Backstage at Nashville’s tiny, barebones dive, The Springwater Supper Club & Lounge, trio Midland prepped to preview their debut BMLG album On The Rocks for group of industry insiders later that evening.
However, trio’s collective thoughts were with their friends and family in Texas who had been recently affected by Hurricane Harvey. The trio themselves are residents of Dipping Springs, just outside of Austin. “Everyone knows someone who has been affected by it,” says bandmember Mark Wystrach, who added that the trio is in the midst of planning a series of benefit concerts in Texas.
The trio’s love for the Lone Star State is well-placed. Midland’s Jess Carson, Wystrach, and Cameron Duddy forged their polished, old-school country sound in the dancehalls and tiny clubs of Texas, challenged by the unrelenting surge of talent the Lone Star state has to offer.
Oregon native Carson, Arizona native Wystrach, and California native Duddy met while each played for separate bands around California. Duddy and Carson first added their harmonies to Wystrach’s solid baritone when Wystrach and Carson were groomsmen at Duddy’s wedding, a first run at the trio’s now signature harmonies.
“It didn’t sound like this!” Wystrach recalls of their first time performing together.
After discovering their musical chemistry and common inspirations, Midland’s bandmembers, each in their mid-30’s, shifted their career focus to further develop their newfound retro-country sound. Duddy has found success as a video director, most notably for his work on clips including Bruno Mars’ “24K Magic” and Mark Ronson’s “Uptown Funk.” Wystrach has been a model and actor on shows including 90210 and Scavengers, while Carson served as a clothier.
Instead of making the predictable move to Nashville, the trio instead relocated to Texas, soaking up inspiration and new sounds from fellow Texas bands that crossed their paths.
“Check Cashin’ Country,” another track from the trio’s Big Machine Records debut, On The Rocks, which released Friday, Sept. 22, details the long miles and late nights the trio endured on their mission to perfect their sound.
“Luckily, Jess and Cam are perfectionists and I’m not doing harmonies because that’s the hard part,” Wystrach says. “By design or by necessity or by the grace of God, we were building it around my part. I give most of the credit for that to Jess and Cameron and hours of dissecting line for line, literally. If these guys hear something that’s not in, or you’re doubling that part…We spend so much time in a rehearsal space just overanalyzing songs. I forget who we are playing with, but someone said it sounded like we share the same DNA.”
“We’ve been good, but we want to be great,” says Carson. “If you want to be great you have to put it all on the line and work harder than anything you have in your life. It’s the most fun time you’ll have smashing your head into a wall but it is very much that.”
The time spent fine-tuning their sound is evident in the throwback traditional barroom country sounds found on their debut album, led by the chart-topping, RIAA gold-certified single “Drinkin’ Problem,” and its followup, “Make A Little.” Their solid harmonies blend with musical sensibilities that have more in common with the sounds of 1960s and ‘70s Gram Parsons than any overtly pop and hip-hop infused tunes county radio currently favors.
“Make A Little” hints at a classic Dwight Yoakam sound, while plenty of tracks like “Burn Out,” “Out Of Sight” and “At Least You Cried” cradle heartbreak lyrics in luminous harmonies, plucky guitar work and an occasional horn section.
Asked about the artists who gave them inspiration, a lengthy list peppered with Texas artists such as Tessy Lou and the Shotgun Stars, Gary P. Nunn, Aaron Watson, and Dale Watson follows. They credit Watson and Dwight Yoakam for letting Midland open shows in Texas for them.
“Texas has influenced us along every step of the way,” Carson says. “All the Texas acts and some of the house bands were setting a benchmark as we grew this and tried to get into their company and get invited to play those revered honkytonks.”
“That’s where you go if you are a fighter and you train for boxing, you need a sparring partner to raise you up,” adds Wystrach. “In Texas, that’s what we found. People who would raise our musicianship.”
That drive to continuously improve on their natural talents ultimately led to Music City, where they joined with heavyweight producers Dann Huff, Shane McAnally and Josh Osborne.
Midland’s members had a hand in writing all 13 tracks on the album, including “Check Cashin’ Country,” which Carson wrote solo. An exclusive team of Nashville’s top-shelf writers, including McAnally, Osborne, Rhett Akins, David Lee Murphy, Jonathan Singleton, Luke Laird, and Rodney Clawson round out the writers on the album.
“When it came time to sign a deal there were a couple of other [labels] but it was really a no-brainer when the dust settled. [BMLG’s Sr. VP, A&R] Allison Jones has been taking us out to dinner, calling us, and showing up at every show we played since our first showcase in Nashville. Scott has talked to us straight as artists and musicians from the get-go as anybody ever has, and we knew you can’t look a gift horse in the mouth.”
“It’s just being crazy and shooting for the stars,” says Duddy. “We want the most people to hear what we’ve poured our heart and soul into.”
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