One night, Fred Fischer, drummer for Boise band Midline, was talking to the doorman at the Bouquet when a guy walked in and asked who was playing. Enthusiastically the doorman told him it was Midline. The guy rolled his eyes and said, "Jesus Christ! If a nuclear bomb ever hits Boise, the only things left will be cockroaches and Midline." Unfortunately, the members of Midline were starting to feel that way about themselves.
After 16 years and four albums, guitarist Scott Elliott and vocalist Anthony Fagiano thought they could see the beginning of the end. Their hearts were just no longer in it. They'd played the same songs a thousand times, were up to their eyeballs in debt and were on the verge of giving up the ghost. Then, something amazing happened. Fischer finished a song more than 25 years in the making.
In 1978, 7-year-old Fischer watched the plane his father was piloting go down in a thunderstorm. There were no survivors. At the age of 33 with a wife, two children and one on the way, Fischer finally put his feelings about that event into words and offered the tribute to his father to his bandmates. What resulted was not only a great song but their best album to date and the rebirth of Midline. Boise Weekly recently had an opportunity to sit down with the band. Fischer was running late and Elliott, Fagiano and Stymie (no last name given) took the opportunity to speak candidly about Wreckage.
BW: Why are there only 10 songs on the new album instead of the usual 12 or 14?
Fagiano: Every band does 12. We did 14 on the last record and thought, "That's a long record." I'd rather listen to a record and think, "I'm not going to fast-forward past this song." So, that's what our goal was. Back in the early '90s, nine or 10 songs was the norm. In the later '90s, if you didn't have 14 songs, you weren't doing the work. But four of those songs might suck. On the last album, there were some songs we never played live. We'll play all the songs on this album live every time we play.
How did you decide on the order of the songs?
Fagiano: We were tossing "Wreckage," "Watson" and "Every Day Is Rain" around, trying to decide where to put them.
Stymie: It was hard because they're all great songs, especially "Wreckage."
Fagiano: "Wreckage" is such a passionate, realistic song. You never hear your drummer come up to you and say, "For years I've been trying to write a song about my dad and here it is. Can you make a song out of it?"
Stymie: [Fischer] actually brought in transcripts of the tower communication.
Fagiano: I'm not being a wimp, but "Wreckage" is so emotional to me I could cry right now. Right before I was recording, my vocal coach was warming me up and Fred showed up to the studio and said, "I've never showed this to anybody." He had this little box and the papers inside were old and yellow and there were pictures of the crash and stories about how the tower was trying to talk [Fischer's father] down out of a really bad storm. Fred was sitting in the car with his mother at the airport waiting to pick his dad up. He saw the plane. Those articles are where the lyrics came from. I walked out of the room where we'd been talking and back into the studio and recorded that song on the first take. We captured the emotion right there.
Do you tell people the story behind "Wreckage?"
Elliott: I had a long talk with Fred about that because I was concerned. He's OK with it. The whole concept of the record is based around that song and, hands down, that song is the most real. There's no closure. Fred can remember his dad's face, but he can't remember his voice. He never got to say goodbye. It's not a happy ending.
Fagiano: And Fred was exactly the same age that his dad was when he died that he [Fischer] was when he wrote the song. If you look at pictures of them at the same age, you can't tell who's who.
Elliott: He wanted to write a song about it for years and it just never came to fruition. He finally sat down and wrote the lyrics and me and Stymie sat down and worked out the music and Anthony read the lyrics and it was just done.
Stymie: It actually came together really quick.
Fagiano: But, it was a high-pressure song.
Elliott: Just high-pressure in the sense that we didn't want to let Fred down and we didn't. The song really works. The first time we played it live, Fred got really emotional. We all did. It's a really emotional song for all of us.
Has Midline always been the four of you?
Elliott: No. Anthony and I have always been together, but we've had at least two drummers and three bass players.
Fagiano: It's funny, but Fred was in the band and then he was out and then he was back in again. We got in a fight. It was a rock and roll thing.
Fagiano: It's kind of confusing, but mainly it's always been the same thing, we just lost our focus for awhile.
Right about then, Fischer walked in. We told him we'd been talking about Wreckage and then we all sat back and let him tell his story again in his own words. For the next few hours we talked about the band's history, their good (and bad) experiences of being on a major label, some of the big names they've opened for, scary places they've stayed at and played at over the years, and where they plan to be in five years. Right now, they feel better about where they are musically than they ever have.
Last Tuesday Midline held a CD listening party and on Saturday, had a very well-attended CD release party (with Ripchain and Evologic opening for them) at the Big Easy.
They put Wreckage out on their own label, BYR Records, and the release date for Wreckage was no accident. They set it to come out on September 5 to coincide with Audioslave, Beyonce and Iron Maiden's new releases. "We want to kill it in the local market," Elliott said and according the Record Exchange's best sellers list for September 11, they did. They rank No. 1 above Bob Dylan, Audioslave and Iron Maiden.
With shows in L.A. scheduled for October, Elliott, Fagiano, Fischer and Stymie see this as not just another chapter in the story of Midline, but a whole new sequel. And unlike in the movies, if this album is any indication of what the future holds for Midline, the sequel will be even better than the original.
The following are more excerpts from the interview with Midline:
Fagiano: The thing was when we got into this project, I clearly remember the first song we wrote was "Chainsaw" and then "Watson." I wasn't exactly out of the game, but I was really discouraged.
Fischer: We were all in a bad place. Fagiano: I heard the songs and thought, "Fuck. Here we go again." I remember telling my wife, "Honey, I'm doing this."
Elliott: It was like an assembly line at that point. The songs were just rolling in. And we realized Midline still has a shot.
Fagiano: To be honest, we've been in the business 17 years. Yes, we have label interest. Yes, we have people we can call right now.
Elliott: Then you get into name dropping. For instance, my cousin just got a six-platinum record from **** for doing the drum line on the song ****.
BW: Get the hell out!
Fagiano: Seriously. The guy who owns the record company, ***, is waiting for a copy of the album, too.
So if you have all this interest and all these people you can talk to, why didn't you do this last year or two years ago?
Fagiano: We did and we got signed.
Elliott: We were in 98 Tower Records stores [across the country].
Fagiano: I was in L.A. with my dad. We went to Tower on Sunset. I said, "I'll bet you our record is in there." He said, "Really?" We walked in the door and boom, there we [Midline] were. We were everywhere. The problem is, if you don't sell [the CDs], you get those records back.
Elliott: Or, if you're not playing in those markets, no one hears you and they don't buy the records. It's great to be in a record store in New York, but if you don't tour there, what's the point?
Fagiano: We did a radio interview and they called the Tower Records in Times Square, NY to see if they really had our record.
Here the band talks about issues they faced and obstacles they had to overcome with their label. In the interest of legal matters, we'll leave it at that. Suffice it to say, Midline found themselves in a great deal of debt.
How do you think Wreckage will change the attitude of local people to Midline, whatever that may be?
Fagiano: I think the music will stand for itself.
What is the attitude around here?
Fagiano: I think people love us. I think musicians hate us.
Elliott: I think some people want us to fail because we've been around for so long.
Stymie: People are going to hear this album, though, and say, "Oh, shit."