For the past three years, the road has been Midland’s home. Following the success of early singles “Drinkin’ Problem” and “Burn Out,” both featured on the band’s 2017 debut album On the Rocks, the trio has made a name for itself in the country community for its throwback style of traditional country music as well as its engaging live show and unique sense of humor.
On Midland’s latest release Let It Roll, out today (Aug. 23), the band expands its vintage sound. Time on the road has given Midland more confidence, both on the stage and in the studio, and this time around they wanted to make sure their live show came across on the record. The project had Midland team up again with producers Dann Huff, Shane McAnally and Josh Osborne, all previously at the helm of On the Rocks. During a chat at Urban Cowboy, a retro East Nashville bed and breakfast located inside a historic Victorian mansion, Midland’s Mark Wystrach, Jess Carson and Cameron Duddy share the stories behind some of the songs on the project and the moments in their lives that shaped each one.
“I think this is more of a clear snapshot of where we’re at as songwriters and as musicians,” lead singer Wystrach says, settling into a brown leather Chesterfield sofa in the sitting room of the bed and breakfast while dressed in overalls, a white t-shirt, cowboy boots and vintage sunglasses. “The songs are more mature; the soundscape is more dynamic. It’s lush. I think the album sound is warmer. We ran the whole album through a quarter inch tape. It’s more of a realistic snapshot of who we are as a live act.”
Bandmate and lead guitarist Carson, donned in jeans, boots, an oversized black button down shirt and gold necklaces, further explains that their “many influences and moods” can be heard throughout the 14-track project. On the ode to getting high, “Roll Away,” the trio channels the Allman Brothers Band and Faces while “Fast Hearts and Slow Towns” bassist Duddy says is “straight up Tunnel of Love Bruce Springsteen-era pop-rock.” Then there’s the clever “Playboys,” which gives a nod to Waylon Jennings. The song itself is not what the title implies though, and that’s intentional.
“The song’s about actually having that support and having somebody, that significant other that might be frustrated with the realities of a traveling band, but looks at each one of us, our respective partners, and says, ‘Well you’re good, you’re great. You gotta go out there and do this and I understand it,’” Wystrach explains of the autobiographical tune. “That’s directly culled from real-life experiences. You’re talking about our name on the marquee sign. Pulling up to The Houston, being exhausted.”
On the song Midland sing, “Out here you get used to losing your friends, your lovers, and your mind.” It’s a line that hits close to home for the trio.
“Sometimes it does feel like that, but it’s about that joyous moment that refills the coffers: Jumping on the stage with your friends and making music that’s very compelling that the fans are eating it up,” Wystrach says. “They love it and it’s cool when you get to meet the fans.”
Two more deeply personal songs about life on the road include the reflective ballad “Fourteen Gears,” sung from the perspective of a truck driver longing to be home with the ones he loves, and the standout and rollicking “21st Century Honky Tonk American Band.” On the latter, they address the stresses of life on the road. “I feel like going home… I know I’ve been away too long/ ’Cause I’m the same but they’ve all changed,” Midland croon.
A sentiment the trio has experienced themselves, the song resonates personally with their lives at home in Texas. Both Duddy and Carson are fathers while Wystrach has a daughter on the way with his fiancée. Duddy, wearing a pink pastel suit and snakeskin cowboy boots, says it’s a line they had a “spirited argument about,” debating whether the lyric should be “everyone has changed and we’re the same” or “are we changing and everyone else is the same?”
“Depending on how you’re looking at it, it’s kind of both. I’ve got a kid at home and if I’m gone for over a week or two, he’s three-years-old and it seems like he’s a completely different person when I get back. In a way, I feel like I’ve been robbed of enjoying the golden years of him being a child,” he says. “You don’t want to be the person who comes back different. The objective is to be the same person that you were when you started out more or less. The road will change you. If you manage to get out of it intact, hopefully it’s changed you for the better, but you’re definitely going to take flack.
“Our lives are anything but normal. You’re going to experience growing pains and suffer scars emotionally, sometimes physically like this one on my nose courtesy of my tour manager. That song has a great pinpoint for the real spirit of the album, which was a band on the road and through our lens. This is what the world looks like to us right now. These are the stories that are compelling to us right now.”
Let It Roll was recorded mostly live in the studio and Carson says they worked hard to capture the fire of a live show on the album as well as to make recordings that will be around for decades to come. Both he and Duddy also sing lead vocals on two of the songs, the reflective album closer and Tom Petty-esque “Roll Away” and the saxophone-infused ’70s California country leaning “Lost in the Night.”
“When we started out, the very first time that we got together there were three people singing,” Carson says. “For a long time Cameron and I have sang songs in the sets, usually covers. Bands like The Eagles are big influences on us, and The Rolling Stones, so it just seemed like a natural thing.”
While there are plenty of cheating and drinking songs mixed in with tales of the road throughout Let It Roll, Midland feel these tracks are better executed than their last album On the Rocks. “We think every song is a little gem,” Duddy says. “I feel like we have grown. It is an evolution. On the first album we were so connected to harmony and the Eagles being the golden standard for that. Harmony informs a lot of the songwriting and melody choices in the songs when we’re writing them.”
Adds Wystrach, “We hope that people consume this as an album, too. We hope that people really do take the time and go in there and listen to the complete album because it has a lot to offer. I think all three of us feel like it’s the best thing we’ve done so far.”