While three-fourths of the indie rock group The We Shared Milk grew up in Alaska, the band members didn't know each other until after they'd all left. And like a lot of musicians who've left Alaska, they ended up in Portland, Ore.
Guitarist and vocalist Boone Howard grew up in Talkeetna, while drummer Eric Ambrosius and keyboardist/guitarist Henry Gibson are from Palmer. The three are joined by bassist Travis Leipzig, who grew up in Salem, Ore.
The band traces its origins to Portland State University, where the three Alaskans were enrolled.
"I thought I'd try school even though I kind of had an inkling that it wasn't for me," Howard said of his one year at PSU.
Howard moved south in 2006. From 2009 to 2011, he traveled with fellow Portland-based Alaskan ex-pats Portugal. The Man doing live sound and roadie work. Watching how Portugal went about its business while growing into an internationally recognized group inspired Howard in his own awkwardly named band.
"I have a ton of respect for those guys and the way they operate -- just the vibe of their approach to music definitely stuck with me," he explained. "They're not studio musician dudes. I mean, they're really good, but the stuff they come up with is less than straightforward. It's more like a punk rock philosophy toward making guitar-rock, indie rock stuff."
On a debut album and subsequent EP, The We Shared Milk showcased plenty of off-the-cuff and left-of-the-dial indie rock. The band's latest, "Lame Sunset," is a much subtler affair, not leaning quite as much on fuzzed-out riffs as more intricate layering, though it's still definitely a guitar-centric record. It's also already been reissued even though it's been out less than a year.
"We were never quite happy with it," admits Howard before delving into the difficulties that went into recording the album in the band's small practice space. "I was pretty much living in our practice space just because I'd end up crashing there at the end of the night. We just spent a lot of time in this tiny room for three months, and to make ourselves finish the album, we scheduled our release show before we really had anything done."
The approach had worked for the band in the past, but this time they felt the end product suffered. They kept the performances but redid some of the mixes and remastered the album with new artwork.
"I still want that record to be a snapshot of that time because it wasn't exactly fun for me, but there's some good emotional stuff to remember from that," said Howard. "I want that record to stay honest, with all the vocal squeaks and slightly bad playing. I'm always happy to keep that stuff in anyway. I want more human-sounding recordings than what comes out of a lot of music."
It's an approach that he thinks mirrors Portugal's as well.
"Those guys just always went for it and then figured it out later, and it's totally worked out," he said. "We always wrote parts of songs that we actually couldn't play that well, and that helped us get better because we'd have to play it live. We were a really horrible band for the first three years or so we were playing because we couldn't play our songs."
Howard played in a band in high school that traveled to Anchorage every so often for shows, but this upcoming tour will be The We Shared Milk's first shows in the state.
As for the origin of the band's name, Howard said that there isn't much of a back story. "It's just the old situation of having a joke band, and it turns into a real thing," he offered before adding that nowadays he thinks of it as a roundabout way of saying that the guys in the band are like brothers.
"It's kind of surprising how many people think it's so weird," Howard laughed. "Maybe I'm just used to it."
The We Shared Milk
When: 9:30 p.m. Thursday, April 3
Where: Humpy's Alehouse
When: 9:30 p.m. Friday, April 4
Where: Tap Root Public House (with The Sweeteners), $7
Also playing in Fairbanks, Talkeetna, Homer and Seward; see monolithagency.com for details.
By Matt Sullivan
Daily News correspondent