In 1999, a group of jazz students from Denton, Texas, got together to play a kind of music that seemed pretty far from jazz. Rolling Stone called Midlake's music "foreboding psychedelic rock," which doesn't sound like a popular genre — but the band's song "Roscoe" made it into the magazine's top 100 tracks of the 2000s.
The lead singer and songwriter was Tim Smith. He left the group about a year ago, leaving the other members to either reinvent themselves or quit. Singer and guitarist Eric Pulido tells NPR's Scott Simon there was little question in his mind that the band would continue, but just how they'd pull it off was far less clear — especially since they'd been working on new material with Smith for the past two years.
"It wasn't long before we decided that the best thing to do would be to make a clean break and, unfortunately, leave that music behind. But in hindsight, I think it was the best thing to do," Pulido says. "There were some growing pains, I won't lie. Obviously, when your singer-songwriter leaves, there's some transition that takes place. But we bonded together in a way that we had never done before."
A six-month writing and recording process followed. Pulido shifted into the lead role — though he says that in the studio, the band found itself tending more toward democracy and spontaneity than ever before, letting improvised jam sessions provide the starting points for what would become polished songs. The result is the new album Antiphon, Greek for "opposite voice."
"I had found the word and was turned on to it by its use in a liturgical setting; it's used in both oral and musical environments as a response, a call-and-response style," Pulido explains. "And I thought this album was our response — not only to what had transpired with Tim, but, I think, every band, each album that you make, it's kind of your response musically or lyrically of what's going on with you in your life. In a bigger way, it's kind of the plight of man. It's not about what happens to you, it's how you respond to it that you're defined."
Pulido says the members of Midlake quit their day jobs way back in 2006 — not because they were confident they could support themselves making music, but because they felt the reward of working together was worth going all in.
"I remember Wayne Coyne from The Flaming Lips once told us — a long time ago, when they graciously had us on tour — he said, 'You know, if I could give you one piece of advice ... .' And we're all waiting with bated breath to hear what Wayne Coyne from The Flaming Lips would send down from heaven and give us this piece of advice. And he says, 'Just stay together.' You know, it was so simple, but it's right," Pulido says. "If it's there, keep going."
Antiphon is out Nov. 5. Hear more of Eric Pulido's conversation with Scott Simon at the audio link.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
MIDLAKE: (Singing) Stone cutters make up the stone's (unintelligible)...
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
In 1999, a group of jazz students from Denton, Texas got together to play a kind of music that seemed pretty far from jazz. Rolling Stone called it foreboding psychedelic rock, which doesn't sound like a popular genre, but this song, "Roscoe," made it into the magazine's top 100 songs of the 2000s. The lead singer and songwriter was Tim Smith. He left the group about a year ago, and now they've gotten back together to reinvent themselves, led by another longtime member of the band, the singer and guitarist Eric Pulido. Their new album comes out this week - "Antiphon."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)
MIDLAKE: (Singing) (unintelligible) carry on from the golden days, follow me down a foxhole (unintelligible). Some morning by (unintelligible) gather around (unintelligible)...
SIMON: Eric Pulido of the group Midlake joins us now from the studios of KERA in Dallas. Thanks so much for being with us.
ERIC PULIDO: Thank you for having me.
SIMON: So, I gather when Tim Smith left the group, you and Midlake had been working for a couple of years on new material but you had to, more or less, throw that out?
PULIDO: Yes, we had been working for two years. And when he did decide to leave, it was, you know, obviously, there was a decision to be made. Not if so much if we would continue on but how we would continue on. And it wasn't long before we decided that the best thing to do would be make a clean break and unfortunately leave that music behind. But in hindsight, I think it was the best thing to do.
SIMON: I gather you've said that the very title, "Antiphon," refers to what went on with Tim Smith. So, can we get an insight into that?
PULIDO: Yeah. You know, I mean, antiphon, the Greek translation - nerd alert - is opposite voice. But it's representative of...
SIMON: I'm sure our listeners knew that but go ahead.
SIMON: This is NPR, OK? Come on, yeah.
PULIDO: I had found the word and was turned onto it by its use in a liturgical setting and it was used in both oral and musical types of environments as being used as a response or a call-and-response style. And I thought this album was our response, not only to what had transpired with Tim, but I think every band, each album that you make, it's kind of your response musically or lyrically of what's going on with you in your life. And, honestly, it's, in a bigger way, it's kind of the plight of man. It's not about what happens to you; it's how you respond to it that you're defined.
SIMON: Let's listen to a track rather than just keep talking Greek philosophy. This is a track called...
PULIDO: I don't have much more in me, so, yeah. Let's play some music.
SIMON: This is called "It's Going Down."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IT'S GOING DOWN")
MIDLAKE: (Singing) And we (unintelligible) show, to reveal a man alone, all will fall away, left to buy one is to borrow...
SIMON: How quickly did you write this material?
PULIDO: It was a six-month process of writing and recording. After Tim left, it was 24 hours after that we got together and said, all right. I'm not done. I want to keep doing something. And there were some growing pains. Obviously, when your singer-songwriter leaves, you know, there's some transition that takes place. But we bonded together in a way that we had never done before. And I felt like the communal effort and response and the voices - both literally and figuratively - that came together that was needed to make this record what it is, it was vital to being able to do it. And I think in turn made everybody take more ownership of it and it was just a more honest representation of the band as a whole.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
MIDLAKE: (Singing) All, all...
SIMON: I've read that you like, when it comes to this album, just being able to press record and to see what would happen.
PULIDO: Well, yeah, you know, a lot of times you can overthink things. You can end up talking for three hours about what it is you're going to do and then do nothing. Sometimes the best thing is to just get in there and just play. We kind of forgot that, you know, we're the guys. We've been playing together - I met McKenzie, the drummer, when I was 16 years old. We played together in high school before any of this had happened, you know. And I think to get back together and, for a lack of a better term, just kind of jam and have some fun making music was kind of a great foundation to start this process with "Antiphon."
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
PULIDO: We quit our day jobs in 2006, and it wasn't because we were making hand-over-fist financially on this endeavor. It was just because we felt like if we're going to do this, we need to go all in. It's something that we all felt was worth it, that we felt like there's joy in it. That we're friends, we have this opportunity to make music together. And, you know, I remember Wayne Coyne from the Flaming Lips once told us back a long time ago when they graciously had us on tour, he said, you know, if I could give you one piece of advice - and we're all waiting with baited breath, you know, to hear what Wayne Coyne from the Flaming Lips would send down from heaven and give us this piece of advice - and he says just stay together. Like, you know, it was kind of so simple but it's right. It's, like, if it's there then keep going.
SIMON: You obviously love the music and talk with great spirit and feeling about music. I wonder, do you like the whole package of being a band at the same time?
PULIDO: I do. I mean, you know, at times it feels just like any job, I'm sure, does. But I think something as I grow older, you gain a little bit more perspective than when you're younger and you get in fights over how your band mate's spreading peanut butter on his sandwich. If we're going to argue about something, there's something a lot more worth fighting about than peanut butter.
SIMON: So, John, Paul, Ringo and George used to fight about peanut butter? I guess I didn't know that.
PULIDO: I think it was the jelly for them.
SIMON: Yeah, I guess so. Well, Eric Pulido, singer and guitarist for the band Midlake. And their new album is called "Antiphon." Thanks very much for being with us.
PULIDO: Thank you for having me.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
MIDLAKE: (Singing) (unintelligible)...
SIMON: And you can hear the entire Midlake album as part of our First Listen series, streaming at nprmusic.org.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
SIMON: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.