Midnight River Choir's Eric Middleton on stolen gear and Texas music
A lot of hard work and a little bit of fate has gone a long way for the Midnight River Choir. They tout their near-mythic beginnings unabashedly: the band from Texas Hill country was serendipitously named by a stranger who overheard the four musicians harmonizing along the Guadalupe River on a midnight tubing trip the night they first met. Four years later and many miles traveled, the Midnight River Choir couldn't be happier. There's reason to smile when your second album, produced by an engineer who's worked with the Dixie Chicks and Willie Nelson is described as "polished and accomplished" by the indie country elite.
The band has developed avid acclaim and a grassroots following for their good-mood country soul, filling clubs well beyond their Texas fences. Gimme Noise spoke with lead singer and guitarist of the Midnight River Choir, Eric Middleton, in anticipation of their first-ever appearance in Minneapolis, this Thursday at Lee's Liquor Lounge.
City Pages: How would you characterize the chemistry that's afforded the Midnight River Choir the ability to thrive as a band, despite being practical strangers when you formed?
Eric Middleton: That's a hard thing to describe. Like you said, we didn't know each other when we came together, and now we're closer than, well, anything there is.
The story of your band name, which has become your mythology, seems all the more relevant with the prominent role multi-part vocals to your sound. When your new bassist Bob Driver came on, was it a given that you had to find someone that was also a strong singer to accommodate four-part harmonies?
We definitely wanted that. We just kinda scored a touchdown getting Bob. He feel in our lap and there couldn't have been a better person to fill the spot.
You have been described as writing "feel-good" or "good mood music". Are you generally pretty happy guys? What inspires you creatively?
We are...yeah, each of us individually are pretty happy people. Anything really -- you can draw inspiration from anything if you think about it long enough. So, we're easily inspired.
What was it like having a producer that's worked with folks like Reckless Kelly, Willie Nelson and the Dixie Chicks?
It was absolutely awesome. He's [Adam Odor] such a great guy. He kept the energy up in the studio. Even if we had to play something 50 times over, he'd keep shouting out words of encouragement rather than get mad at us. And his history, it's impressive -- we're fortunate enough to be pretty good friends with him back home also.
Did you guys set out to capture the live sound on the record, or did that emerge through the process?
I think it really emerged through the recording process. We tried to get all the basic rhythm tracks down live, then we built off of that. We, of course, wanted it to be as close to us on stage as possible.
It's been over a year since the release of your second album, Welcome to Delirium. Do you have specific plans to get back into the studio?
We were actually talking about plans for either an EP or a full length record. We want to get started, we said November, but our schedule keeps filling up so we might have to push it to the first of next year. We've got a lot of new songs, each one as different from the other as on the Welcome to Delirium album.
And will you head back home to record that?
Yup, we're probably going to do that in the same spot -- at Yellowdog Studios on Congress [Austin, TX] and bring in a guy named Monty Byrom from Bakersfield, CA to do some production...I think we'll take our time more on this record. It'll be our first record with Bob [Driver, bassist], so I'm really looking forward to it. I think our new togetherness will come out with this record.
Your gear was stolen recently back home. Did you recover anything?
Nothing at all....There was a benefit show for us which was awesome. All our friends came out and somewhere around 20-25 artists donated their time and talent. We were able to raise about half the cash of the loss...and then people were making deals for us - we were able to repurchase everything for half the money that we lost. So it all worked out, we just lost a lot of stories.
Do you guys feel part of a strong music community down in Texas?
It is..something to be seen. It's hard to describe. There's no competition, nobody is fighting for a position. Everyone's just coming together to celebrate music, family and friends. That's what the whole feel of the Hill Country in Texas is...it's really alive with musicians that treat each other like family.
Midnight River Choir. $10, 9:15 p.m. Lee's Liquor Lounge, Minneapolis.
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