Midland on Sacrifice, Heartache and ‘Life on the Rocks’
“The road’s a lot of fun, but it’s not the easiest life,” Mark Wystratch tells TIDAL. As the lead singer and rhythm guitar player of country music trio Midland, Wystretch and his band counterparts Jess Carson and Cameron Duddy are familiar with sacrifice.
With their debut album On the Rocks, released today (September 22), Midland reveals the emotional toil of a lifestyle that’s often glamorized.
“We’re hoping that we transport our listeners to a place and give you a feeling with these songs,” Carson says. While their songs speak of things left behind, the outfit flawlessly picks up the pieces in this transportive album.
In this in-depth interview with TIDAL, the guys fill us in on the story of a troubadour and what it’s like to live “on the rocks.”
Who is Midland? Can you please introduce yourselves?
My name is Mark Wystrach. I’m the lead singer and play rhythm guitar.
Jess Carson. Harmony vocals. Lead guitar.
Cameron Duddy. Harmony vocals. Lead bass.
Congratulations on your new album, On the Rocks. What is it about, and how would you best describe it?
Wystrach: On the Rocks is a lifetime in the making — literally. Jess, Cameron and I have been fascinated by music and playing music for many, many years, and this is the first time we’re releasing a full-length album. I think, in a lot of ways, that this album is autobiographical. Like the mythical character that would be the culmination of Jess, Cameron and me because all the songs were written by us. It’s clearly about a troubadour, a musician.
The road’s a lot of fun, but it’s not the easiest life. There’s a lot of heartache in there, a lot of sacrifices: never really being in one place for more than a few hours, leaving loved ones behind. [The record is] semi-autobiographical, not completely. There’s a great dynamic to it. It’s a great snapshot of who we are. It’s meant to be listened to from start to finish and be a snapshot of where we are at this point in our lives.
Did you have clear ideas or visions of how it would be from the get-go or did the album evolve as a process?
Carson: The album evolved in the process of us writing songs over the last four years in Texas and Nashville and on the road. I think any artist who is worth their salt will always evolve their sound. I do believe our sound has evolved from four years ago when we had our first demo as Midland in West Texas, and this album is also…it was hard to pick songs.
We did want to create an album, so certain colors didn’t fit and others fit together perfectly. It’s kind of this puzzle piece when you put it together. So we’re hoping that we transport our listeners to a place and give you a feeling with these songs. That’s kind of what informed the sound and the song choices.
Can you please shed some light on your recording sessions? Who did you work with and how you find the right sound?
Duddy: We worked with Josh Osborne, Shane McAnally and Dann Huff. They all were co-producers on it. We’re also very hands-on in the studio. We tracked most of what you hear on the record live: drums, bass, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, vocals. So, what you hear is a band playing live.
That’s pretty important to us. To not go in and do it track by track. The human element is important for us to capture, and that means ever-so-slight imperfections. It’s a moment in time.
What’s your preferred setting to enjoy the album?
Wystrach: I think driving. We were listening to Jackson Brown’s Running on Empty. There’s a certain kind of parallel. This is also a road album. So much of the content is talking about being on the road, being in a band and the struggles of being away from home a lot. It’s just one of those great road albums. It makes you want to throw it on and just drive somewhere.
How would you pair your album with a meal or beverage?
Carson: Lone Star beer and some BBQ brisket.
What is the story behind the cover art?
Wystrach: We had these suits made for the CMT Awards earlier this year. In the vein of the traditional country artists’ Western wear from the ‘50s and ‘60s, we had these suits made by our friend in Austin, and when you’ve got a suit like that made, you kind of want to wear it more than once.
The suits are also personalized, so if you look closely, all the symbolism that’s been chain-stitched in the suits, it’s something that each one of us created. Jess’ is a hint of who Jess is. Camerson’s is a hint of who he is.
Carson: We wanted to go for an iconic, clean background, just us in those suits a la Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run album. Just us looking hot.
How much of Texas do you bring into your music? Do you have any favorite Texans that shape your sound?
Duddy: When you live in a place, you’re going to be informed by that place, and your music is going to emanate from that place. If you play country music, it’s almost impossible to not be influenced by some Texas artists, whether it’s Willie Nelson or Waylon Jennings or George Strait.
There’s so many different people from Texas, so we are very Texas-influenced. That’s where we go home to. That’s where we formed this thing. But we want the music to reach the biggest audience — not just Texas. Also, our album was recorded in Nashville, so it’s probably a hybrid. Also, Laurel Canyon in California, where I’m from, where we also started playing music together.
If your music was a car, what would it be and why?
Duddy: It would be a 1973 Ford F250 Crew Cab (two-tone) because it gets the job done. It’s bulletproof. It’s timeless. It’s sexy, haggard, loud, powerful.
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