For Marlana Sheetz, it’s been a long, strange trip leading to Control, the sophomore set from her oddly dubbed California combo Milo Greene. The cinematic, Fleetwood Mac-sleek sound this keyboardist/guitarist arrived at with her three co-vocalists—Robbie Arnett, Graham Fink and Andrew Heringer—might have coalesced on their eponymous 2012 debut and its sunny singles “1957” and “Don’t You Give Up On Me.” But it definitely gelled on dreamy new tracks like “Heartless,” “White Lies,” “Save Yourself,” and a smoke-wisped “Lonely Eyes,” under the auspices of Sia/Ellie Goulding producer Jesse Shatkin, and backed by legendary drummer Joey Waronker. But a showbiz career was the last thing Sheetz had on her mind as a shy loner of a kid.
“I was kind of a weirdo, and I don’t really know why,” the singer can now readily admit. “I was more of an observer than a talker. And for a long while, I liked to organize the bookshelves in my classroom, so the teachers all thought that I was a little strange, because I just didn’t talk that much. And that kind of lasted for…I dunno…for a long time, until high school, actually. I just didn’t speak until there was something necessary to be said, I guess.” In grade school, she became known as “a total creeper,” she adds—a shadowy student always skulking around the perimeter but never contributing much. “But when it was music time and they brought out the guitar, I knew every song, and they were like, ‘Wow! She really loves music time!’”
Around her Placerville, California homestead, Sheetz was encouraged to express herself—which she did, by singing along to Miami Sound Machine and Disney soundtrack ditties, of all things. “I was just more comfortable around my family and parents,” she sighs. “And I spent a lot of time with my grandma, and she would just give me jigsaw puzzles all the time. And I never once looked at the box for examples of what the picture looked like on these puzzles. I would just sit there for hours and do them. And I know this about myself now—I work well with puzzles and pottery and games like Simon or Bop It. I am so unbelievably good at Bop It. I won’t stop playing it for at least an hour.”
Rudyard Kipling once said “He travels fastest who travels alone.” That became Sheetz’s mantra. Even today, she still goes to see first-run films by herself—she’s a huge movie geek, she admits, which helped shape Milo Greene’s flickering textures—and is content to crash on her apartment couch, binge-watching new television programs she’s discovered on Netflix. No significant other to break the mood, either, she says, cheerily: “I’m stag right now, so I don’t have to cook dinner for anybody, which means no dirty dishes. So everything’s super-clean. But I’ve always been very independent, someone who was never afraid to just get up and go and do my own thing. I do that a lot on the road, and it kind of weirds everybody out. If we have a day off, I’ll just get up and go spend it by myself, just wandering around. I prefer it. When I’m trying to relax, what that means is nobody else around for a while.”
Eventually, Sheetz hammed it up so much at home (“I’d be like, ‘Mom! Dad! Watch me sing like Ariel from The Little Mermaid!’ and they were like, ‘Oh. My. God. How many more times do we have to listen to this?’” she says, laughing) that her folks bought her a keyboard to keep her occupied. She swiftly switched from jigsaws to writing songs, locked away in her bedroom, she remembers clearly, before joining high school choirs and theater productions, then finally leaving home to study drama at UC Irvine. She attended college just for fun, with no preconceived notion of forming a band or recording. But she met multi-instrumentalist Heringer, who heard some of her primitive MySpace demos and was eager to test his budding production skills. Together, they cut her solo album Sitting While Singing, and she shudders just recalling it.
The debut wasn’t some monumental achievement, Sheetz cedes. “It was like, you know…anybody can release anything—it was just one of those. I was trying to release stuff in high school, and I would send my friends CDs of these horrible, horrible, horrible songs that I’d written, and I was like, ‘Oh yeah, check this out! It’s really good!’ And now when I listen to them, it’s like, ‘This is the worst shit I’ve ever heard! Ever!’ They were almost musical-theater style, with me sitting at my keyboard, venting about how heartbroken I was by the guy that broke up with me. But the Sitting thing was very exciting, because Andrew had gotten the band he was working with at the time to help us and make these songs that I was writing on guitar and piano fully fleshed out. Which I had never heard before.”
The pair hit upon a solid creative partnership, rooted in them being polar opposites of each other. So they formed a folk duo called Dawson and Marie and set about learning all the tricks of the studio trade. A projected album was never finished, though. And by 2010, their team expanded to include Fink and Arnett, as well as a fifth under-the-radar member, percussionist Curtis Marrero. “It was small progressions, baby steps,” Sheetz says of her learning curve. “And as far as songwriting and producing goes, the things I did in the past don’t hold a candle to the things we’re working on now. So I’m very happy with Control, and really excited to see what I can come up with another project from now. I’m excited to see where we’ll go.”
Once the band found its stylistic footing—aiming for music that would sound great in films and TV series—and that curious moniker (Milo Greene was a fictitious British talent agent the members invented that supposedly represented them), they made the most logical move possible and signed to Chop Shop Records, the imprint of Alex Patsavas, reigning queen of song soundtrack placement. “That was one of the main things for us about signing with Chop Shop,” Sheetz notes (Milo Greene has since moved to Elektra proper). “It was like, ‘Yeah! This is a no-brainer! This is what we have to do!’”
At the mere mention of film, Sheetz drifts off on a tangent list of favorites. She’s a serious viewer, so she goes on at length about one that’s made a big impression recently—A Most Violent Year, which she saw all alone in a multiplex, sans distraction. “But I’m also a rom-com girl, so I’ve seen Crazy Stupid Love seven bajillion times,” she points out. “I like so many things, so there’s probably nothing I won’t see. Even on TV. I’ll watch the worst of the worst, and then the best of the best. I liked The Affair, but then again, I also watch Nashville and Revenge. And I just love The Mindy Project. But one movie that I really want to watch, that I haven’t seen in full capacity, is Ben Hur. I know I’m going to watch that and go, ‘This is the best movie of all time!’ I’m just all over the board.”
If Control takes off—as it probably will—and Sheetz suddenly becomes an in-demand celebrity, will she start hanging out with other people more often? No way, snaps the misanthrope. “And it drives everybody in my band nuts. Because I don’t have expectations of anybody, and I don’t expect anybody to do anything for me. So when they don’t?” She laughs. “I’m never disappointed. Never once do I go, ‘I am so surprised! I can’t believe they didn’t write a good review of us!’
“It is what it is. People suck.”
Check out Milo Greene’s video for “Lie to Me” below: