Midland’s Dazzling Success In Country Music Was Really A Slow Burn

New acts tend to rise gradually in country music, a genre that’s famous for honoring elders — artists like Tim McGraw and Kenny Chesney released their first singles more than 25 years ago, and they remain radio stalwarts today. But the slow-and-steady standard did not apply to the trio Midland: They released their debut EP in October of 2016, topped the Mediabase Country Airplay chart with the louche single “Drinkin’ Problem” in August, and pulled in two Grammy nominations three months later.

Midland’s rapid ascent isn’t the only thing that makes them an outlier in modern country. Today, the genre is full of slick pop-country hybrids, but Midland’s lustrous three-part harmonies and honky-tonk bass-lines suggest a contemporary twist on the neo-traditionalist sound of the 1980s and early 1990s. In addition, the group members are not your usual fresh-faced first-time stars: Mark Wystrach, Cameron Duddy, and Jess Carson are all in their thirties. Before the formation of Midland, Wystrach was working as an actor, while Duddy, a director, had completely given up on the idea of making a living as a musician.

But none of this mattered, because “Drinkin’ Problem,” penned with help from the superb Nashville songwriters Josh Osborne and Shane McAnally, proved to be irresistible. The single has now sold over a million downloads, and the trio mined a similarly vintage sound on their debut full-length, On The Rocks, which came out in September. The record debuted at No. 1 on Billboard‘s Country Albums chart.

Midland still seem somewhat dazed by their own success: “It’s like going all in on your last hand and hitting blackjack,” Wystrach says in the above video, which explores the band’s remarkable rise.