Midland finds the direct route from Bakersfield to Laurel Canyon—and it runs through Nashville
For some guys, it would’ve been an opportunity that warranted some serious consideration. But for Mark Wystrach, it was never really a viable option. “I dated a model (Angela Lindvall), and I did a shoot in Vogue with her,” says Midland’s lead singer, who grew up on an Arizona cattle ranch. “I ended up doing some modeling for five or six years, but by no means was I ever a full-time model. My parents own a live country-music honky tonk, so music was always the goal.”
Modeling did, however, help pay the bills. At the time, Wystrach, guitarist Jess Carson and bassist Cameron Duddy were all living in Los Angeles and struggling to stay afloat in various capacities. “None of us ‘made it,’ so to speak; none of us got to release any music,” says Carson.
The three spent the better part of the decade playing in various bands, but the deciding moment didn’t come until one of them finally got married. “I had a talent show instead of a rehearsal dinner,” says Duddy, who’s also an award-winning music-video director. “We rented out this shitty bar in Victor, Idaho, and, oddly enough, that was the first time we were onstage together.”
Now well into their 30s and living in Dripping Springs, just outside Austin, the three are getting their first nibble of success as Midland. That’s thanks in large part to a nifty boozer ballad called “Drinkin’ Problem,” which found its way onto country radio late last summer, peaking at number three and bolstering anticipation for the late-2017 release of the band’s full-length debut, On The Rocks (Big Machine). All 13 tracks were written or co-written by Midland, which took its name from the 2003 Dwight Yoakam tune “Fair To Midland”—although there’s a bit more to it than that. “For me, it’s more about spiritually and creatively meeting in the middle,” says Carson. “Which is what we did when we started this band.”
On The Rocks was immaculately produced in Nashville by Music City vets Shane McAnally, Josh Osborne and Dann Huff. Midland’s stylistic compass skews more in the direction of Bakersfield and Laurel Canyon, however. While the guys may voice their affection for Texas icons Jerry Jeff Walker and Dale Watson, their pristine three-part harmonies pay obvious homage to the Eagles. Impeccably crafted songs like “At Least You Cried,” “This Old Heart” and “Electric Rodeo” carry a certain world-weary emotional weight that confirms a reverence for classic country songwriters like Merle Haggard and Gary Stewart. “We’re just fans of great songwriting,” says Carson.
“We’re a vocal group,” adds Wystrach. “But the artists who influenced us weren’t necessarily vocal groups.”
An authentic crossover act, Midland—chiseled cheekbones, vintage Nudie suits and all—offers country purists the perfect excuse to find some common ground with mainstream Nashville. “We didn’t think these songs would get played on the radio,” says Carson. “But it’s cool that they can live in the commercial world, too.”