The past few years have been a time of transition for Texan folk rockers Midlake. The departure of lead singer and founding member Tim Smith left the band at the edge of a precipice, but they were determined to continue, and thus regrouped with guitarist Eric Pulido as frontman. The change might seem drastic, but for the laid-back Pulido, whose tenure in the band stretches back for a decade, it was an easy shift.
“The transition in the band started long before Tim left,” he says. “I was doubling melodies, talking between songs, standing centre stage, even doing a lot of interviews, so it wasn’t a drastic transition. Not to take away from what Tim was or brought to the band, but I realised that with me as the lead singer now, my only choice was to own it and to say to people, ‘This is what we are now, take it or leave it,’ and people have responded really well.”
Following Smith’s departure, Midlake scrapped a number of songs, but moved right onto writing a new batch for the record that would become Antiphon. “Tim’s departure was unexpected for us, but there was no use crying over it or letting it stop us or divert our course,” says Pulido.
Every new record that a band makes has its own unique influences and sounds, he continues, and Antiphon is really just a case of a band embracing a different set of circumstances and pulling together in new ways. “Tim wanted to get away and pursue his own thing, and we just had to understand and respect that and pull things together as a band. It forced us to step up communally, because Tim was always an integral figure in the band before. It was a challenge, but it helped shape us and make it better. Looking back, I’m really happy at how quickly we pulled together.”
The songs on Antiphon are more loose and spontaneous than on any of Midlake’s three previous records, drawing explicitly on psyched-out ’70s rock and introducing more of a jam band sound.
“I think part of it was just us trying to capture a more organic feeling than some of what we’d done in the past,” Pulido says. “For better or worse, some of the recordings were a little bit too worked-over before, and we didn’t want that this time, we wanted the new recordings to be a bit more organic.”
Rather than being too precious about getting each individual part of a recording perfect, the focus on this album was on the product as a whole. “We wanted to capture the magic while it happened, rather than trying over and over to recreate a single moment,” says Pulido. “With Tim, one of the things we struggled with was trying to find that one perfect sound, and we’d end up losing a lot of the other great stuff we might have had. This time around, we didn’t want to overthink what we were doing, we wanted to just depend on each other and trust what we knew was right, to capture all the ideas at the very beginning.”
Solidifying their bond as band members and friends, Midlake recently opened a bar called Paschall in their hometown of Denton, Texas. Located just off the town square, it’s a place for them to hang out and relax outside the studio, and a reassuring bastion of stability.
“Being in a band, you don’t really have a retirement plan, so it’s nice to have something like this!” Pulido laughs. “It’s really fun for us too. Denton has its own unique vibe. In some ways, it’s the small Texas town you might imagine, with a square and a courthouse and all those things which have been preserved throughout the years, but as far as the community goes it’s a university town. It’s a great place to live, and our bar is somewhere we can enjoy company and conversation in a warm atmosphere. It’s nice to have something else going on, money-wise, while you’re recording and not touring. It’s a great little nugget of a thing to have for us.”
Speaking of touring, Midlake are set to come to Australia, where they’ll play in Sydney as part of this year’s Vivid LIVE. I ask Pulido just how the band’s live show has changed in this new, more democratic era.
“Well, Tim’s absence is obviously a big change in the live show, because I’m in the role of lead singer now, I’m up there front and centre. But taking it back a step further from that, what we’ve done this time is try to add more life and a bigger sound to the overall set. The new songs lend themselves to that, but we wanted to go back and have some consistency there with the older songs as well. The new record has a bigger sound, a more psychedelic vibe, a lot of vocal harmonies, and so we’ve gone back to the old songs and added a few more of those things.”
Midlake will be performing at Vivid Live Festival 2014 in the Joan Sutherland Theatre on Friday May 23, tickets available through the Sydney Opera House. Antiphon is out now through Bella Union/[PIAS].