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INTERVIEW: Midnight Lands

Hi Ben, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?

Hello VENTS, it’s great to be with you!

Can you talk to us more about your song “Standing Above”?

“Standing Above” is a song about remaining open-hearted despite tragedy and loss. When you have loved and lost, there is a natural tendency to try and protect yourself from that happening again. And if you try to armor up or shelter yourself, you won’t be as able to be a loving person. So to me, the answer is to embrace the risk of total devastation that is inherent to love.

I decided early on to keep “Standing Above” as a lonely acoustic song, but I couldn’t resist putting a guitar solo on at the ending. It turned out to be a pretty special moment and a hopeful way to close out the record.

Did any event in particular inspire you to write this song?

It’s hard to put this into words, to be honest. I wanted to write something that would be universal for anyone who had experienced profound heartache and loss, to stay open to love and not close down and shut the world out.

Any plans to release a video for the track?

That is probably a great idea! I’ll have to work on that.

The single comes off your new album Destroy The World – what’s the story behind the title?

“Destroy the World” was a song that I had worked on pretty hard and then had put aside for a while during the recording process. As I was coming into the final couple of weeks of working on the record, I rediscovered it and got really excited. It sounded really different from the rest of the material, and was just a great change of pace to put in the middle of the album.

The song is really about how our personal worlds are subject to a lot of turmoil and loss, sometimes as a necessary thing that we choose. While our worlds may be destroyed, we can’t just be wiped out — we have to stay close to the strength that’s needed to carry us forward.

The album as a whole is about the response to loss and tragedy, and the chorus to this song delivers this idea in the most direct and accessible way. So, “Destroy the World” it is!

How was the recording and writing process?

To write lyrics, usually I’ll have a song title or a couple of lines that just spring into my head from outer space. Those lines will suggest another and then I’ll see if there’s a theme or topic that I’m trying to address. Then I’ll edit them down to where I feel they get the point across as best I’m able.

Once the lyrics are in good shape, I’ll sit down with a guitar and see if any riffs or chord progressions  materialize that suit the tone of the lyrics and allow for a good vocal melody. I’m really open to serendipity, and I’m very happy to take the first idea that works and see where it might go.

Once I have the idea for the song, I’ll play it a few times to figure out the right tempo, then lay down a drum machine loop. Then I’ll record a guide guitar, bass and vocals over that drum machine and see how the arrangement feels. I might trim a few bars from a bridge or rearrange the different sections a little bit. Once the arrangement is done, I’ll record a drum part, which is the most challenging part of the process. When I’ve managed to play the song well on drums, I’ll re-record the bass, guitar and vocals along to the new drums, and keep adding layers until it sounds as good as I can make it! This record took about two years from start to finish.

How did you get to archive a live approach and overall vibe on this record?

I listened to a lot of Urge Overkill during the making of the record. There’s a spontaneity and directness about their music that I really love. It’s hard-hitting, to the point and it doesn’t feel stuffy. So I wanted to see if I could have that live-on-the-floor type of feel even though I was playing everything myself.

I have had a tendency on my last few albums to do a lot of layering of overdubbed guitar parts, and I tried to resist that so that the character of the guitar sound and the guitar playing of each section would come through. I think that really helped the live feel as the guitar parts are more distinct, and it’s more about the performance and not just a ‘wall of sound’. 

What is it about the 90s that you find so fascinating?

What I loved about the 90s was the return of a heavy rock sound to popular music. Things had gotten a little bit sterile sounding through the 80s, there were a lot of drum machines and keyboards and music sounded really processed and synthetic. There were great songs happening, but the aesthetic was a little bit cold, robotic and impersonal.

When Nirvana happened, it was so crazy to all of a sudden hear this guy screaming and losing his mind over this absolutely ripping guitar music. So hearing that was really exciting, and of course Pearl Jam and Soundgarden were blowing up too. The Rush album “Counterparts” that came out in 1993 was a big deal for me as a fan of the band too, to hear them sound so huge again. 

How has Green Day and Arcade Fire influenced your writing?

Arcade Fire is a band I love for their unique instrumentation and the kind of mood and ambience of their music. I loved “The Suburbs” when it came out and listened to it a whole lot. It really felt like an adventure, like the album was more than a collection of songs — really a cohesive experience.

Green Day seems to me to be similar to melodic punk rock bands like The Descendants. Simple songs with four chords but delivered very earnestly, with really great vocal melodies, big sounds and excellent production. Trying to make something as hard rocking and as melodic and easily accessible as Green Day is a worthy goal to me.  

What were some of the emotions you get to explore on this record?

There’s a fair bit of heartache and pain on “Destroy the World”, but I always want to balance those feelings with something hopeful and optimistic. To me, if you can inject a feeling of positivity into the listener, that’s really a great thing to do. I’m a big Yes fan, and while Yes lyrics are often difficult to understand, there is a positive energy that always comes through and it’s something you can depend on. In a similar way, I wanted listening back to this record to be an empowering and energizing experience for people, even while I addressed some difficult feelings.

Where else did you find the inspiration for the songs and lyrics?

A lot of my worldview and lyrics are inspired by spiritual authors like Eckhart Tolle, David Richo, Gary Zukav and people like this, who address what it really means to be human, and how to experience life, and be a loving person. “Catch and Release”, for example, describes letting go of the past, and of expectations, and instead being open to the moment now in whatever form it takes. Really experiencing things as they are as fully as possible, without judgement. “Take Flight” is similar, really saying it’s possible to feel free, and to be free despite so many things that may be burdens or obstacles. 

Any plans to hit the road? 

I have been performing the album and older songs in solo acoustic format around Chapel Hill on a regular basis and really enjoying that.  Will be looking to get some more band members to recreate the album experience before too long. 

What else is happening next in Midnight Lands’ world?

I’m continuing to record new songs and making great progress on a follow up album. Will be looking at doing some videos as well. I’ve also been posting some instructional videos on my Instagram page @midnight.lands, to help other musicians or people just getting started with music production and trying to share what I’ve learned producing rock music by myself over the last several years.

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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