By Jon Milton
Sometimes music just makes you go ‘wow’ doesn’t it? Hearing a song that just arrests you, makes you stop what you’re doing and just sit back and listen is a rare and wonderful thing, and something that should be cherished. Midlight’s new single ‘Emergency Song’ is one of those songs.
The band brought their first single ‘Sink to the Level’ out in the middle of last year and followed it up with ‘Pandemonium’ a few months later. And listening to ‘Emergency Song’ alongside its predecessors you kind of get the feeling that the band might be on to something special.
There is space and depth to their music akin to the artists that influence them, notably Radiohead and Talk Talk. As with contemporaries like Squid and Do Nothing, they seemed destined to make great albums, and with this in mind I chatted to George and Isaac from the band about how they make music, the background to ‘Emergency Song’ and more.
Tell us about Midlight – how did you all get together, how did you meet?
George: Isaac was the first person to get everything going. We all went to the same school in Brighton, and Isaac was making music with a few different people. Myself and Ollie in the band did an end of year performance at assembly, and Isaac came up to me and said ‘we need a singer’ and we got together at Owen the drummer’s house, just rehearsing two or three times a week after school
Isaac: we’ve been together since 2009 and we’ve been through a lot of stages to get to where we are now. We’ve gone through different names, made sort of different types of music at times, albeit always in the same world as the music we make now. I think we’ve got to a place now where we’re making the music we want to make.
George: It’s only been in the last couple of years as Midlight that things have clicked. When we were young, we were always concerned about what people wanted to hear.
How would you describe your music?
Isaac: We always struggle to describe ourselves! We’ve landed on a genre in alternative rock which describes the instruments in the band and roughly what it sounds like, and we take a lot of influence from Radiohead in the way that we sound, and in the song-writing as well. We also take a lot of influence from Talk Talk. We love all kinds of music which feeds in, and we’re big fans of electronic music, although I’m not sure if that reflects itself in the music we make...
George: I think we have a simplicity in our songs that comes from electronic music, in terms of building grooves. Recent bands that resonate with us – we really love Another Sky who’ve just started breaking out.
How does the writing process work for you?
George: It changes from song to song. Our releases have only come out in the last year, and they’ve come out in way that I might have an idea which then gets sent out to the band. A lot of the time it starts with me and the guitar and sending a verse and a chorus, sometimes it’s a four-minute song. This (Emergency Song) song is a year old and it happened quite quickly, as everyone was quite clear on the sound. Sometimes it can be quick and sometimes painfully slow. Without being able to play live we’ve had to trust ourselves, as we’ve not had other people saying, ‘that doesn’t work’, or ‘that’s no good’.
Isaac: With this song George came up with the seed and when we all got together playing in the studio it was pretty organic. The song emerged quite quickly and when It does that it helps to bring out the Midlight sound – what we sound like rather then what we’re trying to sound like.
Will that process change post lockdown?
George: We’ve had to do it this year predominantly, but we’ve always been sending stuff to each other. Our first single ‘Sink to the level’ was part of 30 songs that we took into the studio but the thing that came out was a total jam essentially, revolving around a bass idea. It changes all the time and there’s no set way.
Isaac: We’ve been doing music for twelve years, through school in Owen’s attic but then at college and uni where we weren’t all in the same place and had to evolve our writing and rehearsing process. At that point some of these patterns started to emerge, ie George writing ideas and sending them to us, and us taking them and playing around with them. When we were able to get together then it would be very intense, high octane rehearsals as we didn’t have much time, and that has helped us in this period and had an influence on the way we write songs as well. We all benefit from being in the same place, testing each other and pushing each other and being honest with each other when we’re writing altogether, and I think that dynamic we have makes us sound like us, although however hard you try to do things remotely it’s never the same. We could never sit in four different corners of the world and send each other stuff over the internet, and have it come out sounding like when we’re all together. That’s been a big challenge during lockdown.
Tell us about Emergency Song?
George: Emergency Song was written in March last year as lockdown happened. At the time I wasn’t quite comfortable with how I felt with everything happening, so I intentionally chose to put myself in the someone else’s shoes in the narrative of the song. The idea is of someone in a position of power, working in say, a financial role being obsessed with how life was, and with how things have come to a halt. Instead of embracing everything stopping, they’re missing being surrounded by the dog eat dog-ness. Over time it’s become an opportunity to look at how everything has become a bit mental. It’s the idea of chaos, which it was at the time of writing (and still is now) in the spirit of the song.
Isaac: I guess it’s (the pandemic) been dominating most people lives, and it’s been a difficult thing to reflect on once you’re inside it, but I think we’ll see a lot of people reflecting on it once things go back to normality for quite a long time as its been such a significant step change. That shift in the way things are makes the way that things were more visible, and that’s how I see this song. That change in society has shed a light on so many things that we took for granted that were part and parcel of modern life that were pretty backward. I think it’s important to take time to reflect on that. I don’t think we’ve written anything profound or create a revelation, and that’s not the point of it, it’s just an emotional response. We haven’t spoken about the vinyl we’re bringing out, but on the B-side of the vinyl, there is a a song which is just George and an acoustic guitar, that shows the other side of the coin. It’s the same story told from a different angle, a more hopeful perspective looking forwards rather than backwards.
George: That song is a lot more recent, and it reflects me being a lot more comfortable with where I am, with an end in sight.
How did the link with the record company come about?
Isaac: The record company Airdriver is very young, and we know them through Brighton connections. Some of the guys on the label are in a band called Hive Society that we’ve played with we’re friends with a couple of them. They’ve been doing music as a band for a while and they decided that they wanted to try and build a community around their music and that sound, and we’re sonically not a million miles away from them.
Then we played a gig together it felt like we were bringing a community together, and they wanted to take that a bit further than just two bands playing gigs together, so they set up this label. We’re the first band on their roster other than their own band. It’s a bit of a learning curve at the moment as this is our first release with them, a bit of a test, but so far it’s been great working with them
How pleased have you been with the response to Pandemonium and Sink to the Level?
George: Very. The response from our immediate circle was good which means a lot. In between our second and first single we did a live stream for Oxfam (Oxjam) and Shaun Keavney who was presenting the gig had a comment on our music which was really cool, essentially! Four days after he done that, we were getting messages from our friends saying we were getting played on 6 Music at 4 in the afternoon, which was like the ‘what the ___ is going on!’. That’s the first time we’ve had any major player show an interest, and we had a good press run as well with a proper write up done about those songs. I am trying not to read press however, as I do have an overthink session whenever someone doesn’t like something!
Isaac: I read everything and I have enough confidence in what we’re doing to not be bothered by people not liking it, and because I know that the reason we’re doing it is because there’s not much we could do that we could do differently. There’s always an audience for what we do and not everyone’s going to like it.
Given the Radiohead and Talk Talk influences, can you see your music exploring long form tracks and the more experimental areas that those bands have pursued?
George: Yes. The first song that was eye-opening from (Talk Talk)’s Laughing Stock was ‘After the Flood’ and that while over 7 minutes the idea that not a lot changes, but those little changes keep your interest. The first draft of songs that we do are a lot of the time north of 5 minutes, and we’d be happy doing 7 minute songs but then there is that unfortunate battle to fit in with the way that people consume stuff that is very short form, and we have to try and build our way into earning the right to do a 7 minute song.
Isaac: I think that process that we have of taking a longer version of a song and condensing it is a healthy process for a lot of songs, in that what you end up doing is taking away some of the unnecessary bits and you end up with a concentrated version that is the essence of what you want to do. That is often better than the other version. However, sometimes that doesn’t work, and when that doesn’t work, we keep it as it is, but we haven’t released any of those yet! We do look forward to when we can express in that way, on say an EP.
George: We haven’t released a body of work, and people around us have said that we really suit a body of work. I know that to you, and people reading this may not have any context to that, but I like to think that the music that you have heard sounds like it would suit an EP or an album. We’re just not necessarily at the point where we’ve built up the demand to release a body of work with a couple of 7-minute songs in it, but its definitely ready and waiting!
Do you have a 3-year plan?
George: One of the first things that we want to do is get on a support slot on a tour, and branch out into an audience who have no idea we exist. There’s no point in me saying who that is because it depends on a lot of stuff, but there are bands like Another Sky that we really believe have a fan base that would give a lot of attention to our music, and they are obviously at that level above us. So getting a support slot with a band that are a couple of levels above us, releasing a body of work, probably an EP first…
Isaac: As soon as we can get out there gigging and building a momentum, building a core of fans who engage with our releases, come to our gigs, support us, that’s something that we’ve never done uninterrupted and so that’s going to be really important for us I think. Obviously we want to keep evolving and pushing ourselves to make better and cooler and more interesting music, that will always be part of the plan.
George: Sitting here now, in three years I really want to achieve, and for us it would be amazing, to be doing this as a full-time job. To be able to put the hours in and focus on it is a real goal for the next 3 years, and the steps that I talked about then are what we need to get to that.
Emergency Song is released on Tuesday 16th March. Please pre-save via the following link:
You can listen to the band's last single 'Pandemonium' below: