How Midlake Retained Their Identity as a Band When They Lost a Lead Singer
Eric Pulido sounds excited and apprehensive at the same time. His band, Midlake, is about to open some high-profile shows for Pearl Jam (including one last week at American Airlines Center) and there is also a new Midlake album, Antiphon, that hit streets a few weeks back. But it is the band's first release since the departure of lead singer and principal songwriter Tim Smith. So Pulido's trepidation is understandable.
"He left and he was a huge, pivotal figure in the band, but we haven't had a lot of contact with Tim," Pulido says matter-of-factly. "He moved out of Denton to pursue his solo career. I think he just needed to get away. There was some existence of this for him that was unhealthy. He needed a break from the music as well as a break from us."
That break quickly became permanent, leaving Pulido and the rest of the band with a decision to make. They had made three impressive albums with Smith, including 2010's The Courage of Others, an effort that brought the band international acclaim. It would have been an easy choice to walk away and start fresh with different players, but Pulido insists that simply wasn't an option.
"We felt like we still wanted to carry on," he says. "We had a desire and we felt like we had unfinished business. We knew that we wanted to see it through. We wanted to at least try and that's what we did. As we continued on, we felt encouraged by what we heard. We felt good working in a more communal way and with a shared vision." And besides, under the leadership of Smith, Pulido and the others in Midlake began to feel less and less like a unified band.
"It was different in the sense that we all helped facilitate Tim's vision a lot of times," Pulido says. "That didn't mean that we didn't come up with ideas together, but he was the biggest filter and the last say on how things would go on."
Now, things are different. It's a more collaborative effort, and a veteran band suddenly found itself in uncharted waters.
"I am not prolific. I didn't want to do something on my own," Pulido says. "I had to bring things to the guys and say, 'I need your help, your talent to make it better.' With this, I definitely stepped into the lead singer role, but I wanted to empower everybody to put the onus on all of us, not only because I wanted to, but because I needed to."
And the evidence on Antiphon shows a band making the best out of adversity by sharing the load and maximizing the skills of all involved. By banding together and forging on, the members of Midlake have rediscovered the talents each had learned at the University of North Texas so many years ago.
"It is something that we were defining as we went along, and we were defining it together," Pulido says. "It was new, but it was out of necessity."
That necessity actually resulted in music more relaxed than what was created when Tim Smith led Midlake. But that's about the only difference. Indeed, casual fans will probably have a hard time discerning between the Smith and post-Smith outfits. According to Pulido, there's an obvious reason for that.
"It's still the same players that made all those old records," Pulido says. "It was us. It's going to have some type of common thread between what we did with and without Tim. At the same time, our influences have changed over the years. Each record took on a little different sound and this one is no exception. Hopefully, people will hear a common thread that is still Midlake."
In other words, Antiphon still sounds like a mid-period Pink Floyd album infused with modern, psychedelic folk. It moderately rocks in places and beautifully lulls in others. Antiphon is a fascinating album made by people looking for a way to regroup, a way to remain a part of each other's lives. Somehow, Pulido and crew have managed to lose a lead singer and songwriter and not miss a beat. They have made an album as good as anything in the band's catalog and are now ready to be reintroduced to a wider audience. These gigs with Pearl Jam are a good start.
"Long story short, we played in Montana where Pearl Jam's bassist Jeff Ament lives," Pulido explains. "He is friends with Jason Lytle from Grandaddy. Several years back, Jason became a fan of the band. We have all been fans of Pearl Jam since we were teenagers. When their new album was released and it was announced that they were going to do some shows, we connected and the powers that be got together and made it so. Jeff was really excited about our new music and he really spearheaded getting us on these shows."
Midlake have played in front of some big crowds at festivals, but this still qualifies as the most people they've ever played for. Not bad for some guys who could have been easily written off when Smith decided to walk away. Now, they're getting a new opportunity.
"That's the hope when you go out with a band like Pearl Jam," Pulido says. "You hope that people in the audience will connect with what you do. We would love to be introduced to an audience as huge as Pearl Jam's. We are very grateful."
Pulido acknowledges that he and his bandmates may be a bit on edge, but he seems at ease with performing with his musical heroes.
"I don't know if we will be nervous. We will just have fun with it," he says. "For us, it's not our show. There is a crowd that will obviously be there for Pearl Jam. We will humbly get up there and play our songs and then exit and enjoy the show. We are not going to get too overwhelmed by the experience of it all."
Of course, audiences can be mercurial when it comes to waiting for their favorite band to hit the stage.
"I hope the audience will accept us or else it's going to be a really quick set," he says. "I am a fan of music first. Regardless of the band's sound or style, I respect the band being out there and doing it. For us to get this opportunity, if people are just there to see Pearl Jam, if we get to play for them for 30 minutes, they will enjoy us. This is the biggest gig of our career. This is the biggest venue we've played and it's pretty exciting."
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