With no sign of embracing the pop trappings of modern country, the Texas three-piece return to Ireland with their outsider status still intact, writes Ed Power.
Country music has been crying out for a band like Midland. With their vintage cowboy suits, bad boy strut and rollocking guitars, the Texas-based three-piece are a throwback to a more dangerous era. The Eagles and Hank Williams are among their touchstones and they see themselves as operating in the tradition of the country singer as musical outlaw.
“In many ways we’re a rock band,” says guitarist Jess Carson.
Midland formed in 2016, consisting of Carson on guitars, drummer Cameron Duddy and singer Mark Wystrach — a sometime model and actor (he had a cameo in CSI Miami and starred in NBC soap opera Passions). Now the droopy-moustached trio are en route to Ireland and a Vicar Street, Dublin.
They’re based in Austin, Texas — a long way from country music’s spiritual headquarters of Nashville. That distance is metaphorical as well a physical, with songs such as ‘Burn Out and Drinkin’ Problem’ — their big hit — rejecting the pop trappings that has come to define much of modern country.
“It’s almost unheard of for a new band not to be from Nashville. It’s such a community over there. But we wanted to something very much our own — our own sound, our own influences. It was important NOT to be in Nashville, to look at it from the outside.”
Rock’n’roll and country have intertwining roots in the southern US, a fact Midland acknowledge with a repertoire that will remind the listener of Johnny Cash one moment, Sticky Fingers-era Stones the next.
“The outlaw school of country music is a big influence on us,” says Carson. “Waylon Jennings, Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt — the Austin Texas scene of the Seventies. All that is in our DNA — in our sound and in what we do.”
They bring a swagger to their music — and seem determined to, as per one of their inspirations, take things to the limit on stage and off. “People are always trying to force us to take drinks,” laughs Carson.
Midland’s rise, it should be said, has not been without controversy. There is suspicion in some corners of the country scene that these three musicians from different parts of the United States —Carson grew up in Oregon — should suddenly move to Austin and start wearing cowboy hats and crocodile-skin boots. Are they a country-rock band?
Or are they a record company’s idea of what a country-rock band should look like? They are, after all signed, to Big Machine, the label that catapulted Taylor Swift to stardom.
“We came together the same way as The Beatles or the Stones,” says
Carson. “We were buddies that hung out and occasionally played music together. This band is the first time they were of us were in the same group together. But we go back a long way.”
Midland were last in Ireland for the Country To Country festival. They were struck by the crowd knew the words to every song. “I remember reading about the Garth Brooks stadium concerts that got cancelled in Ireland,” says Carson. “That’s what informed me about Ireland being a huge country market. I was surprised when I read that. And I was even more surprised when we went over the first time and and were singing along with us.”
Midland play Vicar Street, Dublin, December 7