By Jeremy Hallock
By James Khubiar
By Observer Staff
By Kelly Dearmore
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
Midlake's Eric Nichelson is speaking into the phone, but he isn't talking to the person on the other end of the line. He isn't talking to anyone, really, just a somewhat confusing computer screen that's putting a hitch in his giddy-up as he tries to buy tickets for Radiohead's October 1 show at Houston's Woodlands pavilion. Then again, Nichelson's question would serve as a good enough answer to several possible queries concerning the Denton-based band.
Such as: Midlake's recent deal (in the U.K., anyway) with Bella Union, the label owned and operated by erstwhile Cocteau Twins members Simon Raymonde and Robin Guthrie. Bella Union--which released Lift to Experience's The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads in 2001 and, more recently, Starhead, the full-length debut by Jetscreamer, yet another Denton band--signed Midlake not long after the band's appearance at South by Southwest in March. But Raymonde missed the group's set, so...
"I don't even know how it really happened," Nichelson says, once the ticket situation has been sorted out. "We knew Andy [Young] from Lift to Experience, and we had talked to him a few times up in Denton. Like I said, I don't know how it happened. We just sent some stuff, and, like, the next week, Simon e-mailed us."
Since then, the group--Nichelson on guitar and Rhodes, along with singer Tim Smith, drummer McKenzie Smith, bassist Paul Alexander and guitarist Eric Pulido--has been recording (and re-recording and re-re-recording) songs for its debut long-player, the cryptically titled Bamnan and Slivercork, which should be ready for a February 2004 release. Midlake enlisted Matt Pence and Casey Diiorio to produce 2001's seven-song Milkmaid Grand Army EP, but since then they've decided it fits better with their approach to record everything on their own. And, oh yeah, it's cheaper, too.
"For the EP, that was our first time doing something ever," Nichelson explains. "We just kinda needed to go through the process, see what it was like, recording in a real studio and stuff. We re-record and re-record each song, literally, like 10 times. We don't have the money to do that in a real studio," he adds, laughing.
With the re-recording almost finished, the band has time to focus on finding another label to release Bamnan and Slivercork in America. Nichelson explains that Raymonde has said he could (and would) do it, but he lacks the contacts and money to make a successful go of it in the U.S. of A. and the U.K., so the group would be better off finding someone else to handle it. Midlake has been in this spot before: "We've had a lot of labels that, yes, were interested, but nobody would do it," Nichelson says. Fools, all of them.
We're not sure at what point in the process the eight-song CD-R of tracks from the album that we have originated, but if it's any indication of the final product, it's worth paying import prices. It's bubbling, bubbly pop that would be quite comfortable on the dark side of the Flaming Lips' moon, the kind of songs that are happy to be sad, or maybe it's the other way around. Good stuff, either way.
Maybe Midlake will catch the eye and ear of someone who can help when the group plays the upcoming Austin City Limits Music Festival, which happens September 19-21 at Austin's Zilker Park and features the likes of R.E.M., Al Green, Lucinda Williams, Bright Eyes, Liz Phair, Yo La Tengo, Ben Kweller, Rosanne Cash, Nickel Creek, the Polyphonic Spree, Ed Harcourt and many more. The group is definitely an underdog on a bill such as this, its appearance welcome, but a surprise to be sure. Or to put it another way:
"What in the world is going on?"