Jackson Milgaten is a lot of things to a lot of people. To most, he's the ultimate antithesis of the Gen-Y slacker—a 25-year-old promoter, record-label exec, artist, manager and musician playing in three of the most buzzed about bands in town. If you could bottle him up and sell him to ADD-afflicted suburban kids, you could make bank.
To me, Milagaten is proof that you can't always trust your first impression. When I met him, it was at a show in 2006 with his band Vision of a Dying World. I liked the band a lot, and although they were young, I was impressed with their musicianship and their folky-rock sound. After the show, when I introduced myself, they seemed nice enough, if a bit aloof (read: stoned). Milgaten gave me a CD copy of their EP. When I got home and tried to listen to the thing, it was blank. I thought to myself, Wow, what a bunch of stoners. They didn't even put their music on the CD.
Now, three years later, Milgaten's one of the biggest players on the scene. While 2009 stands to be a breakout for local music, with bands like Wavves and The Soft Pack getting signed to record deals, Milgaten stands to be perhaps not the man in the forefront, but rather, the guy behind the guys. Other bands may get the press, but Milgaten will undoubtedly be one of the people responsible for it.
“The way I look at music in San Diego is that it happens in waves,” says Milgaten, sitting in his North Park home, which also serves as an informal music venue called The Boat House. “And I'm friends with all those guys from the last wave. You know, guys like John Reis, Pall Jenkins and Jimmy LaValle. And no offense to them, they paved the fucking way, but they're on their way out. I don't mean that as an insult, but they know that they're not the young blood anymore. The real new wave of creativity is happening and it's here and it's starting to establish itself. And I want to be one of the ones to help it be as big as it should be.”
Bold plans, but Milgaten's never been stationary. He says he came out of the womb in Salt Lake City with a guitar in hand. His mother was in a Christian folk group, and while Milgaten says she never forced her religion on him, she was adamant that he play music and would jump to buy him a trumpet or a guitar if he wanted it. He grew up for the most part in Vegas but moved around, eventually landing in Phoenix, where he started The Vision of a Dying World. After a brief sojourn in Riverside, the band moved to San Diego in 2004. If it seems like Milgaten drifted, he says it was all leading up to where he is now.
“I always loved music, but there was definitely a point in my life where I wasn't really sure that music was going to be a career or life path,” he recalls. “I was more interested in girls, drinking and smoking. As time has gone on, I just more and more embraced myself, which is a good feeling because it's no fun to be at odds with yourself, The more I accept it, the more I can help myself and others.”
If Milgaten sounds like some self-actualized monk with a philosophy that cosmic events unfold as they should, this is balanced by his drive for other projects. Since our first meeting in 2006, he has started two other musical projects (Cuckoo Chaos and The Paddle Boat) and a record label (Silver Screen Records, which has released albums by The Sess and The Powerchords, among others), and what started as a job at Che Café booking shows has since become a hands-on approach to helping bands land gigs while turning his own house into a space to play. All the activity has gotten him the nickname “Action Jackson,” which he references with pride. So, how does he balance it all?“I don't, I just run myself into the ground,” he says. “That's the only way I know how to be. I have to go full-on. It's draining and I have no free time, but then again, I don't want to want to do anything else. I feel like I have to take advantage of it.”
He acknowledges that if he channeled all his attention into one band or one project, they might be better or get more attention, but even if he's boastful at times, his humbleness almost always comes through.
“I am an artist, and I'm proud of the music I put out, but I also feel that there are people that are better than me. The difference is, that fact doesn't make me feel bad about myself or jealous. It makes me want to help them.
“My whole standard of success is what I leave behind,” he adds. “I want to do as much as I can and help and affect as many people as possible—make people happy by giving them music that they like.”