Midnight North is a genre-bending band from Northern California that features Elliott Peck (guitar/keys/vocals), Grahame Lesh (guitar/vocals), Connor O’Sullivan (bass/mandolin) and Nathan Graham (drums/percussion/banjo).
City Paper recently caught up with the group’s principal songwriters, Peck and Lesh, to discuss the eclectic ensemble’s history, its forthcoming album and the current tour that lands Midnight North back at Charleston Pour House for an intimate concert June 4. The pair said that there was no original conception for the act, only a mutual admiration for one another and a profound love of music.
After growing up and attending college in the Midwest, Peck recalls, “I moved out to the Bay area in 2005 and was singing and playing piano with various other musicians, but I never felt like I had found my thing — as in a project that I could really throw myself into, until Grahame and I connected in 2012. At that point, I was like, ‘Hey Grahame, I could sing harmony on all of your songs, and I also have all these other songs that I’ve been writing, too.’ So, we just started rehearsing and jamming together and the rest is history. It’s been really fulfilling and really amazing.”
Lesh, a Stanford graduate and son of legendary bass player Phil Lesh, adds that there were a couple of important occurrences that made such a situation possible. “My college band was ending just as Elliott was coming into the picture. And the thing that was pretty key for us was that Terrapin Crossroads [a music venue in San Rafael, California, owned by his parents] was opening at the time. That gave us a regular place to play and develop as a band when we needed it most.”
Being free of expectations allowed these like-minded musicians to eventually arrive at something special in terms of sound. Since those formative years, the group has continued to expand and evolve, becoming increasingly known for lush harmonies and an uncanny ability to slip back and forth between musical themes including rock, classic country, blues, rhythm and blues, and jazz. “The cool thing about this band,” Peck said, “is that everybody is always doing things in service of the song, whatever that is in the moment.”
Lesh explains that this was very much a natural progression. “In terms of singing together we initially focused on songs that had really great two-part harmonies. For example, we were into a lot of the stuff that Gram Parsons & Emmylou Harris would perform. And then we started adding third parts, depending on who we were playing with. Along the way, we’ve gotten deep into the repertoire of [other harmony-minded acts] C.S.N.Y., The Band and the Grateful Dead, which has been a lot of fun. And as we got to know a lot of songs so well, Elliott and I realized we could quickly adapt to wrap our vocals around another singer regardless of where their part would naturally fit. ”
As lifelong music fans themselves, it seems the individual members are always looking for the right sort of cover songs to bring to the group. But, building strong lyrics and deploying new ideas within original compositions is also a top priority for Midnight North.
“Inspiration can strike anywhere,” Peck said. “I personally try to read a lot of fiction and that often inspires a line or an idea. But as traveling musicians we get to see a lot of stuff. You know, over the last few years we’ve travelled back and forth across the country so many times, we’ve gone to Europe, and just all over. While in motion, you’re always looking for source material and sometimes you’re not even looking, but it just finds you.”
Midnight North’s latest batch of evocative tunes will grace the band’s fourth studio LP, There’s Always a Story. It is slated for release July 23 and full of collaborative improvisation, just like this outfit’s live shows. Not surprisingly, both Peck and Lesh are beyond thrilled to be hitting the road this week with new songs in hand for the first Midnight North tour in over a year. Mostly, though, they are just looking forward to continuing their shared journey of musical discovery.
Midnight North plays the Charleston Pour House Friday.
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City Paper has been bringing the best news, food, arts, music and event coverage to the Holy City since 1997. Support our continued efforts to highlight the best of Charleston with a one-time donation or become a member of the City Paper Club.