Running late and not sure what time their set was starting I rushed into Birthdays and, without taking in too much of the upstairs bar, took a sharp left down the stairs that led to the cavernous venue below. Pitch black, apart from some hazy lights coming from the back of the stage, there was a decidedly intimate atmosphere in the room. As the soft twang of woozy guitars swirled around the crowd, any of my lingering rushed feelings disappeared, softly drowned out by the acid-induced, pop-infused psychedelia of Alexander Brettin’s musical alias, Mild High Club.
As they floated through their debut album Timeline, the combination of Alex’s whispered vocals, interweaving guitar melodies, shimmering keys, laxed drums and wandering bass lines created a warm cocoon of sound, and the crowd was lulled into an involuntary sway. Catchy melodies were peppered with subtle changes that almost went unnoticed, but provided enough variation to keep you hooked. Listening to Mild High Club is like drifting down a lazy river, whilst someone thoughtfully splatters psychedelic paints across the sky.
At the end of the show there was a queue of people waiting to speak to Alex, I lingered at the back, not sure whether he’d remember my message about the interview or not. I managed to grab him for a second and we arranged to meet upstairs in the bar. Slightly relieved that he hadn’t entirely forgotten who I was, I went to the toilet where I bumped into another member of the club. It was the acoustic guitarist who had been on stage just a few minutes ago. I introduced myself and began to explain to him about the interview with Alex that was about to take place… but I trailed off halfway through as I was met with glazed eyes and a confused, but smiling, face. It wasn’t until later that I realised that this might have been because they had dropped some acid before the show and it was probably just starting to kick in.
I waited in the bar for a while, slowly sipping a drink and making half-hearted conversation whilst staring at the stairs. After a while Alex appeared in his tied up trapper hat that he’d been wearing throughout the show and I beckoned him over. He leaned against our table drink in hand, looking pretty comfortable and chilled out, if a little shy.
image credit: Emma Sheppard
Doing my best not to sound like a fanboy, I told Alex how much we enjoyed the show and asked him what the Mild High Club was, enthusiastically offering my own reading of it as an analogy for the subtle wave of satisfaction that his music gives you. “Not really”, he said. “The Mild High Club is two things, it’s a place for me to dump all my ideas, and also a club for all my friends to play in.” Alex writes and records by himself but surrounds himself with a group of handpicked like minded miscreants on tour. From their live show, the technical ability of the band is self-evident, and Alex’s jazz training has a subtle presence on the album.
Originally from Illinois, Alex Brettin has lived in L.A. for the past few years. Signed to Stones Throw Records, although his debut release Timeline was released on their off-shoot imprint Circle Star Records, Mild High Club sits amongst a varied roster. Stones Throw is a label steeped in hip-hop history, but it’s also a label that’s been undergoing a period of change since J Dilla’s death in 2006. Alex described himself as “definitely an outsider” when it comes to label counterparts like MNDSGN and Knxwledge who can be associated more easily with the L.A. beats scene. Alex “knows all those guys” but what’s more comparable between them, he says, is not their music but their attitude to music. “I like the J Dilla approach to sound, not just making a beat, but the experience of the music.” Timeline isn’t directly influenced by hip-hop but Alex’s musical ethos seems to fit in with Stones Throw head-honcho Peanut Butter Wolf’s expansive vision for the future of the label.
Mild High Club are much more commonly seen mentioned next to the likes of their trippy slack-rock touring cohort Mac Demarco, and frequent collaborator Ariel Pink, and they’ve found a spot for themselves within the current wave of psychedelic rock led by the likes of King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard and Tame Impala. The influence of the Beatles on Timeline is instantly recognisable, and it’s often compared to the White Album. “It’s funny because it’s mainly Sgt. Pepper’s [that influenced Timeline], it was one of the first albums I listened to when I was a kid. I actually thought it was a kids album until I got older.” When I asked Alex about his influences, he began to reel off a few of the more obvious choices like The Beatles and Pink Floyd, but stopped, as if a bit tired of answering this question, and said, “but music is always nostalgic, nothing can be completely original. It’s kind of a postmodern way of looking at things.” Alex doesn’t shy away from the fact that echo’s of The Beatles and Floyd, or even Mac DeMarco can be heard in his music, and he seems to see incorporating what he’s heard before into his own sound as central to his creative process.
image credit: Emma Sheppard
The night before the Mild High Club had played in Brighton, and always eager to hear a yank’s impression of England, I probed Alex about what he thought of the U.K. “I like the people, everyone’s really cool. The food not so much though, although the chicken wings we had here were awesome.” I asked if there were any pre-show rituals that the Mild High Club follow. “Um, if we have any drugs we’ll take them. If we take acid, we usually take it just before we go on so by the end of the set were starting to trip. Sometimes I take it too early and make mistakes. It does something to your fingers when you’re playing [he mimes playing the guitar]…I make mistakes every night though.”
Mild High Club are slowly building momentum in the UK, and according to Alex “there’s more people at every show.” The crowd at Birthdays, clad in trippy shirts with long straight, middle parted hair, seemed to be a mix of fans and people who had just wandered in. By the end of the set the crowd had been won over, with the ‘The Chat’ inspiring the most chilled out ‘pit’ you could imagine. Mild High Club haven’t broken any molds yet, but with the prospect of a new album coming, which Alex is keen to assure me will be released on Stones Throw not Circle Star (you heard it here first), I’m excited to see what his tripped-out mind is going to produce next.
Featured image credit: Logan White