Midlake signs with U.K. label Bella Union and releases The Trials of Van Occupanther

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:: Midlake :: Hi-Dive :: March 10 :: 

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By Page Bayless 

For anyone who has ever said they’re sorry to me for being from Texas, you had better look up Midlake. Yes, friends, that’s right: Denton, Texas, just north of Dallas/Fort Worth. There, at the University of North Texas, five jazz musicians came together to form the band Midlake and, fortunately, for all of you gagging at the thought of boots and spurs, this is the kind of band that won’t be making an appearance at the Grizzly Rose.

Currently on their U.S. tour, Midlake drummer McKenzie Smith was kind enough to step aside from a soundcheck and exchange various “y’alls” with me.

Smith has a refreshingly innocent take on the development of the band as they moved stylistically from jazz to rock, signed with the U.K.-based label Bella Union and released their sophomore album. But, had he been some run-of-the-mill indie tool, the fact that we both grew up in Houston could have very well been his only redeeming factor. Luckily, I don’t have to be biased in favor of our shared hometown because he (and the rest of Midlake from what it sounds like) is pretty legit.

What you hear from Midlake comes from a process of trial and error in finding a sound that successfully translates from jazz to rock. “If you listen to the history of the band you can see this huge evolution from being an acid jazz funk band to a drum and bass kind of thing,” Smith said in his interview with The Marquee.

Lead singer/songwriter Tim Smith, who was at first “very, very, very nervous” to take the position, is the perfect vehicle for communicating a unique sound reminiscent of influences such as Radiohead, The Flaming Lips and Grandaddy.

The drummer Smith describes Midlake’s pursuit of a label quite eloquently. In the midst of what could have very well turned into an “I Have A Dream”-moment, a slight pause and a chuckle delivered a very appropriate “… actually, I don’t know what I’m talking about, its probably really rare and really difficult, I guess. This whole thing is about chance,” he said. Touche.

After sending Bella Union the demos from their first album, the label was very clear about their intentions, coming in the form of a simple e-mail response with six magical words: “I want to have Midlake’s babies.”

As do I.

After completing two European tours, Midlake wasn’t fully satisfied. “The first album was a stepping stone but certainty didn’t go as well as we all had hoped,” Smith said.

Their newest release, The Trials of Van Occupanther, follows a more ideal path in its success, as it is consistently attracting a bigger and bigger fan base. This album gently veers stylistically in the direction of an early ’70s vibe, sans lava lamps: think Joni Mitchell, Jethro Tull, Fleetwood Mac and Neil Young.

The obscure album title and accompanying album art were all part of the creative process for the band as they recorded. Singer Tim Smith found an ad in a magazine of people in “equestrian garb” and with every song he wrote he promptly declared, “If it doesn’t look like this picture then I don’t want it on the album.” In addition, various pictures made their way onto the wall during recording. Thus, a golden body suit and paper mache panther mask made their way to the cover of the album.

The relationship between music and narrative communicates as a kind of contented ambiguity. Much like the band itself, it floats in a genuine place that many groups similar to Midlake can’t seem to find — Texans or not.

:: Midlake ::

:: Hi-Dive :: March 10 ::

 

Spectate if you Gravitate:

• Radiohead

• Flaming Lips

• Grandaddy

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