Grammy nominated country stars Midland are readying the follow-up to 2017’s Billboard Top 20 debut On The Rocks. Rushonrock Editor Simon Rushworth spoke exclusively to the hotly tipped trio.
ROR: How do you look back on last year’s sold-out UK headline tour?
Midland: To finish off the year with our first significant headline tour of the UK was just what we needed. The venues were great and the energy from the crowds in the UK is remarkable. The timing was just right as we were coming towards the end of a really busy year and we needed a lift. 2018 was a very, very busy year. We’re not saying we were bored with playing shows by then but to change it up just before Christmas was extra special. It made it more interesting – by the beginning of December we were so tired and the only thing getting us up every day was the music and the shows.
ROR: What is it about the UK scene right now that’s got US bands talking?
Midland: The UK crowds are just so receptive to what we try to do – we got a taste for that when we were over last March. But we didn’t have any expectations coming back. To sell out the shows was very special. The tour was so good and we’ll be back. We’re very, very excited that it’s a growing scene. We understand why country is growing so fast – of course we do! But who knows what sparked the renewed interest in the UK? We’re just glad to be a part of it.
ROR: Why are UK fans flocking to get behind country’s new breed?
Midland: People are picking up on the honesty behind the music. You can liken us to The Brothers Osborne – who are good friends of ours – insofar as we play music that’s authentic. It’s written and performed with a great deal of pride and care. We’re not putting on any shit and we’re not trying to formulate a song or do anything apart from what we really mean. We’re too honest with each other to go on stage and play anything but songs that we can all get behind. That would be fucking embarrassing. The Brothers are like that too. They’re great kids. We love those guys and we’re close to them. Maybe one day we’ll come back with them and do a co-headline tour.
ROR: Were Midland always the band with a plan?
Midland: The idea going into the band was ‘look we’re going to do it this way and if people dig it then great’. If not, there was no plan B. It would continue to be our weekend thing you know – which is what it was when we were a small band. On the other hand we didn’t really plan for failure. We wanted it to be successful – of course we did. But it wasn’t like ‘ok, well this is the first idea and then if this doesn’t work here’s something different’. We weren’t going to start and then evolve into something else that we weren’t, just to be that successful band. We were looking at country music at the time of the band’s formation and going ‘wow, there’s a lot of great stuff’ but if we just do what we do we might be complete outliers, either for better or for worse. We just wanted to see where it would take us. Oddly enough, the first couple of times we went to Nashville people thought we were so exotic for playing real, traditional kinda country music.
ROR: And what, in your view, is real country music?
Midland: More traditional country music – a soulful brand that takes you through to the blues and rock and roll. We play a version of country that’s rooted in old school rock and roll. We play it with soul and we do it with conviction. There’s clearly a tip of the hat to our influences and the music that has come behind it. It’s just so happens that we’re really into classically driven country and western, rock and roll blues. It’s really a traditional rock’n’roll set up with guitars, drums and bass but we’re not trying to do a throwback – we’ve taken that sound and we’ve gone in and worked out, as a group, the Midland sound. We’re not trying to be derivative. And if you go back and listen to our original demos, this band has evolved from its original version of country music. The original stuff was a lot more 60s or late 60s-inspired – kinda like California country. It’s evolved into what it is now. But it’s always had a line in harmony running right through it.
ROR: How important are the vocal harmonies to Midland’s sound?
Midland: The harmony approach is central to the writing, the recording process and the live show. The band started out with three of us singing. It was never a conversation because it’s just what we naturally did. It goes all the way back to the start. If you’re going to be a vocal group then you have to be committed. All three of us are, at our core, ambitious and perfectionists. If we’re going to do anything we’re going to do it right. But getting it right, in the beginning, was kinda tedious. We would go to work and just spend hours on one part, you know, to get it right.
ROR: Is the hard work worth it?
Midland: The proof is there in terms of how powerful the vocal harmonies are. When you hit a harmony and you hit it right it can really be the centrepoint of the song. We’ve always been really interested in groups like the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Byrds and the Eagles. When you’re talking about a group that really took a certain sound and kind of flipped it on its head then you’re talking about the Eagles. You had Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and those guys did some really beautiful harmonies but the Eagles just took it to the next level. It really can take a song like Take It Easy to a different place – instead of one guy singing you have these beautiful harmonies. We’ve always just lived harmonies. They put goosebumps on your skin when you hit them right.
ROR: So where do your rock and roll influences come from?
Midland: We’re into Zeppelin. We all have been at some point. And musicians still are. Look at a band like Greta Van Fleet. They’re talented guys. Hopefully they’ll bring back a resurgence in kids picking up instruments and forming bands. They’re really young men. You have to respect anyone who writes their own songs and those guys will find ‘their sound’. People keep making the Zeppelin comparison but if there’s one band that you can’t copy it’s them. Even if you’ve never heard fucking music before you can tell that’s Robert Plant or you can tell that guitar tone is Jimmy Page. It’s just unmistakable. They were a game changer and nobody sounds quite like them. They were a bunch of regular guys who got together and instantly formed a supergroup.
ROR: Is that the Midland story too?
Midland: We’re like the supergroup of losers. But it works, somehow.
ROR: Your live shows are starting to mix the new with the old – are you ready to move on from On The Rocks?
Midland: We’ve been putting new stuff in our set for a while now because we’re just kinda getting sick of playing certain songs. Well, we’re not getting sick of them as much as wanting to keep challenging ourselves and changing things up. There are songs that we haven’t played in a while now that we’re ready to come back to because they feel new and fresh again.
ROR: So how’s the new material shaping up?
Midland: We’ve been sharing the music from the new album with family and friends for some time now and we felt it – but they all react in the same way. It’s like ‘oh wow, this is better than On The Rocks’. Some of them are not even musical. But they’re music fans and they can identify the progression and the evolution and the sophistication of the new music. When we released On The Rocks every single one of us stamped it with our heart and our soul and stood behind it as the greatest thing that we’d ever created as artists – you know, in our career – but this next album picked up where On The Rocks left off and it’s just accelerated.
ROR: When can we expect the new record to drop?
Midland: Right now, it’s slated for release in January 2024! We’re actually trying to finish it. And the only time that we can finish it and is during our very limited time off this winter. And we have to figure out if it’s worth it to come out of hibernation or just push it back a month or whatever. It’s tough. It sucks because we’ve had to piece it together a few weeks at a time and just get it done. We’ve had to cobble together dates to record things and chip away at the vocals and stuff like that. We’ve been so busy with shows. But the upside to playing music every single night is that you’re so sharp – as a result the album sounds like we sat down and recorded everything all at once.
ROR: So how long has the new record been in the works?
Midland: We actually started writing last February. So a year. And we started the recording process last May. If you’ve got a popular first album you tour it for two years and then you just try to finish the second album. The third album will be different. We’ll be able sit down for a month and just get fucking weird – but we said that last time. Famous last words!
ROR: And will you find time to return to the UK in 2019?
Midland: If we can come back to the UK every year that would be great but we’ll definitely be back in 2019. It’s been too successful not to and the fans have been fantastic. We feel that we’ve established a really strong fan base in the UK and we enjoy it there.
Images By Adam Kennedy