Forming in 1999, Denton’s Midlake has always been one of the most intriguing bands in the North Texas music scene. Beginning with 2004’s Bamnan and Silvercork through 2013’s Antiphone, Midlake released bracingly original music that encompassed psychedelic rock and folk. However, in 2012, internal tensions resulted in the departure of founding member (and vocalist/guitarist) Tim Smith. A year later, the rest of the band decided it was time for a break. Guitarist and vocalist Eric Pulido never imagined this break would last the better part of a decade. Thankfully, after much discussion and thought, Midlake re-formed in 2021 and began work on For the Sake of Bethel Woods, the band’s long-awaited fifth album.
Speaking from his home in Denton, Pulido spoke to Texas Music about the new album and the factors that motivated the band to reassemble.
What sets the new album apart from the band’s previous releases?
Obviously, time is part of it. Then again, we’ve always taken time off between albums. This was more than that — we took an intentional hiatus.
Every album we’ve ever put out has been influenced by that particular point in time. We don’t look back and say, “This album was a little more ’70s folk rock, so let’s do that again.” Or “This one is a little more British folk, so let’s do that.”
I think the new album is another honest representation of where we’re at. It’s less beholden to a certain style or influence. It was just us organically building songs together during a time when we couldn’t do much else. It was a cool time to embrace the honesty of where these songs wanted to go.
How long was the hiatus?
Eight years. We put out our last album in 2013 and toured it in ’13 and ’14. We all did other projects. We did a collaborative project called Banquet, we did solo albums, and a few of us started families. We were active and still spent time together making music. But it wasn’t under that umbrella of Midlake.
We started talking about reconvening in the summer of 2019, and you know what happened in 2020. Because we couldn’t travel, getting back together was kind of the silver lining of what had already been brewing in our minds and our hearts. We started asking what would it look like to do Midlake again. We started writing and recording throughout 2020 and did the final recordings with John Congleton in Dallas in early 2021.
Eight years is such a long time. So many things can happen. You don’t often hear of bands waiting that long between albums.
You’re right. We really didn’t know if we’d ever reconvene. We knew the band wasn’t in the healthiest of places, and it didn’t make too much sense for us to continue. We needed to put it down. A lot of things happened, respectively, for each of us that kind of brought us back to Midlake as being an option. We had a more balanced and mature look at what it would look like to do Midlake again.
It’s hard to believe that some form of Midlake has been around since 1999.
I joined in 2001, so I wasn’t far behind. The drummer [McKenzie Smith)]and I played music in high school. I went to Texas A&M, and he went to the University of North Texas. He met some guys and started a kind of funk band. They were all coming from the jazz program at UNT. It wasn’t Midlake, per se.
Then Tim, the original singer, started writing songs that another singer could possibly sing. Maybe that was fortuitous for me. Everyone, including myself, asked Tim, “Why don’t you just do it?” He became the singer, and Midlake was formed.
It became more of a rock band even though there were still the lingering of jazz influence. The band was a four-piece in 2001 as I was finishing college. They asked me to join as the guitarist and background singer. I didn’t know what I was doing after college, so I moved to Denton and joined Midlake.
How much did the band change when Tim left?
Stylistically, I think there was a bit more dynamically and a little more freedom. Whether right or wrong, we were very specific in our influences, especially on our first three records. You can kind of be beholden to that in a way. You can listen to those early albums and think “This is definitely influenced by this thing.” As the band progressed, it became less and less of an influence of something and having more a sound of its own.
I love some of the descriptions people use for Midlake. One website referred to you guys as “folk proggers.”
People just start adding words to a genre. It can’t be one thing. It’s indie/psych/folk/rock. Ok, that’s four things you have to put on there. Or it becomes “the band sounds like this band meets this band meets this band.” It’s just a way to trying to relay what this sound is akin to — I appreciate that. I made a joke during a show once about how the same song in one review was if that’s what they hear. The music doesn’t belong to you anymore, and now I’m just listening to what people think about it.
What do you think the music of Midlake sounds like?
I usually say psychedelic folk rock, because that’s a lot of the influences. There’s a psychedelic element with keyboards and guitar. But there’s also a folk element using acoustic instruments and harmonies. And rock is just an easy one because the music is loud. I don’t get into the minutia, because I like and am influenced by a lot of bands. My hope is that we have something, even though it has some sense of influences, that we can carve out that’s our own.
I don’t think there are many bands that sound like Midlake.
I like that. Our band has kind of existed in this kind of mid-level success. Some records do better than others. We do better overseas than we do in our own country. Is it what it is. But I appreciate there’s an audience for what we do, however they define it.
Is there a tour coming up?
We actually just did the East Coast, and now we’re about to go to the West Coast.
Are you going to play anywhere locally?
We’ve talked about doing something around Thanksgiving. We did some shows in Austin and in Denton as warm-ups for our European run. We did get some offers locally, but we want to do something unique. Maybe have some special guests, or maybe we could do something like the Band did with The Last Waltz.
Where is Bethel Woods?
That’s where Woodstock was held. We just played there, and we played there several years ago. I love the history of the place — Woodstock, Dylan, the Band.
We obviously weren’t around for the Woodstock festival in ’69, and it was this fantasy to think about the things that happened around that event. There’s a documentary film from 1970 that shows the dad of our keyboardist [Jesse Chandler] there. His name was Dave, and he was 16. He got to see Hendrix and all this great music. It was always cool to hear his stories. Sadly, he passed away a few years back.
Respectively, we all had different catalysts for getting Midlake back together, and Jesse’s was his dad coming to him in a dream and saying we need to get the band back together. I didn’t take that lightly. I heard from Jesse when his dad passed away, and I knew he loved the band. It was a poetic way of finding motivation and the spirit to reconvene. I wrote the song about his dad harkening back to that happy place that the video captured. It became an overarching theme for the album: finding hope and purpose in loss.
One of my favorite songs on the album is “The End.” How did that come about?
Midlake has always had that sense of finding hope in melancholy, and “The End” was a song we had lying around. Jesse had written that piano part, and I was listening to it and wanted to write a song around that. A lot of the song is about the struggles of the band, finding and embracing the goodness while wrestling with the past. Hopefully, it celebrates getting through that. We have perspective and a better paradigm.
Can you talk about the song “Exile”? It has a monster movie soundtrack vide to it.
That also is built out of that same kind of reference where I look at the other band members as gifts. We’re gifts to each other. We’re kind of pinned against one another, and we live in these extremes. There’s a lot more that unites us than divides us. We need to find where we have common ground and embrace the gift that we are to one another. A band is like a second family. You have all different beliefs and priorities. The song is lamenting when you deny that gift.
Cover promo photo by Barbara FG.