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An Interview with Jordan Ireland of The Middle East

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Embracing a rich tableau of influences from folk to the ambient edges of alternative rock, The Middle East seem more than capable of following their collective muse anywhere it leads. Having earned a loyal audience in their native Australia, the group is currently making waves in the States with a five-song, eponymous EP, which will be followed up by a full-length effort, The Recordings of The Middle East, slated for release on June 8.

The group will make its first U.S. appearance at next month's South By Southwest Music Conference and Festival (SXSW) in Austin, Texas. And on April 18, the group will perform before its largest live audience yet on the final day of the Coachella Music and Arts Festival, sharing the bill with the likes of Thom Yorke, Charlotte Gainsbourg, and Gorillaz.

In anticipation of The Middle East's upcoming U.S. debut, lead vocalist/guitarist Jordan Ireland checked in with Donald Gibson of Blogcritics Magazine to lend a bit of insight to the group's creative process.

For those unfamiliar with the Middle East, who are its members and what is each of their roles? Is songwriting a collaborative effort between everyone in the band or the work of one or two principal writers?

There are seven of us: Ro, Jack, Bree, Mikey, Mark, old Joe and myself. It's based around the songwriting of Ro and myself. Most of us swap around on our instruments. Lately we've been using electric and acoustic guitars, drums, banjos and mandolins, pianos and organs and accordion.

Your songs sound meticulously crafted. What's the band’s songwriting process generally like?

Usually Ro or myself will bring the skeleton with some ideas and then we mull it over as a band. It can be different every time.

Because you present such a collage of styles, I suspect that each member of the Middle East brings his/her own musical preferences or talents to the band. How does everyone harvest all of those assorted sensibilities into the structure of a song, or even an album?

Most of our songs are guitar music. So there will usually be some chords and melody in the guitar playing and singing. Then we'll add some color with instrumentation and arrangement. All of us are better at one instrument than the others so we usually add our own little nuances within that realm. I can't play flute like Bree and she can't pick the strings like me.

Songs like "Lonely" and "Beleriand" (off the EP) underscore the band’s eclectic styles and sounds, whether with an acoustic guitar or in blending intricate harmonies and layered instrumentation. How do you foresee your group progressing in the near future? You seem to have a range of directions you could explore.

Those recordings are from 2007 and the songs are even older. Since then we've been playing a little more acoustic music and now I'm tired of it. I usually try and play what I think sounds good. Right now electric guitar sounds very good. There's a two-piece band from Melbourne called Kid Sam who are doing electric guitar music very well.

How will the band translate the fragile nuances of your music to the stage at Coachella? How are you approaching your performance there in comparison to the concerts you've recently played in Australia?

I'm hoping to have a mostly brand new set when we're in the States. I haven't thought about it very much yet though. I think I'd like to hit a few more blue notes.

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For more information, including the The Middle East's upcoming full-length debut (out on June 8), please visit the group's official website.

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About Donald Gibson

Donald Gibson is the publisher of www.writeonmusic.com and a freelance music journalist whose byline has appeared in such publications as No Depression, Spinner, The Seattle Post Intelligencer, Cinema Sentries, Blinded by Sound, and Blogcritics, where he was the Senior Music Editor (2011-2012) and Assistant Music Editor (2008-2011). He has interviewed and profiled such artists as Tony Bennett, Lucinda Williams, Jakob Dylan, Allen Toussaint, Boz Scaggs, Charli XCX, Justin Hayward (The Moody Blues), Susanna Hoffs, Bruce Hornsby, Delbert McClinton, Jonny Lang, Alan Parsons, Bill Frisell, Joan Armatrading, Christina Perri, Don Felder (The Eagles), Jimmy Webb, Katie Melua, and Buddy Guy, among many others.