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Midland: ‘When Life Gives You Lemons, You Better Make Margaritas’

16 May 2022 | 2:56 pm | David James Young

Midland are returning to Australia this year as part of their huge 'The Last Resort: Greetings From' Tour run!

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“I'm allowed to swear, right?” Mark Wystrach, de facto leader of Texan trio Midland, is clarifying the dos-and-don'ts of his interview with Countrytown while sitting in his car and sipping what he claims is his “fourth Red Bull of the day”. The answer is, of course, yes – we'd be fucking offended if he didn't, really. This green light, ironically, serves as a red rag to Wystrach's bull, who immediately launches into just how “fucking crazy” the last couple of years have been for Midland, a touring band by trade that was suddenly not able to tour.

“I'd just gotten married and had my first kid, so I was on this total rocket ride,” he says of the first quarter of 2020. “The last headlining show we'd done was in front of 80,000 people at the Houston Rodeo. We were getting ready to start a European tour – literally, I got over to Switzerland and was waiting for the rest of the band and our crew to show up. My wife had just gotten the baby to sleep when our phones exploded, telling us that the borders were going to be closed. Suddenly, everything has stopped. It was bizarre.”

The fourth Red Bull kicks in as Wystrach grabs his phone from the car's in-built holder. “Hey, speaking of bizarre...” He swings the camera around to reveal Cameron Duddy, Midland's bassist, walking past Wystrach's car. Duddy waves and laughs before continuing on back to his own vehicle. “I call him my little brother,” says Wystrach of his low-end bandmate. “He's six years younger than me, but he looks about 10 years younger.” Eventually, Wystrach continues on to note how important the tangible connection of live performance is to what Midland do.

 “We live on the road,” he says. “We're like Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings... all those guys. We've worked our whole lives to get to this point. When this all hit, it was a massive blow. It fucking sucked. I think that break really gave us perspective of how lucky we are are to do this, and to have the fans and to get to tour. You realise that the music really means something to your fans. We're so thankful to be where we are now, back to doing what we love. We're getting ready to play the biggest show of our career at Stagecoach, the biggest country festival in the world – we're on at sunset on the main stage. Shit is pretty exciting, brother.”

So, we know where Midland were when lockdowns hit, and we know where they are now they've lifted. What, then, of the interim? Backed into a corner, the core trio of Midland – completed by guitarist Jess Carson – forged ahead with work on the follow-up to 2019's Let It Roll, which topped the US Country charts upon release. “When life gives you lemons, you better start fuckin' making margaritas,” Wystrach snickers. “All of that pent-up energy, all those thoughts and emotions and that newfound sense of perspective was all put into the writing in the recording of this album. You're hearing a lot of nostalgia, reflection, escapism and joy.”

Midland's third album is entitled The Last Resort: Greetings From, which serves as an expansion and continuation of their 2021 EP The Last Resort. All the songs from said EP appear on Greetings From, which begs the question as to whether the EP songs were crafted specifically with that format in mind rather than a full-length release. Not so, according to Wystrach: “That was us acting in haste,” he confesses with a laugh. “We wanted to put new music out, and those were the first batch of songs. Our whole goal was just to get something out there – our fans are voracious, and they wanted to hear more from us.”

The end goal, however was always to make an album. “It's really important to us,” says Wystrach of the format. “To comprise fully-formed ideas in that form, where there's a line all the way through... that's really important to us. We grew up on albums, whether it was The Beatles or the Eagles, and it was important that we became an album band ourselves.”

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Wystrach says that a lot of the joy of making The Last Resort: Greetings From stemmed from he and his bandmates getting to reunite with their long-time crew of session musicians. Amongst them are Paul Franklin, who Wystrach unflinchingly describes as “the greatest living steel guitar player there is,” as well as Greg Morrow – a man Wystrach says he would “put in the conversation for the greatest living drummer.” Also in the mix are the likes of Jon Pardi – who duets with the trio on their recent single Longneck Way to Go – and The Brothers Osborne's John Osborne, who you can hear on Paycheck to Paycheck and King of Saturday Night.

All of this is fairly standard fare for a band steeped in what's known as the “neo-traditional” country sound. It's surprising, then, to see the likes of Ashley Gorley in the list of Greetings From co-writers. For those that don't know, Gorley was one of the writers behind Luke Bryan's 2013 hit That's My Kind of Night – which is about as far from neotraditional country as you could possibly get. Even so, Wystrach is always open to collaboration insofar as Midland is concerned – after all, there's a world of possibilities out there.

“Imagine if you ran a restaurant, and a world-famous chef came in and wanted to cook a meal for you,” he reasons. “You're not going to say no, are you? You can give three different chefs the same order, and they might all have a similar flavour, but you know that they're all going to cook it different ways.

“Midland always works with really talented writers, and I'm really fortunate to be able to say that. Sure, what someone like Ashley writes or what someone like Josh Osbourne writes... in different ways, they're both a far fucking cry from Midland. That doesn't define you, though. We find a way to seek out the overlap, and we never lose ourselves in nuance and complication. The Eagles had the same thing with guys like Jackson Browne and JD Souther – they knew who they were, but their co-writers always knew how to add that little extra colour.”

Wystrach mentions the Eagles several times throughout the interview, and it's clear to see the influence that the harmony-driven band has had over Midland and their sound – particularly when you look at the Eagles' more country-oriented work across their career. It gives Wystrach a peaceful easy feeling, then, when it's asked whether The Last Resort is intended to serve as a titular setting for the songs – in the same way that his beloved Eagles did on their seminal Hotel California album. “You're the first interview I've done that somebody's keyed in on that,” Wystrach says excitedly. “I'm so happy you did. That's exactly what we were going for.

“When we were writing this album, we were obviously so far removed from any idea of paradise – we needed to create something that was pure escapism. To us, The Last Resort was a place we had to make for ourselves. It's a place to disappear to. In that context, I feel like the album plays more like a soundtrack than anything. We really wanted to set a scene – these are the characters that you'd run into at a place like this, and these are their stories. The Last Resort is a place you go to when you don't have another choice. It's a place where you find perfection in the imperfection.”

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Midland are returning to Australia this year as part of their huge The Last Resort: Greetings From Tour run, with support from Australia’s own Travis Collins across all shows except Melbourne  - see dates here. And keep up to date with everything Midland on Facebook here.