Midnight Snack might be the only band in history to move to Asheville and become less jam-oriented. The quintet started in Boston while the members attended college and studied music together, but once they all graduated and decided to pursue the band full-time, they knew they'd be relocating.
"After we graduated, we decided to do a super-long tour," says Midnight Snack bassist Peter Brownlee. "We'd played 70 or so shows by that time, and we'd even gone all the way out to California, but this was like a post-graduation road trip where we were playing five or six nights a week. And some of that intention was to find a new place to live."
The band didn't even have a date scheduled in Asheville when they discovered it. They simply had a day off. "We'd just heard it was great," Brownlee says. "So we did some street performing that went really well, and while we were busking someone said that if we had another free night, they had a venue, and so we were able to come back and play another show. We came back a month or so later and found another show and then another. It was just very welcoming. We were surprised how great the music scene and the people here were."
As it turns out, it was exactly the change that the band needed. Their first album, 2013's The Explorist, was melodic enough, but the music veered between jam-band exploration, faux reggae, and easy-rolling funk-rock. The follow-up, The Times, was tighter and more focused but still leaned heavily on mixing progressive-rock experimentation with catchy pop hooks. By the time they went into sessions for their third album, the soon-to-be-released Child's Eyes, the band had built their own studio and spent a lot of time playing on the Asheville music scene.
"It's been remarkable," Brownlee says. "We were in Boston for four years doing the band — and granted we had college and other stuff going on so we weren't taking it as seriously as we are now — but what we accomplished in four years in Boston, I think we accomplished in a year in Asheville. A lot of it has to do with the industry here. It's competitive but it's not like Boston, where there are too many bands and not enough market for it. But the market here seems to be getting bigger every day. There's a lot of room for growth here."
And as the band found musicians that both challenged and supported them, they made some decisions about where their music was headed. "I do think we found a sound where we're including the poppier melodies that are a bit easier to wrap your head around," Brownlee says. "Our older stuff was considerably more complex, a lot less accessible, which is honestly what comes a bit more naturally to us. I think that's something we've always had, because we all studied music and been interested in more progressive music. And it's not like we had a meeting and said we were going to make more accessible music, but we were making stuff that we had to really think about it, and we had to get over that a little bit."
The first single off of Child's Eyes, called "Magic," is a prime example of the band's new approach. Over a laid-back acoustic-electric groove, singers Jack Victor and Katie Richter sing in close vocal harmony over a tight beat, with Richter's trumpet providing accents during the song's chorus. The song has a clean, minimal arrangement that allows the song's melody to shine. And even when the throwback, '70s-sounding keyboard comes in for a solo, it doesn't overstay its welcome. "I think it's representative of the fact that we're trying different new things," Brownlee says.
Perhaps one of the reasons that the band has been able to experiment with their sound is that they were able to record it in their own studio in the home the band shares. "For this one we were able to draw it out a lot more and continue to fine-tune and keep chipping away at each song," says Victor. "I don't feel like we overworked too much stuff, but if we did it was all worth it."