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The Flaming Lips Biography
WHAT IS THE TERROR??
It is a strange thing when humans are very sad, the stories and music they want to hear is not hopeful or happy; they want to hear SAD stories and music...so we suppose happy people wanna hear happy things maybe we only hear ourselves or we only LISTEN to ourselves. Well, then, what had happened to us? Why would we make this music that is The Terror - this bleak, disturbing, hopeless record...?? I don’t really want to know the answer that I think is coming: that WE were hopeless. WE were disturbed (but we didn’t have a longing to NOT be disturbed) and, I think, accepting that some things are hopeless...or letting hope in one area die so that hope can start to live in another?? Maybe this is the beginning of the answer.
Making music is such a haphazard activity, especially when done by a group. The individuals each have their own states of mind and each are, in a sense, listening to or hearing only themselves and so it can be a mishmash of moods or sounds or themes depending on the members’ assertiveness or their ability to conquer others (ha ha). It is a wonder that anything gets expressed (or maybe it is BECAUSE of these different agendas that music is, sometimes, its MOST expressive) It’s a motherfucker and a mystery.
So toward the end of the mad frenzy that was the "Heady Fwends" collaboration record, a second studio was being used to record in while the main studio was being used to mix in. And often the demands of the main studio would be so overwhelming that when we would retreat, starting sometimes at 1:00 in the morning, to the second studio, our music would be made in a kind of sleepwalker’s dimension...meaning, lead only by pure desire, pleasure and curiosity. All creations, if you are lucky, begin like this. They can quickly turn unpleasurable but that’s the nature of all production. So when "The Terror" was beginning to take shape, Steven and I were determined to navigate around this drudgery of production, trying our best to keep every moment, every sound, every word as it happened in this "sleep walker’s dimension". You see, we weren’t really trying to make a new record and we were being completely self indulgent. We started to be affected by this music eventually affected so much that we could not tolerate any other music we had an inﬂated sense of self-importance and belief that this music this sound this mood is all that will ever matter to us from now on. Being obsessed is fun!! But The Terror is NOT fun...
CHAOS, CONTROL, CHANGE…
What we can’t control… if you are like me… we try to control. What we can change, we try to change... And so, maybe when we are immersed in chaos for too long, we long for stability or control. And maybe when we have control for too long, we have a desire for chaos. Or maybe we are just hungry worms… yeah… worms that are a thousand feet long… and we are eating our own tail… but we don’t know that, yeah, when we HAVE control, we fear LOSING control… but we think we WANT control… and then chaos comes in and shows us that, if we had control, our lives would be safe... or predictable…or boring??? We create the chaos BECAUSE we have control... Fuck!! Like I said (or like I feared), we are hungry worms…
LOOK, THE SUN IS RISING!!
For a long time in our life, when we were young, we lived as though there were eyes watching us from above not GOD, but a super entity; not a super entity that cared about truth or justice, just a watcher. After that, we lived for a long time believing the universe has made us yeah!! but the rest is up to us. And then paranoia seemed useful again and for a short time during the making of "The Terror", we believed that eyes from beyond were once again watching over us. We longed to have no control of our lives... we tried to believe UFOs were hovering and watching us... we wanted to believe there was a conspiracy of fake truth and that we were being kept hostage by an unknown overpowering enemy and that our only escape was internal... we went inside ourselves. Where we know what is real... but once we went internal, we discovered we were empty and scared and we once again conﬁded in the underlying truth that LOVE will save us yes, LOVE will save us. But The Terror?? The Terror is that LOVE is not the magic gravity, the sun of suns... We want, or wanted, to believe that without love we would disappear; that love, somehow, would save us that, yeah, if we have love, give love and know love, we are truly alive and if there is no love, there would be no life The Terror is, we know now, that even without love, life goes on... we just go on... there is no mercy killing.
An antiphon is a call-and-response style of singing, from Gregorian chants to sea shanties. In the case of Denton, Texas' favourite sons Midlake, it's the perfect title for a bold response to a new phase in the band's illustrious career, with a re-jigged line-up and a newly honed sound as rich and symphonic as it is dynamic and kaleidoscopic.
Anyone who knows Midlake's preceding albums will recognize some constituent parts of Antiphon: the quirky psychedelia of 2004 debut Bamnan and Slivercork, the '70s soft-rock strains of breakthrough album The Trials Of Van Occupanther and the Brit-folk infusion of 2010's The Courage Of Others. But their fourth album is another fascinating departure, but also a logical progression. The sound is simultaneously familiar and changed.
"It's always through the scope of Midlake," says vocalist/guitarist Eric Pulido, "but on Antiphon we wanted to embrace the psychedelia, style and nuance you might hear in bands from yesteryear while also being aware of music influences leading up to and present now. The result was less folk and more rock. Less nostalgic and more progressive. Now the sky's the limit."
This growth is down to the ambition and ability of Pulido (vocals, guitars, keyboards) Paul Alexander (bass, keyboards, bassoon, guitars, backing vocals), McKenzie Smith (drums, percussion) and Eric Nichelson (guitars, autoharp), plus Jesse Chandler (keyboards, piano, flute, backing vocals) and Joey McClellan (guitars, backing vocals) from Midlake's last live incarnation. But it's also down to the absence of Midlake's former singer Tim Smith, who left the band in November 2012.
As Pulido explains, Midlake had finished touring in support of The Courage Of Others in November 2010. "We immediately returned to the studio, as we always did. With hindsight, that wasn't a good thing to do." The Courage Of Others had taken the best part of two years to make, and they found themselves struggling to achieve their aim. Midlake tried recording at the farm in Buffalo, Texas where they'd had success with The Courage Of Others, "but we knew something was missing," Pulido recalls. The band took a break to play a few concerts, "to try out new songs and keep ourselves out there. One show was Bella Union's 15th anniversary at the End of the Road Festival, which we didn't realise would be our last with Tim."
After some time back in Denton, Smith announced his departure. In the fall-out over the spoils of what had been recorded, the remaining members decided to start afresh, and wrote and recorded Antiphon in six harmonious months – bar 'Vale', which had been demoed without Smith during one of the sessions.
With its ravishing, rippling textures symptomatic of Antiphon's scale, 'Vale' showed how far they'd already come. The remaining nine tracks – the album is free-flowing in feel, concise in structure – confirm it's very much Midlake, but uncannily rebooted, and relaxed.
The band had already validated their sublime instrumental mettle by backing John Grant on his award-winning 2010 solo debut Queen Of Denmark; now they had to step into new roles, collaborate on songwriting and have Pulido take over as frontman. He admits it wasn't the easiest transition for any of the band but the experience was enormously freeing: "Antiphon is the most honest representation of the band as a whole, as opposed to one person's vision that we were trying to facilitate."
For example, 'The Old And The Young', a lighter, swinging version of the 'new' Midlake, has elements of "bouyancy" that Pulido says were long suppressed. "The chorus is catchy and has a lift, like we were releasing the dove! I love many genres of music - from Abba to Zappa, and I wanted to write in a way that wasn't putting parameters around what it is we were creating. It was a more honest representation of who we really are."
"The past is what got you to where you are now, so you shouldn't be a malcontent about it," acknowledges Pulido. That's the gist of 'The Old And The Young', one of the lyrics on Antiphon that refers to embracing what is rather than lamenting what was. 'Provider Reprise' is "a farewell, like the sound you might hear when you enter the gates of heaven!" The gentler 'Aurora Gone' concerns divorce while 'This Weight' concerns the selfishness of man, "turning away from this existence, to do your own thing," says Pulido. "It could be just as much about me as it is about anyone."
After the costumed antics of the band's last two album covers, the colour-saturated globe on Antiphon takes a different tack, and a broader picture outside of Midlake's internal dynamic. "It conjures imagery of a celebratory fireworks display," Pulido suggests "but it's actually a diagram of an exclusive group of connected entities with disproportionate amounts of control over the global economy. It's a beautiful way to show a darker side of things in the world."
Antiphon has a similarly paradoxical nature – from stress and upset, something positive and creative has emerged. Midlake is dead, long live Midlake.