Interview: Midlake

It’s about 7.45PM on a Tuesday in Denton, Texas and Eric Pulido, guitarist for folk-rock-druids Midlake, has just returned from the band’s studio, and is relaxing with a bowl of strawberries to take a call from FasterLouder. “Yeah we’ve been recording all day, working on this new record, so I’m really excited about that,” he says in his native Texan drawl, “we’ve been working on it since the beginning of the year, there’s four songs down so far and we’ll probably get ten or eleven by the end of the year, y’know, with some shows mixed in to try out the new material.”

Considering that this is the same band who took three years to release their third album, last year’s The Courage of Others, Pulido’s relaxed tone no surprise. Following an extensive world tour, Midlake appear to be on something of a creative high. The Denton five-piece ended 2010 acting as the backing band and producers for labelmate John Grant’s The Queen of Denmark album, with whom they performed a recent showcase at SXSW, a performance which was acclaimed by Mojo as the best set of the festival. Add to this the new album, the occasional “shows mixed in” including support sets for Band of Horses earlier this month, and the release of a new compilation of songs hand-picked for the Late Night Tales series.

For those unfamiliar with the Late Night concept, it follows similar lines as the Back to Mine series, where a chosen artist or band are asked to select some of their favourite tracks and sequence them, along with contributing a cover version, following the laidback theme of a late night at home. “It was kind of a fun thing to pick songs that we enjoy, it was difficult to narrow down choices and deal with the linchpin of making it all fit together, but we were trying to stick to that late night vibe, so there’s always going to be some kind of a common thread, nothing too left of field, and y’know we all play in a band together so it was fairly effortless to pick three or four songs each.”

The album itself plays like a DJ at a folk-rock club, smoothly tying together both artists you might logically associated with one another, such as Fairport Convention and their one-time lead singer Sandy Denny, as well as artists such as Scott Walker and Bjork. I wonder if the artists selected represented significant influences over Midlake. “Yeah definitely, there are especially some that influence us right now and some that have stood the test of time,” muses Pulido, “ y’know when we formed a band we were inspired by this, or we might find this, and all the while we were thinking ‘what are we going to sound like’, whether it was Radiohead or Bjork, Grandaddy, The Flaming Lips, West Coast folk rock and then the British folk rock, all those things inherently come out, y’know, we’re all diving in together.”

“The Band is my favourite group of all time,” he continues, reflecting on some of those important influences which appear in the Late Night set, “Richard Manuel evoked this tortured soul that really speaks to me, and Bob Carpenter (whose brilliant Silent Passage opens the disc) I found on a website of rare folk stuff, it was an album made in the early 70s but not released until 80s, and I just fell in love with it.”

Although the compilation assembles some diverse acts, the overall sound shares a strikingly similar feel to The Courage of Others, namely a somber acoustic folk setting, evoking images of British minstrels, lutes and flutes, somewhere a long way from Texas.

Pulido explains that when the band was discovering that music “it was new, like a totally different place, it had this romantic newness to it, not only that it came from somewhere else, but it was like this world that was created and, y’know,” Pulido laughs, “maybe a bit ‘fair maiden-ish’, but the music and the aesthetic that it created was something different, and is something that we’re attached to. It’s kind of a dynamic thing with music and bands and how it influences you; at the time we were definitely immersed in that sound, but you move into a new thing, and then you come together and see where it all fits. We’re all music lovers, we’re always looking for that new thing that moves you, and if it’s the same thing as last time then so be it. It’s not like we just discovered Led Zeppelin, but we’re influenced by that on this new record, so it’s got more of a broad influence, more dynamic, so that’s something that we’re excited about right now.”

Perhaps the biggest testament to Midlake’s ability to take different musical threads and create a seamless rug is in the exclusive cover version, where the curating band records a version of a song that reflects their taste and also gels with the rest of the disc. Defying expectations, the band have managed to produce a jangly folk-rock version of Black Sabbath’s 1975 classic Am I Going Insane, which has also been released as a 12” single. “We tried several songs, in particular a Leonard Cohen song, but our rendition was too similar, so we wanted to do something that was a bit different, and obviously with them [Sabbath] being a much harder band, we thought we might as well pay homage by doing our own thing with a softer, folky rendition,” says Pulido.

With groups such as Erland and the Carnival, Fleet Foxes and Mumford and Sons reaching a mainstream audience, I wonder if Midlake see themselves as being part of the ‘indie-folk revival’. Down the telephone Pulido sighs, “I know how folk like to peg things, but it’s not like we’re the only ones who have listened to a Bob Dylan record, if we’ve been moved by some of the same stuff as other bands then of course there’s going to be a likeness, but I say let’s just make some music we love. We weren’t trying to do some pastiche thing like, ‘no one’s doing the Fleetwood Mac thing of the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young thing now’, we just get moved by something and we create. We’ve always been honest about it. We wear our influences on our sleeve.”

So, having name-dropped Led Zeppelin, Neil Young and Black Sabbath, for a band who so proudly wear their influences, can we expect the new album to be all classic rock riffs, in place of flutes and pan pipes? “It’s much more dynamic, a lot more ups and downs, Courage had a minor key, dark vibe, and this will have some of that and a bit more ‘up’. It’ll sort of stylistically bridge the gap,” Pulido reveals, before returning to his strawberries.

Midlake are clearly a collection of individuals who genuinely love the music they make, and over the 19 tracks selected for inclusion on the Late Night Tales disc they pay homage to some of their heroes, both well known and those who have been lost in the annals of history. With possible plans to perform and record more material with John Grant, as well as a promotional tour for the new album planned for the end of the year, which will according to Pulido includes Australia, we will surely be seeing and hearing a lot more from Midlake in the coming months.

Late Night Tales: Midlake is out now through EMI.

Originally published on FasterLouder on 29/04/2011. View original article.

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