Midlake Frontman Eric Pulido On Their Music & The Jason Lee-Directed Rock-Doc, ‘MIDLAKE: LIVE IN DENTON, TX’


Midlake-and-Jason-Lee-770Preston Barta // Editor

DALLAS — Balancing gritty and romantic folk-rock tunes along with scenic footage of Denton, TX, the concert film MIDLAKE: LIVE IN DENTON, TX makes its bow tonight at the Thin Line Film Festival.

Co-directed by Jason Lee (MY NAME IS EARL) and Eric Noren (WAY OUT EAST), the film is sure to pull in a big crowd tonight, as it premieres at Denton’s historic Campus Theatre at 7:30 p.m. A Q&A with Lee, Noren and Midlake’s guitarist and vocalist, Eric Pulido, will follow directly after the film, which will be moderated by my good friend and charmer Chase Whale.

Before you head up the river, see what Pulido had to say to us about his film, their approach to music, and relationship with Lee.

Midlake's Eric Pulido performs at the Texas Theatre in Dallas, TX.

Midlake’s Eric Pulido performs at the Texas Theatre in Dallas, TX.

It’s great to talk to someone who has the same 940 area code as me.

Eric Pulido: “Yeah, yeah. Keeping it real.”

[Laughs] You didn’t grow up in Denton, did you?

Eric: “No, I didn’t. I actually grew up just outside Houston in a city called Jersey Village, a suburb, as many cities around Houston are. But I relocated. I started visiting Denton in the late 90s, but I moved permanently in 2001.”

Gotcha. Did you go to school there?

Eric: “I took a few classes there but I actually got my undergrad from A&M— a business degree of all things. I did an internship in New York with a record label out there and thought maybe this music thing could manifest itself into a real job. Doing music for a living is a lot of work. But I went there and I loved it; it was great. I was 21 in New York, so those were some fun times. Then I went back to school to finish.

Our drummer, McKenzie Smith, I actually grew up with him in Houston. We played together there. But he went to North Texas. So long story short— there were four guys in his band and they were looking for a fifth. They asked me if I wanted to join. I said, ‘Sure. I’ll give it a shot. Give it a try and see how things go.’ The rest is history.”

Awesome, man. It’s always cool to hear how people get into it. Where did your inspiration for music come from since you said you went to school for business? How did you get into it?

Eric: “Well, I had played music growing up. I always loved doing that— playing music and writing songs. McKenzie and I played together at a church. So I guess it was always a part of my DNA. I thought business would be a cool direction to go in— to get a real job in and still have music be a part of it. I thought, ‘Well, I will use this business degree in the music industry somehow.’ I never thought I would do music full-time, or even part-time. It just worked out to where it was a cool opportunity, and then the band grew. It was really neat.

I think for any band, at some point, you hit that decision: OK, when do we quit our day job and just go out there, tour and give it our all? It can be tricky. There’s no right equation. It doesn’t always work that way for a band. You may need a break that financially makes sense. We didn’t have that. For us, if we were going to try this thing, we were going to have to quit our day jobs and take a chance, tour, and hope the album catches on. We weren’t going to get our jobs when we got back home, so it was a risk.”

Yeah, man. That’s something that I relate to in the field I’m in as well. Music was one of my greatest loves as a kid, but then it was film. I can’t tell you how many times I wrestled with the decision of quitting my day job to give more focus to my film criticism career and even film career. I mean, I have an English degree. I figured if it didn’t pan out I could just teach.

Eric: “Yeah, it doesn’t really matter what your major is or whatever; it applies in some way to life or whatever you do later on. I did take some music classes because North Texas is such a great school for that. But, you know, it’s a different scene there versus the artistic community around Denton. Some guys who studied music will tell you, you have to sometimes unlearn some of the things you learned along the way.”

Yeah, for sure. Otherwise, we’re all just doing the exact same thing, the exact same way.

Eric: “Right. I am choosing this chord progression because it’s right. No. Does it look good? Does it sound right? No. Sometimes you have to lean on your own gut-feeling and not on your collected knowledge or whatever you learned.”

Absolutely. I hear ya.

The members of Midlake.

The members of Midlake.

When you play shows, and you’ve played so many what makes a show memorable to you?

Eric: “That’s a good question. The cool thing that we’ve been able to do is see a lot of cities and meet a lot of people that we probably would have never had the chance to meet before. Whether they were five, 500, or 5,000 people at a place, we’ve always been very grateful that we’ve been able to travel and experience new places and things, even though you may not get to see a city as much as you might like, because you have to go to the next place the next day. I think part of it is the experience outside of the show.

We got to travel to Istanbul last year and open up for Niel Young. That’s something that you tell your grandkids about one day. Not only is it a beautiful country and city, but the people are amazing— the food, the drinks and the culture. And on top of that, you get to play a show with Niel Young.”

That’s quite a monumental moment.

Eric: “It’s something that we definitely don’t take for granted. Between the places and the people you interact with – whether it’s a show, a city or a stop on the tour – it’s so impactful. It makes you want to go back and revisit those places.”

That’s so great. How do you guys go about deciding the order of your album? What makes you decide, well, this would make a good opener for our album, and this would be a good capper?

Eric: “There’s no rhythm or rhyme to it. There’s no equation to it as well, to be honest. It changes. Usually there’s an idea that is formed that comes through in all the songs. It’s never like, ‘Well, here’s a song. That one is done.” That has never, ever happened.

But I will say, like you were saying about knowing the first and last track, or feeling like, as dumb as it sounds, that’s the single— So you can kind of collectively feel like that would be a good song to start out with because it’s strong, but it’s always different.”

Jason Lee (on the right) with Midlake.

Jason Lee (on the right) with Midlake.

Makes sense. To switch to the film How did you guys come into contact with Jason Lee all those years ago? I know he’s directed some of Midlake’s music videos. How did this spawn?

Eric: “Bascially what happened was, when we made our first record, Bamnan and Slivercork, our record label head was the former bass player for the Cocteau Twins, and Jason was a big fan of theirs in the 80s and 90s. They’re an amazing band if you’ve never heard of them. Simon, our head, would send Jason new music that Bella Union was putting out— that was the label we were on and still are on.

So Simon would just try to turn Jason onto things, or just as a friend send him stuff and say, ‘Hey, I think you would like this.’ Jason really latched onto our first record. He was in Austin for South by Southwest for a movie, so we got to hang out and talk. He told us how big of a fan he was of ours and we were just blown away. He, at that time, said he wanted to do a video for us because he has shot films. He really wanted to do some things with us, and he totally did. He came to Denton. We did a video with him for a song called ‘Balloon Maker.’ And he used some of our music from that album on a skateboard video he did called WAY OUT EAST. He had us come out to London for a relaunching of a skateboard company and an art show they were doing. We played out there with them. It kind of started a cool relationship. He’s just become such a close friend of ours and huge collaborator on things that we have done within Midlake and outside of Midlake.”

That’s really awesome. Have you watched the doc in its entirety since he finished it?

Eric: “Oh yeah, of course. I helped edit it and everything for Jason and Eric Noren.”

Very cool. And I like to end my conversations on asking if you could teach a class of your creation, what would you teach?

Eric: “That’s a good question. Probably something along the lines of what I was discussing earlier. I would teach a class on the business side of the music industry.”

MIDLAKE: LIVE IN DENTON’s presale tickets are currently sold out, but not to worry, they’re selling rush tickets at the door. If you want to be part of the discussion and the night, please, do arrive early. All information can be found at Thin Line Film Festival.

Note: A review of the film soon to follow on here. Stay tuned.

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.