Have you noticed the days elongating in a very satisfying manner? Wouldn’t it be good if there was some new music to accompany this happy seasonal change? Well, rarely are a band as well named as Midsummer. The Mellor family has just been on holiday and Midsummer’s new album ‘The Stories You Tell’ even managed to bring joy to a ponderous crawl up the M5. I caught up with Chris to fill us in on all things Midsummer.
Do introduce the band, Chris
Midsummer is a band/collective of 6 musicians based in Birmingham. We’re acoustic singer-songwriters with a folk edge.
Our songwriting core is Chris Taylor (me) and Lizzy Daniel-Sam. Lizzy’s the main singer, although I sing on a few songs too. I also play guitar, mandolin and percussion. Then there’s Ben Kyte (bass), Jenny Chen (violin), J Clay (trumpet and percussion) and Andy Gordon (guitar, accordion, ukulele and pretty much everything else). Everyone joins in on the singing too!
How did Midsummer come about?
At the end of 2014 Lizzy and I got a small band together to play some folky carols as a one-off at the Oasis Church carol service. It was really good fun and worked well. Afterwards, Danielle Wilson asked if we’d be up for supporting her band Eeek! at a gig the following October. We didn’t have a set or any original songs, but since it was 10 months away it seemed like a fun challenge and we said yes!
So we spent the next 6 months or so writing songs together and building a short set. Our original band from the carol service was made up of students who were coming to the end of their time in Birmingham, so in August we started to gather a new set of musicians, mainly from church and from other bands I’d played with in the past.
The gig with Eeek! went well and Lizzy and I carried on writing songs together and looking for gigs and things went from there.
Oasis Church, Birmingham seems to propel musicians into the local music scene more effectively than any other church I’ve come across (The Broken. Joanna Karselis. Thinktank. Ticking Boxes. You guys) What’s your church’s secret?
Firstly, I think collaboration and helping each other out is a big part of it. Out of the bands/artists you’ve mentioned, we’ve all been in other bands together, played with each other live or remixed each other’s music.
Secondly, I also think we help inspire each other as to what can be achieved. When Thinktank recorded their triple EPs Faith, Hope and Love, I saw Rod and Collin taking their time over it to make it as good as they could. If I hadn’t already seen someone I know do that, it would have been hard to have the vision to write and record the Midsummer album.
Thirdly, Impact definitely plays a big part too. (Ed: Impact is the live music promotion team that has come out of the church). Although Impact doesn’t exist to promote Christian musicians, we’ve all played at Impact gigs, and they’re useful stepping stones to try out new ideas, show other people what we can do, and to use as a platform to get other gigs (as well as being really good events in their own right).
And finally, Oasis Church is also good at inviting its musicians to be creative within church life. I’m particularly thinking about the carol services where we’ve been invited to create something different – you never know where that could lead.
I know that the album has gone through a lot of honing and crafting, and Chris, I hope you don’t mind, but you have a bit of a reputation as a perfectionist. What advice can you give on how to make a good album even better?
First off, I don’t think of myself as a perfectionist(!) But some things I think helped improve the album are:
- We practised the songs a lot, gigged with them and made demo tracks before recording. That helped us to know our parts and the feel and flow of the song before we started recording.
- Once we decided to record 10 songs, we set a deadline for a release date. I worked backwards from there to work out when we needed to finish each stage of the process and worked hard to meet those deadlines.
- When we were mixing the songs we spent a lot of time going through them with a fine tooth-comb, but we also regularly took a step back to listen to the whole thing to make sure it still worked as a whole.
- We compared the sound to other records we liked and we asked for feedback from people we knew who we felt could give an objective opinion.
I’m really proud of the album, and I’m also aware of its limitations. There was a phrase someone posted in the Sputnik group, which I really liked: ‘finished, not perfect’, and it was really helpful to keep that in mind as we were getting towards the end of the project.
Talk us through the album then. What are your influences? What themes do you explore in the songs?
When Lizzy and I started writing, I really wanted to write songs like Frank Turner, which everyone can sing along to. Lizzy had wanted to sing songs like Eva Cassidy. I think you can hear those influences a little. But we also sound a bit like early Mumford and Sons, Goodnight Lenin and maybe Fleetwood Mac’s Buckingham/Nicks songwriting partnership.
The things we write about tend to be a search for home, dealing with loss and enjoying community; there’s an underlying sense of hope in most of our songs.
Can you break down one of the songs on the album for us?
The idea behind the song ‘Summer’s Over’ was sparked by Pip Piper’s film ‘Mountain Biking – The Untold British Story’, and the interview with mountain biker Martyn Aston. After breaking his back he thought he’d never ride again, but was able to find a way to keep riding. He said ‘I never knew, on the day I had my accident, my best day on a bike was yet to come’. It’s a really inspiring story. Something he said ‘you don’t know what lies ahead, you only know what’s happening in this moment’. That line became the heart of the song.
Thanks Chris. And thanks Midsummer.
To get a flavour of the music, ‘You Got It Then’ is free to stream to your heart’s content:
To buy digital and physical copies, visit www.midsummerfolk.bandcamp.com