“The goal was to make something sweet, raw, and direct”: Medium Build Discusses His Achingly Beautiful Album, ‘Country’

Country - Medium Build © Tyler Krippaehne
Country - Medium Build © Tyler Krippaehne
Medium Build’s Nick Carpenter sits down with Atwood Magazine for an intimate, in-depth, and candid conversation about songwriting and storytelling, Springsteen (and other inspirations), career goals, and his triumphant major label debut, ‘Country’ – a beautifully raw, deeply human record, and a shoe-in for album of the year.
Stream: ‘Country’ – Medium Build

I wanted to disarm people… this isn’t gonna be a glossy major label thing. If you can’t make it past an out of tune guitar and a kick sample, you don’t get the record.

The first thing to know about Medium Build is that this ain’t his first rodeo –

even though most folks are just discovering him now (which he’s learning to be totally fine with).

The brainchild of singer/songwriter Nick Carpenter, Medium Build was born in Anchorage, Alaska, about ten years ago. He was running away from his former home of Nashville at the time, and got as far as his old Subaru could take him. Releasing songs under his own name didn’t quite feel right – he was just 22, and wanted a place to hide – and so he co-opted a joke he’d had with an ex, and from day one, the name stuck.

Over the past decade, Medium Build has been the vessel through which Carpenter explored himself and his world, unpacking his emotions one by one, playing with all sorts of instruments and sounds, and putting everyone and everything in his periphery under the metaphorical musical microscope. He independently released four studio albums in quick succession between 2016 and 2019, the most recent of which – 2019’s Wild – caught the attention of an A&R at Island Records (a division of Universal Music Group), and led to his signing to the major label.

Country - Medium Build
Medium Build’s fifth album ‘Country’ is out April 5, 2024

Released April 5, 2024 via slowplay / Island Records, Medium Build’s fifth studio album Country is an honest and achingly vulnerable masterpiece: An intimate, unfiltered, and unapologetically exposed folk rock record that highlights and embraces Nick Carpenter’s humanity in a way that his past records, while personal to him in their own rights, never quite accomplished.

Now 32, the singer/songwriter who once fled to Alaska is no longer hiding – at least, not in his music. “I wanted this album to have my goddamn DNA on it,” Carpenter shared when he first announced the album this past February. “I wanted Country to have a human touch. I want Country to be something you love with and dance with and cry with and sleep with and lean into.”

Or as he recently told Atwood Magazine, “The goal of Country was to make something sweet, raw, and direct.”

In my room
I am sacred, I am safe, I am free
In my room
I get to dream up who I really wanna be
In my room
There’s a kid who tried on all his brother’s clothes
Who hates the way he looks and is bad at sayin’ no
Who’s tryin’ so damn hard to never let it show
And sometimes he’s alone when he’s at home

Medium Build © Tyler Krippaehne
Medium Build © Tyler Krippaehne

Working with his longtime creative partner Jake LiBassi, aka Laiko, Carpenter dug deep – into his childhood and upbringing, into his family and friends, into his own hopes and dreams, insecurities and fears. Prevailing over many of his songs is a search for home and a sense of belonging; of Carpenter the human trying to understand his place in the world, and get in touch with his roots. “I want this to feel lived-in,” he explains. “It’s sort of me finding a defined place.”

Thus he opens with “Beach Chair,” an autobiographical and unabridged mission statement of sorts: “I love how you have no idea what you want, or maybe it’s more that you just want everything,” Carpenter sings self-referentially, his warm voice ringing out over a warbly, out of tune electric guitar and a pulsing kick drum sample. “I’ve never met a person who could flake so hard; turn around and give their time to anything.”

‘Cause you ain’t shit, but I love you
You need work, but I reckon it can be done
And I promise I won’t put no one above you
Death do us part, beach chairs in the sun

This is what self-love looks (and sound) like for Carpenter, and it sets the tone for everything that comes next.

“It has that sort of live feeling I wanted to set as the standard for the record,” he notes. “I wanted to disarm people, and I think that song coming first lets people know that this isn’t gonna be a glossy major label thing. I think that song will weed people out. If you start the record and that song’s not enough for you, then you don’t get to make it to a relief. If you can’t make it past an out of tune guitar and a kick sample, you don’t get the record.”

This is me living, telling my story; it’s catharsis.

So begins Country, an album full of real, raw highs and lows – moments of heartfelt confession, human connection, spiritual release, inner reckoning, soul-searching.

From the innocence and youthful yearning of lead single “In My Room” to the dramatic emotional release of “Cutting Thru the Country,” Carpenter holds nothing back in his writing and performance, painting vivid images of life’s little sparks of meaning and letting colorful, catchy melodies run wild and free.

Truth be told, every song is a highlight. The tender “Knowing U Exist” is beautiful folk balladry at its finest – a tranquil, softly-sung acoustic number (reminiscent of The Goo Goo Dolls’ “Acoustic #3” and Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide”) that expresses just how much Carpenter’s loved ones mean to him in two and a half deeply moving minutes. The Springsteen-esque folk song “Hey Sandra” aches from the inside out as Carpenter delivers a gut-wrenching love song, in the form of a confessional letter written by a fictional man (very loosely based of his father) to the love of his life, who has walked out on him (or kicked him out of the house):

Hey, Sandra
I got a long neck down at the Blue Lagoon
I know you like them daiquiris here, huh
So I went and had me two
Sorry that I walked off
You know fightin’, I guess it just took me by surprise
You know we always come back kissing
We made a vow, babe, and the Braves are on tonight
Medium Build © Tyler Krippaehne
Medium Build © Tyler Krippaehne

In the spirited “Can’t Be Cool Forever,” Carpenter turns his self-awareness around aging into an emotionally charged  fever dream about “staying alive,” and in the hauntingly beautiful “Say It Back,” he wears his big heart on his sleeve as he admits, “I’m so scared of f*ing this up, but I think that we should try… so maybe tonight, you could come over, and I could look you in the eye, and say that I love you, and I want you to say it back.”

If “Beach Chair” opens the album with a sense of searching, yearning, learning, and self-discovery, then “Stick Around” is the big payout: A breathtakingly bold, grand finale worth it weight in gold, again recognizing the loved ones in our lives who support us and see us through those darker, tougher times. One of Country‘s few real anthems, “Stick Around” is an ode to living, to loving, and to being alive: “And I gotta thank you for giving me a thousand reasons to stick around,” Carpenter sings over pools of sleek, groovy piano chords and smoldering saxophone riffs. “And, baby, it came true: All the little things that I wished for that I never said out loud, out of my mouth! Oh my little, little lie…

“I hope people take a second to think about the loved ones that gave them reasons to stay alive,” Carpenter says of the album closer. “Sometimes it’s someone you may not even be with anymore, but for a brief moment your life intersected and their little life changed your DNA and convinced you to keep going for a while.”

This is Medium Build at his most euphoric, celebrating life itself; he’s still digging for meaning and looking for his place in the world, as he does throughout Country – but perhaps the biggest takeaway, as he closes his album, is that he’s not alone. It’s a lesson worth remembering and taking to heart.

Medium Build © Tyler Krippaehne
Medium Build © Tyler Krippaehne

It always should feel like a journal entry I recorded last night and decided to upload today… I always want it to be a bit messy.

From end to end, Country is a human record: In embracing life’s messiness, Medium Build created a work of beauty.

But he wasn’t alone in that, either; Carpenter and LiBassi recorded the meat of the album together over a week in a publishing studio off Nashville’s Music Row, calling in friends to play various parts as they saw fit. “Nothing was sexy about it. There were no vibes,” Carpenter laughs. “We just made it kind of bedroom style, and it was very familial. I think you can feel it – it’s just direct. It’s a great entry into what I hope is the next 15 years of putting out records.”

Atwood Magazine recently caught up with Nick Carpenter for an in-depth, candid conversation about his Medium Build project, songwriting and storytelling, Bruce Springsteen (and other musical inspirations), his career goals and aspirations, and of course, his triumphant major label debut, Country – a beautifully raw, deeply honest and vulnerable record, and a shoe-in for album of the year.

Dive into Country in our interview below, and get lost in the passion, the energy, and the brutal vulnerability of Medium Build’s fifth LP, out now!

Medium Build is on tour now through the end of the year, playing shows throughout North America and Europe. Visit mediumbuildmusic.com for tour dates and more info!

“We made the album we wanted to make,” Nick Carpenter smiles. “It’s so easy to get back in touch with yourself if you can throw off the heavy cloak of duty and just do something that feels good.”

— —

:: stream/purchase Country here ::
:: connect with Medium Build here ::
Stream: “Stick Around” – Medium Build


Country - Medium Build

Atwood Magazine: Nick, with less than a week out from Country’s release, how are you feeling? How does it feel to nearly have this album out in the world?

Medium Build: I think I am excited, I think I’m anxious. I put out four records as an independent artist when I was in Anchorage. So, but not a lot of people were listening to it – so I was talking to a friend yesterday, “Why is everyone acting like this is the one?” She said, “This is just the first time people have heard of you.” So I feel pretty cool, maybe a lot of people around me are freaking out and excited, and I’m like, “We’ve done this, this is just how it goes, you make things, you put it out, people send you nice words for a month, and then you move on, everyone moves on.”

So I know this is my biggest step forward and maybe the biggest arrival, splash sort of thing I’ve ever done. So I take that seriously and I’m like, “Oh okay, cool, I can have more teammates than ever,” so this is my first time putting out a record with PK, he’s the A&R at Island in New York, and Graham in LA, there’s all these people whose lives are now invested in the Medium Build story. I am prone to mania, and I try to avoid it at all costs, and so this little circus around me right now, I’m just desperately trying to silence, but also try to give it some understanding, send peace and understanding to the 50 people in my inbox right now just being like, “Hey, buddy, here we go.” I feel like everyone thinks I’m a baby and I’m not, but I’m very excited, so it’s the very, long story long.

I get it; but I do think the best thing about discovering an artist who's already been around for a little while is that you have their entire discography to discover as well. That's what I got to do with you, and I loved it. I tried to do a good amount of homework, but I have to admit my first question for you is, why the name Medium Build?

Medium Build: Well, when I was coming up in Nashville 10 years ago, I went to school for songwriting here (Middle Tennessee State University – the cheaper version of Belmont), and everybody was either in a punk band. If you lived in East Nashville, which is the more alt side of town, you were in this crazy punk band with a terrible name – the biggest band in town was this six-piece rock band called Diarrhea Planet. And that was kind of the scene, to be cool and anti-capitalist, you would have these stupid names, or you lived in the West side, kind of rich modern country music era Nashville and you went by your name, something like Blake James or whatever. I just felt so stuck ’cause I’m not very punk or cool, but I’m also not a very rich, two-first-names guy.

So I recorded some songs and was gonna put them out under Nick Carpenter, but then it just didn’t feel good. I wanted a place to hide, and Medium Build was this joke I had with an ex. I accidentally called her “medium build” one time, and she was like, “You’re an asshole,” and I was like, “I’m medium too, we share shirts – medium is great!” But then it’s also used for dead bodies on CSI and shit. So yeah, I called an ex that on our second date. We ended up dating for years and years so it’s fine, but she came home and told all my roommates, she goes, “Can you believe what this asshole said?

But it was out of context ’cause we saw this art exhibit where a guy was drawing people’s past lovers, and she asked, “How would you describe me?” and I said, “Oh brown hair, brown eyes, medium build, blah, blah, blah, rosy cheeks, dimples.” And she says, “Medium build? Why would you even mention my body?” I was like, “Oh f*k. Oh shit.”

Medium Build © Tyler Krippaehne
Medium Build © Tyler Krippaehne

Oh man, so you the project could have easily been called the Brown Hair, Brown Eyes had things gone differently?

Medium Build: Yeah exactly, literally, would have called it that in a heartbeat!

When I was coming up in New York City's music world about ten years ago, we were losing everybody to Nashville. You must have seen the influx of Synth Pop and Indie Pop artists coming down to Nashville and settling in the East.

Medium Build: Yeah. Totally… Well, I think Nashville is one of those towns that redefines itself based on what made money most recently. And all it takes is one rumor to go, and then all of a sudden that part of town will change – I left town in 2016, and moved back a couple months ago… But in 2014 you had Meghan Trainor, and you had Cherub having success in Nashville, but they weren’t doing traditional pop-country stuff. And then, yeah, you hear Black Keys and Jack White live here, and Kings of Leon, and people are like, “Oh, I can be somebody in Nashville,” it seemed like this place where you can really reinvent, if it’s not working in Williamsburg, you can just reinvent it here…

It’s a bit of a melting pot, and you can find almost any scene you want to, depending on the venue, depending on the space. Going back to your records, you mentioned that Country is not your first, or your second, or your third, but it is your first full length on a major label, which is something to be appreciated and noted. What, if anything, feels different compared to your last couple of albums? It's also been a few years since those albums, right? Wild came out in 2019, so it's been a full pandemic later. How does this release, and this cycle, compare to releasing Wild, Roughboy, and Softboy?

Medium Build: I think more thought, a bit more patience, right? I mean James and I, my old band mate, partner in crime, we would make a song and say, “This should go out tomorrow.” That’s kinda how we treated Medium Build, was just, let’s treat Spotify like SoundCloud, let’s just f*ing upload. He and I got sober in 2018, 2019, and we put out Softboy, Roughboy, and Wild all within those two years, so we were just on this kick of making stuff, kinda giving it maybe one or two coats of paint, and then just being, “Let’s go. Put it up.” And so now when I go back and listen to those, which I don’t do very often, ’cause it makes me feel all sorts of weird, I think, “Oh man, this mix could have used more blah, blah, blah.” You get critical, like, “Man, if only I’d had one more brain to bounce this off of.”

So this being the first proper thing, like I said, there’s more people involved. We got a little bit of the training wheels last year when we put out a little EP called Health, just six tunes, and then we put a bunch of singles around it, so it almost kinda felt like a body of work.

And so now leading into this I felt, okay, we’ve got, Jake and I kind of understand the Medium Build program, he’s kind of my duo now, as kind of everything goes through Jake. If he’s not even the producer on it, he’ll have the last word on it. But Jake and I made most of the record alone. He gets it. My manager, Catherine, she is honest about what she likes and what she doesn’t like, and now we’ve got three A&Rs and a publisher team, and so there’s more people involved. So I think, again, it’s growing in this way where, one of my biggest fears in music is music by committee, right? You look at the Beyoncé credits, and it’s a thousand people involved, which is cool, and that’s the other end of it, that’s the high end… Kanye was like that too, where he’d go, “I’m gonna have the best people on this.”

And then you have the indie side, where it’s just one dude made it alone in his room. And so now we’re kind of stepping into that more “pop” format where more people are helping, and I’m proud of that. I just want to make sure it’s still my voice, and it’s still good, and I think that’s the difference, is there’s more people involved, and so I have to fight harder. But it always should feel like a journal entry I recorded last night and decided to upload today, right? I always want it to be a bit messy.

You are in Nashville, which is second to LA in terms of a songwriter goes into a producer's studio and they bang out a song in a day. That's not necessarily what's going on here, though.

Medium Build: Not always, sometimes. “Never Learned to Dance,” I made in a day. Wrote and recorded, that’ll happen. But yeah, Jake and I really recorded some of these songs like four times, trying to find the best version. And then even the track listing, taking songs off, moving songs around, like there’s some, some of my favorite songs I’ve ever written didn’t make this album, which is a crazy sentence to say out loud. And I would have never let that happen back in the day, right? I would have put every song up. If this was 2019 Nick, this record would be 20 songs long. So the fact that it’s like 11 plus an interlude, it’s pretty impressive.

Medium Build © Tyler Krippaehne
Medium Build © Tyler Krippaehne

It always should feel like a journal entry I recorded last night and decided to upload today, right? I always want it to be a bit messy.

Let's go into that for a sec, so, 'cause what I'm hearing is that despite the number of people who are more involved in the Medium Build world, it's not diluted by all those voices; that this is still an unadulterated project of the two of you in a way, and it's still your baby through and through. What was the vision going into Country? What's the story behind this record, if you were to try to sum it up for someone?

Medium Build: I just wanted to make something that felt kinda personal. Not that past stuff hasn’t been personal, but I think after taking the pandemic off and, I said, sleeping with a bunch of producers, like I was, throughout 2020 and to 2022, I was just making beats with randos, getting in the room with everybody, doing the pop thing, going to LA, going to Nashville, getting in the room with people I didn’t know and just seeing what happened. And after doing that for a couple of years, you kind of crave, it’s like sex, man, it’s like, sex is better when it’s with someone you know and love. And after you’re kind of making music with a bunch of different people, I was like, “I think I just wanna post up with Jake and make something we both are excited about.” And we kind of had a false start, we made an album… We kind of started this album in Seattle with a producer that was lovely, but we didn’t really get the vision, and so we ended up kind of scrapping a lot of the stuff. We had to fight to get the vision right.

So to condense that, I think the goal of Country was to make something sweet, raw, and direct. I was listening to that Big Thief album, Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You – I was inspired by that, it just felt so direct, but the genre would change, cartoon-like, so I was like, cool, you can make an album, ’cause part of my biggest beef with the major label, just the kind of program right now is like, “You got a song that just goes well, make 10 of them.”

I don’t want to ever do that. I did grow up listening to my parents’ record collection where albums had crazy tunes on it that don’t fit the genre or whatever, and so I wanted Country to feel like something from the ’70s in the pacing, and then that’s kind of the career I want. I’ve told my team that over and over again, I want to have a long career that plots all over the place, right? I’m looking at Dylan, Neil Young, Paul Simon, Billy Joel, and Bruce Springsteen… Things that move all over.

So yeah, the goal was just that we got in the room and made it, cranked it out. And so we ended up doing that. We ended up making the meat of Country in eight days in a publishing studio off Music Row. And nothing was sexy about it. There were no vibes. We just called our friends and were like, “Hey, can you bring a keyboard over?” and we just made it kind of bedroom style, and it was very familial. I think you can feel it – it’s just direct. It’s a great entry into what I hope is the next 15 years of putting out records.

That's awesome, I read a quote saying that you wanted to have a human touch and that you wanted your “goddamn DNA” on it. I think it speaks loads to what you were aiming to create here, and to the (re)introduction it is providing to so many who are discovering you now.

Medium Build: Yeah, I’m excited. You know what, when I zoom out and realize that, yeah, I’m 32 years old and people are just hearing me for the first time, great! “Come in.” Again, I dug into Billy Joel and Bruce Springsteen’s catalogs when I was 25. So, 40 years after their output, it’s alright that I’m making stuff that hopefully will live longer than me.

Why the title Country?

Medium Build: Well, it’s a bit cheeky, we made it on Music Row, which is historically made for the history of country music. I love country music. I have a healthy disrespect for country music. I think country, like I told you about Nashville, depending on what’s making money, people will change the trends.

Country music has lost the plot a couple times in its large career, but I think mainly it is the stories of working class people, and that’s who I was raised by – people without college degrees that were doing their best and believed that Jesus was gonna fix their life. I never realized I was Southern or a country-type person, and then in my aging, you learn, you see patterns in your parents and you see them in yourself.

The big song on the record is “Cutting Thru the Country,” which is one of the last tunes I wrote for the record. We wrote it in the studio, and it just felt like a big sum up of my life; my life this past year has been driving around the country, playing shows, and “becoming somebody” and getting, being discovered. Moving from Anchorage to Nashville, cutting and driving through the country, moving across the country and realizing that people are the same… I’m still the same, whether I have a blue check and a bunch of followers, or whether I’m back in Anchorage playing open mic for the first Friday for 20 people. I left Nashville to move to Anchorage to quit music, and that’s where Medium Build popped off.

So look at me now, eight years later, back where I started and somehow respected and listened to, and kids stop me at the coffee shop, and are like, “We reference you when we’re recording.” And I’m like, “That’s hilarious.” It’s just, yeah, country’s a bit of a drag, a bit of a joke, it’s also in the zeitgeist right now – Zach Bryan and Noah Kahan have number ones, that’s f*ing crazy. Beyonce just dropped a country album. I don’t know, it’s just kind of funny. It seemed like a good little button on it.

Country - Medium Build
Medium Build’s fifth album ‘Country’

I see this as a kind of like an alt-folk album named Country, to be totally candid with you.

Medium Build: Yeah. Absolutely.

I also just had to Google the drive from Alaska to Tennessee… I'm an East Coast boy. I didn't realize that you could drive all the way from Anchorage to Nashville. But holy shit, you can.

Medium Build: Yeah, and I did it alone, in five days. 65 hours. Should not do it alone, and you should not do it in five days. But I had a show in Anchorage, like the 20th and I had… Or like the 19th, and then I had a show in Nashville, the 25th, opening for Matt Mason at the Ryman. So I was like, I had to get there, and I had all my guitars and all my clothes in the car, and I left half my stuff in Anchorage at my ex’s house, and it was just like, “All right, here we go.” So I did it. And it was a lot of crying, ate some mushrooms, called everyone in my phone, listened to a bunch of music, listened to a bunch of podcasts, and, yeah, popped a couple of tires. Traumatic.

That's what I do too when I'm driving, I always call people and they ask me, “What are you doing?” and I reply, “Well, I'm driving, so I don't really have anything else to do, so just talk to me for a second.

Medium Build: Please keep me awake.

Seriously. You mentioned a couple of people who've inspired you in the past; who goes on your driving playlist? Who is fun for you to listen to?

Medium Build: Man, if I’m doing a big drive, I’ll do kind of album rinses. My old… The Subaru I had right before I got this ’03 Subaru, I had a ’97 Outback, and it had a cassette tape deck, and I just let cassettes get stuck in there, so the cassette tape that was in there the longest, my guitar player literally said, “Please take this out of your f*ing car. I don’t want to get in your car anymore,” was a Tunnel of Love by Bruce Springsteen, which, I think a lot of Boss fans think, “Oh, that’s his like glossy hi-fi pop album that we don’t like,” but I hear it as a divorce record; I hear it as a guy who kind of lost the boss’ way. And I love that one.

But, yeah, big, big drives, man, I just will find an artist I’m keen on and go in. I remember one of my first tours… In 2019 I was playing keys for a guy called Quinn Christopherson, and our first big tour around the States was right when Norman F*ing Rockwell had just come out, and we just rinsed that. So it’s whatever is on. But if I’m choosing, I’ll put on some Andy Shauf, some Big Thief, something dreamy I can space out to. If it’s raining, I’ll put on some Tom Waits or some Randy Newman. If the sun’s down and I want to feel vibes, I’ll put on some ’80s, ’90s country and just sing along. I’m easy man, I’ll listen to anything. I love Caribou, I’ll put on some dance music if I’m really feeling myself.

You mentioned earlier that “Cuttin Through the Country” is the big song off this album; what about that track hits home, for you, and what makes it the “big” one in your eyes?

Medium Build: I think it’s big in its scope. “Nothing lasts forever and everybody dies,” “people get sick, everybody knows that’s just how it goes.” I think I’m poking at existential issues. I’m an anxious person and I lean on how finite we are for comfort. Our incoming mortality inspires me to think less and get after life. Also I just love having a song with no real chorus. Just verses, like an earl sweatshirt song.

You also keep on mentioning the Boss, and to me, the song, “Hey Sandra” is such an ode to a Bruce Springsteen song. Your conversational, diaristic tone feels like we're bearing witness to a letter. “I hope you can read all this through my chicken scratch, you know I just couldn't say it to your face,” you sing. I’d love hear to your take on that song, and where it came from.

Medium Build: Yeah, f* yeah, dude, I think that’s my favorite thing I’ve written, maybe the favorite thing on the album. Yeah, that one feels, I mean, speaking of country, I mean, that is the most country-ish folklore sort of shit, I think, in my canon at this point now. So I wrote that song with a dude named Steven Collier. He has a solo project called Collier. He plays guitar for Ethel Cain. And he lives in LA, but he’s from South Carolina. And my dad’s from South Carolina. And my dad, like I said, kind of grew up really, really working class, his mom had a third-grade education, he… When he went to college, they all… He went to Bible college, and then he got kicked out for missing a bed check. So again, unaccredited. We’re kind of Southern Pentecostal Baptist bullshit, but my dad never let my brother and I know about Southern culture. He withheld Southern culture from us because this South Redneck shit like reminded him of his childhood and his pain. And so “Hey Sandra,” Steven and I both kind of based off our dads. We were like, we would try to have this fictional version of our dads. Which is not far off, ’cause my dad didn’t have his first pierce ’til he was 32. And then… ‘Cause he was so in the church, he was a pastor, a missionary, scared of Satan crawling into his brain and stuff.

And so what I picture this character in “Hey Sandra” as is a version of my dad gets burnt out on the church shit, starts partying, starts working, doesn’t have me and Jack, but he’s trying to work it out, right? So Sandra could be my mom, could be Lydia. And they’ve had a fight, and now he’s gone down to the bar to watch The Braves game. And he realizes he’s f*d up. And so he’s going to write a letter, and he’s gonna like… He’s gonna get f*ed up. He’s gonna raise hell. He’s gonna get… Come home drunk. He’s gonna leave the letter, on… By the coffee machine. So, ’cause he knows she’s going to get up, ’cause she’s… This is kind of this Southern character, right? Where the woman is dependable, and the man is a f*ing man-child.

And I see that in myself. I see that in my dad. I see that in my brother. I see that in all my peers. And it’s kind of a classic tale, right? The woman is forgiving this rambunctious man, and I love the idea of a guy who gets drunk enough to finally come clean about something. And so yeah, I based it off of definitely, there’s definitely some Bruce influence, but really one of the linchpins I kind of hung it on was this Tom Waits tune, called “Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis.” I don’t know if you ever heard that tune, but it starts out, “Charlie, I’m pregnant,” and it’s this letter – she’s writing to an old John of hers telling him how much her life is better than when they used to know each other. And I won’t ruin the surprise, but you get four stanzas in, and then all of a sudden her tone changes, and things aren’t what they were presented as.

That’s how I kind of wanted this one to feel, was that he’s like, “You know babe, we always come back kissing. We made a vow.” He’s talking about how strong their love is. And then it takes him ’til the end of the letter to be admit, actually maybe I’ve f*ed some shit up. And I think a lot of alcoholics are avoidant. I think a lot of kids that suffer emotionless childhoods end up falling into alcoholism. And I definitely think that’s my dad, right? He didn’t get the hugs, didn’t get the love, didn’t get the “you can do it, Johnny.” He got the “shut up, work hard, quit griping.” He was left-handed, and they forced him to write right-handed as kid, all sorts of f*ed up shit happened to my dad, and the fact that he can look me in the eyes and say emotions now, in his 70s, is amazing. But I imagined him in the ’80s, ’90s, not having those tools, right? Not having all the Brené Brown skills that we have now. That’s the kind of guy I wanted to create this character of.

And I’m so glad you asked about it, ’cause I’m obsessed with this tune, and actually, I want to turn this tune into a pitch for a TV show. Sort of a Breaking Bad meets a White Lotus, like Atlanta sort of show – imagine this guy who is just working 80 odd jobs, ’cause my dad used to work that way… He used to check water meters, he used to deliver Chinese. He worked at Sears selling VCRs. Imagine a guy who’s just running around trying to make ends meet. So that’s the kind of guy.

King of the Hill if Hank Hill ever met Tom Strickland.. And he's never had propane to fall in love with.

Medium Build: Yes, exactly, exactly! Right, but he thinks he’s Hank, but he’s also a little bit more Dale. That’s the thing. He’s always running around and trying to make ends meet, just always a bit behind, all paycheck to paycheck, pawning shit. You got to put the addict brain in there, and then it’s like, oh shit.

Has your dad heard this song?

Medium Build: Yeah. He laughed his ass off. I played the whole record in London live a couple of weeks ago and my dad and mom came, and he was like, “Man.” And I told the crowd, I was like, “This is kind of loosely based… This is a cartoon character of my dad.” Yeah. And he was just… Him and my mom loved it. So got their blessing.

Nice, that's great. Going back to the top of the record, you start off with “Beach Chair,” a song with such very, very strong beats. The first words we hear from you are, “I love how you have no idea what you want, or maybe it's more that you just want everything.” I've listened to the song so many times now, and I still can't tell if you're talking to yourself or talking to someone else. Maybe that's the point, but why do you start off the album with this track?

Medium Build: That song is… That’s funny, I write a lot, but I think some of my best tunes come from somebody prompting me. A lot of great songs have come from friends challenging me. There’s this songwriter show in Anchorage where you get a prompt, and I’ve done it four or five times, and so many great Medium Build songs have come from that. “Wild,” “In My Room,” “Little Chubby Boy.” “Beach Chair” was a prompt a friend gave me. It was Valentine’s Day, 2020. And I had just gone through a breakup. And my friend Kat Moore said, “I dare you to write a love song to yourself.” And that’s what “Beach Chair” is.

So it is autobiographical?

Medium Build: Yeah, totally. And four years old, right? So, but somehow still works, because I’m still that guy.

I love the line, “You should get a record deal.” The irony of that coming on your first major label release is not lost on me.

Medium Build: Yeah, it’s just funny, man. We tried to record that song a couple times. That was a one-take – the vocal and the base guitar, the first guitar take and the first vocal are all live at once with the kick going. And then we added more guitars and layers of harmonies and stuff. So it has that sort of live feeling I wanted to set as the standard for the record. I wanted to disarm people. I think that song coming first lets people know that this isn’t gonna be a glossy major label thing. Even though it goes from there into “In My Room,” which is this big, produced thing.

I think that song will weed people out. If you start the record and that song’s not enough for you, then you don’t get a “Say It Back.” You don’t get to make it to a relief. If you can’t make it past an out of tune guitar and a kick sample, you don’t get the record. So it’s a bit of a lot of things. It’s a mission statement. It’s a self-love. It’s a, “Holy shit, four years ago I was wishing I was signed, and now I am.” And the lyric is so true. Right?

It’s funny, “Ain’t no labels signed you yet, but I bet you’d have complaints to make if they did somehow.” This whole record I was complaining about the label being involved. Right? They wanna speed songs up, they wanna change the key, they want to bring back the hook from the demo, they wanna take that song out, they wanna put that song in. And actually, hilariously, Justin Eshak, the CEO of Island, was the one who suggested, “You should put ‘Beach Chair’ first.”

And I went, “Hell, yeah.” Just so funny. So I mean, I am a Rage Against the Machine authority hater, but I’m also a people pleaser brown noser. So it’s exactly right, it’s funny how you have no clue what you want, but you want everything, right? I want everyone to love me, but I also want everyone to f* off. So this is the mission statement.

I wanted to disarm people. I think that song coming first lets people know that this isn’t gonna be a glossy major label thing.

I think it's such a fun way to start off, and it's so unapologetic yet playful at the same time.
I grew up on the early Kings of Leon albums – before Only By the Night – and it kind of reminds me of some of those earlier records, where they always started off with the song that was kind of a make-or-break. And if you liked it, you were gonna enjoy the rest of the album, and if you didn't, you could f*ing ride off.

Medium Build: Yeah, dude. “Molly’s Chambers,” “Slow Night, So Long”, just energy, man.

Then we go into “In My Room.” What I love so much about that song is, it has a little bit of something for everyone, but it's also brutally, brutally honest. Like, here is an artist who wears his heart unapologetically on his sleeve. You released this as the lead single for Country. This was the first taste of the album that we got. Why did you want to put this song out as the first taste of the record?

Medium Build: Man, it’s, I mean, the songs that I write like that, like the “Little Chubby Boy”s, the “Beach Chair”s, the “In my Room”s, the “Can’t Be Cool Forever”s, this is me living, telling my story, it’s catharsis, it’s… That, “In My Room” was a prop song from that same show in Anchorage. And, yeah, they said, “Write a song about your room.” And my room has always been a place I hid, throughout my whole life.

I’m a hider, I’m a big hiding person anyway, I’ll hide at a party, in the corner, I’ll hide at the shows, I’ll put on a hoodie to walk to the bathroom at my own show sometimes so that people don’t talk to me. I’m an avoidance kind of anxious person, and I tried to trace the roots of that. And I think about, my parents arguing over money or my brother hogging the f*ing PlayStation, or my dad coming home from work and watching war movies in the living room that I wasn’t allowed to see, and so I’d have to go to my room, he would say, “Go to your room, go to your room, go to your room.” And so your room is where you form yourself. And I think Alaska has been that place for me the past decade; it’s where I ran away from Nashville to go form myself. So I kind of feel like I’m hatching at 32 years old all over again, with my first major label debut.

I think we hatch in so many eras – maybe when you get married for the first time, maybe when you have a kid, maybe when you file bankruptcy for the first time, whatever it is, we go through these eras. And I wanted to pay homage to that era of me discovering myself. The 10 to 15 sort of like, who am I? What are these sons? What are these bits on my body? What are the things I’m consuming? And also give this weird sort of like… Give him a little bit of generosity, looking back and giving some generosity to that kid who, I’m sure was just anxious and weird, and I don’t know. I mean, that’s as real of a tune as I have.

Medium Build © Tyler Krippaehne
Medium Build © Tyler Krippaehne

I kind of feel like I’m hatching at 32 years old all over again, with my first major label debut.

TGI Monday, I can see my friends again,” that's one of my favorite lyrics of yours. It hits a chord so deep. And then obviously, and so many people I'm sure resonate with this, “Sometimes he's alone when he's at home.” It brings me back to my childhood. And I don't think that I had a lonely childhood per se, but I think about moments, 'cause everyone's had these moments, as a child, where they just wanted to kind of break free, get out. There's something very, very universal about how damn personal you got.

Medium Build: I’ve been surprised at the reaction to this song, ’cause I thought, “Oh, this is going to land for millennial men.” But then I’m having parents come up to me and saying, “I understand my preteen son better.” Or having women, it’s like, oh, this isn’t a “gender” thing. This isn’t even a “I grew up in a weird household” thing. This is just, “I grew up.” I don’t want to be some sort of “everyone has pain we have to excavate,” but… Even if you don’t have a lonely childhood, you had days or months when you were lonely.

One of my favorite writers is a guy named Dave Bazan, who has a project called Pedro the Lion. And his past two records have been him going back and farming his childhood. One of the tunes, I’m going to misquote it, but it goes something like Sundays after church, they’d come home and his room felt like a tomb. And it was just like, yes, that is the feeling, where your parents said, “We don’t have money to go do something. Mom and I are f*ing tired. We’re going to sleep. We’re going to take naps. And you have to be f*ing quiet, and be just silent. And you have to sit in your room and you, or you can watch TV really quiet.” And it’s these weird, you don’t understand hangovers or money stress. You don’t know why your parents are being weird. But they’re being weird and you have to behave and play ball. And I was the baby. So my older brother came and then me. And so I really have no agency. I just have to be on the f*ing level.

And no one’s telling you things explicitly. You’re a sponge, and you’re just hearing little things through the radio wire, vibes in the house, and making shit up. And it’s weird and lonely, and I think everyone can relate to wanting to get back to work or school where you can just be a peer, “TGI Monday.” I was; I’m proud of that line.

It's a good line. It's so clever. Are you a big Simpsons fan? Is it legit?

Medium Build: Yeah.

You also mentioned you're a “hider,” and so much about being an artist today is living in a near-constant spotlight. How do you navigate the dual realities of being an artist in the 2020s – you have songwriting, which can be such an introspective, secluded activity, and performing live, self-promoting on social media, and all those other bits? Is there tension there? What does that balance look like for you?

Medium Build: I don’t think I navigate it very well. It’s nearly torn my life apart. Haha, I mean, insert lyric from NLTD: “Babe this dream I have feels like I might ruin me.” I historically have used alcohol to peel myself away from the heaviness of life. That’s proven to be unsustainable so I’m trying new things like setting better boundaries with Instagram and fans. Answering less texts. Reading less comments. Trying to remember how short life is and how silly the panopticon of social media is. Exercise, sunshine, and good food help, too.

I kind of fell in love with the song “Knowing U Exist.” Something really hit home about that track. Where did that come from?

Medium Build: Just one of those sort of early morning coffee noodles, just thinking about the people I love. I just wanted to have a simple song. I’m so bad at writing love songs. Not bad at ’em, but I’ve never done it on-the-nose one maybe properly, and I always find some weird way to say I love you, and I think that was the feeling that day was like, “You know what, there’s people in my phone that make me excited. People I’m not in the same town as, people… ” I made a really great friend when I was in London last month, and sending them, just having someone you’re excited to send stuff to, I don’t know, I think that’s the… I think maybe it was Camus said, “Whoever, whatever keeps you from killing yourself today is the reason for life.”

Knowing you exist takes a load off me” is just like, if you can think of one person that is how you can have an uncomplicated relationship with today, maybe that’s love. For me it might be Steve, my bass player, making breakfast in the house behind me. And he says, “I’ll have a bacon and avocado sandwich for you in a second” – that’s taking the load off me right now, so. Whoever that is in your life.

The line from “Say It Back,” “how long is too long to wait for love,” continues to resonate with me, too. You said that people who don't like “Beach Chair” don't get the relief of “Say It Back”; what did you mean by that, and what does this song mean to you?

Medium Build: I think a good album has layers and some folks won’t ever hear say it back because they’re turned off by something that happens earlier in the album or distracted by their life. “Say It Back” is just that classic question of do they love me the way I love them. It’s tragic and beautiful and dumb and cute and crazy. Just like love and chemistry.

I do want to mention “Can't Be Cool Forever” as well: “I think the big pain of your 20s is not knowing where you fit, you've tried everything to feel something till you're not curious.” Oof. Can you share a little bit about where the song came from?

Medium Build: I wrote it on Thanksgiving in London with a guy named Rob Milton, who does all the Holly Humberstone stuff. And I kind of had the first stanza in my phone just as a little poem, and I think I just was realizing how kind of out of touch I felt, and comparing myself. Comparing myself to whatever’s cool and popping and realizing that what’s cool in London isn’t what’s cool here, and then you realize, “Oh, there’s literally no way I can ever win. I could have a number one in Germany and no one’s heard of you in f*ing Amsterdam.”

That’s how the world is. You will never be ubiquitous, and the angle of trying to remain cool and fresh is silly, and you’ll f* it up somehow. And that is relieving to me, as a guy who is a completionist, who wants to walk through every area of the theme park and watch every episode of Simpsons, it is good to know that I will never complete this, life. I will never win everyone over. And so I think I just leaned into that and what is that feeling? And I think a lot of people when they realize that they can’t win, they numb out.

You do everything, have sex with everyone, do every drug, get every degree, get all the money until all of a sudden you’re 35 and you have the things and now you’re not curious and then you have to… You start raising kids, and you raise kids with through this sort of almost educational lens of like, “Well, I’m raising a kid ’cause I’m bored, or because I want progeny, or because I need somebody to help me do yard work, or because I want to make another University of Georgia Bulldogs fan.” Whatever the f* you make kids for. And I think I just felt all of that doom that day and I just wanted to synthesize it into something a bit more inspired, ’cause I think I want kids, but I don’t know why. And so I wanted to inspect that.

The line about “I have to choose a side” was really impactful for me. If there was one song that people would discover for you, on this album, what song would it be? What one song do you hope people to hear?

Medium Build: Man, I think it’s got to be “Can’t be Cool Forever.”

Medium Build © Tyler Krippaehne
Medium Build © Tyler Krippaehne

I love that. So, I mentioned a few of my favorite lyrics off this record - that confessional line from “Hey Sandra,” the intro to “Beach Chair,” the TGI Monday line from “In My Room”... As a lyrically forward artist, do you have any other favorite lyrics in these songs?

Medium Build: “Move in with someone you meet when you’re drunk at a party,” “I been going round the clock like a box fan but nobody knows my name,” and “Even now I play pretend rather than put a mirror on myself.

What do you hope listeners take away from Country, and what have you taken away from creating it and now putting it out in the world?

Medium Build: I just want people to feel it, find something they feel. If that’s “In My Room,” if that’s “Cutting Thru The Country,” I just want someone to know they’re not alone in their feelings. I’ve learned that I’m not alone making it. Earth isn’t so bad. Life isn’t so heavy.

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Stream: “Knowing U Exist” – Medium Build

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