While the UK and US indie music scenes have been wallowing in the stagnant waters of an 80s revival, drowning in Morrissey and Gang Of Four wannabes, a little-known band from Texas has been diving deeper into the rock ‘n’ roll gene pool. Midlake’s second record, The Trials Of Van Occupanther, evokes the 70s spirit of artists like Fleetwood Mac, America, and Crosby Stills Nash and Young. Drummer McKenzie Smith has just got himself a haircut and is driving back to the band’s hometown of Denton,TX.
Has Texas and its great outdoors influenced your sound? Yes, but not like you might expect. People might assume that because you’re from Texas you must be into country music – that’s the majority of the music here and obviously there is a large fanbase for that kinda music, but we’re not exactly influenced by it. Texas is an interesting place to live. There’s lots of cool things about Texas, and not so cool, and I’d say we’re affected by that. But I wouldn’t say that we’re affected by country music. The places we live, the people in Texas and our backgrounds, they all play a part in our development as a band. I’ve heard it’s very similar to Australia. Texas is huge, with everything from dense forest with huge pine trees to the tropics down south and desert, and up north it gets cold. Our singer Tim got influenced by nature in general. I guess you could say it’s Texas but it’s also anything with a pastoral setting.
Your album is a breath of fresh air. It seems very sincere, a throwback to the great folk rock artists of the 70s. We worked really hard on that album so I’m glad you liked it. The first album has lots of influences, from The Flaming Lips and Granddaddy to the Beatles psychedelic kinda stuff. And then after we made that album we started checking out the 70s stuff like Neil Young and Fleetwood Mac, America and Bread, Joni Mitchell, Jethro Tull. One thing leads to another and before you know it, Tim, our singer became so engulfed with this and it really affected him and he loved it so much that it started coming out of him naturally. And we just said, ‘We really like what you’re working on and the direction you’re taking.’ It was a long process to eventually evolve into that but I think we’re ready for that. Everyone compares this album to a 70s album and I think they’re right. It hopefully hasn’t come across as contrived, it was just a very natural thing. We just said these albums are timeless and classic and how good would it be to make a record that feels the same kind of way.
There’s no sense of irony to what you’re doing… That was the plan, we didn’t want to make something that seemed like we were just ripping them off, like it was a throwback, kinda ‘look what they’re doing’ thing. I think you could put on Neil Young’s Harvest right now and it would sound like a great record. You’re not going to put this on in 10 years and go ‘Oh, I can’t believe I was ever into that.’
So who is Van Occupanther? Well, Van Occupanther is actually only in one song but everyone thinks he’s a recurring character, that he’s the guy in every story. There’s a lot of ideas about going back to a simpler time when things weren’t so complicated – you have your wife, and your land and your job and you make an honest living without all the complications.
Jason Lee (of My Name Is Earl, Almost Famous and Chasing Amy) has been championing your work, and spreading the word. How did that come about? Jason knew Simon Raymonde (of Cocteau Twins), who runs our label. He was a huge Cocteau Twins fan and had written Simon years ago and Simon wrote him back and they became friends. Simon started sending Jason records and he sent him our first album and Jason flipped out. He did a top 10 records in Entertainment Weekly and we were number two on his list. When we met him in Austin at South by South West we thought we were the ones that were supposed to be bowing down to him and he was like, ‘Let me buy you a drink, I can’t believe I’m talking to you guys, I love you guys.’ Since then he came to Denton and filmed a video for us. He’s just a really great guy to have on your team. We’re very thankful for his friendship.
Midlake’s The Trial of Van Occupanther is out through Speak n Spell.