By Frances Marion Givhan and Becca Hannigan
On the stage by Lake Cheston on Saturday, April 23, there stood six musicians, two life-sized flowers, and several microphone stands wrapped up in strands of lights. Midnight Snack is no stranger to Sewanee and fits into the community well. The six-member band, based in Asheville, North Carolina, enjoys sitting and staring at goats and skinny-dipping in murky lake water, quite like Sewanee kids. The band has played at Sewanee twice, first at the Green House in the fall of 2014 and second at the 2015 Sewaneroo. Peter Brownlee, who plays bass, went to the same high school as Bella Lily (C’17), Malcolm Brown (C’18), and John Cochran (C’15), which established an immediate connection and brought them to play at Sewanee for the first time. This past weekend, Sewanee had the opportunity to witness Midnight Snack open Sewaneroo 2016.
Music is not always considered in terms of texture, but the structural components of the song make it what it is. With brass, string, and percussion instruments, as well as synthesizer and vocals, Midnight Snack makes music that feels like something never heard before. On their website’s biography, it says the band “blends masculine rock tradition with a distinct feminine delicacy,” which Victor attributes to their mix of male and female vocals. “Certain instruments tend to be interpreted as more masculine and more feminine,” he says. “We try to find a balance there; the music ends up falling somewhere in the spectrum.” The band also finds inspiration from artists that have female and male vocals, which they believe increase the accessibility of the sound.
Peter Brownlee also writes many of the lyrics, and says that he reads poetry and spends time outside to keep himself open to new ideas. The band stresses the importance of pulling from different genres, as shown in the description of their music on their website, integrating elements of psychedelic rock, indie-dance, and baroque pop. Brownlee argues that it’s hard to describe their sound in one to two words, as they do not fit into particular categories. “We stretch the limitations of certain genres to create new sounds, things that wouldn’t traditionally be combined,” says Brownlee.
At their Saturday performance, they brought more funk and groove with their own unique style than most bands demonstrate at Cheston. Part of this style comes from the variety of instruments each member plays.
Victor and his brother Michael Johnson met Brownlee and Zack Kardon (guitar) at Berklee College in Boston, Katie Richter (vocals, trumpet) in Vermont, and Meryll Davis (vocals, percussion) in Asheville. When Davis joined, they had their official six-person line-up. The members bring their own influences into the group, which “opens up different possibilities in production,” says Brownlee. “To use an artist metaphor, the more colors you have to paint with, the wider the spectrum is that you have to work with.” Brownlee views the band’s single biggest thing as mixing unexpected combinations of clichés and sounds.
“In a band, you get the chance to make something bigger than yourself,” says Victor. “To make great art you have to go on this crazy ego trip – loving yourself and hating yourself – but in a band, you do things you couldn’t have done on your own. You make room for other ideas.”
Brownlee also mentions how rewarding it feels to go through the process of making music. “It’s great to do something that I love with people I love, and I feel like the experience continues to educate me.” He treasures the moments when the band can look at the growth they’ve had that they are totally responsible for. “It’s cool how we’ve pushed each other to achieve these things,” he says.
“We did this,” says Victor. “We actually did that.”
At Sewaneroo, Richter and Davis positioned themselves on opposite sides of the stage. They voices were both beautifully distinct, but blended smoothly together. Only three of the band members were given microphones, but “they could and should all sing,” said Kardon with a smile on his voice. He sounded like he was joking, but seemed serious at the same time. The fact that they can all contribute to vocals shows how much talent each person brings to the group.
The band is now full of confidence that making music is their real and legitimate endeavor. Though each member works their own job to pay the bills, they have a new record coming out soon. Their excitement reached an all- time high with this particular record because they now have the infrastructure in place to have it heard by significantly more people.
“With the release of the new album, we’re upping the ante and introducing elements you don’t see in a lot of performances,” says Brownlee. “The next necessary step is pushing boundaries.”
Correction on May 8, 2016: Peter Brownlee went to school with Bella Lily (C’17), Malcolm Brown (C’18), and John Cochran (C’15), not Jack Victor