New York - Most people laugh when they first hear of the Mild High Club. Its true, the play on words label for Alex Brettin’s music is both appropriate and humorous. These tunes are made for getting down with a significant other or getting high in an airplane bathroom or both simultaneously. When you speak to Mild High Club founder Brettin, there is never any doubt that he is the architect behind this smooth and sexy middle ground between indie rock and jazz. But diving into the mind within the architect also shows you the attention to style and flavor which goes into his production process.
This is even more evident when listening to the new album Skiptracing as it flows from one psychedelic dream reflection to another. Both Skiptracing and his debut LP Timeline tell a story from song to song, and each is perfectly structured so that it feels like one continuous song throughout. This idea of the album as a whole comes from his early musical roots. “First and foremost it has to do with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. That was the first CD I had as a child. I thought it was a children’s album until I was old enough to realize that it wasn’t.”
His influences in this regard don’t stop with just the Fab Four, however. If he were to make a solo album outside of the Mild High Club it would likely be noise music. “Not rock, just probably some sort of noise generation… Just me and a synthesizer with some distortion.” You can see the shape of his sound come together when you hear the myriad of albums and genres that play a role in defining his style of music. “Pet Sounds. Loveless. Skylarking by XTC. What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye. All sorts of records that are just one long song… I just always thought that that was how an album should be made.”
He is also conscious of these inspirations and admits “It definitely comes from imitation.” This imitation wouldn’t be complete without the dreamy sample heavy interludes and intros so prevalent on the records listed above. “With the interludes, I think a lot of the time it’s like these jokey vignettes, and then there is ‘Ceiling Zero’ - but that was more or less sort of an intro for ‘Chapel Perilous’ and also imitating some of the music that I am still in love with, like Beach Boys type shit.”
These “jokey vignettes,” along with the other full tracks on the album, are more or less a product of a different approach to creating this album as a whole. Alex allowed himself space for experimentation and fun when creating both the interludes and songs on the album. In describing the trippy interlude “Whodunit,” he says, “I wanted some sort of freak out that dismantles all of the songwriting fodder and ornate shit. I just wanted to dismantle all of that and create this noise piece that was basically void of all of my compositional tropes. That one was really fun to make. We just went in and plugged in a bunch of synthesizers and a bunch of stuff. Then I just had my drummer, Matt, come in, and I just kinda beat boxed to him – and he went in there for forty-five minutes and just shredded and found that moment that I really liked and pasted it all together.”
While Timeline was a concerted three year effort Skiptracing was created within a matter of a few weeks, while working in the studio. “I came into the studio without any demos or anything. And I was working with an engineer, but I was still not really sure of some of my compositional choices… [on] a lot of it, real early on, there wasn’t too much molding. I think maybe ‘Skiptracing’ was the only song we had to rework because it was the first one we had tried in the studio. So inherently you have got to kind of build up your relationship with the engineer, and they need to really understand what you are going for.”
What he was going for was a change of pace – something different from the attention to detail and meticulous production process employed on Timeline. “I think with ‘Skiptracing’ specifically, I think he was, and maybe I am wrong, but I think he was kinda under the impression that I wanted to make a second version of my first record.”
But this didn’t mean sacrificing quality simply for the process. Especially when it came to the quality of the sound on the record. “For me, I wanted to really just accentuate the cleanliness and ultra, crystal clear audiophillic level shit. And I think we got pretty close. But I wanted to step it up pretty far from the first record… I wanted to basically fit all of my ideas in the stereo frequency image, the frequency range. I wanted to hire people who knew acoustics and how to EQ the shelves and all sorts of compression – to allow me to fit all of the stuff that I wouldn’t be able to do as easily by myself, and as promptly.”
This emphasis on the quality of sound comes through crystal clear on the record. There are swoops from one sound space to another without skipping a beat, especially within the transitions from one song to another. The hazy vibes on “Cary Me Back” descend slowly through a reversed sample into the clean opening jazz piano on “Tessellation.” You can also hear moments where he may have struggled creating space for all the frequencies in tracks working by himself with his tape machine. Second track “Homage” has a particularly “Being For the Benefit Of Mr. Kite” vibe with its almost circus-esque sound design and samples.
“On the end of ‘Homage,’ I basically just slammed the tape speed button on this tape machine and it cuts the speed in half and slowed down. That was just for fun. And basically what happened with that is I did that just because I wanted to – you know, just to fuck with the mechanical stuff. [I] tried to basically do all sorts of silly studio stuff. But what ended up happening was the flute sounded like a slide whistle, so I sampled the sound of the crack of a baseball bat and the crowd cheering.”
He also isn’t stuck to his jazzed out psychedelic style that has been so prominent on the first two records. He has been influenced by other admittedly jazzed out psychedelic rockers King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard to explore different approaches to creation. “They’ve made a bunch of microtonal guitars and harmonicas, and basically, they’ve opened my mind up to exploring tunings that people haven’t really used. It’s cool to explore jazz harmonies with a well tempered tuning or something like that. Tuning is kinda the next stage.”
At the same time, he hasn’t moved on from his own obsession with mastering jazz as a whole. “I’m still hellbent on jazz. Mostly because I’m not fully capable of understanding complex jazz harmonies. It’s still super interesting to me. I think it’s still super interesting because I haven’t decoded it yet. I’m still trying to figure it out.” Perhaps new collaborations may help him figure out these complex intricacies of jazz? However, when asked about these new projects with others based in LA, he says, “Oh definitely! Not that I can say. But I love to flip the script and surprise myself.”
For now, Alex Brettin is content with figuring out his own place within the music scene of LA. While most people love to describe his sound as emulating the hazy, chilled atmosphere of Southern California, I find it more in line with the nostalgia and emotions prominent on other contemporary records by Real Estate and Conan Mockasin. A lot of his creativity comes from his displacement from the midwest to California. “A lot of the themes on the record come from my questioning of what I’m doing here. Like what I’m actually even trying to accomplish. It kinda goes back to the name of the song ‘Chasing My Tail.’ Just sort of aimlessly trying to figure it out out here. Not so much like that ‘I’m looking for myself’ kind of mumbo-jumbo but more just figuring out why this place is so alluring and why so much incredible art has come out of here. And that’s sort of part of the theme about the record. It’s not about me reinventing the wheel or anything. Its about simply taking a look back to different eras where people were working pretty hard and making some stuff that will stand the test of time. Just general sort of art questions. I don’t think too hard about it.”
Skiptracing is available for purchase HERE. Follow Mild High Club on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Photo Credit: Emily Quirk (top photo) and Jamie Wdziekonsk