Mitski and Phoebe Bridgers, softer indie singers, whereas Barnett admits to barely knowing their names. Instead, Barnett enjoys anime soundtracks and grew up listening to R&B, hip-hop and funk because of their dad, and listened to country, the Eagles and musical theater because of their mom.
“It’s really fun because you would think having completely different music tastes and liking different genres would hold us back, but it actually creates new opportunities for us music-wise,” Barnett said. “We tend to keep a really open mind when it comes to stuff because of it, so I’m appreciative of our different perspectives.”
This variety of inspiration and music taste creates another component of originality to the band.
“We would describe our style of music as the symbiosis of queercore and indie,” Reynolds said.
Barnett joked they’ve never heard Reynolds speak scientifically before, but “symbiosis” is perhaps the perfect word to describe their sound.
Serial Milk’s sound is not uniform and almost refuses to fit perfectly into one genre. Each song seems to have its own unique sound. Serial Milk is not exclusively indie, punk, pop or rock. Somehow, their sound is a mix of all of it — a symbiosis of musical genres, if you will.
“We’re all constantly wanting to try something different from one another,” Monsour said. “It’s a really cool environment where we’re still trying to find ourselves in a way, which I think is really important to always be evolving musically and bringing new elements in and staying on your toes.”
The members compared their music to the late ’80s and ’90s punk scene, with influences from the riot grrrl genre and bands like Bikini Kill. Some of their songs are also lighter with indie vibes and a little bit of pop-rock sounds.
“It’s hard to put ourselves into one genre because every song we make sounds completely different,” Barnett said.
Even their fashion choices showed the variety of sources of inspiration they drew from —their outfits were almost modern while still having ’60s and ’70s influences.
Considering how different their music tastes are, one might expect the band members to butt heads or struggle to write songs together that they each loved. Instead, Serial Milk have fallen into a groove and surprisingly quick speed of songwriting. Monsour shared that the band members immersed themselves into a heavy songwriting flow over the summer. The songs tend to come together with collaborative writing of lyrics and separate musical writings for everyone’s own parts.
“It’s very collaborative,” Reynolds said. “I’ll be like, ‘I have this riff,’ and [Griffin] will be like, ‘Oh, I have this drumbeat,’ and [Barnett] will be like, ‘I can throw this on it.’ And then we all kind of toss around lyrics.”
It’s not always easy, as talented writers tend to be hard on themselves over lyrics or melodies they believe are not up to par.
“It’s a lot of trial and error,” Griffin said. “One thing I really like is that we’re all really honest and if we don’t like something, we’ll say that.”
The members said honesty is rare in creative and musical relationships, but it’s necessary for the desired product. The vulnerability of sharing ideas combined with the willingness for criticism allows the band to create music they all are proud of and love to perform.
The band debated over the first official song they wrote, which was either “Commisery Business” or “Sorry Mom, I’m Smoking Again.” Both song titles are fun, and the former being another play on words like the band’s name.
“I feel like the general vibe of the band is that we don’t take ourselves too seriously, and I think you can see that in the band’s name, the song titles and everything we do,” Monsour said.
Their different taste in music shows when they each claim a different favorite of songs they’ve written so far.
Griffin’s favorite is “Abby,” because of the wordplay and honesty in the lyrics. Barnett’s is “Sorry,” which is a chill song with a funky bassline. Monsour’s favorite to perform was “Analysis Paralysis” because it’s a fun energy release and crowds have gotten hyped up and engaged during it.
Reynolds chose “MILF Therapist” because of the simple riff and an improvisational dynamic that’s different every time, but everyone agreed they were fans of the song, which started as a joke.
“That one came together really fast because we were having so much fun with it,” Monsour said. “The other songs that were more serious lyrically I think were tougher for us because it was more about creating a message.”
The song lyrics and titles are another nod to Serial Milk’s humor and silliness, which is mixed with a cool and nonchalant vibe. The focus on fun and happiness shines through in their performances.
Serial Milk has performed live twice so far, with their first show set up in Griffin’s backyard. Afterward, they said they all felt an extreme adrenaline rush and confidence boost.
“I think after our first performance, people were kind of surprised by us and how good we are,” Griffin said.
Serial Milk also said local bands in the Binghamton area have been helpful in connecting and booking them for shows, with their next two on Oct. 23 in a basement show and Oct. 24 at Garage Taco Bar.
Their music is not currently on any streaming platforms, so you’ll have to attend a concert to check them out for yourself. For information on performances and concerts, check out their Instagram account, @serialmilkband.
Not only were people impressed with their musical talents, but the crowd also had a strong appreciation for the entirely queer and non-male band. This is not something typically seen in the music industry, but Serial Milk embraces the fact that they are the minority in the punk and rock scene.
“Being a person of color [at BU] is obviously isolating and after our last show, a couple of Black queer people came up to me and said, ‘Wow, it’s so nice seeing you up here in a band full of non-men and queer people,” Barnett said.
From choosing a band name to their sound and song titles, Serial Milk sees the importance of defying norms and pushes the boundaries of what it means to be a musician.
“I think it’s important for us to have a fun space to create that and have other people see there’s people in this community creating music that are like them,” Monsour said.
The punk scene is historically and currently dominated by cisgender white men, which Serial Milk says is important to note. A band that refuses to stick to a single genre is not scared to defy the molds of bands that have come before them.
“Not every band is going to look like us, and it makes me feel really good that I’m able to go on stage and inspire others,” Barnett said. “I think all of us are able to do that being a queer group. We’re something people haven’t seen before.”