Mild High Club is the recording moniker of Alex Brettin, a classically trained jazz musician with a soft spot for 60’s pop who has spent the past three years recording his debut LP Timeline (released last month on Stones Throw Records). In the time it took him to complete the album, Brettin has kept busy, releasing an EP with his previous band Soft Candy, supporting Salvia Plath (fka Run DMT) on tour, even appearing on Ariel Pink’s Pom Pom last year. The Cary, Illinois native sees himself as incredibly fortunate, peppering discussion of his musical career with phrases like “It’s been a blessing” or “I’m still in awe.” Speaking to the buzz that surrounds his debut effort, the musician clarifies, “I just wanted to make a record that I could hold in my hands, and it turned out better than I thought.” While luck certainly played a role in Brettin’s trajectory, his story is in no way one of overnight success: he’s spent the past three years exhaustively touring the country, gathering collaborators and mentors into what Brettin dubs "The Club” — a collective of friends he tours and records with.
Rare Candy had the chance to speak with Brettin over the phone about his obsessions, his past, and his debut release.
Rare Candy: Do you feel like a formal jazz background informs your songwriting?
Brettin: The stuff I learned in school will always be with me. When I was in Soft Candy I was still processing a lot of the information that I got from [music] school; it definitely took some time to all sink in. I don’t think I’d be where I am without that education. I had really fantastic teachers who were very encouraging but they didn’t let stuff slip by necessarily.
RC: You’ve been recording this album since 2012 — were all of these songs written around that time?
Brettin: The summer of 2012 I was with Salvia Plath, which was called Run DMT at the time. That’s when I really started to come up with stuff that I wasn’t sure would fit with Soft Candy. We [Soft Candy] finished that tape at the end of the year, and it wasn’t exactly like “I’m going to have this tape project called Mild High Club,” I just wanted to make new, different songs.
RC: Have the songs developed a lot since then?
Brettin: Definitely. Some of them were made at three in the morning and I didn’t really know how to edit them. I was really afraid of losing the sense of excitement that I got when I listened back to the songs for the first time.
RC: Could you tell me more about the title? A name like Timeline suggests you’re placing yourself in a lineage. Soft Candy definitely seemed conscious of a late 60s psychedelic inheritance.
Brettin: Soft Candy was much more of a nostalgic 60s sound. Timeline is not so much about lineage as it is about Facebook and the world that we live in with the Internet. The name encompasses everything from the length of time it took me to make the record, to making big life decisions, but also making a record that resembles a circle and is never ending. There are so many different little ideas that went into it. “Timeline,” the title song, is specifically responding to Facebook and the ways we interact with each other today as opposed to in the past.
RC: It’s almost surprising to find a reference to Facebook on an album that seems obsessed with analog sound. What attracts you to analog?
Brettin: I came around to using analog equipment after different experiences working with Run DMT. I always admired what he did with his recordings. I had always wanted a tape machine, and for Soft Candy we had just used Garageband. I was looking for a tape machine for a while, and then a friend of mine gave me one in 2012. I barely knew what I was doing for most of the recording process, it was all kind of a shot in the dark. I wanted to make something that sounded like a Beatles album. That’s my main point of reference, the Beatles, and these classic rock records. Of course, other references made their way on there, but I was basically attempting to make something that sounded like a Beatles album.
RC: What were you listening to around the time you wrote this album?
Brettin: Well, The Beatles. But there were also a couple very crucial non-Beatles songs. One of them was called “Run From This City” by Purling Hiss — that’s where I thought to myself, you can get some really cool sounds out of a guitar. I mean, I had always been listening to George Harrison, and there’s a great jazz album called Desperado by Pat Martino that has a slightly warped sounding twelve-string, but. That and The Smiths. Guitar stuff really.
RC: How did you end up getting involved with characters like Pierce McGarry, Joe McMurray, Ariel Pink, etc.
Well, Pierce, Joe, myself, and all my bandmates moved out to LA around the same time. I had met them before, in Mexico when I was playing with Run DMT, and we’d become good friends. Joe ended up living with us and we built this DIY spot in Downtown Los Angeles that eventually became an art gallery. We’re not really involved with it anymore because of how busy we are with other projects. And then Ariel was introduced to me through my friend Mike Collins (of Salvia Plath) and we hit it off really well musically. He’s been a great mentor to me, a huge help in helping me get my bearings in recording. I’ve got a lot of really good friends in LA which has been a blessing. And they’re all making great music.
RC: Do you have any obsessions?
I’m pretty obsessed with Donald Fagen compositions. I could listen to them forever. If anyone followed up the Beatles it’s him.
Catch them on tour:
10-21 Birmingham, UK - Hare & Hounds
10-22 Glasgow, UK - Hug & Pint
10-23 Manchester, UK - Gullivers
10-24 Bristol, UK - Simple Things Festival
10-26 London, UK - The Old Blue Last
10-27 Paris, FR - Pitchfork Festival Opening Night Party
10-28 Antwerpen, BEL - Trix
10-29 Amsterdam, NED - OT301
10-30 Berlin, GER - ACUD
10-31 Bandittown, CA - Vertigofest
11-4 San Francisco, CA - The Chapel
11-6 Long Beach, CA - Signal 1833
11-7 Tijuana, MEX - Moustache Bar