Written by: 
Jessica DeLeón

The band Midlake began practicing in Music Practice North Building room 137.

It has now performed all over the world, from Istanbul to the Sydney Opera House in Australia.

While the group has received global critical success, it's never left its roots in Denton. Its members are behind a number of popular Denton businesses, such as Paschall Bar, Barley and Board, and the Denton Music Workshop.

But since its formation in the late 1990s, its members -- McKenzie Smith, Eric Pulido, Scott Lee, Jesse Chandler, Eric Nichelson and Joey McClellan -- have experienced profound life changes. Those milestones are reflected in For the Sake of Bethel Woods, their first album since 2013. 

Founder McKenzie Smith, who attended UNT from 1997 to 2000, says, "Success is making great art we're proud of."

Made at UNT

Midlake was born almost as soon as Smith got to UNT.

The Houston native came from a musical family and knew he wanted to attend UNT when he saw the One O'Clock Lab Band perform at a high school event.

He met bass player Paul Alexander on the second day of college and hooked up with other members of the band through his dorm and other places.

"We all were in Denton at the same time," Smith says.

The band members jammed together while Smith performed with the One O'Clock Lab Band.

But Midlake soon became his main focus.

The band members lived together in the same house -- at 1910 W. Oak Street -- for seven years. Another Denton band, Lift to Experience, had been signed to a British record label, Bella Union. Their producer, Simon Raymonde, asked Lift's drummer Andy Young about other Denton-area bands -- and Young sent him Midlake's demos.

Raymonde was so impressed, he emailed them back: "I want to have Midlake's babies."

"That's when life started happening," Smith says.

Out into the world

Midlake's first album, Bamman and Slivercork, was released in 2004, and it didn't get much enthusiasm, but they began touring the United Kingdom after releasing their second album, 2006's The Trials of Van Occupanther. (The band recorded their first two albums at the Oak Street house.)

"We went from playing nowhere to selling out 2,000 seats in London," Smith says. "Our success was growing pretty fast and we were traveling the world all the time."

But they chose to stay in Denton instead of relocating to Austin or Brooklyn.

"There was no reason for us to move," Smith says.

For their third album, 2010's The Courage of Others, they toured Istanbul and Australia. Lead singer Tim Smith ('98) left the group, with Eric Pulido taking his place.

By 2013, they were back traveling the world, with stops in Iceland and the Sydney Opera House, in support of Antiphon, their fourth album.

But in 2014, they took a break. Members of the band were starting families and wanted to tackle other projects. Pulido recorded the 2018 album To Each His Own under the name E.B. the Younger, and shot the video for the single Used to Be at Lovelace Stadium.

Midlake has had a big impact on Denton. Its members started Paschall Bar downtown on the square, helped found the restaurant Barley and Board, and run Redwood Studio -- homebase for their production company, Redwood Music -- and Denton Music Workshop, a music studio offering lessons, recording and audio production and rehearsal space for the community.

Smith helped establish the restaurant 940's Kitchen & Cocktails and, although he is no longer affiliated with the business, he calls it "an interesting and cool chapter of life."  

"It's really exciting to come up with ideas and be a part of something," Smith says.

Back to the band

Some of the changes for the band were tough and personal, as their family members experienced health issues.

In 2019, Smith's son was born with semi-lobar holoprosencephaly, a rare brain condition. He describes him as "amazing and perfect."

But, he says, "It was certainly challenging. The experience ultimately helped me decide -- life's short, life's heavy -- let's get the band back together."

Around the same time, keyboardist/flautist Jesse Chandler lost his father. His dad had come to him in a dream, telling him to get the band back together.

"We already had these feelings with everyone in the band of, 'Oh, this could be a cool thing to do,'" Pulido says in a news release. "But the dream was a kind of beautiful depiction of a purpose to reconvene and make music together as friends."

The band recorded Bethel Woods in 2021 with producer John Congleton in Dallas. But in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, they've had to wait to tour and put out the album.

Fans are eager to hear their new works. Those fans include actor Jason Lee, who directed the 2015 documentary Midlake: Live in Denton, TX, and Apple Computer co-founder Steve Wozniak, who had dinner with the band before he spoke at UNT in 2014.

"It's very rewarding to play music and gain the respect of our fans -- we've acquired so many interesting and cool fans over the years," Smith says.