Record of the Week: Medium Build’s ‘Country’

Right now, it feels like everybody’s “going country.” From Post Malone to Lana Del Rey to the countless coattail-riding new artists hoping to cash in on the massive success of Zach Bryan or Noah Kahan. So, it’s easy to assume that Medium Build, who recently moved back to Nashville after nearly a decade in Alaska, might fall into one of those two camps, especially with a major label debut called Country. But WNXP’s Record of the Week artist says while the title sarcastically acknowledges this particular cultural moment, it also sincerely expresses love for a genre he didn’t think he liked, and a culture that played an unacknowledged influence on his identity.  

“What I’ve realized in the past decade is that I actually grew up pretty country and pretty southern,” Medium Build says from an alley in Chicago the day of a gig. “I didn’t realize it because my dad was trying to hide it but, like, my dad’s a redneck! He won’t tell you that but… So, whether or not my dad wanted us to learn that, my brother and I sponged this spirit of southern poverty. So, when I say things like ‘I just wanna drive you around’ [in ‘Crying Over U’] that is something I love to do. When I feel safe with someone, when I love someone, the most peaceful thing we can do is just walk or drive. Space out. Listen to music. Hang.”

“I also feel like I have country stories to tell,” Medium Build continues. “Like when I say on ‘In My Room,’ ‘My mom will melt some cheese on chips.’ Hearing [the reaction from fans in] Kansas City or Salt Lake City, people who grew up more conservative, simple, Middle America type vibes. And they start screaming that line because it’s relatable. Because that was an easy, cheap calorie delivery system. That is the shit I grew up on. And that’s why I don’t feel embarrassed calling my record Country. Yes, it’s a bit of a joke and, yes, it’s the zeitgeist and, yes, that will change and then maybe it’ll look corny in three years. But my stories aren’t corny because they’re not fake. I was raised by a Midwestern mom who made everything into a mayonnaise-based casserole, and I was raised by a dad who drank instead of talked. And these are just the tales I have.”

Medium Build also shared some thoughts on a few other tracks on Country, which you can check out below. And you can see him live on Wednesday, June 12 to kick off the Backyard Sessions series on the rooftop of the Bobby Hotel curated by WNXP.

Stick Around

At 2 minutes and 28 seconds into the song, there is a rousing singalong that poses a problem – what’s he saying? The lyrics for the rest of the standout track are easy to hear and understand. It spins the tale of a hard-drinking truck driver who meets someone who might just be his way out of an endless spiral of self-destruction. But that big bridge begging you to join in, is it, “O, my little little lie”?

“That song we recorded like three or four times,” Medium Build recalls. “And by the time we got to that last version of it, it ended up in that like Bruce Hornsby, Bon Iver ripping off Bruce Hornsby, us ripping off Bon Iver ripping off Bruce Hornsby. It’s definitely the sonic oddball. The least country-ish of the Country record. And that lyric I adlibbed when we were recording it the first time. I was trying to say a name. So, in my head I was saying a name like Adeline. I just was trying to think of some name that I don’t know anybody. That has no connotation. And then I realized as we’re doing it no one on my team could agree on what I was saying. Some people thought it was ‘your little, little light.’ Like, it’s so precious. And [others said] ‘No, it’s “your little lie,” the lie that you’re saying.’ And I just never corrected anybody. I think that’s the other part of me is like, as confessional as Medium Build is, if someone thinks a lyric is about something else and it helps them, I’m like, ‘That’s yours,’ you know? I’ve got lyrics in that song that I needed to say out loud because they helped me and then everything else is bonus. If someone thinks this lyric is about this specific thing and it heals them, go off. It’s yours now.”

Known By None”

For an album called Country, there’s very little on Medium Build’s major label debut that might sneak on a playlist featuring Jason Aldean. The Nashville-by-way-of-Alaska-by-way-of-Atlanta artist says the title is both a side-eye joke and a heartfelt homage to his Southern roots. The bulk of Country could probably be classified as fitting into some lane of “songwriter rock,” but there are sounds and influences running through it which leave no doubt it wasn’t created with the goal of making it onto CMA Fest.

“The sonic palette, the mood board playlist I made was pretty crunchy. One of the tunes I keep trying to make is ‘Swimming Song’ by Loudon Wainwright,” Medium Build explains. “I am not a ‘visionary’ artist. I don’t sit down and think, like, ‘This is the tone. This is the vocal chain. This is how it’s going to feel.’ I’m a get-in-there and start cooking and then I realize what I have going and try to sculpt that. We were referencing Blue Nile and the Waterboys a little bit for some stuff. Obviously ‘Known By None’ has that big, Neutral Milk Hotel vibe. Just kind of any ’80s, ’90s left-of-center stuff. Some Lucinda Williams, right? But also, I love drum machines, so there’s always gonna be a little hip hop or R&B thing present. When we got to the end of the record and realized that it was kind of this grab bag, that’s just how I’ve always made records. All of my records have this sort of radio scanning feel where it changes spirits. And I don’t wanna ever be too intentional. I mean I’m not mad when somebody makes 10 songs that all feel like they live together but I just haven’t been able to do that yet.”

In My Room

One of the most lyrically devastating songs on Country, “In My Room,” has quickly become a fan favorite. Medium Build says the story of a boy who feels alone even when he’s at home is hitting particularly hard for men who see themselves in that snapshot. He says it’s the most autobiographical song on the record with a literal “roll call” of his life from the posters on the wall to the cavernous space left by a family too busy and burdened to notice his needs. It’s a look back but not through rose-colored glasses.

“I think nostalgia is dangerous when it goes into, like, ‘Things were so good.’ I think nostalgia mixed with trying to do some inner child healing is really helpful and healthy for me,” Medium Build confesses. “Because I was kind of a people pleaser. I mean, I am a people pleaser, but as a kid, I definitely wouldn’t speak up when I was uncomfortable. And so, to just to give that kid, y’know, 20 years later, to just give him a little voice and say ‘Hey, yeah, you were alone a lot and that was weird. And there was a lot of adult situations going on around you. But you’re fine. And here’s this little safe space. Here’s your little zone.’”