Q&A: Midlake’s New Singer Eric Pulido On Antiphon And The Pressures Of Stepping Up As Frontman
Next week Midlake will release Antiphon, the band’s fourth album and their first since the departure of former singer Tim Smith. Fans have already had the chance to preview the first two singles, “Antiphon” and “Provider,” and you can currently give the entire record at test spin over at NPR. Given early responses, it appears that the lineup change has left the band relatively unscathed, with guitarist Eric Pulido stepping up to provide lead vocal duties. Still, the loss of a much-beloved front man is never an easy transition for any band to weather and, according to Pulido, there was definitely a period of time when it seemed like the future of the band might be in doubt. Luckily, the band did indeed decide to stick together and the resulting album shakes free of the English folksiness that permeated 2010’s The Courage Of Others in favor of the moody pastorals that made their earlier records such an endearing listen. I snagged a few minutes with Pulido to talk about his new role as bandleader and what the next year or so has in store for Midlake.
STEREOGUM: You guys are back on the road now. How have the shows been?
ERIC PULIDO: They have been great. It’s been really encouraging and fun to kind of jump back in right now with the record coming out — and obviously to get everyone’s reaction to the band and to the new album. It’s been fun.
STEREOGUM: It must have been a little nerve-wracking as well.
ERIC PULIDO: Yeah, but like I said, it’s been very encouraging. I mean obviously it’s hard to say what we really expected. With any record you make there’s going to be some folks that like it and maybe some that don’t. Some people are more into the old stuff, and obviously there are people who are excited to hear new stuff. It’s kind of a balance, so we play old and new stuff. Obviously knowing the transition that’s occurred, there’s probably a heightened awareness to that. But then again, people have been really encouraging to us and it really means the world to us.
STEREOGUM: Putting out a new record is cause for a little anxiety, but doing so after the departure of a band member makes it a little harder I’m sure.
ERIC PULIDO: Yeah. You know, when Tim left we all knew that we wanted to continue. We didn’t know how exactly that would look, we just knew we wanted to carry on. And as we went, of course, some of those “hows” are defined, and then the album starts to take form and you realize, ‘OK we’re doing this, we can do this.’ Then we show it to the label and they’re into it — and our manager, or some friends or family. And it’s kind of like, one step at a time. You know, like first you put out a song or a video, or you play a show or it gets reviewed; each one of those things feels like you are doing it for the first time all over again. In some ways that’s the case for any record, but again, with the transition we knew that it would be a big part of the story. Like, how will this fare? How will they sound after losing their singer-songwriter? That’s what we’re in the midst of right now.
STEREOGUM: Were people surprised that you didn’t decide to just stop or maybe that you didn’t decide to call yourself something else? In the past so much attention was focused on Tim, there might have been this perception that he basically was Midlake.
ERIC PULIDO: I’m sure some people had those thoughts and reactions, some of which we heard. I think most people were kind of like, shit happens and you deal with it. And that was our mentality. I didn’t want this. This wasn’t what I was going for. I actually had a lot of optimism about the record we’re making when Tim left, and some hope. So when he decided to leave, obviously it hurt but you cant cry over spilled milk, and definitely not for too long before going, ‘Well, we’re grown men, we need to figure out what we want to do.’ And the rest of us got together quickly and said, ‘OK, this is what we want to do’ — knowing full well that people would have their own reactions or opinions about it. But the reality is that we’re in the midst of it, this is our life. This is our livelihood. And I know it might not be ideal, but … welcome to life. You don’t always get exactly what you think is ideal, and you don’t always know what’s best for you. You just kind of roll with the punches and this was no exception. It’s what we are doing.
STEREOGUM: I heard that you guys basically decided to scrap what was a fairly large chunk of material and start completely over after Tim’s departure. Is that how it happened?
ERIC PULIDO: Yeah. Understandably, when we decided to forge ahead, Tim was protective about a good chunk of that material. But at the same time, obviously considering his decision, it was kind of more on us to decide what we would use and not use. And even outside of what Tim preferred, we just felt it best to make a clean break — our own statement. So that there wouldn’t be any doubt of who this Midlake is. I thought that was the best thing to do, out of respect for him, but as a proper representation of us. But at the time, when you have all this material, and a lot of it is in jeopardy of not being used, I felt a lot of pressure. I had moments where I wasn’t sure we could write enough material. There were so many unknowns at that point. It’s kind of a daunting task. At first I thought we might have to use some of that earlier stuff, but I hoped that we wouldn’t need to. In the end we just opted not to get too wrapped up in fear, and decided to just get to work.
STEREOGUM: And when you started to do that, how was the process?
ERIC PULIDO: Well, there were some growing pains, I won’t lie. We were suddenly operating in a very different way. There’s this freedom of creativity and this excitement, but there’s also a bit of a difficulty in still harnessing everybody’s talents and voices, both literally and figuratively, into a communal sound. Especially after doing it a certain way for so long, and then saying, let’s shake things up a bit. So now you are still trying to achieve a similar thing — if not a better thing — in what is obviously a far less amount of time, and also without your strongest regular figure, the figurehead of what we were doing. We just had to try and not over-think it, which is much easier to say now. I was like, look, we’ve been playing music together for a long, long time, in all different types of ways. As Midlake. With John Grant. With Jason Lytle from Granddaddy. Playing with other artists like St. Vincent, or Regina Spektor, or Beth Orton. We had done all of these things together in all these different variations, so lets just make music together. Lets just have fun and make music. Lets see what comes out on the other end. It might not work, but why not try?
STEREOGUM: And obviously it worked out. Now that you’ve sort of stepped up as the primary voice in the band, how has that been for you? Are you comfortable in that role or is that something weird that you had to get used to?
ERIC PULIDO: Well, we are a year into Tim having left, and now having played out in public … I mean, everybody has stepped up. You just kind of own it. And I think that’s what we’ve all done, and we lean on one another in that type of way, how we operate as a group. And I think that helps a lot. Again, it wasn’t something where I had some ulterior motive, or desire, it was just like, ‘That happened, now slide over and own it.’
STEREOGUM: How was it approaching the older material? Are you playing a lot of the old stuff?
ERIC PULIDO: We are. And I think a lot of it, especially live, is kind of … we’re trying to be true to the music and bring some life and energy into those as well. You know, have a dynamic balance as we go through the set of old and new. It’s fine. These are the songs that made people know who we are, so to neglect those or not give merit to them would be wrong.
STEREOGUM: That’s good. Does it feel good to be out on the road? I had the feeling, having seen you during the last big tour, that it wasn’t maybe such a fun time.
ERIC PULIDO: Yeah I mean obviously the grass is always greener on the other side. You get tired and miss your home. And you think, ‘I want to be home.’ And then you get home, and after a few days you’re like, ‘Man I really miss being out on the road.’ I think the reality is we just try to have a good balance, and I love both. I love being home, I love being out on the road, and it’s the balance of it, to tour in a way where everybody feels like we’re able to do our best.
STEREOGUM: How many people are in the touring band now?
ERIC PULIDO: There are six of us. Seven with Tim, and when he left the other six remained.
STEREOGUM: And everybody’s still based in Texas, right? In Denton?
ERIC PULIDO: Yep, we all live there in Denton. We actually own a bar there as well.
STEREOGUM: What do you feel like the next year or so will be like for you guys? Do you anticipate touring a ton for the record?
ERIC PULIDO: Yeah I think we’ll be busy a lot through the year. I think we’ll just kind of take things as they come. I think obviously a part of that is how things go, but also defining things for ourselves as we go, opportunities we want to take regarding collaborations and other things. I think there’s some real life and energy in the group right now. I’m excited.
Antiphon is out 11/5 via ATO.