Q&A: Midlake’s Eric Pulido Talks Tim Smith’s Departure and Forging Ahead For “Antiphon”
By Jeff Murray on November 6, 2013
The last few years have been full of upheaval and new beginnings for Texas-based alt-rockers, Midlake. The band’s channeled some of their earnings into opening a bar (Paschall Bar in the downtown area of Denton), released a new album that takes the group’s signature style into uncharted, exciting territory, and all while losing their former lead singer, Tim Smith. What would otherwise seem like a signal fire for a group responsible for critically acclaimed records like 2004’s Bamnan And Silvercork and 2006’s Trial of Van Occupanther, has proven to be the refining flames for a group, already a decade into existence, morphing into a unit stronger and matured. Members Eric Pulido (guitars/vocals/keyboards), Paul Alexander (bass/ keyboards/bassoon/guitars/ backingvocals), McKenzie Smith (drums), Eric Nichelson (guitars/autoharp), Jesse Chandler (keyboards/piano/flute/backing vocals) and Joey McClellan (guitars/backing vocals) are now preparing to release Antiphon on November 5 via ATO and begin a rigorous touring circuit.
A couple hours before a scheduled set at Hollywood Forever’s Masonic Lodge, FILTER sat down with Pulido to talk about parting ways with Mr. Smith, working through new and old studio dynamics, and the deep-seated meaning behind the name of their new record.
So, what was it like making Antiphon?
Eric Pulido: I probably should start with when our singer left, that’s a good place to start.
So, basically, after we toured Courage of Others, we started working on a new record. After working on it for two years, long story short, our principal singer, Tim [Smith], decided that it wasn’t for him anymore and left the band. At that point, we had a big decision to make: whether we would try to use some of that material or just start anew. We felt like the healthiest thing for all of us was to just start over and make a clean break.
It’s a tough pill to swallow, to throw two years of stuff away, but we did, and started forging ahead because we always knew if you didn’t get it after working 12 hours, work 13 hours. We wrote and recorded a whole new record in six months.
So you took two whole years of material…
...and threw it away. At the time, it was part daunting and part exciting, just because there’s a new challenge, but I think it was the best thing to do. We still love Tim and he supports us, but he was in a place where he wasn’t enjoying [the band]. It’s tough 'cause as friends in a band, you wanna love what you do, so now that we are moving forward and have the new album Antiphon and starting to play it live, it just feels great.
Does it feel like a new band?
Well, it feels like another chapter, a new chapter. We’ve been playing music together for over a decade and it’s good to shake things up in some ways, especially if it's something that wasn’t under bad circumstances. You can easily get on that hamster wheel and you don’t even know where you are going, but this has forced us to get a new perspective and dig deep into what things we love, what things inspire us and what places you can go. It sounds simple and basic, but it was a great experiment for us to go through.
What kinds of the things did you do differently in this album?
The biggest thing about this record was that it was more communal than any other. I felt some of the members, that might not have been utilized, made their voice heard and I made it a point to get everybody out on the table. I wanted everybody to own it. Obviously in that, you hope it all comes into a common thread, but it worked in that we really felt that it was a communal representation of who we are and where we are musically.
I think trial and error is a good thing; throwing things up against the wall and seeing what sticks. In the past, too many times, we beat something to death, which is a good process in trial and error, but there’s this point where the weights and balances started to get tipped the wrong way.
It’s like the law of diminishing returns where your best take was 10 takes ago or your best version of your song was 10 or 20 versions ago—and that's draining. We tried to keep each other accountable in that we’d say, “Look, this is good enough, this is right, this is strong.” It’s easy to lose perspective, so we tried to trust one another and lean on one another more in that trial and error process.
What’s the story behind the title Antiphon?
I originally heard the word in a liturgical setting and basically it’s a word in Greek that means "opposite voice." It’s used in both music and an oratory style of call and response and I felt the word meaning was a perfect description of what this album is: not only our response to what transpired with Tim, but also every album that a band makes is like your statement in time. It’s where you’re at and, ultimately, it’s the plight of man. It’s not about what happens to you, it’s how you respond and that’s how you’re defined. I just thought it was a nice simple tight way to say, “It’s our response.”
Out of all this, what are some things you’ve learned about yourselves?
I think we are more comfortable in our skin now more than ever. Right now, we want to enjoy what we do and be honest with one another. You’re like a big family with a band, around one another way too much, and the logistics of it obviously challenge you to function in a way that’s healthy.
Starting over with this record made us able to redefine all of that, like communicating better, loving one another, trusting one another, and respecting one another. Even though it sounds like some therapy session, it’s a big part of functioning.
There’s so many bands trying to do the same thing and there’s record labels and there’s agents and we just said, “Let’s just be honest with the record. Let’s make what we love and then, let’s put it out there and do our job and what happens, happens.” If it all goes to cans, we live in a great town, we have great wives...
You own the bar…
We got the bar! It’s like, why not? So, although simple, we just want to forge ahead with a passion and honesty and joy, you know? F