As the Santa Fe Reporter is covering local music this week, there was only room in print for a brief sentence or two of my recent interview with Eric Pulido of Midlake, a Texas indie-rock band that became an international success in 2006 with their second LP, The Trials of Van Occupanther. With a musical backdrop heavily influenced by Fleetwood Mac and early Neil Young, Van Occupanther detailed the simultaneously uplifting and melancholy plight of lovers, mountaineers and amateur scientists in late-1800s America. The album made many critics’ “Best of the 2000s” lists by reminding us that an LP, at its best, is a singular art form—one piece of music from start to finish—and also that its not always a sin for rock musicians to emerge out of music school, as Midlake has.
As his group makes its way to the Santa Fe Brewing Company tomorrow night on the heels of The Courage of Others, their haunting third LP, guitarist and backup singer Pulido spoke with me from the road.
Adam Perry: First of all, how did the idea for a concept album about a turn-of-the-century scientist arise—and how do you follow something like that? I’m thinking of Arcade Fire trying to follow Funeral, or even Pink Floyd with Darkside of the Moon.
Eric Pulido: We never really thought of it as a concept album. I do think that there was a common theme or vibe in the songs, but Van Occupanther was really just the protagonist of the title track and that was all. When we started work on The Courage of Others we felt like the slate was clean and we could go where we wanted without any more pressure than that which we put on ourselves. I always look at each album as being its own and for us, basing the standard on what’s moving us at the time rather than our own past records. I can totally understand people looking at our past records and saying Courage is not Van Occupanther…but I think that’s OK.
AP: How has Texas informed your songwriting?
EP: I do think that geography can be an influence on songwriting, but I think many other factors are more prominent. Family, friends, community, culture, faith, etc. probably affect us all more directly or indirectly in the ways of music. We live in Denton, TX now and the greatest thing about the town are the people that inhabit it. There’s a sense of artistic community and edification that is really special to us.
AP: What did you learn from past writing and recording experiences—dating back to your days as The Cornbread All-Stars—that specifically led up to your process with The Courage of Others?
EP: Throughout the years, we’ve always strived to grow and mature as people and as a band. The fact that we’re all still together is a miracle in and of itself! We’ve always worn our influences on our sleeves and never been afraid to take a different direction if we’re moved by it. With Courage we ran through the gamut of recording techniques and writing tactics and most of the time felt like we learned the wrong way to do it if anything when the day was done. It was challenging to say the least, but in the end made us stronger.
AP: How does the response to your music—both from fans and critics—in Europe differ from the response you’ve received in America?
EP: They’ve both been relatively positive, but it does seem like the European audience has embraced us more. Regardless, no matter where you go, there’s people that like you and those that don’t. We would go in circles trying to figure out why folks respond the way they do, so instead we just try to make great records and have a solid live show and leave the rest to the powers that be.
AP: Paste Magazine recently wrote that Van Occupanther sounded at its worst like a Radiohead rip-off and “at its best like Grizzly Bear…but overall Midlake didn’t own it.” And then they drooled all over The Courage of Others. How do you go about ignoring such ridiculous statements about your music and maintaining an internal focus?
EP: I never read that, but if your worst sounds like Radiohead, you’re doing OK in my book! You can’t really put too much stock in stuff like that, good or bad. You just have to believe in what you’re doing and trust each other to steer it in a good direction. If you looked to the media for validation, you just might go crazy.