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Brett Conlin looks into his rear-view mirror on new full-band EP

Brett Conlin and the Midnight Miles
Brett Conlin
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'Brett Conlin and the Midnight Miles' EP drops Friday on all digital platforms

Brett Conlin’s new full-band Americana-rock album is a nostalgic and sometimes wistful look at his youthful days growing up in Kewanee, Illinois.

Conlin told WGLT the 5-song “Brett Conlin & the Midnight Miles” digital EP that drops Friday, Oct. 29, is a look in his rear view mirror, not unlike many his age.

“I'm almost 35 years old,” said Conlin. “So, it's time for me to go through my midlife crisis and start longing for my younger days.”

Which doesn’t mean a little red Corvette is on his Christmas wish list.

“You know, we have a minivan now,” he laughed. “And I'm very happy with that.”

The album's nostalgia begins with the first lines of opening track, “Sidewalk Saints.”

Oh, sweet breath of my youth
Oh, sweet breath of my youth
Where have you gone?
Now I'm jaded and empty
And not quite as strong

  • From “Sidewalk Saints” by Brett Conlin and the Midnight Miles

"It's very nostalgic. I felt like I was writing a Dylan Thomas poem or something,” he laughed. "I wanted to write this feeling of when you were younger, and you had nothing better to do but walk around with your friends around town. That's what we did. Where I grew up in Kewanee. We just walked up and down Main Street and did stupid stuff … get ourselves in trouble because we were just bored.”
Old saints of the sidewalks
Old saints of the sidewalk do you still move?
Did you boot heels wear thing a lifetime too soon?

  • From “Sidewalk Saints” by Brett Conlin and the Midnight Miles

“Because I thought that was the next step in my life. Through my early 20s, I just tried to be like, ‘Wow, I need to grow up and do something with my life.’ I've kind of had this reawakening in the last few years to be like, ‘No, I think I still just want to play in rock and roll bands and do that kind of stuff.’

That sentiment is addressed directly at the end of “Thanks for the Gas Money.”

Just five guys crammed into a minivan
Playing power chords as fast as we can
Clearing out a room in five seconds flat
Looking back now there’s not much to show
Some records and some t-shirts, some folks we know
Thanks for all the gas money, goodnight

  • From “Thanks for the Gas Money” by Brett Conlin and the Midnight Miles

“That song revisits where I got started playing music. I played in a punk band called The Cracks. I remember, we got a MySpace page, and we booked shows with that. And we're like, wow, we can now connect with other bands that sound like us, instead of just playing like the local hall in town. And I definitely exaggerated a bit and tried not to throw anybody under the bus. But we had no idea what we were doing. None of us knew how to be in a band, how to do any of that stuff. We were just young guys drinking beer in a minivan driving around down and around the Midwest,” said Conlin of the brutally honest but fun lyrics.

“I love singing it. And once you get to the bridge, then it brings it up to current speed,” said Conlin as he segued into the closing lyrics, “Thanks for coming out to the show. Thanks for sitting around staring at your phones. Thanks for not paying attention at all. Why am I still doing this? Blah, blah, blah.”

So ... why is he still doing this?

“I think it's important to make music, I think it's important to make art. And it doesn't have to be dollar driven. And it doesn't have to be fame driven, or success driven. When you're a kid and you do things with your friends in your room, and you do them just because they're fun. You don't do it because you think anybody's gonna show up and give you some award for it,” explained Conlin.

Conlin stays busy as the owner of Lone Wolf Barber Shop in downtown Bloomington. But he has continued regularly writing, recording, and performing around mostly central Illinois. In fact Brett Conlin and the Midnight Miles isn’t even his first album release of 2021. He said music is his release and smiled when he offered that music is a way for him to avoid a therapist. But he’s not joking.

“No, I'm dead serious. For me, it's my release of any bad stuff. I think that's inside me … you can write it down on paper … you can admit, hey, this is me. I'm a typical 35 year old dude who's still longing for the younger days, because that was awesome. And I'm still trying to figure it out. And it's also a good challenge for me to be like, ‘alright, what songs did you write two years ago? Can you come out with more hard-hitting lyrics than you did two years ago? And can you write songs that more general audience can get into?’” said Conlin.

During a WGLT interview earlier this year, Conlin shared how he shut down his barber shop for a while during the pandemic. So now that we’re on the other side pandemic, Conlin said the general feeling he gets from his customers is that conversations and feelings about where we are as a country have changed during that short time. That sentiment found its way on to the new EP with “The Middle Ground.”

Stop taking stock and comparing
All the scars from our past
Lay down the stones and clean up
Our houses made of glass
And admit that there’s the slightest chance
We won’t change a thing
Behind a screen sitting on our ass

  • From “The Middle Ground” by Brett Conlin and the Midnight Miles

“This song was written before the pandemic happened. So, I already felt that polarization happening. The barbershop is good, though, for bringing in people of all different lifestyles, and I think the feeling that I get from a lot of people is they think that everything's kind of black and white and left or right. And most of these people, I think, if you put them in a room together, they'd all get along fine,” he said before qualifying with, “As long as you didn't bring up that stuff.”
The final song on the EP “Don't Let Go” is a bit different musically and lyrically. Conlin laughed that a friend put the music into a “Country Blink-182” category. Lyrically it tells the story of a younger man and woman who accept that anyone can succeed in America if they try, but have found their zenith and are comfortable with that.

Conlin said he likes that people can shoot for the moon, and that it's not needed to live a happy life.

“My girlfriend and I live a pretty simple life. She has her social work and birth doula work where she gets to help people and she loves it. I run the barber shop and get to play music. Maybe later in life, we might have other aspirations. But we've kind of settled into this feeling of, ‘Yeah, this is good.’ I feel like the more you get involved with the more it just takes over your life. Some of these big dreams are cool, but I'm still just trying to live my life and do fun things whenever I can. I'm running away from more responsibilities the older I get. I try to find ways where I can have less of that in my life, you know, especially with our kids, I'm just turning into a kid again, There's some days when I'm at work, and I'm like, ‘I'd rather be on the playground with my kids or hiking around or doing something like that.’

Brett Conlin & the Midnight Miles will be available on digital platforms Friday, Oct. 29. The vinyl release is slated for later this year. The band plays Nightshop in downtown Bloomington on Nov. 8.

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Jon Norton is the audio director at WGLT and WCBU. He also is host of All Things Considered every weekday.