In it for the long haul

Bass guitarist Tom Kelk joins other members of indie-rock band Mild Orange on stage at the...
Bass guitarist Tom Kelk joins other members of indie-rock band Mild Orange on stage at the Powerstation in Auckland. PHOTO: CAM HAY
Tom Kelk’s band has turned streaming success into live opportunities, Kim Dungey writes.

Making a living doing what he loves and touring the world with his mates - life could hardly be better for former Dunedin musician Tom Kelk.

The 28-year-old is the bass guitarist for Mild Orange, an indie-rock band that have received international acclaim and clocked up millions of streams on YouTube and Spotify.

Now based in London, the four band members met while studying at the University of Otago. Flatmates Josh Mehrtens and Josh Reid began writing songs together, then enlisted Kelk and drummer Jack Ferguson. Both were playing in Albion Place, a band formed in high school for the Smokefree Rockquest.

Mild Orange got their lucky break when a Ukrainian YouTube music influencer shared two tracks from their self-produced debut album, Foreplay. Fast forward five years and their music clips have amassed more than 60 million YouTube views and 103,000 subscribers.

The internet and streaming have always been a ‘‘massive’’ part of their identity, Kelk says, as well as a way to reach fans from all corners of the world.

Their first overseas performance, part of a 2019 European tour that comprised 21 shows in 30 days, provided a taste.

‘‘We played on a moored boat on the Danube in Budapest and really didn’t know what to expect. Low and behold, we had over 200 people come to the show, with fans driving from all over central Europe. Two had driven nine hours from North Macedonia, bringing with them our vinyl for us to sign. It was a very cool feeling.’’

Other highlights have been their first headline in Los Angeles at The Roxy, and playing the main stage at the All Points East festival in London on the same bill as The Strokes, Kurt Vile and James Blake.

They are midway through a North American tour, playing 21 shows across the United States and Canada. Next they will head into the studio to work on album number four.

A former John McGlashan College pupil who received an Otago Daily Times Class Act award in 2013, Kelk says working as a musician has given him amazing experiences but can be difficult, especially during a pandemic.

In London, he sometimes works as a cover teacher to supplement his income. In Wellington, he ran a sourdough bakery from his flat, selling loaves on Instagram and delivering them around the city. Anything to keep the music dream alive.

He’s proud of what an independent band have been able to achieve in only six years, and says they plan to be in London for a few more yet.

‘‘The long-term plan is to do music for as long as we can.’’