Name: The Midnight
Members: Tim McEwan, Tyler Lyle
Interviewee: Tyler Lyle
Nationality: American (Tyler Lyle), Danish-British (Tim McEwan)
Occupation: Singer-songwriter, producer (Tim McEwan), Singer-songwriter (Tyler Lyle)
Current Release: The Midnight's "Brooklyn. Friday. Love" is out now. It's the latest single off their upcoming full-length album Heroes, slated for release September 9th 2022 via Counter.
If you enjoyed this interview with The Midnight and would like to keep up to date with the duo's work, visit their official website. They're also on Instagram, Facebook, Soundcloud, and twitter.
Where does the impulse to create something come from for you? What role do often-quoted sources of inspiration like dreams, other forms of art, personal relationships, politics etc play?
The impulse to create is the same impulse as play. Humans have always and will always want to tinker with the materials around them to create their own worlds - whether that’s the cave paintings in Lascaux or the Lego Deathstar. The mind wants engagement and heart wants engagement, and the craft of songwriting occupies space in both of those spaces.
My early inspiration came from having a dad who was a songwriting teacher who steeped me in lots of folk traditions of the American South. As a child music was always presented as communal, unpretentious, and a vehicle for public emotion.
After having a transformative moment in a Cincinnati art museum with a Monet painting as a freshman in college, I began studying aesthetics and started dabbling in appreciation of fine art.
For you to get started, do there need to be concrete ideas – or what some have called ‘visualisations’ of the finished work? What does the balance between planning and chance look like for you?
Planning happens after. For me there are two creative impulses - that of the artist and that of the editor (then when you’re planning a larger body of work like a record there’s also a curator, which is how you land the plane).
Write the song first; whatever it wants to be. Let it dictate what it is. Don’t engage the critic until the piece is what it is. Then, you can decide what to do with it. So many creatives get tripped up because they engage their critical intellectual filter too early in the process. The editor is the executive in your brain making sure that you don’t embarrass yourself - who scrutinizes and judges and makes value judgements about what is “good enough.” He’s as essential as the artist, but he should function like the clean up crew after the party has already happened.
Don’t invite the editor to the party. That’s a round about way of saying that there are no concrete ideas. You just open your mouth and sing - the ideas are flying around looking for mouths that are open and blank pages ready to be filled and if you open yourself to being momentarily possessed, you’ll find a song. It’s the editor’s job to make sure it’s a good one. It’s the curator’s job to make sure that you reintroduce some artistry at the end of the process.
There is no balance. It’s just separate impulses handing the keys over when the other one is done driving.
Is there a preparation phase for your process? Do you require your tools to be laid out in a particular way, for example, do you need to do ‘research’ or create early versions?
The preparation phase for songwriting is minimal.
I was at the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony a few years ago and Graham Nash said that writing a song was like trying to start a car sitting on a block of ice - meaning, it’s luck if the car starts. You can begin to force luck’s hand by showing up at regular intervals and having your templates ready, but songwriting doesn’t require early versions and studies the way a sculpture or large format painting might.
It’s a bit more like surfing. You have to recognize the right wave when it comes, and you need to have developed the skills necessary to ride it. It’s not like prose where you can write 10,000 words and even if it’s not good, at least you have something to edit. You can put 10,000 words in a song, but if they aren’t the right words, you still don’t have your song.
Do you have certain rituals to get you into the right mindset for creating? What role do certain foods or stimulants like coffee, lighting, scents, exercise or reading poetry play?
Creative habits are essential. I do daily pages and meditate. Will power fades by lunch time, so it’s important to show up to the page at a certain time every day - to work until a certain time, and then, whether there is gas left in the tank or not, to leave it. This is the hard way to do it, but it’s also the easiest.
Daniel Pink writes about chronobiology - meaning how time affects your body throughout the day, and he says that you get a big cognitive boost in the morning - coffee certainly helps, but then around 1pm it starts to wane. You then experience a cognitive dip that feels as extreme as having just had two beers from the early to the late afternoon, and in the evening, you tend to experience more creative moments.
I don’t have time in the evenings to work, so I try and pack my day as full of deep work tasks as early as I can, and when I feel the drag coming, I’m much more forgiving of myself than I used to be if I need to take a walk and listen to a podcast or watch some Youtube videos.
When do the lyrics enter the picture? Where do they come from? Do lyrics need to grow together with the music or can they emerge from a place of their own?
You just start somewhere. Most days there are little lines that hit me - that I record in my Evernote app on my phone. Usually that’s the flour, eggs, and water. Then you just spend time with it, working it.
The creative process is play, so switching gears after you have some chunks written isn’t as dangerous as I used to think. If the puzzle is truly engaging then it’ll work behind the scenes and come back to you with an elegant solution that appears in a flash. I have a few dozen of these puzzles in my head, and every now and then the circuits line up and the lightbulb goes off. The important part is to not build your day around the lightening bolts.
To work in a creative field is to be a day laborer - a ditch digger in my own personal mythology: you just shovel dirt. Sometimes you’re buying a body - sometimes you’re laying a foundation for a cathedral - that’s not the important part. The important part is that you just keep shoveling- and more than that, that you learn to enjoy that part of it, because that’s basically all there is.