Midlake are a much-loved Denton, Texas outfit who have put out an impressive run of experimental yet accessible albums. This investigational nature was recently put to the test when long-time frontman Tim Smith left the band midway through recording another LP. Guitarist Eric Pulido stepped into the role left by the singer as Midlake forged on to make their fifth album, Antiphon.
“There was kind of a transition, now that I look back with hindsight,” says Pulido of Smith’s departure. “It was no secret that Tim wasn’t a big fan of touring and at times he was unsatisfied with some of the music that we were making. Even at that time he was pulling back and I was singing most of the melodies with him and standing in the middle of the stage and doing most of the talking. The big leap that it could have been wasn’t as drastic due to the transition I had.
“When he decided to leave it was still a daunting task as there was still so much I didn’t know. We were used to doing things in a different way and it shaked things up. As you know in life it can be a good thing to break out of the mould of something and test yourself and see how it goes.”
The fact that Midlake have always been a band to push the boundaries and take a left turn with each new album turned out to be their saving grace. “There was a type of naivety that came along because it was almost like starting over,” says Pulido. “We did literally start over on the songs and the record, so in that moment you try to define what it is that you are doing. Once Tim left we all got together within 24 hours and put the pieces back together. We did it in a way where we felt that we could all feel ownership over it. I think we got more out of everyone’s voice, figuratively and literally, and it made for a much more dynamic record in many ways.”
Although Midlake still talk about Smith’s departure and its relevance to the making of Antiphon, it’s been over a year since he left and the band has come to terms with it. They’re now in the headspace to embrace what is ahead of them instead of looking back at what once was.
“You feel a sense of freedom and creativity,” says Pulido, “as we have all been playing together for many years. To jump off that hamster wheel and then apply it in a different way… it had some growing pains, don’t get me wrong; it wasn’t like it was a walk in the park. There was a big hill to climb. We had to write and record an album without the singer-songwriter of the band that was. I was probably more daunted because I felt that the onus was on me, but we all embraced it and bonded together as we moved forward.”
An ‘antiphon’ is regularly defined as a responsory song by a choir or congregation, or a call-and-response style of singing heard from Gregorian chants to sea shanties. While Pulido had heard the liturgical definition, he is more inclined to look at antiphon to mean ‘the opposite voice’.
“In terms of call and response, this is our response to what happened with Tim … Also, I feel it is about the plight of man – where it is not about what happens to you in life, but how you respond to it; [that’s] how you are defined. I thought it was a nice word that tied up in a little bow to capture what this time as a band and [as] friends is for us.”
BY CHRIS HAVERCROFT
Antiphonout now through Bella Union/[PIAS] Australia.