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Music / Interview
We chat with Townsville folk heroes The Middle East to try and get to the bottom of their mysterious reformation and what it means for the future of the band.
Between 2009 and 2011 indie-folk band The Middle East were flying high.
First, in 2009, they released their EP The Recordings of the Middle East (an abridged version of their debut album of the same name released a year and a half earlier). It spawned singles ‘The Darkest Side’ and ‘Blood’, catapulting the Townsville band to international attention. They’d set the blogosphere alight, and it was hard to escape their lush, sweeping indie-folk.
From there, festivals and support slots followed – Bigsound, Big Day Out, Homebake, Woodford Folk Festival – as did their official debut album, 2011’s I Want That You Are Always Happy. Fourteen tracks and an hour-long, while fans were transfixed with what The Middle East were throwing down, the band themselves were critical of the work.
And just as quickly as they had risen, suddenly fans were saying goodbye. Taking to the stage at 2011’s Splendour In The Grass festival – mere months after their debut album peaked at number 11 on the Australian Album Charts – and the band announced that the set would be their “last show ever”.
At the time, fans and music critics alike agreed that The Middle East were a band destined for far more than they had been able to reach in their short career, that they were cutting it short before their time. So when, in March 2019, The Middle East confirmed they would return for two special nights at the Sydney Opera House heads were turned.
Now Melbourne fans will have the opportunity to see The Middle East perform their enchanting catalogue of songs once again, alongside a selection of new material and accompanied by a string quartet.
Will this magical night be a one-off or can we expect to hear more from The Middle East again? We sat down with the band to see if we could get to the bottom of this mystery.
In August 2011, you penned a letter to your fans calling it a day. What have the eight years since been like for you?
Oh. A warm but disorienting blur. Life makes you strange.
Relationships, children. bands, records, books, odd jobs and holidays. Ups, downs and sideways.
The many ways we spend our time as the world turns weirder.
What made 2019 feel like the right time to get back together?
We’d always had an understanding with each other that if it felt right, we’d strike up the band.
I’m not sure why it felt right. Why does anything feel right?
Actually, that’s silly – for me it seemed like an opportunity to revisit songs and interpret them in a way that was true to life now. Not now as in just now, but between back then and now, and how everything morphs.
A chance to play those songs the way clouds change shape, the way we all do.
The idea of doing what we used to do in the same way was never really appealing.
What does this mean for the future of The Middle East? Is there a plan or direction in place?
There’s no plan! We are … for better or worse, unplanned.
With so much breathing space has your relationship with The Middle East’s rise to international attention, and with songs like ‘Blood’, shifted or changed?
Yes, yes it has. Easier to look at the thing when you’re outside of it looking in.
It’s easier to be nicer to yourself. Either that or self-loathing becomes more incognito.
People are rightly ecstatic to have you back – could you have expected or anticipated the response?
I wasn’t sure if people would bat an eyelid. so much happening all the time these days, it’s a lot for people to take on. Sooooo it’s nice to be welcomed back into the fold.
What’s been the biggest highlight since announcing that you were reigniting The Middle East?
The shows. All three of them.
Have there been any challenges?
Yes, but god, I’d be here for hours.
We laugh and fight and makeup like all good humans do.
What can fans – new or longtime – expect from this show?
I’m not sure how it’ll go, but I’ll try to sing it from the heart.
The Middle East will perform a special one-off show at Forum Melbourne on Saturday 11 January. Tickets on sale via Ticketmaster.com.au.