It makes sense that Mild High Club’s opened for Mac Demarco. They both adhere to the same kind of kind of warm psychedelic soft rock that can induce equal parts relaxation and thoughtful contemplation. But Mild High Club’s Alex Brettin distinguishes his sound with a personalized homage to 60’s and 70’s surf rock, channeling the Beatle’s Sgt. Peppers through both dynamic instrumentation and, especially in his latest album Skiptracing, a vaguely eerie narrative arch.
As mellow as it is layered, Skiptracing boasts Brettin’s dynamic, creative musical and writing capabilities. It’s an album with a lot to listen to, reflecting care and deliberation but still a commitment to good (old-fashioned) vibes.
In anticipation of his show at The Middle East tomorrow night, Melisma got to ask Alex a few questions about his influences and the new album.
So I read that you studied jazz in Chicago. It’s such an excellent city for jazz, with the Green Mill, legacy of jazz and blues greats like Buddy Guy and Willie Dixon… I’d love to hear about your time there.
Before studying jazz at Columbia College, I had a wonderful musical upbringing in high school under the direction of Patrick Whalen and Marty Magnini, both genius musicians and educators. I was also fortunate to take lessons with some serious shredders ala David Rose, Paul Parts, and John Moulder. By college, I studied under Frank Dawson, Bill Boris, Peter Saxe and Peter Lerner among others. All amazing people and educators.
Are/were you more into contemporary Jazz out of Chicago?
Not so much. I really just wanted to understand the harmonies & I’m still trying!
How does that training influence your music now or your next steps after graduating?
My listening comprehension has evolved and continues to reveal deeper meanings and pathways for me to explore in my compositions.
So then you went to LA, which it sounds like is where “Mild High Club” began to take shape. What made you form this specific project?
Mild High Club began in Chicago shortly after returning from a trip of musical vagabondage with Run dmt. It formed because I wanted full control of the process from beginning to end without interference.
Drawing off your background in Chicago jazz but move to LA, how to you see those environments influence your music?
I think LA influenced a cinematic, nostalgic area of my mind. I ‘m enamored by the history and charm of show business and its darkness.
You said in an interview that “the difference between Timeline and Skiptracing is detail,” and I think that Skiptracing sounds more thoughtfully arranged as an album. You describe the storyline as a detective story, which I wouldn’t have necessarily guessed. Do you think that’s a result of time and experience writing music, outside influences, or did you approach the albums differently?
It’s a culmination of everything art I cared about in the period I wrote it. I turned the mirror on myself to question my own place in LA, as a songwriter in 2016.
Specifically, I’m interested in your songwriting process and/vs. making albums. Like, for Skiptracing it sounds like you crafted each song with this arch, or storyline, in mind so that it works really well as a coherent album, rather than individual songs.
Both were conceptual; the timeline hitting on internet connectivity and love/ romance in the digital age. Skiptracing was a little more self-aware to the point I was writing about writing, painting the text with the appropriate colors etc.. Skiptracing is meant for a full spin.
So kind of a similar theme: Skiptracing sounds like it was made for vinyl; it makes me wish I had a turntable so I could get it on vinyl, put it on and listen to the lo-fi, sometimes almost lethargic crunch, and pay attention to it start to finish to kind of tune into the lyrics more and make that connection. Is there an ideal way you would hope people listen to Skiptracing?
It was intended for vinyl, and that master is different than the digital version. Ideally, listening with the LP sleeve in hand, in a nice stereo field on a turntable. maybe with a computer handy to look into certain terms, ideas etc.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the impact of music platforms like iTunes and Spotify (or online listening, generally) on the way people broadly listen to music. Since we can hop around, listen to a song here or there, I think that a lot of my peers (myself included) can miss out on all that comes with listening to albums in their entirety.
I write shorter songs for the shorter attention spans people seem to have today with all the distractions. I’m guilty myself of entering the black mirror of my phone.
What are your thoughts on this? Do you think its true, or that younger generations are less incentivized to listen to albums and therefore can miss out on really getting to appreciate an artists efforts?
Doesn’t concern me much. As long as it can be listened to, they can take it how they want. I prefer it as a 30 minute sonic bath!
Does this in any way influence your own songwriting and album composition?
Yes- I just want to feel I’ve made a work of art worthy enough to some day sit on the same shelf as the Nightfly, Skylarking, What’s Goin On, Sgt. Peppers.
If you could collaborate with any artist(s) or group(s), dead or alive, who would it be?
What’s been your favorite set so far, this tour or another? Why?
San Francisco- sold out and we played our asses off!
Best albums for listening to when you’re:
Never thought of it.. maybe Dusk at Cubist Castle
- Really caffeinated
Dan Deacon, Spiderman of the Rings
- To get drunk
White Fang, Chunks
- To get sober
Donald Fagen, Nightfly
Metallica, St. anger
- Feel sad and want to change that
Lol…Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band
- Feel sad and want to stay that way
Joy Division, Closer
Weirdest place you ever fell asleep:
At a waterpark in the middle of the day on a handicap ramp.
Eric Andre Show or Between Two Ferns
Between Two Ferns…
If you’re down with The Eric Andre Show: you have to be one of his characters for a day-which one would you be?
The fluffer for Eric Andre.