The singer and guitarist of joyously retro country outfit Midland drops by to tell us about his band’s new album
Mark Wystrach, Jess Carson and Cameron Duddy have made quite the splash since arriving in 2017 with their debut, On The Rocks. With shades of everything from outlaw country to classic rock, with visual style to match, they garnered both fan approval and critical acclaim (and a pair of Grammy nominations for the song Drinkin’ Problem).
Yes, a few eyebrows raised at the fact that two of the record’s co-writers/producers were Josh Osborne and Shane McAnally, more commonly associated with the mainstream country-pop, but most people cast aside their cynicism to enjoying a rollickingly good batch of songs.
Their latest album, Let It Roll, is a confident step forward which has already topped the US country charts and proves that Midland really are an exciting alternative. We recently had time for a quick chat with the group’s singer/guitarist Mark Wystrach to learn a little more about that new album…
How did the experience of making this album differ from last time?
“First of all, we’re a lot busier now than when we were making On The Rocks. We’ve been touring non-stop, so trying to find the time between an incredibly busy tour schedule is definitely challenging. Typically, what we would be doing was have days off where we would record the album – that presents its own challenges. But the recording itself was easier this time because it was the second time around with this group of producers, Shane McAnally, Josh Osbourne and Dan Huff.
“There is a trust now and there was an ease in the way that we work together. I think we were able to get to a good place faster and more efficiently and then we were able to evolve the sound and make it lusher. We’re a band that truly understands who and what we are right are and I think that’s reflected in the album.”
Were any of the songs left over from On The Rocks?
“There are a couple of songs that actually date back to the genesis of the band. Songs like Let It Roll were written a long time ago. We used to play that when we were just a little bar band. Fourteen Gears, I feel like we first cut a demo for that over five-and-a-half years ago. Those songs have been in our setlist for a long time but they have never been fully fleshed-out as recorded tracks. We took those and felt like we were finally in a place where we could do that and then there’s a bunch of new songs that we’ve written on the road.”
How does that writing tend to work, are you all sat together on the bus?
“All three of us are songwriters so we’re always writing. At home or wherever we are, working on what we’re going to flesh out – a riff or a melody that we have. All the songs, other than Let It Roll and Gettin’ The Feel, we co-wrote together. We did Fourteen Gears back in the day. But the rest were co-writes. We’ve been working with these people for a while now. A lot were written with co-producer Josh, and Shane, five or six songs on the album with them. We wrote a couple with Rhett Akins, a couple with Marv Green and we wrote one with Liz Rose.”
What do you think are your songwriting strengths?
“Well I’m in a group and we co-write as a group but I think everybody brings a different element to a song. Sometimes Cameron has a riff that we all build up, sometimes I have a chord progression or melody or Jess has a hook. For me, I come from a strong background of rhythm ‘n’ blues and country and that kind of thing, so I think very often I bring an element of that in. Perhaps a little bit of a soulful perspective in the lyrics of the song. For me, it’s important that a song always reflects us, our shared experiences.”
Do you, therefore, tend to write in the first person?
“Not necessarily. You can write a song that is from the third person or an archetype but it’s coming from your own experience, it’s just not written in the first person. Even if you’re telling a story or a fable, you still imbue it with your experience and point of view.”
Is it easy to be honest with the others about their work?
“Of course, we’re a collaboration and that’s what a collaboration between artists is. Everything that you hear is coming from us all – the songs, the production, the live act, how the album looks and the photography. This is what you do if you want to chase something that is outside of your own sphere and has the potential to be much more powerful as a group.”
What have you learned from working with Shane and Josh?
“They’re two of the most accomplished songwriters that I’ve ever met. They’re incredibly talented with a well-versed skillset and they know they’re music and their history. Shane and Josh might be writing stuff that is more current but they really grew up liking a lot of similar music. If you have that same love and background… Midland are the type of band that really get close with everybody that we sit down and write with and Shane and Josh were brought into our world and what they bring to us is incredible.”
You mentioned those shared influences. Who are some of the artists you love and find inspiration in?
“We all have a love for The Eagles, plus we have a similar rock ‘n’ roll background so have a love of bands like The Rolling Stones. Country stuff it’s Marty Stuart, Gary Stewart and writers like Jerry Jeff Walker, Guy Clark and George Strait. Then also things like Tim McGraw.”
Do you think those sounds are currently lacking in Nashville and country music?
“I’m not an expert because I don’t listen to too much stuff. I think we’re just making the music that means something to us. As an artist I think you’ve got to be on your own path, you’ve got to make music that really means something. I think that people can really tell bullshit.”
Lastly, do you have a favourite part of the process?
“It’s all part of the same thing. You’ve got to be able to write to be able to record and produce and you’ve got to be able to translate that in your live act. The real artists are the ones that can do that.”