Midlake Interview with Eric Pulido: On ‘Antiphon’ and Proggin’ the Night away

Midlake was yet another band I only discovered due to the awesome John Hubner, who hooked me on “Roscoe” (the first one is always free) and then led me straight to “Antiphon” which is perfect timing because as much as I enjoy Midlake’s previous album, it might have lacked the rock a little to really stick in my mind. But the first album without former singer Tim Smith – who left with a lot of Daily Soap-drama that nowadays, hopefully, seems to have been resolved – is a great, gutsy record that reminds me of Menomena’s first album without Brent Knopf and equally surprised with a more energetic feel than the previous album, much like the ‘Well, then let’s do it’-fist of a 60s movie Go-Getter slamming on a table full of cigarettes, whiskey and sexism.

“Antiphon” is British folk with harmonies pumped up with a big load of Prog and therefore very big songs (even though the song-length – very unproggishly – seldom ventures over the 5-minute-mark).

The title – a Greek choir that was used in theater back in the days of coliseum-fights and togas – implies a somewhat brooding experience that is enforced with the album cover that shows a graph of the financially most influential world powers and how they are connected. The album therefore can be seen as a swan-song for human society but – according to Eric Pulido – also should send some hope towards the listener, so look out for that while the epic instrumentals and choirs wash over your frail hearts.

There is a timeless quality to the album, something which Midlake are known for and which always fits for any music that has prog-elements in its DNA. Eric easily skips from background-singer to main-vocalist and pretty much annihilates all worries of old Midlake-fans that the change from Tim’s rather unique voice would somehow diminish the sound of the band.

The biggest accomplishment of this album is this constant foreboding, melancholic mood that permeates through songs like “Provider”, “It’s going down” or “Corruption”. It’s never depressing but rather creates a flux, like watching the sun go down or rain clouds cover the skies. Creating an album that doesn’t really have a common theme but instead a common mood is a beautiful thing.

I met with Eric in Berlin while he was trying to have Lunch (I think he had to eat it cold because he was too polite to let me wait while he ate something) and we talked a little about “Antiphon”, John Grant and being a musician nowadays. So, let’s head right in!

Me: I’ve read that before Tim left the band you worked on the album for two years and after he left you scrapped all that and it took six months…

Eric: Yeah, from start to finish it was approximately six months to write and record it which was pretty quick.

Me: Was that the plan, did you feel rushed?

Eric: There was no plan, really, especially at first. We started and we didn’t know exactly what would happen. We just tried and it was about half-way through the process at the beginning of that year when the label said ‘Look, if you can have the record done by June or July we can put it out this year’ and we said ‘Ok’. We had half of it done and kept pushing because we really couldn’t afford to stop.

Me: Was there ever the consideration to add a new singer or were you the immediate choice?

Eric: There was for a second. We thought, ‘What would that look like, what would that be, what would it be called.’ Just so that we wouldn’t have to move things, especially me, from the position I was in. I was singing a lot but I was obviously more of a background-singer. But we thought if we did that we wouldn’t really be Midlake. We just bonded together and everybody stepped up more, trying to fill that gap – Tim was obviously a very strong figure.

Me: How is the position in the spotlight?

Eric: It’s good. But to be honest, even if it is different now that Tim is not there, it didn’t change too much. I was always the one that would talk or be in the middle of the stage or even do a lot of interviews. He didn’t like it. He didn’t enjoy the touring or being in that role and I could understand.

Sometimes when you’re on tour people have an image of how a band operates but in reality it’s a job and you’re trying to have positive attitudes and stay healthy. I feel that now that Tim’s not here anymore, I am more managing that to some degree but I think that everybody does, we’re all adults and we all have our little ways to get into a good headspace and have strong shows and enjoy it. And that’s the biggest thing to enjoy the season of life that we have together.

Me: One of the biggest complaints about touring I’ve heard from bands is the boredom. Do you have something to fight that?

Eric: A lot of us go running. We run around town, it gets the heart rate going but you also get to see that city a little bit more, sometimes you get lost which can be good or bad. Also, I don’t want to look back and feel that I didn’t enjoy the opportunity. As much as I can say that it’s a job like every other job somebody else can say ‘Fuck you, you’re traveling around, seeing different places that I could only dream to see’. The grass is always greener on the other side. The reality is, no matter where I am – on tour or at home – I should enjoy the opportunity and I think that’s what we do here.

Me: You sound very optimistic and then when I think of the lyrics of the album, it’s a little bit bleaker.

Midlake, 'Antiphon'-CoverEric: Lyrically, it was a little bit of a new thing to write. I had written some lyrics and was actually writing some solo-material at the time when we were still making the record with Tim. When we started on ‘Antiphon’, lyrically – or even musically -, we didn’t have an agenda like, ‘We’re going to do this and this’. For me that transition was a poignant thing that inspired me and also the world in general. If you see the album-cover, you see this fantastical, beautiful thing that looks almost like a firework and it actually is a graph of the world-powers that control the money in the world and how they are connected and that it’s actually an evil thing and that juxtaposition, I embraced that with the lyrics.

“Aurora Gone” is basically about divorce, it’s not the most pretty thing in the world and I am happily married and love my wife and am happy but some of us have experienced that and it’s something to play with. And it has a desolate type of angle but at the same time there is hopefully some hope in it.

Me: I also think that there is a lot of room for interpretation which I like. There’s a vagueness to the lyrics and they seem timeless. Because of the Greek title of the album and the lyrics I thought that they could also play in ancient Rome or something like that.

Eric: I had hoped so. Tim was always good at not placing it in a certain time and it could be a hundred years ago or now.

Me: Reading a lot of reviews, it seems as if no one expected this kind of direction. Especially in comparison to the previous album it’s a lot more forward, louder and energetic.

Eric: To be honest, the record we were making with Tim – although it ultimately might not have become that big sounding or energetic in that way – the beginnings of that writing process did have a lot of energy and much more psychedelia. It kind of rolled over into what we were doing and we amped it up even more. It wasn’t some agenda; it was maybe just where we were at. It was expressive of where we were musically in our head and we have been down a lot of different roads with this band and I think for us it just compounds that you’re not forgetting your past, you just bring it along. There are folk elements and harmonies and the psychedelia and rock. It would be different if you would only know us from our last record which is British folk melancholia and all of a sudden it’s bigger and lush.

Me:I was listening to Beck’s new album and thought that this is probably what people expected from you. And it also reminded me a little bit of John Grant.

Eric: Yeah, and I love that stuff, it’s actually fun now to play it live and try to balance between the eras of Midlake because we play stuff from every album and try to put that into a show-format.

Me: So how do you work on the setlist?

Eric: It was interesting first of because now that Tim’s not there it’s like, ‘Ok, what songs of those do we play and how exactly do we play them?’ It was fun to go back to those records because you get so used to playing those songs that you have been playing for years and they kind of change – for better or worse – from the album. We thought, ‘Let’s just go back to the source, go back to the record and see what we did there and how we can do that together live.’ Not to change it or interpret it in a weird way. Just going back to the source and maybe putting some harmonies there that weren’t there live anymore and also trying to make the transition between these songs and the new songs.

Me: When you are in the studio, do you think how the music would translate on stage or do you do that later when the album is already out?

Eric: I don’t think we’re dictated by it but you definitely think of it and I think with this record it was really easy to go, ‘Well, this might sound really cool and big live’. Tim always used to say – because he wasn’t inclined to write that way – ‘I gotta think about what songs to write when we’re playing a festival’ With this record it was easier because we knew there were a lot of bigger-sounding songs that would translate live and this band has hit different styles and influences and we’re wondering what the people out there are into and try to touch all the bases but obviously right now we’re focusing more on the new stuff.

Me: I love the prog-elements. It’s one of those things that rarely happen in popular indie music. And it reminded me of the time I discovered John Grant and listened to “I wanna go to Marz” and just thought, ‘Man, that’s a prog-song, that’s Genesis’ and it was so great to hear that on ‘Antiphon’ because you worked on Grant’s album as well, right?

Eric: Yeah. At that time we were making ‘The Courage of Others’ while we were making John’s record, so by day we would work on the Midlake-thing and by night we would work on John’s and it was great because it was just more fun than the record we were making to be honest. There was no real pressure or expectation it was just making music with our friend and that’s how it should be. Unfortunately, it’s sometimes difficult to always have that mindset but with him it was great because we were trying to facilitate his thing. Obviously our album at that time was influenced by British folk but there were elements of prog as well and because his voice lent itself to it, we explored that more with him. It was fun.

We talked the other day, we did a song at the BBC6-festival and he’s kinda thinking towards his next album and said, ‘Come to Iceland and play and sing’, so we’ll see. That would be a lot of fun.

Me: I read that you did this cool compilation (“Late Night Tales”). Do you as a band have certain favourite bands or is everyone listening to different music?

Eric: There’s a lot that overlaps and there’s probably some that doesn’t as much but not in a bad way. Of course we all love classics like Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin, they are influences that we had but for each of us we have other roads that we would go down more, whether it’s classical or modern music. It’s just a matter of channeling those influences when you’re trying to create with people because it’s not like you’re a solo artist. You’re trying to create something that you all feel passionate about but you’re being honest in the way you’re playing because you’re not just being told how to play. It’s interesting and that’s what makes a band a band.

One of my favourite bands of all time is The Band. Each individually brought something to the table that made them better than what any individual would be and I think the sum of its parts is ultimately what you hope to have as a superior thing.

Me: Are you all in the studio working on ideas or are you individually working things out?

Eric: It differed and it even differed with Tim but it definitely revolved more around Tim and not in a bad way. It was just more centered and how we would complement or facilitate that. With the new record we obviously had to reinvent the wheel for us and tried a lot of different things. Getting into small groups and working on that, someone has a progression and I would sing over it, maybe I would just bring in a song or Paul would bring in a song. Ultimately, everyone’s ideas and songs would be made better by the band. If I had a song, someone would make the harmony or the instrumental section cooler or bigger and that inherently made us have more ownership for it.

Me: Is that a harmonious process?

Eric: It’s the good, the bad and the ugly. It’s just how it goes. You have great days and great victories and on other days you just want to rip each other’s heads off. It’s good to have perspective, you’re older now and take things not too seriously but at the same time we’re all humans and we’re flawed and selfish and we get angry and narrow-minded and we have to keep each other in check but for whatever reason, when you’re in a band, you’re in a marriage with some other people and ultimately, you create that child (laughs).

Me: If you could do a soundtrack for a contemporary HBO-series, what would it be?

Eric: I am actually trying to do more stuff like that because it’s too hard making money just by making records and touring, so you gotta do other things. We actually have a bar in Denton, so that helps. I really love the Paris/Texas-vibe, simple, acoustic, cinematic but stripped down-music like in “True Detective” – that’s really good. So, HBO, give me a call.

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