NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — On a recent Saturday night backstage at the 125-year-old Ryman Auditorium, the members of the new country trio Midland have stacks of their debut album, “On the Rocks,” spread out around their dressing room waiting for their signatures. They also have about six kinds of liquor on the makeup table, including a bottle of tequila and a bowl of limes and lemons.
Cameron Duddy, 31, Jess Carson, 38, and Mark Wystrach, 37, not only sound retro, but they look the part too: shaggy hair and moustaches, denim with sewn-on patches, bespoke Western wear and vintage T-shirts.
Suddenly, the evening’s headliners, Little Big Town, burst into the dressing room. The four-piece vocal group have come to congratulate Texas-based Midland on the success of their first single, “Drinkin’ Problem,” a George Strait-inspired song with a little “Urban Cowboy” flair. The song powered the trio to hit No. 1 on Billboard’s emerging artist chart, which ranks new artists.
The band originally formed in Dripping Springs.
Wystrach, Midland’s lead singer and former actor and model, isn’t having it. He shouts, “Hey! This is our time!” and wags a finger at the Grammy-winning vocal group. Little Big Town singer Karen Fairchild protests, “You’re hoarding all the drinks!”
Before the interview was interrupted, the trio talked to The Associated Press about their modern traditionalist country music and invoking the sound of the genre’s past for a new generation of fans. Answers have been edited for clarity and brevity.
AP: Is this the right time for a traditional country album?
Duddy: This couldn’t have come out two years ago. I remember sitting there watching the CMAs and Chris Stapleton winning that year and it really felt like there was a sea change going on. “Drinkin’ Problem” was written two years ago and we’ve been sitting on that song since then. It’s really been a lesson in patience.
Carson: When we cut “Drinkin’ Problem,” it was a lofty idea that it would be played on radio, let alone be a No. 1 song. Personally I didn’t even dream that big.
Wystrach: The fact that it did go No. 1 and as fast as it did is a great indicator that there is a thirst for modern traditional or neo-traditional or however they are calling our music.
AP: What were some of the earliest records you remember listening to?
Duddy: Of course the first songs I learned on guitar were Nirvana songs, you know. I owned the “Dookie” Green Day album.
Carson: I thought my dad’s taste in music was embarrassing when I was young. I grew up in a farmhouse with no TV and a piano. So we’d sing songs around the piano. My dad loved Dire Strait, Paul Simon and all this stuff that I listen to now.
Wystrach: My parents are much older. I was a 40-year-old mistake. I grew up with a lot of very old country. Hank Sr. Johnny Horton. Roger Miller. Elvis Presley. My dad’s side was much more about Stax — Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, Sam Cooke.
AP: What does the music of the ’70s and ’80s invoke in you?
Carson: It’s a very dense time period in songwriting. There was an incredible combination of art and pop.
Wystrach: There was more depth in the songwriting back in that time. People weren’t afraid to write about important things. Maybe things that are a little bit more taboo these days. Writing beautiful songs about dark places and dark things. We’re seeking to write something that’s not just disposable.
AP: Cameron was a director in Los Angeles and shooting music videos for Bruno Mars before Midland came together. Do you consider that two sides of your musical career?
Duddy: They are in the same family, but its different things. I find myself having a completely different mindset going into playing a show at the Ryman as I would prepping a Macy’s back to school commercial. I am pretty much retired from music videos, but I would love to do a feature one day.
Wystrach: As soon as he turns in the edit of our new music video.
AP: You’re going on tour with Little Big Town next year. What do you think you can learn from them?
Duddy: That we need a fourth person.
Carson: We have a lot to learn from them. They are probably the best to do that harmony thing in Nashville. Like literally I want them to sit down and break down some of their harmonies for us.
Wystrach: You hear that, Little Big Town? For free. No charges.