(Photo by Barbara FG)
ERIC PULIDO HAS A GLASS IN HAND, a whiskey – an Old Fashioned actually, with Benedictine replacing the sugar, a drink which the Midlake frontman calls a Pulidold Fashioned. It’s fair enough too at the end of the day, as he is sitting in the bar that he and the rest of the original five members of Midlake own in downtown Denton.
Yes, a band owns a bar. What do you mean what could possibly go wrong?
So, what’s it like to own your own bar? A bar incidentally whose Midlake-set policy was high-quality liquors and classic cocktails because “we don’t want the well drinks to come out of plastic bottles”, as Pulido said at the time.
“Well, like we said when we started it 10 years ago, whether it’s a good day or a bad day in the studio, we’ve got the bar,” he chuckles today, settled into a dark wood-panelled room. “It’s been great, actually. It’s in our historic downtown square, on the second storey. We actually became partners in the two stories below, which is a venue and a basement bar. It was built in 1877 this building, so it was fun to do and it’s really cool to have.”
Wait. The much-bearded guys in a harmony-soaked band that had always seemed hewn from some old cabin, oak-flavoured distant past, own a drinking establishment built in 1877? And it is named Paschall Bar after the man who built it 150 years ago when he helped found the town? Well colour me black-and-white.
“I know, it’s poetic,” Pulido says.
Maybe not poetic but certainly interestingly timed, is the return of the Texans, with a fifth album, named – with perfect Midlake tone – For The Sake Of Bethel Woods, out next week. Yes, you’re not mistaken, it’s been a while.
The last time Midlake came to Australia, in 2014, it was something of a reclamation of a band that was reminding people who had loved the rustically beautiful folk/rock records, The Trials Of Van Occupanther and The Courage Of Others, that while it had lost its lead singer and principal writer, Tim Smith, two years earlier, it was anything but done. Then there came eight years essentially of silence, 2013’s post-Smith Antiphon having been a powerful, more electric, left-turning farewell.
A Midlake return in 2022 feels like more than a long time between drinks. They have had other lives, they play in their own bands and with each other, they have this bar, why come back now?
“It’s a good question but it’s not one that has a direct answer,” says Pulido, who points out that with all of them in Denton, many of them now with kids who were growing up as friends too, distance both physical and emotional was never an issue. “It was kind of, respectively, everybody having some type of decision, experience, or otherwise, come into the place of feeling led to do another Midlake record. Or at least talking about it, which we did in late 2019.
“So there had always been that foundational relationship, but there was pretence, baggage, to doing Midlake again and we, I think, wanted to make sure that if we were going to do that, it was for the right reasons.”
The reasons? Pulido had some songs he thought felt more Midlake, everyone liked the idea of playing again, but perhaps the most unexpected, though maybe most Midlake trigger for the return was the death of keyboard player/flautist, Jesse Chandler’s father.
The album’s cover is a still from the Woodstock film of his father at the 1969 festival (which was actually staged at Bethel Woods, near Woodstock), and Chandler, who was raised there, made a personal pilgrimage to the site and the local museum where among the collection of audio memories of festival goers was one made by his father.
“So for me, the picture of that kid, my dad, forever frozen in time,” Chandler has said, “encapsulates what it means to be in the throes of impressionable and fleeting youth, and all that the magic of music, peace, love and communion bring to it, whether one knows it at the time or not. (I think he knew it).”
But wait, there’s more. Chandler’s father came to him in a dream and said “Hey, Jesse, you need to get the band back together”, a line that ended up in a song on the album, and a story that sounds more mythical than real. But no, insists Pulido.
“It’s true in the sense that that was Jesse’s real experience and it moved me to hear that,” he says. “I had my own experience, and McKenzie [Smith, drummer] had his own experience, and so on and so forth, and [while that dream] was obviously the big one, and so much so that it became more of an inspiration for a song and an album title, it was a culmination of things that said, ‘you know what, fuck this, let’s make another record together’. Why not? Let’s embrace the gift of one another being here.”
All of which may have played a part in this album’s occasionally more direct and contemporary elements in the lyrics, including a song Pulido wrote about McKenzie Smith’s son, and the music that at times is quite propulsive, which for those still stuck in the all-gentle-all-the-time Midlake might be a bit of a shock.
Not that old fans pining for ye olde times sheen to the songs should feel guilty about the shock of being suddenly in the modern world. Keep in mind that in the past, because of Midlake’s time-slippage qualities we’ve been able to listen to them, immerse ourselves in them, and remove ourselves from the present.
“Even though I think there is transparency and figures or people being more present, I still feel like, and hope, that there is a relationship that is agnostic for somebody to be able to say, well I pulled that thing from that song and I want to connect to this song for that reason,” Pulido says. :Not to mention that even mentioning Jessie’s father and him being an influence, my influence is from a video still from Woodstock 1969, so I still am harkening back to a time and being romantic and nostalgic about that.
“I still think that’s very much part of the influence on narrative of Midlake, even if it is something in the present that’s hopefully, hopefully, timeless.”
Time for us not being endless, a final question before I let him drink in peace. A business question this time. If Pulido was booking bands for Paschall Bar but not in Midlake, would he hire them to play?
“Maybe as a jazz trio,” he laughs. “We have jazz every Sunday night, so maybe for that purpose. It would be bass, drum and piano, and the rest of us would just be drinking and hanging out.”
For The Sake Of Bethel Woods is out on March 18.