Midland’s ‘The Last Resort: Greetings From’ Album Is Escapism With a Purpose + a Triumphant Homecoming
Escapism is a theme of Midland's new album, The Last Resort: Greetings From, starting at the very beginning.
"Sail away, kind of c'est la vie," front man Mark Wystrach croons in the first verse of the title track, which is also the first song that they wrote after the COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns hit the U.S.
"Live music was taken away from us. Gathering with family and friends was taken away from [us.] You kind of felt that you were at the end of the road, that you've arrived to some strange, unexpected destination. When we wrote that song, it was definitely some escapism," Wystrach tells Taste of Country.
"We were trying to have a good time with a sad time, I guess, if you will," he sums up. "So that kind of set the palette, I think, for the rest of the writing and the album."
The Last Resort: Greetings From — which came out in two halves, with the first chapter arriving as an EP in 2021 and the second half following on Friday (May 6) — is undoubtedly a pandemic record. Its songs were either written or retooled in lockdown, during a time when the band mates were adjusting to a massive lifestyle shift.
"You know, the last show we played was the Houston Rodeo, headlining to some 80,000 people, and then we're thrust into an unprecedented global event that we all experienced in unison together," Wystrach reflects.
But though so much of The Last Resort: Greetings From is about escapism, that doesn't mean that the music is about sitting back, tuning out the outside world and going on hiatus from self-work and growth. Likewise for Midland: The band's latest musical chapter is escapism with a purpose, a meandering drive toward their evolution as a band. After all, while lockdown stripped them of their daily lives and busy schedules, it also provided them breathing room, and a chance to consider larger questions about their musical future, such as what they want their music to sound like and what influences they wanted to reflect.
"There were a lot of mixed emotions about not being on the road. It was a painful relief," says band member Cameron Duddy.
"It allowed us to...dive back into a lot of music that we'd been listening to, all styles and types, and you're seeing all that [on this record]," Wystrach elaborates. "You're hearing completely new textures and tones and instrumentation on this album, that we've never done before. But I think that's our goal, with every album."
For example, the track list's range is broad, both in terms of when the songs were written, and what musical styles informed them. It includes "King of Saturday Night," a solo write by Duddy, which dates back to the band's earliest days, when they used to play to empty bars. Duddy says that it was his request that that song be included on The Last Resort: Greetings From, and he sings lead vocals on it, too — something he's looking forward to doing live once they start mixing it into their set list.
Another solo write on the project is Jess Carson's "Life Ain't Fair," a quippy and pandemic-informed track that's perhaps Midland's folkiest offering to date. Carson explains that he wrote it pre-pandemic, but revamped it so that it spoke from the perspective of the COVID-19-era.
"Kind of from the approach of that time period, and wanting to be something that was uplifting, from the lens of an, 'Even when bad stuff's going on, we're all going through it together,' kind of sentiment," he notes.
"It was great texture for the album. I think it's Jess' best song that he's written by himself," Duddy interjects.
"It's very [Bob] Dylan-esqe, which I love about it," Wystrach agrees. "It's another revelation to some different influences. It has a folky vibe to it, which is cool."
Even the saddest songs on the album — such as "And Then Some," a plaintive honky-tonk heartbreaker about a guy who just can't seem to shake his breakup — include a sprinkle of Midland's signature playfulness and sense of fun. That part typically enters into their songs during the recording process, and on The Last Resort: Greetings From, finding joy in the studio together was especially poignant — they finally got to get the whole gang back together, after a long stint of time apart.
"That was magical," Wystrach recalls. "I mean, we had to go through all the testing, wearing masks and whatnot, but still. Just to get back in — it was kind of like, 'Okay, we made it through this thing.'
"We had a lot of time to kind of let these work tapes percolate, and then to get into the studio and then realize them with our old friends, our collaborators — getting back into the room with Shane McAnally, Josh Osborne, Dann Huff, I mean, they're the best of the best," he continues.
They celebrated the in-person album making process with collaboration. Jon Pardi joins the trio on "Longneck Way to Go," in a team-up that had been in the making ever since the three Midland members first met Pardi, at the start of their careers, and he took them out on one of their first big tours.
"Jon has been a champion of ours since the very beginning. For us, it was like, 'It's about time we do something!' Because it was one of those things where it was so obvious, but for some reason, we hadn't gotten around to it," Carson says.
"Jess just nailed that," agrees Duddy. "I actually feel like the song is like that, too — it's one of those songs where it's like, 'How is this not a song already?'"
But Pardi wasn't the only collaborator on the album: Brothers Osborne's John Osborne shows up for a guitar feature on "Paycheck to Paycheck," but the guys had so much fun together that Osborne wound up playing on two more tracks — "King of Saturday Night" and "Life Ain't Fair" — as a session player.
"We were having so much fun that we wound up paying John Osborne at studio scale," Wystrach says with a laugh. "He signed in as a studio session guy. You will hear John Osborne on three different tracks."
"He did 'King of Saturday Night' and then he was trying to leave — we did 'Life Ain't Fair,' which is acoustic, and he didn't have an acoustic guitar, so I was like, 'Here, play this one,'" Carson jokes.
"And he said, 'If I'm gonna play this much go--amn music, I'm gonna get paid scale,'" Wystrach quips.
That kind of impromptu jam session-turned-studio-memory is exactly the kind of thing that country artists couldn't do during the pandemic, and for Midland, it serves as a kind of souvenir on The Last Resort: Greetings From's track list of the euphoria they felt when they were able to gather again.
"It was the realization of coming through what you've been through, taking perspective and realizing how fortunate we are to get to do this for a living," Wystrach sums up. "Nothing is guaranteed in this life. I think we kind of approached this entire project like that: Write and record like there is no tomorrow."