Q&A: Milk’n’Cookies’ Justin Strauss On The Band’s History, The Powerpop Revival, And This Weekend’s Reunion Show


The collector-scum world can get disturbingly insular, curtains-drawn creepy, and far removed from, you know, fun. Which is why Jeremy Thompson’s label Sing Sing Records and his brand-new book, Wired UP! Glam, Proto Punk and Bubblegum European Picture Sleeves 1970 – 1976, are a welcome blast of Pop Art pep in the world of back-room digging. As are Josh Styles’s and Sophie Thunders’s monthly “Le Crunch” parties at Zebulon, where they DJ fling ’50s soda-shop bouncers with early-’70s glam-pop pleasers while kicking your corneas with groovy light shows. They often add a surprise band; this time, late-’70s NYC candy-coated power pop swells, Milk’n’Cookies will add the live licks to this Saturday’s Wired Up! release party at Zebulon. Here’s the lowdown from lead singer Justin Strauss.

Give me a basic history of Milk’n’Cookies.

Milk’n’Cookies was formed in 1974 when my then-girlfriend, Abbijane, introduced me to Ian North, Jay Weiss, and Mike Ruiz. They were looking for a lead singer and thought I looked the part. We recorded some demos, which we sent to a few management companies of artists we liked. Sparks’ managers, John Hewlett and Joseph Fleury, loved the band, but not our bass player Jay, and introduced us to Sal Maida, who had just gotten off the road playing bass with Roxy Music. They thought he’d be great for our band, and they were right. John and Joseph got us a record deal with Island Records in the UK, where were went to record our album which was produced by Muff Winwood, who also produced Sparks. We recorded the album, shot the cover, which was designed by the great Nick Deville, who did the Roxy Music album covers.

Our first single was released “Little, Lost and Innocent”, which did okay, but not what Island were expecting. They got cold feet, thinking the band might be too “pop” for the label. So they put the album on hold. When the whole NYC/UK punk thing started to blow up, they thought it would then be a good time to release the album, which they did…. Back then, we played at Max’s and CBGB mostly. We played with the Ramones a lot, as well as Blondie, the Runaways, the Heartbreakers, and just about every other great NYC band around at the time.

To make a long story short, the label flew Ian over to talk about things, and he decided to persue a solo career over in the UK, leaving the fate of Milk’n’Cookies very uncertain. Ian stayed in England, and Mike and myself, at Sal’s urging, moved to L.A. Sal had left Milk’n’Cookies at that point to join Sparks out there to record and album and tour with them. Mike and myself formed a new model Milk’n’Cookies in L.A. where we played regularly. Sal eventually rejoined the band after his gig with Sparks was through. After some deals that fell though out there, I had had enough and decided to come back to New York. I started DJing at the Mudd Club and went on to DJ just about every major club in New York, which led to a prolific remixing and producing career. Mike stayed in L.A. and joined the band Paul Collins Beat, recorded an LP with them, and toured with them.

Didn’t the 1977 debut album get reissued?

Yes. The first reissue was a Japanese import CD, followed by the RPM/Cherry Red CD, then the Radio Heartbeat double vinyl, and then a Burger Records cassette that also featured a live CBGB show from 1976 on the B-side.

Are you surprised that there is such interest in the late-70s power pop heyday that’s been bubbling under the indie scene for a few years now?

No, because the music is still fresh and vibrant. The love for this band out there is amazing. Its influence is heard in a lot bands today. Fans include Morrissey, Thurston Moore, Jello Biafra, and the Melvins, as well as newer bands like Nobunny.

How did this Le Crunch show on Saturday come about, and was it hard getting the gang back together?

It was kind of Jeremy’s dream I think to have Milk’n’Cookies play, so how could we say no?! It’s very exciting to be playing this show for our fans, new and old. The band will be original members—Justin Strauss (lead vocals), Sal Maida (bass), Mike Ruiz (drums)—and Julian, who did the show with us in 2007, on guitar. It’s only the second time we have played since 1978, so I guess it’s kind of a big deal. It’s going to be awesome!

Le Crunch, with a performance by Milk N’ Cookies, takes place at Zebulon on Saturday.

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on August 23, 2012

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