Pop culture is riding a surging wave of eighties nostalgia in television (like Netflix hits Stranger Things and Glow) or fashion trends or current pop music. With the resurgence of electronic dance music on popular radio, synth and electronic experimentation is spreading like wildfire. Enter the retrowave eighties bands, niche projects that are paying homage to the synthwave generation through interpretations of the dreamy and dramatic tunes of that era. It’s a fresh take on the familiar and the movement includes bands like Timecop1983, FM-84, and my current favorite The Midnight.

The Midnight consists of Tim McEwan, a producer by way of Denmark who now resides in Los Angeles, and Tyler Lyle, a songwriter from the deep south. The pair live on opposite coasts yet create impressively infectious, nostalgia-inducing tracks. Today, The Midnight premiered “Crystalline”, the debut single off their third album Nocturnal, set for release on Friday, October 13th. The single boasts visually descriptive lyrics, killer saxophone solos and a Phil Collins drum fill that’ll take you back.

The Midnight spoke with the LA Music Blog about how they dream up perfectly-crafted eighties-inspired tracks, their plans for a Los Angeles performance in the fall and what to expect on their “much darker, more cinematic” upcoming record.

LA Music Blog: What made you embark on this eighties musical journey? What’s your connection to that era?

Tim: I took it in that direction. I met Tyler at a writing session back in 2012. That was before we knew what this whole thing was going to be and it developed over a few years. We had a chemistry in the studio whenever we wrote… Tyler was already an artist and singer songwriter in this own right, and I brought this new, other sound to his more folk style of writing.

I come from a pop background – British pop, R&B and electro and things like that. I grew up in the eighties, we both did, and I listened to Toto, Phil Collins, The Police, all of that when I was a kid, so it was natural. I’d never had a proper outlet for really being fully eighties, going all out and living out that kind of “teenage dream”. We had these songs and I spent a while figuring out the tone and feel of the project. It was my aesthetic and we mixed it up with Tyler’s writing style. That was the birth of The Midnight. It set the tone and we grew from there.

Tyler: I was writing pop music in Los Angeles, the three to five co-writes a week. We had written a few songs and Tim came in with a strong direction. I said yes because it was interesting and cool. My experience of eighties music was Dwight Yoakam and Garth Brooks. It was much later that I found Springsteen, Phil Collins and Peter Gabriel and that side of eighties pop music. [The Midnight] was a great experiment because I got to try out songwriting from a different angle. It was more image-based rather than narrative based, like the country songs I grew up listening to as a kid.

A sampling of The Midnight’s visual inspiration (Instagram)

You’re obviously inspired by nostalgic images and your lyrics reflect the “teenage dream” you mentioned. You look back on that time with such positivity despite how many bad decisions we make in our youth. How do you tap into feelings like that, such as in the song “Los Angeles” with lyrics like, “my heart feels the weight of all I don’t know.” How do connect back to those feelings from your younger years?

Tyler: I would first say that I grew up in a pretty conservative household. My adolescent was not that of a typical kid. I wasn’t sneaking cigarettes behind the football game. I left my very conservative upbringing late [in life]. This songwriting with The Midnight is the William Carlos William version of lyric writing. It’s very visceral. I’m tying this youth, adolescent, erotic idea to spirituality in a way. Songs like “Los Angeles” have wish fulfillment, but I’m also talking about some experience with the divine. As someone who didn’t really get to experience that “teenage dream” ideal, I’m maybe kind of going back and writing it for myself because I didn’t get to live it.

Tim handles the instrumentation before Tyler comes in with the lyrics, right?

Tim: Yeah, generally. For the most part, Tyler writes the lyrics and most of the melodies. Sometimes I might have an idea or two for the melodies and may tweak them a little bit, but that’s really his area. I come up with the chords and the tracks and wrap my world around his songs. It was interesting because one of the first songs we wrote was “Gloria”. That chorus was an old idea he had in his scrapbook. I asked if he had any rough ideas… and he played the chorus for “Gloria”. His chords for it were much more like Bob Dylan, more folk and straight forward. I took that exact melody and played around with different chords so it sat differently in the scale. I brought my preferences and taste into the melody he already wrote and it became a new song. We bring different sides out of each other, it makes it interesting.

And your instrumentation can be really different as well. You have explore upbeat, dance-ready songs “Sunset” and dramatic ballads like “Synthetic”. Do you feel you push each other outside of your comfort zones? 

Tim: I’ve never thought of it as “outside our comfort zones”. I don’t exactly push Tyler. I might ask if lyrically we can take something in a certain direction. I would say I’m lucky because the production skill set of what I do is so outside of Tyler’s area of knowledge. Tyler isn’t interested in learning how to produce eighties music. It makes it liberating for both him and me. He gives me creative freedom.

“Synthetic” is actually the only song I’m on the vocals. My writing style is slightly different than Tyler and I write more pop  in terms of melodies. That song was [written] when I had come out of a breakup and I was pulling out the emotions. It was therapy. Generally with our songs, I play the chords and Tyler and I discuss what we like. I leave him alone and let him do his thing. We may tweak it after but most of the time, we just do our things and it’s really freeing and fun for us.

Tyler: Unfortunately for Tim, his thing takes much longer amount of time than my thing.

Tim: Also because I’m a perfectionist and extremely slow.

You release instrumental versions of your albums as well. What prompted that?

Tim: Within the synthwave world and this genre, a lot of fans love instrumentals. Most synthwave tracks don’t have vocals on them. We had a lot of people who loved the songs but were also interested in just the tracks. One fan asked for the instrumentals and I thought why not? I put it up so everyone wins and both kinds are available. A lot of synthwave fans like having access to instrumentals because a lot of them are producers. They like listening and digging into the details.

How do you decide what songs are instrumental versus those that have lyrics?

Tim: While I’m making the track, I’ll think it has an instrumental feel. If I’m not sure, then I’ll send Tyler a few ideas and he usually gravitates to ones he likes. If I still like the track and he wasn’t inspired to write on it, I make an instrumental. Sometimes they have a really distinct feel, like the track “Crockett’s Revenge”. Nothing came of it [lyrically] and I thought it worked better without it. It was almost too much to have vocals on top of it since it was more a piece of movie score rather than a pop song. Generally, it happens while we come up with the idea, and we go with what feels natural. If Tyler wants to write on it, he always does. On our new EP Nocturnal, it’s going to be more half and half in terms of instrumental tracks versus songs with vocals.

You guys are bi-costal and California pops up a lot in your music. You post lots of images of the beach and you have a song named “Los Angeles”. Does New York influence your writing as well Tyler?

Tyler: “Endless Summer” was written about Coney Island. “Vampires” was a scene right out of American Pyscho in the vein of eighties midtown New York Wall Street. There’s a lot of new material coming up that was influenced by New York.

You’ve been dropping hints about the upcoming album, describing it as “slick, moody and more introspective”. The overall feel is that it will be “darker” than your previous two releases.

Tyler: It comes out on Friday the thirteenth, so it certainly has a Halloween, John Carpenter eighties element to it, but it’s still very much a Midnight record.

Tim: It’ll be more moody I think. It’ll feel more nighttime than summery.

Sounds like it’ll be more cinematic and more in line with a film score to create a mood, not for driving to the beach.

Tim: That’s a good way of putting it. It’ll be more in line with “Vampires” or another track called “Equalizer”. What inspires me is usually movies. The aesthetic I’m going for with this new EP is more older Michael Mann movies like Thief and Heat or James Cameron’s The Terminator from 1984. That kind of nighttime, Los Angeles, cruising around the city, streetlights, neon, maybe a little bit of rain coming down the windscreen. It’ll have more moody, cooler vibe. It’ll be less John Hughes and more Miami Vice at night.

The music of your nostalgia-driven tracks is so distinctive and evokes such strong eighties imagery. It matches your aesthetic from what you also post online to capture that era. 

Tim: I’m so glad to hear that. It’s always fascinating to me, because those are the images I see in my head. To hear someone hears our music and that’s the aesthetic they’re getting without seeing our social media. You’re getting out of it what I’m taking in.

Photo credit: Nick Asokan

Your fans are seeing those images as well! This year, you asked your fans to contribute visuals for your debut show in San Francisco this past July and had a terrific response. 

Tim: That was Tyler’s idea. I wanted visuals for the show because the venue had a big screen but I didn’t have time to make videos. He said we should ask people to submit visuals and if we got enough, we could use them in the set. We didn’t know our set list and were hoping for four or five. We got around fifty video from tons of fans who put hours of work into it! That was amazing and we felt very lucky. We want to post all of them on our website because it was incredible.

Tyler: I was astounded by the number of hours that people put into making them. Everyone was really upbeat about sending stuff in. It’s such a cool, supportive community.

So fans are getting inspired to make visuals from your music, which is visually based. Full circle! Do you have future plans to come to Los Angeles to perform?

Tyler: We’re waiting for confirmation but we are hoping to play Los Angeles in November.

Anything else to add?

Tyler: I just watched Terminator 2 for the first time in fifteen years and it was awesome.

For more information on The Midnight:
Official Site
Official Facebook