Midland have burst on to the country music scene in a whirlwind way. Just over a year ago they released their debut EP which spawned the number one single ‘Drinkin’ Problem’ and things have taken off in a big way. Now a regular on the festival circuit, about to head to the UK for their European debut at the Country 2 Country festival in London and receiving plaudits for their debut LP ‘On The Rocks’. We recently chatted to bassist Cameron Duddy about their whirlwind year…
The debut album ‘On The Rocks’ was released last month. How did it feel getting that record out there?
Oh it’s like having a baby! You know? It’s an incredible release!
How have you found the reaction to the record?
The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. It’s insane. It’s surpassed even our wildest expectations.
It doesn’t seem like two minutes since you released your EP and ‘Drinkin’ Problem’ hit the airwaves. Just how crazy has this ride been to this point?
It’s been a rocket ship man!
‘Drinkin’ Problem’ also hit the number one spot. In your wildest dreams did you think it was at all possible to get a number one?
No. That’s the short answer! How could you ever? Who would be so bold to think that their first single would hit number one?! They told us to be very sceptical and not to expect much in the very beginning because we were up against a way different sound. We’re definitely unique in our sound and that song is kind of ‘modern-traditional’ so nobody knew what to expect. It went number one because the people wanted it. It tested the radio stations – they don’t just play stuff because you ask them to they play stuff that has to be reactionary. Without fail the country music fans in America and Canada seem to have wanted it. Go figure, if you eat pizza only for a year you might want to have a cheeseburger! What a thought right?!
That’s a great way of putting it. For me, and this isn’t just blowing smoke, when I heard the album I thought, “this is it! This is what I’ve been wanting to hear or to find!” Do you think that’s the same for a lot of fans that they’ve been waiting for something like Midland? Chris Stapleton has tapped into it a bit I guess…
Yeah I think Stapleton did really break the ice with what he did. That was such a big moment for us and seeing that happen. It was still not a sure-fire thing and everyone thought it was going to be a fluke… nobody knew. We just doubled down and did what we always do, which is do things our way, luckily we have a record label that was willing to go for it and put all of the chips on the table and it worked!
It must be quite difficult, and it’s frustrating for us to watch as press and fans, when you have to put up with, for lack of a better word ‘bullshit’, like that which has been presented by one outlet recently? It kind of distracts from the music in a way…
I mean look it’s click bait dude! It’s not real journalism. The only sad thing about it is that one person wrote something about us without doing any research because that one person is lazy and also a coward. If you want to write a review about our music then come to a live show, you know? It’s just laziness man but what was really cool about all that was the overwhelming amount of support and backlash to those one or two sceptical articles. It really kind of reaffirmed, for us, that what we’re doing is the right thing to do which is just doing our own thing, following the beat of our own drum and not apologising for jack shit!
This is the thing that frustrated us. Something cool has come along don’t ruin it for the rest of us!
Well you can’t ruin it! The only people that could ruin it is ourselves but luckily we’re a band of brothers and there’s three of us so if one steps out of line then the other two are there to keep everybody on track so we have a really tight family unit. Our band is really tight, our team is really tight so its family and you can’t penetrate that. I’ll be damned if some internet troll is going to smear the name of Midland – all you’ve got to do is press play on the record dude! If it doesn’t move you then it’s not for you and that’s fine!
I was reading a little bit about the serendipitous way that you got together as a band at your wedding. Did you guys just click straight away and think “we need to do something here”?
Yeah it was kind of that. The fact that we’d all played in bands together about a decade ago for a long time and things weren’t working out, it was hard to get any traction, I think that we’d all given up on the idea of making music for a living. Even though we were making music on it wasn’t with the same vigour as in our early twenties so we went our separate ways. When I got married I asked both Jess and Mark to come up and be a part of my wedding, which was up in the mountains. We had about a week together to just kind of mess around so we started discovering music again and playing songs and traditional country songs so we walked away going “hey, maybe we’ll try and do something, let’s get together as a fun experiment and record some songs” almost a year later we did that and recorded some demos in Texas. It was at that point that we realised how good the chemistry was between the three of us. We’d played in bands before but not the three of us together – I was always in bands with those two guys but separately. If you’re lucky enough to have something so life affirming and life changing then you can’t refuse the calling. It was just an overwhelming sense of duty to go all the way with it so we all moved out to Texas where Jess was living and said “fuck it man! You only get one life!”.
Relocating to Texas must have helped you along. We speak to a lot of artists in the Texas area and it seems easier to make a mark in that scene, especially with a more traditional sound, as opposed to Nashville. Was that the case for you?
Yeah well going straight to Nashville was never an option for us. We didn’t want to live in an industry town so Austin was perfect for us it’s like hippy redneck! There are a lot of great players out there and we decided that if we were going to play in a band then there is no higher calibre of musicians anywhere else in the USA than there is in Austin, Texas. The holy trinity of Midland is our live performance, our recording and then our songwriting and the record and songwriting we knew would evolve in Nashville but the live performance, which is what you do the most to get your chops and really informs the other two parts of that triad, had to happen in Austin.
You were then signed by Big Machine Records which, will all of the respect in the world, seemed a surprising label considering many of their artists are a little more mainstream pop. How did that come about?
We had started visiting Nashville to develop the other aspect of our sound in the songwriting which came next – we wanted to evolve our songs – we had three hours of material that we could play in the honky tonks in Austin but as a musician you want to reach as many people as possible and in order to do that you have to go through certain channels. We could have signed an indie deal straight out of Austin and been a Texas band only but we wanted to go ‘all in’ and go as big as possible which was going to have to happen through Nashville. We kind of started courting Nashville and we would visit once a month and do song writes and meet people so we finally did a showcase out there where Alison Jones our A&R rep from Big Machine was there and she saw something special I think and essentially made it impossible to not sign with Big Machine! They were the perfect place to go because they had all of the reach that we needed but had a family oriented feel and tight-knit family feeling. It’s a small group of killers who are all the best at what they do! It’s a smaller operation but they have a loud bark!
Moving back to the record. Shane McAnally, Josh Osborne and Dan Huff were all involved with production – that’s almost like a production dream team! How much did you learn from working on your first full length EP with those names?
We all learned from Dan Huff! He’s a wizard! He’s kind of like your football coach, you know? He’s not there to make you feel good all of the time, he’s there to make sure that… I mean look… in a way just his presence was reassuring but when he gives you the stamp of approval after take eight of whatever song you go “wow! I could cry right now!” We all wanted to please Dan and that includes Shane and Josh. It was a really great collaborative experience and was really fun just in the studio. The session players on drums, lead guitar and keys were all the best of the best so we were sitting in a room with them… Paul Franklin on pedal steel! That guy played on pretty much every George Strait album so you’re kind of trying to not shit your pants the whole time!
I’m a musician myself and am a huge fan of Dan Huff and what he brings to the music that he produces. I’d imagine if I sat down in front of him with my guitar then my fingers would just stop working!
Yeah! Luckily I play bass! Dan laid down some mind-melting solos on that album! Our real connection was the Eagles which was our common ground and the conversation early on where he goes “ok, I understand what to do with this! You guys are my Eagles!” That was just this sonic thing where we wanted to make timeless music but we didn’t want to sound derivative or ‘throwback’. We weren’t trying to run through quarter inch tape to sound old we just wanted to sound good and big and hopefully in twenty years from now you could throw this album on it’ll still sound good and relevant!
Obviously you’ve just been announced for next years Country 2 Country festival in the UK. How excited are you for that and is this something that is on Midland’s radar as a place to break?
Yeah! I can tell you now that it wont be the last time that we play across the pond for y’all! I’m really excited and I’ve heard only good things about the country fans out there. You can bet your ass that Midland is good to bring it and have a good time!