Bwog Talks to Midlake

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Before Midlake’s whirlwind European and national tours, Bwog staffer Lucy Tang catches up with drummer McKenzie Smith.

While 4th of July usually evokes images of barbeques and beaches, it’s also starting to hold connotations of free music. This year, we have Midlake supporting headliners The New Pornographers as part of River to River’s festival in Battery City Park; this show is a great option for those interns and whoever stuck in the city on 7/4. Though it’s too late to get tickets now, scalping remains a viable option.

The opening band, Midlake, is a mish mash of sounds. Their debut Bamnan and Slivercork was a critical success, experimental pop full of lush sounds along the vein of Grandaddy and The Flaming Lips. Then, they turned a 180 and transcended time with The Trials of Van Occupanther, reviving folk-rock with “Roscoe” and “Young Bride.” Fortunately, I had the opportunity to talk to McKenzie Smith of Midlake before things get hectic.

On their 4th of July gig

I don’t know what to expect, I’ve heard it’s a cool event. It should be good. New York is growing for us, so I’m sure there’ll be some people who know us there. We’re supporting New Pornographers, so most people will probably be there for them, but there’ll be some fans, hopefully.

On fans Jason Lee and Gnarls Barkley

It’s one of the funny things, even celebrities like music [laughs].

We’ve become real good friends with Jason. He even came to Denton, stayed with us for a week, and directed a video for us. Every time we’re in L.A., we usually get to see him. He’s been a great supporter and very a good friend. Our guitar player just got married last weekend, so he, his lady Beth, and Pilot came down for the wedding.

Celebrities fans don’t make you cool, but it helps with promotion and stuff like that. We’ve had a lot of cool people endorse us, and if someone listens to us after Gnarls Barkley likes us, then cool!

On  European vs. American fans

Their accents are different [laughs]. 

You know, I’m trying to figure out the difference, I don’t know, people are people; we Americans think Europeans are so smart and catch on to art and culture more. There’s so much history there, so it’s more natural for some of those people.

Just the country we live in, everything is in abundance, strip malls everywhere, super-size everything. But you go to Europe, and you see a KFC on every corner, so I wouldn’t say they are more advanced.

I think we’re a little bit of ahead in Europe; we do more touring, we do a lot of radio shows, a lot of interviews, and we have big support from BBC radio. Over here, you don’t really stand a chance. A little radio support here, maybe KROQ in LA, you can get some college support, but it’s a different thing over in Europe.

We played in Sweden several times, Copenhagen and Denmark; it’s very bizarre how quiet the audiences are. For the most part, they stand absolutely still, do not talk, watch the songs, and sing every single word to every song.

We did a show in a town in France, where we’ve never played before, in a small club 200 or 300 people. The audience watched both support bands, applauded politely and enthusiastically. Every single band got an encore, the audience was so appreciative. The U.S. crowds aren’t quite like that. Then you go to the U.K. and you have some of the crowds yapping away. That’s more like Americans, but we’ve had great experiences here with crowds too.

Also, we have a lot of magazine features in Europe, big magazines. In the U.S., we have little mentions in Rolling Stone and Spin, some cool stuff in Paste, we’ve been in Under the Radar, Anthem, more obscure magazines, but no real features.

On blogs

I feel I think it’s really great. The internet in that reason is very good. Several blogs have been really supportive, and that’s done a lot for us. I think the internet has helped us become successful, they’re really crucial. “Roscoe” got out on the internet for a long time and that caused a little bit of buzz for us.

There are so many blogs that it’s hard to keep up. I don’t know where to begin to find an indie rock blog. gorilla vs. bear, that’s one, those guys are from around here. [Denton] There’s just so many, it’s overwhelming.

On the transition from Bamnan Slivercork to The Trials of Van Occupanther

What you’re listening to and influenced to by the time has a lot of do with the sound. Basically, Bamnan Slivercork was our first real album, we’d done an EP before that, and everything is kind of a learning process. During the first record, we thought we’d evolved and matured and changed. We were listening to a lot more off-kilter kind of stuff, we were listening to Grandaddy, Mercury Rev, Clinic, The Flaming Lips, so we were more influenced by that type of music.

By the next album rolled around, we segued way into listening to a lot of stuff from 70s. The lead singer, Tim, fell in love with Neil Young, big obsession with those type of records. Tim started writing songs for the album and the music that was coming out of him was very much like that sound. We just embraced it, “Shit, I guess we sound like this now.

On the next album

We are in pre-production. Tim has been writing a lot, we’ve been working on some of the songs. Right after this tour, we’re setting up a new studio in Denton, and that’s going to be in August before we embark on the States tour.

The next album sounds a bit darker,but it’s not a complete departure from the last album, but it will be more developed. It will sound different, but not like a departure from the first to the second. It’s not like we’re listening to eighties hair metal, it’s still 70s, but a different place for sure. I really like it so far, I think what Tim has done with the songs is amazing.

On the next club anthem

You know, some of the remixes have been “dance-y” in Europe, someone heard a remix of “Roscoe” in some German dance club. I don’t know if someone would do a straight house mix of something, but more power to them. Basically, it’s flattering, we’re not putting our name on it, so hopefully it comes out good for their sake. I think it’d be funny if someone made a house remix of one of our songs, who knows.


All the best to Midlake! Check them out July 4th at Battery City Park. And if you miss them then, they return September 8th at Webster Hall.

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  1. Oh yey

    Oh very nice! These posts are encouraged!

  2. Mike D

    excellent interview

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