Grahame Lesh on Midnight North’s New Record, His Musical Heritage & Touring

Midnight North
Photo Credit: Daymon Gardner

Midnight North is a band to keep on your radar. The roots rock band, fronted by the resplendent vocals of Elliot Peck, are carving out a nice name for themselves in the roots, folk, and jam scene.

The band will be heading back to New Jersey, today (August 3) to perform as a part of the Jams on the Sand concert series. Midnight North is no stranger to the city that Bruce built, as they’ve performed at The Stone Pony, Wonder Bar, and the mega popular Asbury Biergarten and Festhalle with his famed father, Dead bassist Phil Lesh hanging out. But the Garden State isn’t the only spot Midnight North is gaining ground, the San Francisco born band, has taken to the festival circuit, and tours around the country.

Lesh recently sat down with us to talk about the band’s new record, his musical roots, and the lessons he’s learned from touring as he and Midnight North get set to perform at Jams on the Sand in Asbury Park.

Could you give me a history of how Midnight North came together?

We’re all based in San Francisco. We met and started playing together in the first iteration of the band in early 2012 I believe. I was in a different band, and through that group we brought in Connor (Croonn, current bassist), and as these things happened, that band fell apart, and he and I started jamming together and brought in Elliott (Peck, guitar/keyboardsvocals), and we started jamming from there. Then came Alex Jordan (guitar, organ, vocals) a year or two later, to be the third voice in harmonies. We’ve been pretty much set, playing and touring and recording as much as we can. We’re lucky we were all in the place where we all wanted to start something new and cool.

Would you say there is one main songwriter or is it more collaborative?

It’s pretty collaborative. Whoever is singing lead though, they pretty much wrote the bones of that. It’s kind of an unarranged, bare bones guitar part, we bring it to the band and we all chip in our two cents and see where it takes us.

How has your approach to songwriting changed over the years as you’ve played with different musicians?

It’s different with each person. Someone starts a lyrical idea, hook, but working with different people is always a different process. You just try to focus on what’s doing best for the song. That part hasn’t changed, and that’s the overarching philosophy for all of us.

Growing up with your father, was it a foregone conclusion that you were going to play music?

It was decided that I would know how to play music and get a musical education, but not that I would do it professionally. That just came when I ended up loving it the way so many other people do. It was just like taking another class at school. I had piano lessons, I learned theory and everything. It was important for my brother and me to learn that. My folks would’ve been all about that no matter what, but it was definitely something we were going to learn.

How’s your touring schedule looking right now?

As of August 1st, we are in the middle of a weeklong East Coast run in DC, Asbury Park, and Pennsylvania, Bears Picnic, this little festival. Then we go home to San Francisco, play two shows this weekend, Saturday and Sunday, in Petaluma and San Francisco. Then we’re starting to announce our fall tour, probably coming back east, then a little back west. We’re starting to find our places where we have fans and people coming out to a lot of shows; the northeast, the Bay Area, northern California, our strongholds. Just trying to build from there slowly but surely.

Were the songs on your most recent album, Under the Lights, debuted live? Or were they recorded first before being taken out on the road?

We definitely played all of these songs live for a while. As far as recording them, it was basically a weekend here, a weekend there, whenever we had time. Whenever we had a couple more songs and the time, we would go lay them down. Those were recorded over the course of five or six short sessions. In between we were writing new stuff, and we didn’t have time to rehearse, so we sort of had to rehearse on the road. We road tested all of them though. That’s our process, and I think it worked out really well. We’ve been playing these songs for a while, and it was nice to get the definitive versions of at least some of them recorded.

What are some things you’ve learned over the course of putting the band together, touring, and releasing three albums?

Well, we’ve put all three of our records out ourselves. We had some help with outreach and distribution, but that’s all just part of the process of putting out a bunch of music and touring a lot. We have mutual friends with one of the distributors, and they were excited, because they’ve heard of us. What we’ve learned is it’s to just keep doing it; you meet people who are willing to help, and it is hard doing it all by yourself, but we just love being in the studio and putting this stuff out there. We were going to do it regardless, but the more we do it the more help we get.

–Questions by Andrew Howie, Intro by Bill Bodkin

Midnight North performs at Jams on the Sand at The Anchor’s Bend in Asbury Park, New Jersey tonight. The show is free.

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