The Midnight, consisting of Tyler Lyle and Tim McEwan, spent the better part of a decade blazing a trail in the synthwave scene. Instrumentalist and producer Tim hails from the UK and Denmark and came up producing hip-hop and pop acts, while singer/lyricist/guitarist Tyler grew up in rural Georgia and was a singer-songwriter who also worked with folk and country stars. Brought together during a co-writing session with a musical colleague, the duo formed a bond rivaling any artist to date. Few bands evoke the raw emotion this immaculate pair convey. The Midnight has gone from online cult fascination to the #1 spot on the Billboard Electronic Album Chart, creating a sweeping sound that fuses Americana archetypes with an evocative electronic palette referencing synth-driven film scores, deep house, pop and rock. As a result of their tireless work and dedication to their craft, the band has amassed legions of dedicated fans that circle the globe.
Over the years, the band created a safe space for their fanbase through the dreamy yet vulnerable world they built. They amassed hundreds of millions of streams and built a thriving online community that convenes on message boards and the band’s dedicated Reddit to remix tracks, discover easter eggs in their artwork, and opine about theories and personal connections to the music. Their passionate fanbase has also propelled them from their very first shows in 2018 to sold-out shows in 2,500-capacity venues (including The Novo in Los Angeles and Roundhouse in London) and appearances at major festivals including Electric Forest, Firefly and Forecastle. The crew has shown immense growth since those early days and they’ve yet to slow down.
The band’s fateful pairing yielded their debut album DAYS OF THUNDER (2014), which showcased their quickly realized potential on concert staples “Gloria” and “Los Angeles.” Onward they delved further into the human condition as they released popular albums ENDLESS SUMMER (2016), NOCTURNAL (2017) and the Billboard Electronic Album Chart #1 KIDS (2018). MONSTERS, dropping July 10 via Counter Records, sees a continuation of The Midnight’s immersive world-building that attracted a rabid fanbase — a communal coalition of internet culture obsessives, bedroom producers, Tumblr goths, cosplayers, teenagers, their parents, and everyone in between — who have pined for a new album for almost two years.
Icon Vs. Icon recently sat down with Tyler Lyle and Tim McEwan for an inside look at The Midnight. The duo offer up insight on their creative bonds, forging their own path in the world of synthwave and the challenges they overcame along the way. Most importantly, they shine a light on bringing MONSTERS to life, as well as what they may have in store in the years to come.
Before we get started, I want to thank you both for the hard rock you put into The Midnight through the years. I have several friends who are deeply impacted by the art you created. A heartfelt thank you from all of us!
Tim: Thank you so much!
Tyler: We are stoked that you guys are listening. You’re the reason it keeps going, so thank you!
For the uninitiated, give us a little background on how The Midnight got its start.
Tim: I grew up in a family that was very musical. Both of my parents are entertainers and my dad was a drummer, so I grew up with a piano, guitar and a drum kit in my house, which I was very lucky and privileged to have. I played drums from a young age and got into music that way. When I was about 17 or 18 years old, I discovered producing. It was pretty amazing because I could be my own band and that was quite fun. That was what led me down this path to producing for other artists and being a songwriter. Fast forward, about 12 years down the line, I met Tyler at a songwriting session. That’s what led me down the path. This whole synthwave thing came about watching movies like “Drive” and the whole wave of synthwave bands happening around 2010 and 2011. I met Tyler shortly after that and it became a natural fit of dressing up these songs we were writing in this fashion. It could have happened in any number of ways, but this is the direction we chose.
Tyler: It took a couple of songs before we found our direction. We had written about two-and-a-half songs or so before Tim sat down with me and said, “I think this is an angle.” He showed me some stuff from the new retrowave scene that was happening on Reddit and on YouTube.
Did anyone give you a push creatively in those early years?
Tyler: We both had careers in music. Tim was a producer and I was a singer/songwriter, but we didn’t really have any mentors as The Midnight. We were kind of just doing whatever we felt like. The push came from the fans after we released it and that inspired us to continue making music.
What memories spring to mind when you think back to your early days as collaborators?
Tim: I remember it all very vividly. I’m originally from Denmark and I was in LA for a time, before I permanently moved there, and I had just broken up with my girlfriend at the time. I was going to meet Tyler and I had been told that his lyrics were really great. That’s always a plus and something that’s hard to come by, so I remember checking out his stuff on Bandcamp before I went down to the session. I remember hearing one of his songs and thinking, “Yeah, this is going to be great!” I was in a place emotionally where I needed to express some feelings. Usually, when you have one of these blind date songwriting sessions where you don’t know the person, it can be very fun and rewarding. There are also times where you sit down and write towards a specific artist and their needs. The thought might be, “OK, Britney is looking for songs and she’s looking for up-tempo club songs.” You try to write something in that vein. In our case, we sat down and just kind of said to each other, “OK, let’s write something.” The first song we wrote was called “WeMoveForward,” which made it on to our first EP, DAYS OF THUNDER. That is what really spurred it. I remember listening to the demo the day after the session and getting really emotional because of the lyrics Tyler had written, his melodies and his voice. I felt like I was able to express a side of myself on the production side that I couldn’t in mainstream Top 40 pop radio music.
The scene changed quite a bit in the past decade. How has that inspired the evolution of The Midnight?
Tim: I think what’s happening, and this is the natural progression, is that more and more people are joining the scene and with that comes diversity and a broader spectrum of people expressing themselves in different ways. That only makes for a richer tapestry! I think our new album, MONSTERS, is a good example of us playing in the same sandlot but discovering new corners, while trying to evolve some sounds and introduce some new elements. I think we’re also pushing things forward a little bit from the ‘80s to the early ‘90s, in terms of inspirations. It should keep evolving and that’s the fun of a genre. It’s never quite as fun if it just stays the same!
I was fortunate to catch The Midnight in concert last year. You had an amazing energy and your connection to the crowd was undeniable. Tell us about finding your footing in that realm.
Tyler: It was a huge leap for us. Tim mainly comes from the production world and I, while I have been performing for most of my adult life, it’s been mainly with an acoustic guitar in small rooms. It was just a different leap in energy, expectations, crowd and production. I feel like our first year-and-a-half, we had a much shorter runway because we were a bigger band from our first live show than I ever was solo. We had a much shorter runway to learn our parts, our instruments and to get our live show where it needed to be, and I think we achieved that! I put a lot of pressure on myself, and I know Tim did too, for us to be able to give the fans what we felt they deserved. It was a huge learning curve and we learned a lot from the experience.
You made the performances look effortless. What did it take to get there? Have you always been comfortable in your own skin?
Tim: I come from the songwriting and production scene, so my career has consisted of writing and producing for other artists. I’m the studio cat who is making the songs and then seeing other people perform them on stage, while everyone looks at me like, “Who are you?” [laughs] Tyler has had a long career in his own right. From the performance aspect, it was new for me, but I had played in bands when I was in high school and I was a drummer from way back. With that said, it wasn’t completely alien. I feel like I could naturally slip into that persona, I guess you could call it. You sorta amplify aspects of yourself when you are onstage. I think we were given a lot of grace from our fans in the community that helped us immensely and continues to help us. It makes your job a lot easier when you show up and people actually care about what you are there to sing about while they are cheering along and giving you that energy back to you. That’s not a given, so we definitely appreciate that and don’t take it for granted. But you, Tyler, have been going for much longer than me as an artist.
Tyler: It’s all about connection and being honest and present with who you are playing music with. I think that music, unlike magic, you are not hiding the trick from the audience. There is something that demands your honesty and authenticity in that moment. Honestly, when you have a crowd of a couple thousand people and they are singing your songs with you, there is just an energy! As a performer, you feel embedded in that collective experience. Performer? Sure, but when it gets good you feel like you are performing with the audience. I’m grateful that The Midnight gave me that opportunity because the crowds and production are much bigger and the collective effervescence that you see on a night to night basis is amazing and really fun! Did I always feel comfortable? No, it took 10 years to feel comfortable in my skin. It took a ton of failure. I’ve had a guitar break in the middle of the performance. I’ve had to go to the bathroom so bad that I had to cut my set and run to pee and come back! I’ve run out of gas. I even threw up during a harmonica solo once because I ate barbecue before the set! I’ve had everything possible happen and I think it’s those experience-related things that after a decade of it you’re like, “Yeah, I can do this. I can land this plane! Give me the worst-case scenario and I’ll do something with it!” It’s not because I’m good. It’s because I have failed a lot over the course of a long time. I do feel confident in what we are doing, and I want to bring as much of my talents as I can to that moment.
We are living in tumultuous times, but the music industry has never been an easy place to carve out a living. What does it take to move a project like The Midnight moving forward?
Tim: Yeah, it’s a strange time and it’s scary for a lot of people. I compare it to a lot of other jobs. Some jobs you have to do with other people, and you have to get hired by other people. In our cases, in the corners of songwriting and producing, we are lucky that we are able to do that from home. Thank God for the Internet because we live in different states. Right now, we are working on new material for the next album. It’s a good time to get creative, to be honest! I think there might be a possibility for us to get together in the same room sometime this year. So, it’s really important for us to focus on being creative during this time. What will happen with the touring scene is kind of an unknown right now. Obviously, everyone is affected. Whether people will be touring in the new year or we have to wait until there is an actual vaccine is a really tough question. I know Tyler and I don’t want to be responsible for getting anyone sick or putting anyone in harm’s way. So, there is a moral question as well. Then there is also the simple question of budgets in terms of if you launch a tour and only 10 people show up. If that happens, you’re going to lose a lot of money and it’s not sustainable. That’s obviously affecting a lot of people. I wish I had an easy answer for you but it’s tough times and it’s hard to tell.
I want to dive into your new album. MONSTERS has us excited and it showcases even more creative growth from the band. How did the ball get rolling for this one?
Tyler: I guess KIDS was our first theme record. I found out that my wife was pregnant and that we were having a son. Tim called me and said, “I think the name of the album should be KIDS.” I thought, “Yeah, that’s perfect!” That year, I was really busy with having a newborn, so we kinda cut that record a little bit short and our vision for it was pretty broad. With that in mind, we thought about making it a multi-album theme. When we sat down to work on MONSTERS, we had a few of the songs already written and we wanted to advance the story of KIDS; like seeing the dark clouds of adulthood off in the distance and seeing them come closer. We wanted MONSTERS to be about adolescence, where the adult world starts knocking on your door and you have to face questions about intimacy, closeness and alienation. It’s a continuation of KIDS in a lot of ways. We wrote a lot of songs for it and hopefully we have a lot of songs for the next record as well to complete the arc. This collection we really felt spoke to the theme of connection.
Tim: This album, being mostly about connection and wanting to connect with other people, was done way before the pandemic happened. Suddenly, these songs and the album artwork is now taking on another meaning. It’s really interesting to see and I think it’s resonating with people. It was certainly striking when we got the final artwork. Down the line we realized this is the life we are all living in our bedrooms.
Tell us about the creative process for bringing these amazing tracks to life.
Tyler: I write songs every day. Having a kid makes it a little harder timewise. My creative process is scattershot. I have creative rituals that I do every day and I kinda don’t know how to make music outside of a very structured day. So, I write a bunch of songs. Sometimes those songs don’t go anywhere. Sometimes I think they would fit well on a folk project. Sometimes I think they’d work well for other people and sometimes I think they would go well with The Midnight. I know that Tim has a creative process that is similar. It’s great when I have a skeleton and he has a skeleton and then we can combine them into a rough first draft and work off of that. I’m not a good songwriter, I’m just a very prolific songwriter. Ninety-nine percent of the other songs nobody has to hear! That’s my secret; there is a ton of pre-production work that goes into it before anybody hears it.
Tim: In my case as well, there is a lot of making mistakes. That’s the time-consuming thing for any creative person. I try to create a lot of music and I think where it gets to be the most fun is when we meet each other in the middle and each bring our own vibe to the table. Sometimes you have songs that lean a little more in Tyler’s direction and other times you have songs that track more in my direction. We oscillate between the two and that’s the fun part of the project!
Tyler, you mentioned your wife giving birth to your first child. How has fatherhood impacted you creatively?
Tyler: I’m incredibly efficient with my time! [laughs] I say that because I have so little of it, so I have to delegate my time really well now. It matters. Every minute of the day matters! It’s a superpower that I never even came close to having before I had a kid. That’s a big one. Knowing that you are creating music for another human being instead of your own curiosity or love of music has changed why I make music. That’s powerful and it’s given a lot more fuel to a lot of my creative projects.
What was the biggest obstacle you faced in bringing MONSTERS to life?
Tyler: Touring! [laughs]
Tim: Yeah, touring! You’re right!
Tyler: Touring is hard for the album creation process because when you’re on the road you are wiped out and when you are home…
Tim: You’re also wiped out! [laughs]
Tyler: You’re also wiped out and focused on getting back to a base level. We toured a pretty modest amount last year and it was hard for both of us to put in the necessary hours of creative time that it takes to really dig in and move the needle far enough. It took us a year-and-a-half to get it together.
One of my favorite elements of The Midnight’s releases has been the killer artwork by artist Aaron Campbell (aka Ecstatic.psd). How did you cross paths and what it’s been like collaborating with him?
Tim: I’ve been running our social media since we began. In that process, you come across various artists and I always found it really fun and inspiring to look at artwork and movies as visual inspiration. I came across Aaron’s work about three years ago and I reposted some of it on our Instagram. I just loved it! I reached out to him initially and asked him about album artwork, so we had spoken briefly. For KIDS, I felt he would be the right person to do the artwork and he absolutely nailed it! He did all of the artwork for the KIDS singles, as well as the artwork for the album. As this new album was a continuation and looks to be a trilogy, it made sense to continue with Aaron. We wanted that continuation but essentially to be living in the same universe. He’s done an incredible job! He’s so good at nailing our cryptic thoughts. We might say, “Can you give it the feeling of such and such?” He will come up with the most random ideas to place little things in the room and it’s so cool to see those details happening in front of you. There’s nothing more to say; he’s so impressive! Go follow him on Instagram!
Were there elements you wanted to attempt on this album that you didn’t have the opportunity to do in the past?
Tim: From a production standpoint, I wanted to broaden the palette a bit and sonically evolve the sound of not just us but what is allowed in synthwave and question what is synthwave. It’s a question I am less interested in to be honest. I don’t really care about genres so much. With this album in particular, I took a lot of inspiration from various other genres ranging from soft rock to lo-fi hip hop to broaden the palette. There is a lot of ‘90s nostalgia as well as some trancey/clubby stuff. I think it was something I wanted to do eventually and I think this was the album to do it to set us up, at least from my point of view and production standpoint, to be more free to move how we feel like without being encumbered by rules of a genre.
MONSTERS drops on July 10th. What is your focus for the rest of 2020?
Tim: The rest of the year is us creating new music! It’s us writing and producing new music across the wiry lines of the Internet. Hopefully, we will keep bringing in talented people to collaborate with. How about you, Tyler?
Tyler: I guess this is the most opportune time for me to tell you this, Tim. I think I’m going to rent an RV and come out to California for a couple of months!
Tim: That’s amazing!
Tyler: I think you and I should get some face-to-face time because we’re probably not going to get it any other time!
Tyler: I think we’re going to put out the record on Friday. We’ll assess and send thank you gifts to our label and management. Then we will get into the hard work of making the next record. I know Tim has been working on his own, as have I, so we will combine and see what seems interesting to spend time with. Then we will get a couple months of face-to-face time. The one good thing about not being on tour is that this is our 9 to 5 job every day, so hopefully we will have some new stuff much more quickly than we did last time.
I know this album is just being released but tease us a bit. What do you foresee when it comes to your next release?
Tyler: Well, like you said, we have to release MONSTERS first. [laughs] MONSTERS is adolescence. Whatever comes next will be the adult version looking back. The whole philosophy behind synthwave is this idea of nostalgia and has been the area we have been digging in for a long time. I’m interested in having a continuation of the KIDS saga, but I also want to think about this idea of nostalgia. Is it escapist? Is it real? Is this just how memory works? What happens to the time that’s passed? These are questions I’m kinda projecting into the future that I want to dive into.
You both created an amazing body of work with The Midnight. Are there milestones that stand out?
Tim: That’s interesting. I think there are some creative milestones as we have started touring over the past few years. I think you can measure it more as you start to see the size of the venues change. However, it’s that connection with the audience that is super rewarding.
Tyler: The skill that I need to learn was how to be the frontman for this kind of group. So, the first milestone was live. Then, our first big show in LA was huge! It was like, “Can I fill up this space and can I sing to 1,500 people and have my energy connect.” I couldn’t at the beginning. Last summer we did a festival in Australia and one at the end of the year in Mexico City. I remember those being milestones for me. You’re in this huge festival tent with people coming and going and paying attention and not paying attention, so your energy has to fill up this space. I finally feel more comfortable in that role, so those are two big milestones for me; being able to be adaptable and able to rise to the occasion and give the environment or room the energy that it needs. I wasn’t always sure that I was able to do that but I’m getting more confident in that now.
What is the best way for fans to support The Midnight at this point in time?
Tyler: Our online merch store is taking orders all the time! [laughs] Honestly, merch is the big one, along with buying records on Bandcamp or buying physical vinyl records. Tim and I are OK but it’s nice to be able to open the umbrella of it to the crew and the people whose yearly incomes are vastly affected by not being able to work. We sold 700 or 800 shirts that were benefitting the crew. With things like that, we’re just trying to take care of as many of our people as we can. So, those are two great ways to lend support.
That’s really cool! One of the coolest musical moments during this pandemic was your One Beating Heart: A Livestream Benefit For Covid-19 Relief. It was an amazing show and I’m sure was quite an undertaking, if not a logistical nightmare at points!
Tim: It was a nightmare for our management! [laughs]
I can only imagine! Kudos to everyone involved for getting it done! It was cool to connect with the work of so many amazing artists like FM-84, Savoir Adore, Primo The Alien, Ollie Wride, Essenger and Violet Days.
Tyler: Yeah, we love our musician friends. They are really talented people in the synthwave and synthwave-adjacent scene. They are a ton of amazingly talented people and we are lucky enough to have a platform to showcase them. Hopefully, that wasn’t the end and we’ll have the opportunity to bring back some more people and expand the party a little bit!
What’s the best lesson we can take from your journey so far?
Tyler: Combine not confine! I think that’s a good one. I don’t know what is going to connect. There is a beautiful humility in following your own drummer for a little while and seeing what comes of it. Meeting Tim was just a random weekday. He had co-writes all the time and so did I in those days. It was just something that stuck. You follow the fire wherever it goes! I think the strength of The Midnight is that Tim and I come from such different places, both artistically and personally. That’s really our strength. We can fill a full spectrum of ideas that neither of us could do individually. So, combine not confine is my offering!
That’s a beautiful perspective. Thank you for your time today! I can’t wait to see where the rest of the journey takes you.
Tim: Thank you so much for having us, Jason!
Tyler: Thank you! We appreciate the support! Take care!
Follow the continuing adventures of The Midnight by visiting their official website at www.themidnightofficial.com. Connect with the band on social media via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Listen to The Midnight on Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube, Bandcamp and Soundcloud.