On a porch stoop somewhere in Kensington, the four members of The Vision of a Dying World sprawl upon a weathered couch and recover. From road fatigue. From interpersonal claustrophobia. From touring.
They are not a death-metal band, as their name might suggest. Which is nice, because black T-shirts would make the almost Biblical heat unbearable.
Hailing from Las Vegas, brothers Jackson and Keith Milgaten and friend Jeremy Scott have been writing songs together since 2000, and now all three live with drummer Jonah Tellez-Giron. From their splintery stoop, the four share a particular view of the state of the world. It's not necessarily upbeat-although listening to their music, you might think they're optimists.
On their third release, What You Are to Be You Now Become, they use ukulele, sax, viola, organ, accordion, upright bass, banjo and mandolin (compliments of ex-member Matt Davidson) to make their "vision" of a world gone sour sound like one hell of a hoedown.
The album is littered with Biblical references but isn't depressing or preachy. The boys go from barbershop quartet harmonies to whistling to Modest Mouse-type choruses in the pluck of a string. Their subjects may be dark, but the mood is festive, summed up best when Jackson Milgaten sings on their previous album, Feelin' Alive, "Even though it hurts/ I'm glad."
"We've had people say it's too religious," says bassist Keith Milgaten, shirtless and folding laundry as he talks. The word "pious" doesn't exactly come to mind, though, when walking through their living room. It's filled with the usual scenester clutter: thrift-shop furniture, rock flyers, local art posters, piles of instruments and records.
"We're not a religious band," says Jackson Milgaten, who shares songwriting, vocal and guitar duties with Scott. "People think we're a Christian band just because we talk about God and life and religion in our music."
Though they define themselves personally as spiritual rather than religious, the Milgaten brothers' mother is a Christian songwriter and their father a non-practicing Jew. While tagging along with Mom on a "Jews for Jesus" retreat, the boys came across the line "A vision of a dying world lay vast before our eyes" in a hymn booklet. It stuck with them, even if little else from the experience did.
The guys cite Pedro the Lion and the Danielson Family-two Christian indie groups who have been ostracized by the mainstream Christian community-as major influences.
"You hear these mainstream Christian artists on the radio; it just sounds so phony," Jackson Milgaten says. "If I really was a Christian, I would be pissed they were making this music because it's an insult to their beliefs. But when I listen to Danielson Family, it's so honest. All these hipsters come to their shows and sing along to hardcore Christian lyrics, but it doesn't matter that they don't necessarily believe."
It's not that seeing a show by The Vision of a Dying World is like attending an indie-folk version of Bible school. The band says that, most of all, they just believe in the process of belief.
"In our society, irony runs so rampant that it destroys belief of any kind," Jackson Milgaten says. "Like it's totally uncool to believe in anything. Our name is really about the vision of the future from a dying world. We as a human race are a congregation that needs to come together and believe in something-no matter what it is."
"Yeah, no matter what it is," Keith Milgaten jokes. "Whether you believe in high life or what."