“I’d already done a lot of singing in the band; backing on the records, and doubling up on some of the harmonies live, with Tim. I guess I was already considered the ‘second singer’.”
Eric Pulido got a promotion of sorts this year, when he became Midlake’s new singer. Tim Smith departed a year ago to pursue a new project, Harp, leaving the band with a frontman-shaped hole and two years’ worth of material for a follow-up to 2009’s The Courage of Others that they ultimately chose to scrap. As for Pulido, he found himself thrust front and centre in pretty sudden fashion, leaving him with little time to make some major adjustments.
“The old stuff doesn’t actually feel all that different; it was the new stuff that took some adjustment, but I feel like everybody’s stepped up since Tim left. There’s a real energy from all of us now; I think we’ve all taken some rejuvenation from it. It was actually really fun to sift through the old songs and figure out how we were going to make it work differently, and make it feel fresher.”
Midlake are hardly a band renowned for their prolific nature. With a return of four full-lengths since their 1999 formation – including one of the last decade’s finest, The Trials of Van Occupanther - they probably won’t be threatening Ryan Adams’ rate of return any time soon, and Smith’s exit threatened to set them back even further. The six-month turnaround for the terrific Antiphon, then, was uncharacteristic in the extreme.
“We’d already been working on a new record for two years, and that’s a pretty long time to have nothing to show for it at the end,” Pulido relates. “There was definitely a little bit of an inherent urgency in terms of wanting to get something completed. We were working really well together once we got started on Antiphon; a lot of excitement, a lot of energy, just this totally healthy way of working.”
“At about the halfway point in the process, we sent what we had to Simon Raymonde at our label (Bella Union) and he loved it. What really spurred us on was him telling us that if we could have the thing finished by June or July, we could get it out this year. we were really keen to not end up having to wait until next year; we didn’t want to hold back any longer than we needed to. So, that was a motivation, but I don’t think it was unhealthy in any way; nothing was rushed.”
Previously, the writing of Midlake material had usually originated with Smith, meaning that his erstwhile bandmates were forced to find a different way to approach the conception of material for Antiphon. “In the past, it was always narrower in terms of the influence, in terms of the scope,” says Pulido. ”I mean, there were always different ways of songs coming about in the past, but a lot of the time it was Tim bringing something in and the rest of us kind of running with his idea. This time, it was definitely more communal. I feel like, if I was bringing an idea in, the band were happy to apply what they wanted to it and, a lot of the time, they were vastly improving on what I’d come in with. For better or worse, we’ve worn our influences on our sleeves in the past and, as much as there’s some degree of that on this record too, there was a freedom to come up with new ideas that made things far more dynamic.”
There’s an evidently freeform feel to many of the tracks on the new record; it was no surprise to hear Pulido confirm that much of the material was born out of jams and a more relaxed approach to writing. He claims also, though, that there was a degree of external influence on the direction that they ended up taking. “We’ve always known and loved a lot of music where drum and bass has been more pronounced and more powerful. Having said that, we’ve always been very committed to doing specifically what is right for the song in question, and not forcing anything; that’s been the case certainly on our own stuff, and I think with the John Grant record, too. We found that on Antiphon, it really fit to bring that rhythmic quality to the forefront a lot more than we had in the past, even if it was only a case of making it louder in the mix. I feel like it made the transition to playing the new stuff live a lot easier, as well.”
The reinvigoration that the band experienced in the wake of Smith moving on seems all the more surprising when you consider that, as is now on record, they had originally planned to amicably split after their next album. “That particular idea was Tim’s, and we all agreed to it. I think it came about because he wasn’t happy, and our idea was sort of, “well, if that’s how things are, let’s at least try to finish things on a high.” At that point, there was just no real concept of Midlake ever being Midlake without any one of us, least of all Tim, so that was something that we all agreed to, to go our separate ways once this record and the touring was done and dusted. It wasn’t like we went along with it reluctantly; I was already embracing the idea and working on solo material, and in hindsight that was a good thing because I did use a little bit of that stuff for Antiphon.”