Bob Dylan’s The Band has been an influence on Midlake’s Eric Pulido for years, because that band allowed each musician to have an individual voice. Each took turns leading songs in a round-robin manner, with the others supporting. All the musicians were friends outside of The Band, and had played with each other.
For this reason, both Pulido and his friend Fran Healy, frontman of Glasgow pop band Travis, pushed back on the idea that BNQT, their collaboration with Franz Ferdinand’s Alex Kapranos, Band of Horses’ Ben Bridwell and Grandaddy’s Jason Lytle, is a “collective.” They define the term as a band that grows roots after starting to play together.
“I think the closest thing [to BNQT], maybe, is, have you watched (1976 Martin Scorsese film) The Last Waltz?” Healy said.
The film was recorded at Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco and was billed as The Band’s final performance.
“It’s an amazing movie because [it incorporated] artists from all these different places,” Healy continued. “You have Muddy Waters playing beside Paul Butterfield, playing beside Joni Mitchell, playing beside Dylan, playing beside Neil Diamond, even.”
BNQT (pronounced Banquet) is also a collaboration of friends, including three of Pulido’s Midlake bandmates. The band came together in 2015 and two years later is releasing an LP of 10 original songs—two written by each frontman—that pay homage to ‘70s AM radio sunshine by the likes of Abba, Elton John and Fleetwood Mac.
The week before BNQT released Volume 1, we hopped on a conference call with Pulido (who was enjoying a day of sunshine in his hometown of Denton, Texas) and Healy (who was in Berlin at the time) to chat about Volume 1, whether the friends and bandmates would be touring their songs, and the future of the band.
RIFF: BNQT came together two years ago, in 2015. Why did it take so long to get to Volume 1?
Eric Pulido: That’s a good question. I think that’s a two-parter. [Part] one is obviously just logistically, with everybody’s schedules and own respective bands and families, it’s kind of a hard thing to knock out all in one fell swoop. Secondly, we’ve been done for a little bit but with schedules of record labels, you sometimes have to wait until their calendar makes more sense.
What are each of the members getting out of this?
Pulido: Honestly, I think it sounds cliché, but for us, it was just fun. I think, sometimes you forget that we’re all just music fans that just love making music and dancing to music and singing to music. I think it was just a return to the unabashed love for making music with folks that you really admire and respect and love, musically and personally. Of course, it’s an experiment. You don’t know if it’s going to work, but I [am] 100-percent … excited for more stuff together, that it was just a success and what we wanted: to enjoy it and create some musical babies, as I call it, together with folks that I admire. I think that was a big turn-on for us.
Each of you wrote two songs for the project. Where did they come from; how did a song like “Restart” come together?
Pulido: I think it was maybe kind of in the middle of the process somewhere. … I kind of wondered, “Were these songs that didn’t work out for their respective bands? Was it a solo project? Was it, as any songwriter [has] … blurbs of ideas in your back pocket?” With this one, it wasn’t a Midlake thing. I’m always kind of getting vocal notes on a phone or maybe at the studio. Song starts, of sorts, where you just have a little idea. [“Restart”] was always was kind of a shuffle, and I kind of liked that T-Rexy, grooving kind of vibe. It was trying to do something a little bit more of that era. Almost had that toe-tapper kind of thing; a dance beat. … We wanted something that kind of grooved. For this project, because there really wasn’t a rulebook, songs—even though they were going to inherently take on a production that might be familiar to all of us— could be a lot of different things. I never was thinking of the pressure that, “It’s got to be Midlake, or it’s got to be Travis, or it’s got to be Grandaddy or whatever.” We tried as much as possible to just say, “It’s just got to feel good and everybody [has] to dig it and like it.”
Will you do a tour to support the record? And if you do, will all of you make all of the shows?
Fran Healy: It’s quite hard because everyone’s got their own band, but we’re trying.
Pulido: Yeah. Where there’s a will, we’ll make it work. We’re working on some stuff later in the year. But once some schedules free up, we’ll be able to plan. It’s kind of like the double-edged sword of everybody being active. It’s great that everybody’s active because we can cross-promote each other and be like, “They’ve got a record and they’ve got a tour.” But it’s logistically hard because everybody’s got families as well. You have your bands. This thing will never be something that we run into the ground, and we’re just doing this year-round thing. We want to make it special as well, so when we do something, it’s gonna be very special and specific, and probably not something trudging of continually doing it.
Because it’s the opposite of what you’ve been doing for so many years.
Pulido: Exactly. With a band … you have certain needs that a label or just the machine will tell you you have to do for a promotion. With this, we kind of threw the rulebook out the window and just said, “We’re gonna make a record together and have fun and we’ll figure out the rest later.” If we can do some stuff together, we will. And if we can’t, we won’t. But we don’t have to go, “OK, we have to hit this market and we have to hit that market and we have to go do radio.” We can just do whatever we want to do.
Healy: One of the things that we picked up when we did the South by Southwest show was that it will be great when all four people do one show together, but it really works with, even, like, two of the other guys [to] get the beat of the band. It’s killer. Because we were missing Alex and Ben, but it was fine. It came off. It was really, really cool. I don’t think we need everyone, and I think each combination of the singers will create a different show. There’s so many possibilities [but] I definitely would love to do everyone all together.
Are you looking at a Volume 2? If you are, would it be the exact same people or would you want a different cast? Maybe instead of frontmen, you’d get all bassists this time around.
Pulido: I didn’t think about the all-bassist thing, but that’s actually a fun, Derek Smalls [from This is Spinal Tap]-type of collaboration. Big Bottoms. So, to answer your question, yes, the idea was always to have a different BNQT every time, hence the word—folks coming together and breaking bread. Not to say that you couldn’t invite another member back, but my idea really was for … if any one of the people that have ever been a part of one of these volumes of BNQT and were available and willing, we would play with those folks and it would kind of become easier as subsequent volumes came out. If you have 15 different folks that have done BNQT volumes that were doing the show, we kinda throw out a line out there. “Would you want to partake in this?” Maybe we do a cool show for charity or maybe we go do a festival run or whatever, but the short answer is “yes.” It always was designed to have new contributors in subsequent volumes.
That’s not to say that I wouldn’t want to continue to do stuff with these guys. Because it did go so well and it was so fun—
Healy: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah, yeah. Yadda yadda. Chuck me in the bin like a piece of rubbish, Eric!
Luckily, you all have pretty steady day jobs in case you get fired, right, Fran?