Student band Milk epitomizes Dartmouth culture of live music
Milk, an all-senior band, looks to end on a high note with Battle of the Bands and WoodstocKDE.
Courtesy of Kendall Milender.
On Friday at 7:30 p.m. in Collis Common Ground, Milk performed along with six other student bands in Battle of the Bands — a competition to determine the student opener of campus music festival Green Key. Additionally, on May 6, they will take the stage at Kappa Delta Epsilon’s annual musical event, WoodstocKDE.
The band consists of six close friends from the Class of 2023: Kendall Milender ’23 as lead singer, Zahni Khin ’23 on guitar, Will Toth ’23 on bass, Max Blum ’23 on keys, Karsten Kleyensteuber ’23 on trumpet and Noah Portnoy ’23 on drums. The roster has largely remained unchanged since its inception, aside from Kleyensteuber, who joined the band in the fall.
In describing the style of the band, Portnoy emphasized that they embrace multiple musical genres. Furthermore, Portnoy said the band was created out of the members’ desire to unite as a standalone band.
“Forged in the flames of sophomore summer, Milk began as an indie-rock, pop, R&B and alternative collective for student musicians who were tired of touring in bands not their own,” Portnoy said.
In addition to being a multi-genre band, Milk’s members also pride themselves on their ability to play multiple instruments. Blum said that Milk band members rotate instruments on certain songs, as almost all of the band members can sing or play a secondary instrument. Kleyensteuber, for example, occasionally plays the keys when trumpet is not played.
“It’s nice having multiple singers and having people switch around,” Kleyensteuber said. “You can always be doing something different.”
Blum and Khin first connected during an impromptu jam session freshman year at the Hopkins Center for the Arts. Toth and Portnoy joined shortly after.
“Since freshman fall, I was very active in jamming with people and trying to find [musical] scenes,” Blum said. “There was this really cool fifty-person GroupMe of Dartmouth students who exclusively just wanted to jam.”
The pandemic forced a sudden hiatus on live music, and thus halted the frequency of their jam sessions. However, the four would reconnect when they returned to an open campus their sophomore summer. Milender joined the band as lead singer during one of their jam sessions at Bones Gate. Their first gig took place soon after at WoodstocKDE that same summer.
“We’ve played a lot of shows,” Milender said. “[WoodstocKDE] was so fun. And it was downpouring! It was our first show, and I think we were all super nervous, but it was a blast.”
The band separated once again due to the members’ staggered off terms, but they would eventually reconnect in the spring of 2022, when they performed at WoodstocKDE to a larger audience.
It was at this time when Kleyensteuber was living with Khin and Portnoy and started playing a few songs with them on his trumpet. It didn’t take long for him to join the band as a permanent member.
“We had five people in the band, and we had enough to get by,” Khin said. “But you could always use a little bit of an X Factor, and we found Karsten. So we just threw him in on a couple of songs, and it was like clockwork — just very natural.”
Since Kleyensteuber’s addition, Milk has played at several fraternities including shows at Bones Gate, Psi Upsilon, Beta Alpha Omega and Alpha Chi Alpha. Despite the thrill of these shows, guitarist Khin finds the most gratification in the bands’ rehearsals.
“In rehearsal, we try something new and sometimes it just clicks,” Khin said. “Like when all the instruments and the vocals kind of mesh together, and when the band’s playing like a well-oiled machine and I look over and I’m just surrounded by my friends — those are the moments that I remember the most.”
Milender highlighted that live music has blossomed in popularity the last few terms since the pandemic’s shutdown, and is grateful she was able to be a part of that movement. Milender also underscored the quintessentially-Dartmouth nature of the band.
“It’s just so classic Dartmouth that if we have a show Saturday night, we all show up before to put the stage together,” Milender said. “And that means flipping over pong tables, putting down some cinder blocks and that's the stage.”
The band does not have a strict style, but gravitates to certain artists based on the musical taste of its members. The band has played music from contemporary artists like Maroon 5, but have also performed classics such as Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Have You Ever Seen the Rain.” One of Milk’s most recurring covers is Amy Winehouse’s “Valerie,” which was also one of the first songs they played live. Though they primarily focus on covers, Blum expressed their hopes for playing original pieces in the future.
“We try to play cover songs and to give the people what they want.” Blum said. “We’ve been ambitious to write our own stuff, but also being busy Dartmouth kids, we’ve got to be realistic. So we haven’t really played any originals, but maybe we’ll do that soon.”
Milk kicked off this spring term by playing at the Dartmouth Skiway’s annual Pond Skim and are slated to once again play at WoodstocKDE later this term.
“I think we’re excited for Woodstock, which is coming up again, because we’ve played that every time it’s happened,” said Milender. “Spring is fun because we get to play some classic rock Darty music, which I’m more into.”
Milender spoke of the highly collaborative nature between the different bands on campus and extended appreciation for the supportive audiences of Dartmouth students.
“The culture feels very supportive,” said Milender. “We’re [all] renting from the same place, like we all have to share [equipment].”
In true Dartmouth fashion, flexibility is a necessity to deal with the challenge of working around six different schedules, and sometimes substitutes are necessary. According to Milender, Dashiell Prince-Judd ’23 from the Read Receipts will be playing with them for WoodstocKDE this year. In the past, Toth has also subbed in for The Stripers.
The band expressed bittersweet feelings about graduation, especially as Milk will no longer exist once the members graduate. They plan to have a final show called the “Kill Milk” show. Between Battle of the Bands, WoodstocKDE and other potential shows, Milk is set to have a busy spring finale.