Got Milk? Local rockers strive for eclectic but singular sound

No, this isn't an ad for the dairy industry. It's MILK, the Cincinnati-based band that strives to give a grade-A performance. The members of this band say MILK is actually their second name. The


No, this isn't an ad for the dairy industry. It's MILK, the Cincinnati-based band that strives to give a grade-A performance. The members of this band say MILK is actually their second name. They first chose the name Ground Zero from a list of about 200 potentials, but quickly learned that it was already taken. Steve Shields, the band's guitarist, takes credit for suggesting the new name (he was even drinking a glass of the moo-juice at the time).

MILK has a long history. Joe Utasi, the man behind the keyboards, says the band has been around in one form or another for about eight years. Utasi and drummer Jim Vortkamp founded the band. The two had been together in several bands before, but being in a band wasn't fun anymore. So, they decided their goal in starting MILK was to make it fun.

Next, Utasi and Vortkamp added Shields to the lineup, followed by a male vocalist. Shortly thereafter, MILK decided on a major image overhaul. So, they changed direction and put a female on lead vocals.

"It made us just a little different than the average Cincinnati band," says Utasi. When their first front woman didn't work out, they placed an ad to audition new singers. Enter current MILK singer Reagan Hattaway.

Hattaway has been involved in music since childhood. Growing up in Texas, she sang Country music and German opera. MILK was a big change in her style, she says, "My mother always told me I didn't have the voice for Rock." In fact, Hattaway says she was so nervous during the audition that she sang like a billy goat.

Then there's Allen Leffler, MILK's bassist for about three months. (Guess that makes him fresh MILK.) Leffler brought some prior band experience (he used to be in Liquid), lots of energy, and that long-haired Rock-and-Roller look. "He just looks like a Rock star," says Utasi.

MILK are working on their first CD, which they hope to release early this year. The release was delayed during Leffler's "breaking-in period" as bassist, and because they just keep writing more songs for the CD.

What makes their recording unique, according to the band, is that each song sounds different. "Some records you put on and you can't tell track one from track four," says Utasi. "Well that won't happen with ours."

"Our signature sound is there, but the styles are totally different," says Vortkamp. "That's just the way we write."

"There's a song on there called 'Toast' that is Grammy material," says Utasi, "and I don't think that is exaggerating." That song, a favorite among the band members, gets regular airplay on WAIF (88.3 FM).

This band has no problem confessing their aspirations of fame. "If someone heard our CD who had the decision-making power to say, "I like these guys, let's sign them and put them on tour,' I would be there in a heartbeat," says Utasi.

The others agree. "This is our second job, but to be honest, I think we'd all rather be doing this full time," says Shields.

"Well, I just want to be the center of attention," says Leffler.

According to Shields, the band hopes, "When people come and see us, they walk away feeling like (A) they got their money's worth, (B) they'd come see us again, and (C) they had a great time while they were here."

And so they play, waiting for fame and fortune, at local venues like Adis' Place on Beechmont, Hopp's, Sneaky Pete's and Shady O'Grady's.

Currently, their live performances include a mix of originals and covers. "There are five or 10 songs that you have to have on your song list in order to get hired. We have those," says Utasi. "But after that, we play stuff that you will never hear any other bands play around town."

"But they're not obscure songs. You know them," Leffler adds.

"We try to structure our shows so that everybody is going to leave saying, 'They did that song I really like'," says Shields.

"Get ready to dance, get ready to have a good time, party and have fun," Leffler says. To find out when you can have fun and party with MILK, visit their Web site at