Midnight Souls new record ‘Going Through The Motions’ will be out soon. From seeing the band opening for The Hope Conspiracy, to the release of their ‘Colder’ 7″ and shows after that the band has grown a lot over the past years. Yet they struggled with finding a new musical direction. Singer Donny speaks about how GTTM saw the light of day, about being a teacher and getting older.
To record a 7″ is one thing but to go and do a full length is a whole other thing for most hardcore bands. I remember talking with you months ago and you said you we’re kind of stuck writing lots of great outtro’s and slow songs but couldn’t seem to get more variation which you wanted for the full length. Was there something that triggered the band in the right direction? Cause the new songs are mostly more upbeat from the songs on the ‘Colder’ 7″.
Our sound at the time walked a thin line between being too sludgy or too melodic, so it didn’t leave room for much variation after a while. So on our new record we wanted to find new ways to write songs that still felt like they represented what Midnight Souls is about. This meant we had to break out of our comfort zone of slow paced, mid tempo songs that build up towards the end. We talked a lot about how we would go about it in the preparation stages. We met up and brought in these playlists of sounds and structures we’d like to have on the new record. We wanted to be harder, more direct and more up-tempo.
It took us a long while to figure out how to write songs likes that and for a very long time we felt pigeonholed by those new rules. It was really frustrating. But when we decided not to analyze it anymore and just do it, these songs came pouring out our fingers. Where at first we’d spend one month working on a riff, now we were writing a new song every time we got together. It felt really liberating, cause with these new songs, we feel we can take Midnight Souls in any direction we like.
We learned so much about our own instruments, sounds and recording in general, that it will continue to have an influence on everything we’ll do from here on.
Where lots of bands record themselves nowadays you went into the studio with Ace Zec a pretty well known name in Belgium. Why did you want to work with him?
We wanted to work with someone who could add something to the songs. In the past we worked with people who recorded what we wrote and did their best to make it sound good, which was perfect at the time being. But this time we wanted to see if someone could lift our work to a higher level. When we started talking about studio’s and producers Ace’s name was always in the back of our heads. All the records he’s done sound really good and seem to have a personal touch. The only problem was, he never worked with a band like ours. His work contained a lot of heavier bands like The Setup and Campus, bands that have chugging riffs and breakdowns, which is not quite what Midnight Souls is about. We did some pre-recordings and sent them to Ace and he liked what he heard and wanted to work with us.
We took a leap of faith, trusting on his skills and in hindsight I think it’s the best choice we ever made. It was such a great experience. We learned so much about our own instruments, sounds and recording in general, that it will continue to have an influence on everything we’ll do from here on. He completely understood what we wanted and he knew how to translate the ideas in our head to sounds coming out of the speakers. He challenged us at the right times to play riffs in a different way, to play variations on chords and all the things you’d expect from a good producer. It was recorded in a week, which made it quite intense at moments, but we had so much fun doing it. Ace really did a great job.
Some bands have a particular sound they would love to have for their record, did you bring any records into the studio or is that not done when working with a producer like Ace?
I couldn’t imagine myself going into the studio with someone and just saying “Hey do whatever you want with it.” I don’t care if you are Ace Zec, Kurt Ballou or Steve Albini. These songs are our babies and you just don’t hand them off to someone else without being concerned about what happens to them. And I think every producer likes working with bands that have a plan or at least and idea of what they like and don’t like soundwise. We talked a lot about the sound and the feel of the record within the band and later on with Ace, as we were preparing for the recordings. We did suggestions and he gave his. We really liked the fullness and clarity of Converge’s “Axe to fall” and Defeater’s “Lost Ground”, but we didn’t want to lose the intensity and desperation that records like “background music” or “we’re down…” have. Ace came way out of left field suggesting we’d listen to Poison the well’s “Versions”. But somehow it clicked and we were all on the same page. I think you can hear elements of all those influences on “Going Through The Motions”. It’s like we mixed it up and made it our own.
This record more than anything else is a Midnight Souls record. I really wanted it to be about us, whereas on our previous releases I was still dealing with my own personal struggles and things that happened to me in my younger years.
At a show in Tilburg you once stated that ‘Colder’ was more Springsteen than Morrissey. If you had to describe ‘Going Through The Motions’, lyricwise what Springsteen record would come close and why?
This record more than anything else is a Midnight Souls record. I really wanted it to be about us, whereas on our previous releases I was still dealing with my own personal struggles and things that happened to me in my younger years. This record is definitely situated in the here and now and it’s about all of us. In that way it’s hard to compare it to Springsteen, since most of his songs are drenched in some kind of nostalgia. I think it resonates most with “Darkness on the edge of town”. That record always gets to me, but it’s hard to say way. You feel like he keeps dreaming and hoping of a better life, but at the same time there is this acceptance of defeat, knowing that things will never change.
Donny you stressed the fact that the new record is about 5 guys in the here and now. Does that mean that since you’re the one writing the lyrics it’s about your perspective on the life of your friends or did you discuss certain topics just to know how the rest feels about them?
We met through music and got to know each other through music. We’ve been playing and hanging out together for so long that we’ve become like family to each other. These 4 people are my best friends and I know what goes on in their lives. We’ve been together through the bad and the good, so I didn’t need to openly discuss the lyrical content and check if they were feeling it too. I guess they trust me in that capacity. I always send out my lyrics to the rest of the band when I feel they are done, and sometimes I get feed back on parts they like or maybe suggest some changes where needed. It’s always a fickle thing, cause I invest much time in writing and I have reasons for every word, every line, every delivery… But I always try to take their opinions into account.
Can you tell us something about the artwork of GTTM and the thought behind it?
We always care a lot about the visual representation of our work, cause it adds to the mood and vibe of a record. We wanted it to reflect what the record was about. Like I said, these songs are very much in the here and now and about us, so we felt that should somehow be portrayed in the artwork. So we came up with the idea of buying 5 cheap disposable cameras and documenting moments that somehow were significant on a band- or personal level. After the pictures were developed, we selected the ones we felt needed to be used and we went to work with them. Philippe one of our guitarists designed both the LP and the CD and we’re very happy with it.
It’s normal you’ll always be nostalgic towards the bands that really got to you in your younger years, the years that mattered. Those bands probably shaped your life for a good part, but it’s silly to think that everything old is better.
You’ve been around in hardcore for a pretty long time and have seen bands come and go. Where most people get jaded and focus on the bands that were big at the time they really started to appreciate hardcore you are one of the ‘older’ guys who still keeping check new bands. Do bands like La Dispute give you as much as American Nightmare or has the way you are into bands changed over the years?
First and foremost I’m a fan of music, so I always like finding new bands that might bring something new to the table. The only problem is that after about 15 years you’ve heard it all, and you’ve heard it done well and probably better. So newer bands have a lot to compete with. Maybe it’s because I’m older, but the problem with newer bands I feel is that they want to sound like some band without having reason to sound like them and that makes their act unbelievable. I can imagine people comparing us to other bands, but I can honestly say that was never our intention. We only wanted to sound like Midnight Souls.
With that being said, there are still bands popping up that can surprise me. La Dispute is not my favorite band, but they bring something different to the table. Other records are just good. No one can deny the craftsmanship of the entire Defeater discography. Jay writes some incredible riffs, the drumparts are one of the most original I’ve ever heard in straight forward hardcore and lyricwise the concept idea works really well. I just hope they don’t drag it out to a point where it becomes a charicature. It’s normal you’ll always be nostalgic towards the bands that really got to you in your younger years, the years that mattered. Those bands probably shaped your life for a good part, but it’s silly to think that everything old is better.
On the SWNK forum you commented on a topic about Blood Red a band not that known outside of the Netherlands, how come you knew about that band and speaking of which how come you turned up at the Spirit 84 release show in Friesland a couple of years ago? Are you a Dutch youth crew kid in the closet?
That wasn’t me, who commented in the Blood Red topic. That was Bert our bassplayer. We love music, we love punkrock and hardcore, so we like checking out new bands. I guess we’re the kind of kids that rather check out the demo when a band just started than catch on at the second full length, not that there’s anything wrong with that. I always liked Spirit 84 when I was younger and Henk De Vries is married to one of my best friends. Since Friesland is quite a long drive from Belgium, it was a good chance to see a great band reunite and seeing some friends again. Kids these days might find it strange but back then it really wasn’t so strange to drive a few hours to go see a show.
Am I a youthcrew kid at heart? I grew up listening to Sick Of It All, Youth of Today, Gorilla Biscuits, Battery… and so on. So yeah deep down I’m still all about stagedives and highfives. Don’t tell anyone though.
I’m starting to feel that there’s a generation gap forming between my students and me. I used to know all about the new music, movies, Hollywood gossip, games… But it’s getting harder to keep up.
You’re a teacher which kind of seems a job that lots of front men get into. Do you feel there’s something about teaching and being on stage that is similar? Do you try and get some of the hardcore ethics across to your scholars. Or do you really keep these things separate?
Well, to begin wih, both require an audience and the fact that you need to feel comfortable being in front of one. Other than that, I feel that hardcore and teaching in many ways gives you a chance to prolong your youth. When you are on the road, on stage, in a rehearsal space, it’s just you being a kid and doing what you love with your best friends. It’s fun and rewarding to work with young kids and it keeps old age out the front door for a few years longer. But I’m starting to feel that there’s a generation gap forming between my students and me. I used to know all about the new music, movies, Hollywood gossip, games… But it’s getting harder to keep up. It’s not essential to know these things, to be a good teacher, so it’s not a problem, it’s just me realizing that I’m growing older.
I’m an ethics teacher so a lot of the things I learned about or discovered through hardcore are discussed in class. My students know why I’m a vegetarian, why I abstain from alcohol and other drugs. The main thing I try to teach them is to think for themselves and be critical of the information they receive. Most kids know I play in a band. They’ve seen video’s on youtube or found the website. It’s what kids do these days. They google your name to see if they can find some dirt on you. It’s not something I really talk about at school, but I don’t hide it either. There are some kids interested in what I’m doing, so they’ll come up to me and ask about the recordings or where I’m playing this week. Some of them have come to see us play, which is always funny.
You were supposed to go on tour with Xerxes. They cancelled and now you’re going to have to do it by yourself. Is there way more pressure on the band now, do you think you can pull it off. Do you have the feeling MS has grown from a good semi headlining band to a headliner and how do you yourself look back at this growth?
Yeah that was a drag. They had to cancel the tour on the day before it would be announced, which was unfortunate cause now some promoters were backing out or no longer willing to give us guarantees. The only pressure we feel right now, is that it might be a bit difficult to end up break even costwise, but other than that nothing’s changed.
Sometimes when people come up to us after a show they’ll say we’ve really grown as a band, which is always a nice compliment. But to be honest I think we’re still doing what we did from the start. We play as hard and as loud as we can and try to give the kids their money’s worth. Maybe we do it with more confidence, I don’t know. We always bring the same attitude to a show, no matter if there are 10 people or 200.
Are we a headlining act? I guess we’ll see after the tour, but I feel confident we’ll pull it off. On our tour with Lasting Traces we headlined almost every show and it wasn’t a problem. We didn’t expect jam-packed venues then and we don’t expect it now. We’re just excited to be out there doing it, playing those new songs to new faces. That’s what it’s all about in the end.
It’s always weird when it comes to a Midnight Souls show. We play our set and everybody remains motionless, but after we’re done they come up and say it was amazing and so intense.
‘Going Through The Motions’ is less heavy and slow and more catchy, did you guys write these songs with live show in mind and the fact that the audience would sometimes give a better response when you would do the faster tracks from you demo?
We never think about how the crowd will react when we write songs. We just looked back at the stuff we had written so far and saw that it was time to change a few things. We wanted to do something different, cause we don’t like repeating ourselves. We explored the mid tempo thing to its fullest extend and now it was time to go into another direction. We still don’t have sing along parts, breakdowns and two step rhythms, so I don’t know if we’ll get the crowd going with these songs.
It’s always weird when it comes to a Midnight Souls show. We play our set and everybody remains motionless, but after we’re done they come up and say it was amazing and so intense. I don’t know, maybe they’re scared to move or just intrigued by all that’s happening on stage. I think kids like to experience Midnight Souls in another way, we sometimes get messages from people saying the songs we wrote mean a lot to them and that to me is much more important than having 100 stage dives per song. It would be great if we could have both though.