A chat with Hugh Middleton from Mid Ayr
Former The Trouble With Templeton guitarist Hugh Middleton is making waves as the front man of his new band Mid Ayr (completed by Alex Le’strange on bass/production and Zac Moynihan on drums). Last week we featured their latest single Vampires and the trio will be launching their EP this Friday 24th June at Black Bear Lodge (tickets available here). I recently had a chat with Hugh about songwriting inspiration, the vibrant music scene in Brissie, and puppet sets mirroring life…
Tim: Let’s start with the genesis of Mid Ayr. Had you always envisioned starting your own project? And how did it all come together?
Hugh: Yeah pretty much. Before The Trouble With Templeton I was in a few other bands as well and I’ve been writing songs since I was about 14. I guess I’ve always had it in mind that I would have my own project one day. The goal was always to have a full band sound as well and Zac and Alex sort of fell into place after that. I’ve known Zac for awhile. We were jamming while I was at Templeton, and Alex came about through Zac.
Tim: How would you define Mid Ayr stylistically? What are your major musical influences?
Hugh: Artists that are quite raw and honest with their lyrical content are a big motivator for me. Bands like Bright Eyes, Elliot Smith, Death Cab for Cutie, Radiohead. They’re the bands that I grew up listening to. Of course, there’s a whole bunch of stuff that influences you, but that’s the direction that started us off really.
Tim: I can definitely hear the raw lyrical content in a song like Vampires. This might seem a slightly left-field question but I was living in London at the start of the year, and the song really reminded me of my time there, even with lyrics like ‘take the underground to avoid the sun’. Did you have a place in mind as you were writing the song?
Hugh: That’s cool (laughing). I can definitely see how you got that from that lyric. With Templeton we did a few tours through London. It wasn’t necessarily planned to have that association with London but I think it perfectly captures the message of the song.
Tim: Thematically its also quite political as well, with lyrics like ‘such a long day of slashing welfare and watching children drown’. And yet its sung over these floating, almost ethereal guitars. Is the juxtaposition intentional? What comes first in the songwriting process for you, the lyrics or the music?
Hugh: I think the music always comes first for me. Usually when I’m writing something I’ll sing some dummy lyrics and more often than not it’ll lend itself to what the song is going to be about. I guess during that time I was also really pissed off with – and London being a really good example of it – this really galling inequality. With that issue of inequality, people become so desensitized and and there’s a sense of having no control.
I think that’s also why melody is so important for me. I want to make sure melodies are strong and then people have more of a tendency to come back to it. And it’s a really good vessel for lyrics, for people to take in what you’re saying after awhile. That’s the most important thing, I think.
Tim: The other single off the EP is Letting You In, which is accompanied by a quite brilliant music video involving puppets. Can you tell us about how that came about?
Hugh: Oh thanks! Well for a long time I’ve been friends with the guy (Luke Constable) who actually directed the clip. He’s an incredible director. We came up with this idea of using puppets because if we did that story line using people, it would be really, deeply disturbing. With puppets you can get away with it almost in a comical kind of way. He also put an incredible amount of detail into it – so much so that the puppet set actually ended up mirroring where I was living at the time: the bedroom, the kitchen, everything looked exactly like my old place. So weird.
Tim: That must’ve been surreal, especially as it seems to be such a personal song as well, in dealing with a breakup?
Hugh: Yeah, it’s quite upfront and raw, and I think with the film clip it was the same idea: to make it as upfront and raw as possible. It can be pretty full on though, so with the video we tried to make fun of it almost – make it way over the top.
Tim: You also won a Triple J Unearthed competition to have the music video for Vampires shot in collaboration with actors from the National Institute of Dramatic Art. What plans do you have in store for them?
Hugh: Yeah we were thinking about dressing them up as actual vampires, wearing capes and everything. Haha no. There’s a whole idea for that which is really cool. I can’t really say much about it until its shot but I’m really excited about it. It’ll be amazing working with NIDA: having these legit, really talented actors being a part of a film clip for your own song. Its just really awesome.
Tim: And in the meantime you’ve got a live show coming up at Black Bear for your EP launch this Friday. How’re you feeling ahead of the gig?
Hugh: Oh it’s going to be so good. The lineup for the night is really awesome. It’s opening with Daggy Man, which is Tom ‘s (former The Trouble With Templeton lead) solo project, which is kind of funny, but also incredible. He is a prodigy, and then its These Guy, who I’m a huge fan of. They’ve just released their own album. And then there’s us..
Tim: That’s also along the lines of what I wanted to talk about, because the Brisbane music scene seems to be in really good health at the moment. What’s your current assessment of it?
Hugh: Seriously its amazing. I constantly talk to my friends about this. It must be rare, but literally all my best friends in Brisbane are these amazing musicians and songwriters. It goes for everyone from Ball Park Music to the bassist in my band Alex Le’strange, who’s also produced all our stuff – Tom also, from Templeton, he’s from Brisbane – and its just like everyone, incredible. I grew up in Brisbane, so I don’t really know how different it could be, but it’s just such a nice little hub here.
Tim: I mean for me its also almost as though there’s a unique Brisbane sound as well…
Hugh: Yeah I think we all bounce off each other as well, because we’re all really good friends here; I think maybe that has something to do with it. We’re all edging each other on, and we’re super supportive of each other. We’re lucky. I never would’ve thought Brisbane as being a creative place but for some reason there’s just sprouted a generation of really awesome artists here.