The Midnight was formed in 2012 by Southern-born, Atlanta-based singer/songwriter Tyler Lyle and Denmark-born, LA-based drummer and producer Tim McEwan. The duo has continued to fearlessly blaze a unique sonic trail in the decade since its launch. Their latest release is no exception to the rule. Their most ambitious album to date, ‘Heroes’ is the band’s fourth LP and the third in a trilogy. The journey began with 2018’s ‘Kids’ – which reached #1 on the Billboard Dance/Electronic Chart – and was followed by ‘Monsters’ in 2020.
As fans of the band can attest, it has been a beautiful journey! Tyler Lyle breaks it down very simply, “…for me, Kids is self-knowledge, Monsters is self-love, and Heroes is empathy.” You can hear this shift in the new songs, which are more visceral and warm, ushering in The Midnight’s next era with some of their biggest and boldest songs yet. Their expansion to a five-piece band with the addition of Lelia Broussard on bass, Royce Whittaker on guitar, and Justin Klunk on saxophone and synth have given the group the ability to realize their potential on record and through their undeniably powerful live shows. This influx of new raw talent has allowed The Midnight to elevate their game to an even higher level. Produced by The Midnight’s own Tim McEwan and mixed by Ingmar Carlson (Tate McCrae, Disclosure, Carly Rae Jepsen), the album is meticulously crafted and from the heart. A striking patchwork of portraits and palpable creative energy, ‘Heroes’ is one of those rare that springs to life the second the needle hits the record and never lets up.
Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with The Midnight’s Tyler Lyle and Tim McEwan to discuss the new album and the evolution of their sound. But, most importantly, they offer insight into where their musical exploration may soon lead them!
Before we dive into the new record, I wanted to revisit your creative pasts. Do you remember the moment you first fell in love with music?
Tim McEwan: That’s a good question. I grew up with a lot of music in my home. My dad was a drummer, and I started playing drums as a result. I have vague memories of my dad listening to The Stylistics when I was around four or five years old. There was a song called “Let’s Put It All Together,” and it’s a moment for me that marks the first time hearing something that made an impression on me as a tiny kid. Those are some of my first memories of thinking, “Music is pretty cool!” [laughs] I said, “Dad, I want to play drums like you.’ So, I started playing drums when I was around 8 years old. That was kind of my in if you will. How about you, Tyler?
Tyler Lyle: There wasn’t a specific moment for me. My dad was the music minister of a small Methodist church and played in a bunch of cover bands. I was just always steeped in music. I do remember the first song I ever learned to sing. My dad taught me “Honky Tonk Man” by Dwight Yoakam. That was the first one that we would sing together when I was around 3 or 4 years old. Music has always been the water that I’ve swam in.
You’ve both achieved success in your field before teaming up. You’ve been building a fantastic body of work together as The Midnight. You’ve poured a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into the project to make it successful. How did that creative drive end up in your DNA?
Tim: Man, that’s another deep question! [laughs]
Tyler: Yeah! I will start. So, I got my heart broken in Atlanta about 12 years ago. I ended up moving to LA after I signed a small production deal out there. I just bumped around for a little while out there, and that’s where I met. I got a publishing deal out there, wrote a bunch of songs, and met many people who would become well-known artists. My wife’s company transferred her to New York, and it wasn’t until then that I realized that the oxygen I was taking up was very precious. I had this kind of come-to-Jesus moment where I crossed the threshold. I thought, “Okay. To be a professional songwriter, I need to do this 40 hours a week. I need to show up in the chair and act as if it’s my normal job if I want it to be my normal job. It was 2014 when I moved to Fort Greene, Brooklyn. That’s when it became really real, and the work ethic, drive, and ambition finally caught up to me. It finally caught up to my actual ambitions and talents. It was like, “This is what we are doing. Full speed ahead!”
Tim: For me, it started with the drums. As a teenager, I was a drummer and always took it very seriously. I would take lessons once or twice a week and practice, and I loved it. It never felt like work. As I got into my mid-teen years, I wanted to pursue being an actual drummer. I grew up in Denmark, so going to a musical equivalent to Berklee College of Music. The Conservatory is what it’s called, and that’s what I thought I wanted to do. Then I got introduced to producing with computers, samples, and stuff when I was about 17. I was still a drummer, but I could also play piano and guitar and sing a little.
When I discovered that world, it dawned on me that I could essentially be my own band. I thought that was really exciting, but I didn’t know anything about computers or that world. So I took the next few years to learn about that world. I was hooked from there on out! It then became a case of trying to set up my home studio. I was in my early 20s when I borrowed money from my parents to buy an Apple computer, learned to use Logic, and began working on songs and remixing. It soon became a passion that I just couldn’t let go of. It was always very much driven by passion.
In my mid-20s, I signed a production deal with a Danish production company called DK. I was there for many years, which was a very formative experience for me. It taught me how to act in sessions and work with other creative people, from songwriters to producers to labels. That world is where I partly paid my dues but also learned the ropes. When I met Tyler, I was actively, and maybe subconsciously, looking to carve my own path artistically and not just make music for others. Before meeting Tyler, I had gotten to the point where it felt like work. When I met Tyler, before we knew that we would make a band, we knew we had fun making music together and creating these different worlds. I just threw myself into it! Making the first EP was all-consuming. It was day and night; I just couldn’t let it go! It’s always been very much led by passion. As you grow up and your passion becomes your job, part of that can feel like a job. Discipline and work ethic, while sometimes challenging, are necessary to push through the barrier. Personally, I don’t believe in writer’s block. I think you have to put your butt in the seat and invest the hours. You may have days on end where you feel like nothing is coming, but the next morning you sit down with your cup of coffee and breakfast while banging around YouTube for an hour. Suddenly, a fun idea that you can’t let go or put down arises, and you’re stuck for the rest of the day. That’s what you want to chase!
What are some of the lessons you learned early on in your career that continue to resonate as you move forward in your career?
Tim: From my perspective, there is a great lesson to be learned. It speaks to anyone trying to carve their own way in this industry. That lesson is to listen to themselves, discover and cultivate what makes them unique and special and follow that. Never let go of that! That’s sort of your superpower, that uniqueness. You want to avoid the trap of trying to sound like everything else or what you think other people want to hear. Following your own inner compass is very important.
Tyler: Yeah, I think that’s right. Also, the more rooted and grounded you can be in reality, the more honest music you will make. You’ll find that resonates a little more for other people and feels truer to yourself. For me, the first ten years of writing songs were trying to be as clever as possible at the expense of anybody liking what I was doing! [laughs] The world begins on the ground, and everything grows from there. So, make sure you are rooted in that as much as possible!
The latest album from The Midnight is ‘Heroes.’ Personally, I think it’s your best record to date. Everything feels heightened, and it oozes creative energy. Tell us a little bit about how the ball got rolling on this one.
Tyler: Thank you! We threw around a lot of ideas about what kind of record we wanted to write. I use this line a lot now in the shows, so forgive me, Tim! We really needed to write the record we needed to hear. I think that it needed to be open-hearted and as welcoming as possible. We wanted to make it as salient for as big of a crowd as possible because we wanted to hear these songs sung back to us at top volume in big rooms. That was the impetus for the new record.
Tim: I echo that sentiment. At first, I think we were exploring not what we thought people wanted to hear but what we thought might be the next natural progression. The DNA of that stayed, but I think it became a much bigger record in terms of some of these songs’ songwriting, choruses, and anthemic nature. We realized we missed being with people in the rooms, shouting at the top of our lungs and seeing them shout it back at us! There is a moment where it becomes sort of a hive mind, and we all become more than the sum of our parts. This album indeed wears its heart on its sleeve. This was the third in the trilogy, with ‘Kids’ in 2018, ‘Monsters’ in 2020, and now ‘Heroes’ in 2022. I think there was a maturity that came with this album. It needed to have an earnestness. You arrive at a point in your life where you realize there is an earnestness that is okay. At that point, you don’t have to hide behind genre, labels, tags, or whatever it is that people can frown upon. This needed to come from the heart and tell some stories that resonated with us. In doing so, hopefully, it will resonate with someone else as well.
Regarding the creative process for ‘Heroes,’ tell us about the different areas of songwriting or production that you were eager to explore with this one?
Tim: Yeah, absolutely! Usually, when Tyler and I get together, we will have random ideas. Tyler will come to the table with ideas, half-finished songs, or fully fleshed-out songs that we can pick apart or do whatever. I will come similarly with a bunch of ideas, which could be anything from a four-barred loop to more fleshed-out ideas. We will throw stuff at the wall and see what sticks. In that process, we come up with an idea of what we want to do. It constantly evolves, as it should, when we are in the room together. This was the longest journey we have had. That is partly because we had the luxury of time during the pandemic to work on this and really finesse everything. There were also the genres we were exploring. At first, we were looking at a mid-2000s bloghouse, a lot of electronic stuff, and upbeat. Then it was emo and then sort of 90s grunge.
We had written a lot of the songs, and we realized we wanted to make a really big record and that we were maybe trying to fit too many things under one umbrella. It felt right to make these songs sound as big as they could. As I said, that creative decision came back to the fact that we really want to be in a room with thousands of people signing these songs at the top of our lungs. Hopefully, that can feel healing to us and everyone else.
Was there a moment when you knew you had exactly what you needed for this album?
Tyler: This is the first album that we had a few more songs than we needed. The nature of how Tim and my creative relationship works is that we get together when we can. Still, we live across the country from one another. So, putting albums together is usually like, “Well, there was nothing extra. There’s no more fat on the bone!” This time we were able to cut a good third of the record. That’s a great feeling because there is stuff for later and stuff that didn’t quite fit the sentiment. There were also things that were just great, but another song sounded like it. In the editing process, this record really came together. It was nice to have the extra year, in the pandemic, to be stuck at home and pondering these questions. Having the luxury of a little bit more time is something that always inevitably makes a record a little bit better.
This is the first time we’ve really opened the doors and made it a collaborative experience. We got together in Guerneville, California. This was after a period of me independently writing songs and Tim independently doing some tracks. We got together and spent a week in the forest on the Russian River. It’s actually not too far from where Paradise, California, where a wildfire killed a bunch of people and devastated the town. That is what the song “Aerostar” is about. We did that, and from there, we went to LA and brought in our friends Royce Whittaker, Lelia Broussard, Jesse Molloy, and Nikki Flores. We opened the briefcase, as it were, and invited them to help chisel down the rest of the experience, which was great! A collaborative process is enjoyable, and a lot of things got added to it that we would never have been able to come up with on our own. So, in our words, “combine, not confine.” I think Royce added a ton of life with his guitar parts.
What does this album say about you as artists at this point in your career?
Tim: That’s a good question. I would answer the question from a broader perspective. For us, each album is an exploration of new territory. We always try to push the boundaries a little bit. That’s what’s fun and keeps it interesting and fun for us, especially coming from a genre like synthwave where it’s very restrictive in many ways. I think it needs a little burst of energy every now and then! The fun is that sort of push-pull dynamic where you step outside the safe bubble for a minute, and then you come back with the next album and maybe stay in that bubble. You always have one foot in each. As David Bowie said in an interview once, “You always want to go just a little further out. You should almost be able to touch the ground. Not too far but not too safe either. I think it should always be like that, and the pendulum tends to swing in opposite directions. ‘Nocturnal’ was brooding, dark, and moody. ‘Kids’ was bright and optimistic with youthful energy. ‘Monsters’ was moody, brooding, and had a lot of emo influences. ‘Heroes’ is big and bold. It’s emotional and wears its heart on its sleeve. We need some earnestness after what the world and America have been through in the past few years. The fun part is now, “Well, what are we going to do now? What other end of the spectrum might we want to visit.” This keeps on happening, and that’s the fun of it! I love the journey. Hopefully, we never get to the point where we say, “Well, we did it all! There is nothing left to do!” [laughs] That would be immensely boring for both of us! [laughs]
Last time we got together for an interview, we discussed how you were finding your footing regarding the live shows. Now, with countless shows under your belt, I’m sure that feels like a lifetime ago. I’m sure it’s getting harder and harder to nail down a setlist! Tell us a bit about the evolution.
Tyler: Yeah, it’s been a big lift. It has gone chiefly on the shoulders of our MD, Royce. We really wanted to give homage to the ‘Kids’ arc and play a few songs that we haven’t played live before, like “Explorers” and “Prom Night.” The initial set was almost two hours long, and I knew there was no way I was going to be able to sing that for 20 dates. So, we paired it down a little bit, but it’s still quite an ambitious setlist. It’s been really fun to translate with five people on stage. It’s a totally different experience. I always say it’s way more fun to be in a rock band! [laughs]
I was able to catch The Midnight live earlier this year at the 930 Club in Washington, DC. It was my first show back following the pandemic. The connection you had with the crowd was like nothing I’d seen before, so I have to thank you for an incredible evening.
Tyler: Wow! Thank You!
Tim: That’s great. Thank you for being there!
Tyler: That was always one of our shortlist venues of places that we’ve always wanted to play. 930 is one of those storied places that we were just so thrilled to be able to play!
You are very in touch with your fan base. Has that connection ever impacted you on a creative level?
Tim: That’s interesting. I don’t know if it has impacted us as much as it informs what we might work on. For example, we might say, “Okay, this is going to be really fun live!” or “Wow, I think the response is going to be really strong.” Ultimately, that can all go out the window because there is never really any way of knowing at the end of the day. We try not to let people’s responses guide our creative endeavors. I think that’s a slippery slope. The flip side of that coin is that when you finish an album, play new songs or something that people know. The most fun you can ever have is when you see the response to those songs and an emotional reaction from strangers. It can come from kindred spirits in the same room or in the comments online. That part of it will always be exciting. But someone once said that if you believe all the good, you have to believe all the bad as well when it comes to what people say about you. At the end of the day, it comes down to what Tyler and I want to do, who we want to collaborate with, and how we can have the most fun. That means exploring new territory and revisiting old rooms we haven’t been to in a while.
Where do you see The Midnight headed in the future? What do the next six months to a year look like for you?
Tyler: In the next six months, we will be in Europe. We plan on doing a few festivals next year. You mentioned Washington, DC. I’m going to do a couple of shows in DC, New York, Chicago, and Atlanta. We’re going to put together a DJ set. So, we will be out touring that in December. So, that’s still in the works.
Tim: People should definitely come out to hear Tyler DJ. His style is so eclectic, and I am super excited to hear what those DJ sets will sound like. (Tickets for all upcoming shows are available at www.themidnightofficial.com.)
Tyler: Me too! [laughs]
Tim: I’m really stoked!
Tyler: Thanks, Tim!
Tyler: As far as records, we’re just getting the wheels spinning. We’re looking forward to the next year of talking through and having a bigger community to collaborate with. Personally, I very much want to hear a dance record from The Midnight. I think the synthwave genre came out of Bloghouse/Breakbeat, indie-dance from the mid-oughts, 2006-2008. That was the stuff I was listening to in my early 20s, getting drunk at bars with friends. I feel like it’s time for a comeback, so I really want to hear some dance songs from The Midnight going forward. I don’t know what Tim wants to hear! [laughs]
Tim: Hey, I’ll take some Midnight dance records anytime! I would also like to go really dark and go hard. I think those two worlds can be married in a really fun and interesting way. As I said, the pendulum swings both ways. With ‘Heroes,’ I wouldn’t call it a bright optimist record. Still, it’s a heartfelt, emotional, big anthemic record with big songs, big ballads, big anthems, and personal stories. As a follow-up, I think it would be really fun to delve into the darker, synthier, harder-sounding tracks. I don’t know, but there are a lot of collaborators that we are throwing around that would be fun to mess around with. A Midnight dance record is certainly something and then get heavy with it! You can make it feel dancey and still make it feel very heavy, half-time, and slow. I think a little bit of both would be really fun. I personally want to create a new genre called “Metalwave.” I don’t know what it sounds like yet, but I like the word! [laughs] So, let’s make it a thing!
Tyler: Following up on what Tim just said, that’s in the back of my mind for a synthwave, darkwave, metalwave set of songs!
Tim: Yes! Absolutely.
I couldn’t be more excited to see where the next stops on this journey take you. You guys have been a bright light through some dark times, so I can’t thank you enough for your hard work on this project. Keep the good stuff coming.
Tim: Thank you so much. It means a lot!
Tyler: Thank you so much, Jason. The fan community propels this thing, so we are forever grateful and excited about that! Thank you!
The Midnight’s ‘Heroes’ LP is out now on Counter Records. Experience it today on the platform of your choice — Click Here! Visit the official website of The Midnight at www.themidnightofficial.com for the latest news, dates, and merch!
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.