Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Midnight Empire; Emerging Artist Pick

Last year around this time, no one had heard of the Dallas-based rock band called Midnight Empire. They were still a few months out from starting a band. Bassist/vocalist Jacob Henderson and guitarist Art Struck hadn't met. And drummer Matt Cook wasn't a glimmer (someone else with sticks came first).

And yet, Midnight Empire comes across as a three-piece that has played together for decades. They have a manager. They have a slate of booked shows. They earned some play time on local stations. They have a self-produced album, up on iTunes and stocked at most Dallas record stores.

"When you look at other local bands, so many seem like they are afraid to do stuff for themselves," says Cook. "They seem like they're waiting around for something to happen."

But not this band. Despite a big rock sound that often harkens back to an era that predates grunge and alternative rock, they have a modern tenacity that's hard to ignore.

They set their lightning pace early last year, shortly after one of Henderson's friends suggested he call Struck. Struck had recently graduated from the Musicians Institute's GIT Program in Hollywood and moved to Dallas in the hope of starting a band too.

When they did meet, it came together naturally. They started writing acoustic arrangements on the same day. They established a definitive direction. They could see who they wanted to be.

All they didn't have was a drummer. And it would take several months before they found Cook. In fact, Henderson and Struck still describe their first drummer experience with an intense bitterness. They call him lame. A fucking idiot. A virgin with STDs.

"We really wanted a band that could collaborate on all ideas," says Henderson. "A lot of times, we piece together stuff and then Art shows up with some chords, and maybe a word or a phrase or a title. And then we all jump in and start dissecting it until something comes out of it that isn't forced."

That's not to say everything comes easy for the band. After advocating that they take a long shot on Kickstarter, band manager Kevin Huckabee had more than a few sleepless nights. Despite one of the better EPKs to showcase the album they wanted to produce, Midnight Empire hit another wall.

Everything And Nothing almost added up to nothing. 

Some people liked what they heard enough to share it, but the funding seemed stuck in neutral. And with less than half the funding pledged a few days before the deadline, any excitement had waned. Huckabee even sent a private message to backers, outlining a backup plan with less than 72 hours left.

"We didn't expect anything at that point," said Henderson. "But then Kevin called me two days before it was over and said 'you're not going to believe this but we just got $2,500 from one person.'"

The single contribution reignited the funding, pushing it $11 over the $6,000 needed for studio time at Crystal Clear Sound in Dallas, which has recorded artists ranging from Ted Nugent and Eddie Coker to Tripping Daisy and Doosu. It was also enough to cover their engineer, Kent Stump.

Even so, the band didn't waste a single minute of studio time. Although some songs were written a few weeks prior, the entire album was fully realized before they walked through the doors. It left the band just enough time to wing a few guitar solos and change up some harmonies.

"The album took 37 hours and we recorded our parts in 17 hours, so that was everything. That was the rhythmic beds, that was the overdubs, that was tiny fuck ups," said Struck. "I felt inspired there, like there was a real electricity in air. There was a real wonderment about the whole thing, at least from my perspective."

There was a real wonderment in being funded too, by Struck especially. He admits that he didn't get it [Kickstarter] or even fully appreciate what it meant until he heard a Dallas Morning News report on their success. He gets it now and, like the entire band, couldn't be more grateful.

"That effort — the labor, hustling, promotion — is all Kevin," said Struck. "Now, I just drink beer and play guitar."

Of course, Struck does more than play the guitar. When he isn't making jokes, he is surprisingly reflective about the kind of music he and his bandmates want to make. In working on songs or playing on stage, he strives for a sound that can't be quantified. They only want to be sincere and make genuine rock and roll music like they grew up with, and with a few new twists.

"We do stay real busy as a three piece," adds Henderson. "We've got a lot of jobs going on when we're playing on stage, but we love it. We've even been adding more backup vocals, especially with Matt to liven up our presence."

Midnight Empire Revives Big Rock At 5.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

All in all, there is something likable about the band. And while they really like an early review that described them as "like everything and nothing you ever heard," their real calling card is exactly like Henderson, Struck, and Cook echo on a regular basis. They deliver polished, genuine rock and roll that might not be edgy, but still carries a smooth and sometimes melancholy sound you haven't heard since rock bands in the late 80s started over thinking record sales.

For starters, check out the fast-paced All Used Up, bipolar-ish Tidal Wave, and Take You Home, an up tempo lament about a girl who blows off the guy she goes out with. Ask the band and they'll instinctively pick Black Eyes and Misery. The album, Everything And Nothing, is available on iTunes.

Rich Becker was also a Kickstarter backer on the album.
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