“I just started driving the car, you’re on speaker phone with the whole band,” Alex says after we say our introductions. “We are an hour or something from the border, got an early start, you know, just cruising. We’re driving to Vancouver, playing with our Australian friends King Gizzard and the Wizard Lizard.”
Alex Brettin is The Mild High Club, a subliminally sleepy, internet conscious, soft rock solo project. With his first album, Timeline to drop on September 18th with Stones Throw Records, The Mild High Club has just embarked on their commencement tour, 6 weeks of playing every night across the US and then dipping into Eastern Europe at the end. Timeline is drifty with the same feeling of Gandalf’s soft confusion, Alex Calder’s slow synths, Os Mutantes’ strange vocals and the 13th floor Elevators’ beats. The album references motifs of the tumultuous relationship we share with technology and the ambivalent disconnect of growing up in the 21st century.
So, who’s in the car with you right now?
Sitting in the co-pilot’s seat is Alyson. Alyson plays the piano for us. And in the back seat is Max and he plays bass and Matt plays drums and Burt plays guitar. This is the mild high club as we’ve been for about a year. There are other people who come in and out but this is like the core crew of clubbers.
I hear you drive a 2004 Honda Odyssey
Yes. We have a silver odyssey, we call it the silver bullet.
Your tour started recently, right? Within the last two weeks?
Yeah, we started on the 25th of August in San Diego and we’ve been traveling with King Gizzard for a few days. It’s been going really, really well.
The tour started a few days ago, but you guys were all playing shows together before that in LA?
Yeah, we had a bit of a run before our tour. We had a few days in LA where we played a couple festivals. But we really play LA on the regular.
So did you know the guys in King Gizzard before heading out on tour with them?
We did not. We worked with this agency called Panache and our agent hit me up about them months ago and sent me some music. Around the time that we started working at Panache our agent Josh sent me some of their stuff when we were talking about the tour and setting it up as a real coherent thing. Now we’re homies.
There’s like 7 of them right?
Yeah, there are 7 in the band but they roll with a crew of like 12 people. It’s pretty intense. A real caravan.
So are you guys like driving together, stopping for food, hanging out?
It’s a lot harder for them to get ready, so….. (pause) Sorry, I’m going the wrong way on the highway. I’m gonna turn around. One second. Uh, yeah, so they have a big crew and they’re pretty cool. We don’t travel together, but we meet up and we party… Kind of. Not too hard yet. We’re saving that for the middle of nowhere. So like, Missoula, Montana, that’s where we’re gonna get rowdy.
How much do you like David Peel? Was the album cover a tribute to his tunes or mostly just the counter-culture message?
It was kinda this thing that happened to me. I have one uncle who is a record collector and former, well he’s still kind of a player, in the 60s and 70s. And he’s still really awesome, my uncle Bob. So when I moved to LA to pursue this recording contract, he gave me the David Peel record ‘Have a Marijuana’. It really meant a lot to me because he gave me my bass, the bass that he had when he was my age. And he’s been the one person in my family who, besides my pops, he’s the one who I’ve always been able to count on for awesome music and beer drinking and stuff. Yeah, I guess I did it partially as a nod to him and partially, you know, to David Peel, I like that album a lot, I’m not crazy about it, but I think David Peel is pretty funny. I like pot jokes. To make the Mild High Club record, the first one a kind of a token to my uncle bob. It’s kind of silly, but you know. It’s more for me and my uncle than anything else. I haven’t heard from David Peel yet, so, I don’t think they’re mad at me for ripping their art off.
That’s such a sweet story, most assuredly not what I was expecting. What sort of stuff are you listening to these days?
Well, pretty much always Steely Dan, Super Tramp, KPM library music. We listen to jazz in the car too, Donald Fegan too. Let’s see what CDs do we have in here, we listen to Spearhead. Sometimes we listen to Chicago House Music. We really just kind of vary it up, usually the criteria is that it’s funky in a way or the lyrics are really interesting emotive, or like clever. I’m always looking for clever music, that’s what we are shooting for. Sometimes we listen to Iggy pop too, sometimes we listen to country, like the Flying Burrito Brothers. It’s really just a matter of like, the wit behind the song. We like The Beatles.
When you’re saying ‘we’, you’re talking about everyone in the car?
Yeah, pretty much. We all have our own taste. But that’s really the stuff I like. But we’re pretty open. We like this compilation, Alyson, what’s it called?
Alyson: Luke Viber’s Nugget 3
We listen to that all the time. It’s a compilation of music that was not intended for the public, but meant for selling you television shows in the 70s. It’s these pretty insane musicians making awesome music, [music that] at the time was supposed to be in the background. But it’s really just phenomenal synth and really cool, groovy shit. It’s really cool stuff. Cosmopolitan, like sophisticated sleaziness.
What other sorts of artists fueled your inspiration while making the album?
In terms of contemporary, we have a ton of friends that are insanely awesome artists and musicians. They’re all pretty inspiring to us. Mike Collins, he’s been very important to what we do. Ariel Pink, he’s been a mentor and a really important collaborator and friend. Fucking, I don’t know. There’s so many people.
A lot of the inspiration for the music and my ideas came from George Harrison. I’m not trying to sound like anything other than the things that really move me in music, and with George Harrison there are so many things that inspire me about him, I mean that’s where I got the idea for the 12 string guitar. A lot of inspiration came from his solo albums, Dark Horse and all that shit was a really big inspiration to me.
Any books that have inspired you, or stuck with you?
A book that really stuck for me called Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolano, it’s about poets and traveling and generally making your own agenda. It’s about viscerealism. It’s the word he came up with for it. Like a combination of the words visceral and realism. It’s those kind of concepts that make me question what I’m doing, and pushing my envelope as far as I want. There’s this other book called Cosmic Trigger that didn’t inspire me in the same way, but those are a couple books recently that inspired.
Tell me about the album artwork, who made it and how did it get to be the spilled bottle? Is there significance to it or just a cool image?
The work was done by this dude Clay Hickson. He’s a Chicago based artist from Ohio. The way that I found out about Clay’s art is pretty weird, so my old roommate used to work for an art supply store in Hollywood and he would bring home Juxtapoz every once and a while and I would just flip through em’ and uh, I kind of wrote Juxtapose off for years, because it seemed like it kind of shifted since I was in high school. For some reason I was flipping through it and I saw this incredible airbrushed piece that Clay Hickson had done. It was this portrait of bongs and wine glasses and cheese, like all these things in airbrush form. So I just hit him up and was like, hey, here’s the record, I really think that we can make something together. Clay liked the record and he sent me some artwork and we just did it up. And it turned out that the artwork is probably better than the fucking album. I’m so fortunate to have an established artist do a painting for the cover for me.
That’s such an awesome collaboration.
Yeah, definitely. And I totally plan on working with him again for my next record and keeping that alive because he’s really got a great vision.
Clay Hickson did a lot of the design for The Editorial magazine, right?
He did. And I found that out after because my friend Joe McMurray (of Mac Demarco and Walter TV) did an article on me in The Editorial. I didn’t really know about it and then we saw that Clay was doing all the art and I was like, this is too perfect. Yeah, I had no idea that he was one of the main artists for The Editorial, so that was really cool.
It’s a pretty small magazine. I mean, that connection seems so serendipitous and meant to be.
That’s how my life is. I’ll tell you right now, it’s a serendipitous trip. And it happens every day to me, I have like crazy, crazy luck.
What was the recording process like, do you solo record or is it live?
The recording process for the album ‘Timeline’ was about two and a half years. My friend gave me this four-track cassette recorder in 2012. I asked my friend if he had any tape recorders and he had all these gears and stuff. He gave me this little four-track and I started recording in my room and I recorded a lot of ‘Timeline’ on there. The first song that I recorded was Timeline, 2 AM I woke up and just started doing it and since then I’ve just kept getting deeper into recording technology. So I started using my computer, started using software and basically kept coming up with different little songs and putting em’ down. So I did most of it by myself and as I got further along I started to get a little bit of momentum and showed it to my friends. But I kept it really close for like two years. And I started having other friends play on the record. It’s mainly myself on this first record, Matt did the drums, Max did the shaker, Andrew does the conducting. It was a really long process, and I initially didn’t create this music for anyone but myself, and I still kind of feel that way about it.
But my goal in the beginning was to just have an LP record that I could open up and put on my record player and have forever. I wasn’t expecting to get signed to a prestigious indie label and make like three records for them and do all this crazy shit. It just kind of happened and fell into place, and turned out to be one of the best moves in my life.
But some of the best music is personal music, which is why I think people will like Timeline so much. Music that you can connect with is something often made by people who are connecting with themselves alone.
Right. Totally. I mean, I hope so. I hope people see it as sort of a portrait. A lot of the lyrical content I hope can speak to people, and spark their curiosity. The songs are so personal sometimes to me that there are a couple on there that are actually about writing songs, about the process. I don’t know if that’s meta, a song within a song. But that was one of the motifs, looking in the mirror as a songwriter and wondering what you’re experiencing. But other motifs that people can hang on to other than writing songs are like making a painting or identifying yourself as an artist or identifying yourself as someone who has their own voice. There’s also themes on the internet and the world of the in between. I mean Timeline refers to the Facebook timeline and a lot of the songs have to deal with the idea that we have so much screen time and the ability to connect continuously. The art of the pick up, like this confrontation is a little bit lost as of recent, simply because people are all just sticking their faces in their phones and creating these avatars and doppelgängers of their true self. You can’t really ever represent yourself honestly on the internet.
You’re totally right. I mean, it’s this weird joke façade, a curated persona that’s never actually going to be you, you can just make it seem like it is. Why would you need to be anyone different than who you are and what is this devil that has come along and made us into these different human beings. So weird.
Yeah, it is very weird. It just puts another thing between us. The interface, the pure human interface is lost between a computer and another computer. It becomes all befuddled. Then there’s the whole thing about interpreting people’s tone of voice through their texts. Those are all things that have been part of my life and I figured I could write about them. A lot of people feel that same shit. The song The Chat is all about that too. Basically that’s what the albums about, internet, internet love, self love, songwriting.
Windowpane is about being a fool…. (Laughs come from the van) Windowpane is about having cyclical LSD induced thoughts and thinking that you’re breaking through every hour, as if you have this great idea, but it totally means nothing.
Don’t get me wrong I definitely think LSD is tight as hell.
Hearing you talk about the feelings you had when you were writing is so nice, it’s an extension of you, maybe even an autobiography, and people will definitely connect with personal nature of Timeline. This isn’t an album you just listen to for the sake of listening as background, it’s a story.
It is personal but also I tried to keep it open ended and there are some lyrics that I couldn’t specifically name what I was talking about but I would leave it open. Like there is a little bit of room for the listener to choose what the song is about. Ultimately, once it’s out of your hands you can’t expect everybody to get you. I needed to have in the back of my mind, I wanted to make this a little open ended so that people question. That’s part of my goal, to introduce people to questioning what’s going on; with their lives, with the music, why they’re listening to it. I just would rather not be the background. It’s the kind of record I picture people listening to at home with head phones on in their bed. Because, that’s how I listen to it, in my bedroom with my headphones in late at night and that’s where the energy came from, late nights.
Do you get ideas from dreams?
I’ve never had a song come to me in dream. But it’s usually something where a melody starts playing in my head or like a lyric will pop up and I need to write it down. I’ve never had music come to me in dream, as romantic as that sounds. Usually my dreams aren’t musical; I guess it’s good to be inspired in a different way. [Though], I have woken up and gone straight to the computer and started recording.
So maybe then it’s just something that’s subconscious, like you did have the music in your dream but you don’t remember.
Totally. I’m down with that. I mean, the album is really for night crawlers, I’m kind of a night crawler in certain ways and that’s when some of my ideas start to show up out of nowhere, in the dark.
I got this kind of like, subliminal sleepiness vibe with the album. Like on the surface it’s got hep but then you listen further and it’s suddenly lethargic. It has some underlying current of nostalgia maybe. I mean, I think that’s a similar response that other people get, like suddenly, it feels like a memory. Like this should be the soundtrack to your memories even though you weren’t listening to it when it happened, but it just fits.
Yeah, definitely. And I’m kind of obsessed with the measurement of time in a way because it’s pretty bizarre how everything stays together. I’m interested in time as a measurement as opposed to distance. I mean, the album it is a Timeline, it is a little bit like a trip. I really tried to make it that way, it wasn’t just 8 songs I stuck together, I at least tried to be pretty conscious through each song and how I would bring it into the Timeline.
As you wrote, were you feeling it as this cohesive body of work, like all the songs had connections and fit together?
Not entirely. But the message is what connects them. And I really hope that some listeners pick up on some of the ideas, and start thinking about the internet and questioning their behavior. And realize that we are living in this alternate reality. I do want to go say hi to that girl at the end of the bar without needing Tinder. I want to go and fucking introduce myself without feeling like I need to put on some fucking image. I hope that people are down to break off a little bit. But I’m guilty, I use Facebook and stuff. I mean Facebook came out when I was in highschool and graduating I was able to consciously use it as a way to connect, and it was so important to dating. We’re part of the last generation that knew life without their online profile. I just hope that the kids who are like 17, 18, 19, whoever listens to this music who has only known a life of having an alternate identity, I hope that they hear it and question it and see it. I just want to bring some awareness to people about their habits.
I mean you’re really hitting the right generation, I mean, my generation, no one is really acknowledging it as much as they should be that our screen time is so high. We should all be writing letters.
I mean how romantic is it to get a letter from a loved one [versus] getting a fucking email, the tangibility and the intangibility. The intangibility of the facebook world it just creates this ambiguity.
It’s like your coming out in solidarity.
We’re just trying to be raw and say it how it is, but we’re not like a punk band or anything. I want people to have a sense of release, like, wow, I’m not the only that’s feeling insane about the weirdness of this generation.
We’re trying to stay weird and trying to stay relevant. I’m not really the kind of person who’s going to write an album of love songs or like about self-appreciation of something. But Timeline is more like songs that sound good, I mean you could listen to this album and not listen to the lyrics and it could sound good musically, but to people who really want to listen, I hope that I can be sort of a person who can open doors or thoughts for people, and open up a world that some kids don’t realize is going on around them, man, just using their phones more than their brains.
Yeah. It’s frustrating to watch. Like, come on, go on a hike. Pick up a hobby or something.
Exactly! Go on a hike. It’s amazing how stressed out people get when they don’t have their phones or they don’t have the connection to instantaneously connect with people and feel like they’re go away. People used to be alone all the fucking time, but the whole idea of privacy and self reflection escapes a lot of people. I hope people see that Timeline, I made it alone, and sometimes with friends, but generally alone, and I was just trying to lay it out as I see it and that’s about it.
What’s your favorite instrument that you own?
I love my guitar and I love my piano, but my favorite is my flexitone, it’s kind of this one trick pony instrument, it’s a pedal, it’s a percussion instrument. I wish we had it so I could play it for you. It’s a very unique instrument. Hard to fit it into any category really. It’s just really fun to play and it sounds really funny. It’s a joker’s instrument.
Do you have a personal favorite track on the album?
I really like the last song that I did. It’s called The Chat. It’s a big song for me. I made it two or three years ago. And I could never sing it right, I couldn’t get my voice to sound right. And I kept trying and trying for two years, and I just asked Ariel to do it and he did it perfectly how I wanted it. My other it’s called Weeping Willow, I like that one because my lyrics are a little more cheeky in the way that I like, and they’re a little more witty than a lot of the lyrics in other songs on the record. When I made that, I feel like I put a little of my obligation in as a student of music.
What is the future for The Mild High Club?
There is an album that I’m writing. I’ve written most of it and have recorded a lot of it and this next one is like more collaborative and all the band members in it are doing more. We’ve got Alison singing more, and Max too. We’re going to Europe after this tour. And then, I mean, hopefully people catch on and want to listen. We want to travel the world, and really bring The Club to as many people as we can.
Follow Mild High Club on instagram @themildhighclub
Follow Mild High Club on twitter @mildhighclub
Art by Gabriel Alan Rosen, contact at firstname.lastname@example.org for illustration work