Midland: The Sonic Ranch traces the origins of the country trio
Nothing about Midland has been by the books, so why not release the never-before-seen footage and original recordings that transformed three friends into one of country music’s most dynamic trios? Midland: The Sonic Ranch documentary film and accompanying album tells the origin story of the band, five years prior to landing on country radio with 2017’s platinum-certified and double GRAMMY-nominated “Drinkin’ Problem.” Watch and listen as they forge their trademark Midland sound that is equal parts Texas beer joint, Bakersfield-to-Laurel Canyon California country, post-Urban Cowboy and slightly Faron Young.
When lead singer/guitarist Mark Wystrach reconnected with band leader/guitarslinger Jess Carson at a mutual friend’s wedding, there was something compatible about their influences and intriguing about the way their voices sounded together. Hoping to create a retro-leaning hybrid during the bro country chart domination, they made a pact to go to Texas’ iconic Sonic Ranch and record some songs to see if what they thought was so special could be captured on tape. Cameron Duddy, the groom and a world-class music video director, ultimately came along to shoot his friends’ experiment, but was so drawn into the music, he became the third voice and bass player in the post-modern traditionalists.
“We weren’t 100% when we walked in the door,” remembers Duddy, “beyond Mark and Jess were going to record these songs and see what this sound really was. By the time we walked out, all three of us knew this was a sound that didn’t exist, and it was a kind of country music we really loved.”
Before they were three, the two songwriters and gypsy musicians had written some, compared influences, let go of preconceived notions and decided to make the music they really wanted. To see a sound and a group crystalize is impossible; by the time most artists are signed, the genesis was years prior.
“The idea Cam wanted to come along for the ride was really fortuitous,” Wystrach says now. “He has such a strong eye for story and shots, so he almost can’t help himself. When we went back to just look at how we started, we couldn’t believe what was on film. Suddenly, there was all this footage of how groups are born, sounds come into being and honestly, all the stuff that goes into growing a band.”
Named for a loping Dwight Yoakam song, the trio, extensively profiled in Esquire, The Washington Post Sunday Magazine, Vogue, and Rolling Stone, decided to use their origin footage as an anchor for a documentary and soundtrack that would not only show their baby steps, but also measure their rise to a group capable of selling out the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo, pack Billy Bob’s for multiple nights and re-open North Hollywood’s storied Palomino Club.
“We were always about the music,” explains Carson, “and the way real people could create something different. We’re all vintage people, whether old concert t-shirts or rhinestone suits, and recognizing what’s beautiful in the past set us up for this sound that we found out we had, a sound that borrowed from Gary Stewart and Mickey Gilley, Merle Haggard, Dwight, Buck Owens. Once we knew that, we wanted to chase it across the skyline. Now people can see our journey.”
“Midland was not so much a band as an experiment fueled by an assortment of spirits, but mostly tequila and the possibilities painted in our imaginations. We had no record label or manager and we had never played a show together. These recordings capture three friends, at a live-in studio in the desert, trying to make a dream come true,” adds Wystrach.
The Austin American Statesman has praised the trio for “reaching high above honky tonk bounds” and The New York Times cited “their retro country elegance.” Now hardcore fans, the curious and the ones who love old school country music can understand how Midland’s top shelf blend of cheating, drinking, running and seduction songs came into being.
CMT will premiere Midland: The Sonic Ranch documentary, directed by Duddy and Riverside Entertainment’s Brian Loschiavo on March 19th across ViacomCBS platforms including CMT Music, MTV Live, PlutoTV’s ‘CMT Equal Play’ channel, with a global premiere on CMT Australia. With their unabashed, let it all hang out ethos, Carson, Duddy and Wystrach decided to also release the songs they recorded at their initial sessions as an accompanying soundtrack, fittingly called Midland: The Sonic Ranch. So not only can lovers of their harmony-grounded sound see behind the scenes in the studio, on breaks, working out parts, getting lost and hitting massive career highs, they can enjoy the music that inspired an adventure that’s taken the trio beyond their wildest dreams.
Midland has grown from bar band to an in-demand headliner spending the past four years on the road selling out headline tours from coast to coast as well as getting to support some of country music’s biggest stars like George Strait, Garth Brooks, Tim McGraw and Little Big Town. The band will next embark on their Back To The Minors Tour later this month playing outdoor shows across Texas at baseball stadiums as well as three exclusive nights at Fort Worth’s legendary honky tonk Billy Bob’s that will also be livestreamed to fans that can’t attend in person.
1. Fourteen Gears (Adobe House Version)
2. Cowgirl Blues
3. Worn Out Boots
4. Champagne For The Pain
5. Will This Life Be As Grand
6. Fool’s Luck
8. She’s A Cowgirl
9. Runnin’ Wild
10. Texas Is The Last Stop
11. Cowgirl Blues (Jess Carson Vocal)
12. This Town