Silkworm singer Tim Midyett still mining the ether for inspiration in gentler new band
On “Disappearing Music,” which closes out Heartroller, the third and most recent EP from Chicago's Mint Mile, singer Tim Midyett lingers on the concept of impermanence. Rather than coming across as depressed or defeated, however, the musician sounds at peace with the realization that nothing lasts forever, be it art, relationships or even his own existence, going on to express a simple desire to wring everything he can from life before the music cuts off once and for all.
“We can be in this room all night,” sings Midyett, best known for his stint fronting influential indie-rock band Silkworm beginning in the late '90s. “Don't turn around, till the music disappears and I can go.”
Fittingly, the tune ends with a two-plus-minute instrumental coda, mirroring the musician's desire to prolong those final notes as long as possible.
“There's some music I like that's escapist … but most of the music I like explores the human condition in some way, and what makes us human is the fact we're going to die,” said Midyett, who brings Mint Mile to Dirty Dungarees for a concert on Friday, June 29. “That's been in there since I started making music. I remember in Silkworm, in the very old days, when you would still call women ‘chicks,' which is not something I do anymore, but we used to say our songs were all about chicks and death.
“Now the music is still about some kind of relationship, but to the world, and that necessarily involves the fact that what's around you, what's in your environment, is going to be around a lot longer than you are.”
It makes sense Midyett would continue to be drawn to writing about mortality. Silkworm ended prematurely and tragically when drummer Michael Dahlquist was killed in a 2005 car crash (the driver of the other vehicle, who survived, rammed Dahlquist from behind in an attempted suicide). In interviews, Midyett has said his subsequent band, Bottomless Pit, functioned in part as an outlet for writing about the loss. “Obviously the music is shot through with all of that stuff,” he told Indianapolis alt-weekly Nuvo in 2013.
Over the course of three home-recorded Mint Mile EPs, Midyett has continued to explore similar themes, though he's taken a gentler, more musically graceful approach, bathing songs in sighing pedal steel, crisp acoustic guitar and conversational, even-keeled vocals — a far cry from Silkworm's comparatively aggressive, slash-and-burn approach. (“We were so loud and in your face,” Midyett said of his former band.)
“[Mint Mile bandmate] Justin [Brown] plays a lot of beautiful stuff on steel, and the sound of my guitar is pretty open and clean, for the most part, so it creates this fairly spacious, pillow-y thing that I really like,” said Midyett. “Toward the end of Bottomless Pit, I started writing songs I felt like we weren't going to be able to play. … I was like, ‘God, I'm going to have to do something else to make this sound happen.' The sound and sensibility all came at once, and then we've refined it over these few EPs. And now there's a band. There wasn't really a band on the first EP.”
Recording at home in the north end Chicago neighborhood Budlong Woods afforded Midyett and Co. ample time and space to let songs, and in turn the band, take shape gradually — though the singer did express a fondness for the higher-stakes studio environment.
“There's a weird, nervous energy to [Silkworm album Libertine] that wasn't necessarily in the band all the time, and I think that's because we were totally under the gun. We were in a studio in Minnesota, and we got there late and we had less than four days to record and mix a pretty long album with a bunch of different recording setups, so there's this energy to it that comes from being under pressure,” said Midyett, who recently returned to the studio with Mint Mile, recording the band's forthcoming full-length debut at Steve Albini's Electrical Audio in Chicago. “But [with home recording] you can be lazy. You can be sloppy. You can experiment. You don't have to play the part all the time. There are definitely a lot of happy accidents that happen when we're just jamming, and being able to capture some of that is fun.”
Growing up, Midyett said he was drawn to create music out of a desire to “capture something that is in the ether,” and little of this motivation has changed in the years since.
“It comes down to just trying to capture something in a recording or in a song, something that you've seen or thought or felt, or that someone else has thought or felt, and then reproducing it so it can be experienced and felt by other people,” Midyett said. “It's a terminal condition, so it always seems weird to me when people talk about retiring. What are you talking about? You're not working at a factory. This is just sort of transmitting. You pick up stuff with your antenna and you … transmit it, and that's it. You're a conduit for something, and as long as the path isn't broken and you haven't corrupted it in some way, you have to keep going.”