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The Midnight Beast
The Midnight Beast are living the dream. The room that’s been put aside for the YouTube band for their day of interviews has such rock’n'roll items as couscous, roasted vegetables, salad, and a fruit bowl. It’s hardly the Sex Pistols. But then The Midnight Beast aren’t your average band. For a start, they exist largely thanks to YouTube, where their comedy songs and inspired videos clock up millions of views. For another thing, they’ve got their own sitcom coming up (starting on E4 on July 5th). And for another, they are unbelievably nice.
What’s gratifying, apart from their apparent lack of explosively colossal ego, is the fact that they radiate the impression that they can’t believe their luck, and that they truly love what they do for a living. Here, they talk about where it all began, why it’s very much a family affair, and how they feel about their success.
How do you guys originally know each other?
Stefan: I met Ashley when I was ten-years-old. We were filming a nursery rhymes video and I was breakdancing.
Ashley: And I was just throwing my lanky self around, having a go at dancing.
S: And me and Dru met when I was 12 and he was 14, at a drama group. And we started playing in bands together.
A: And I’d go along to gigs to watch them. I was a bit of a groupie.
And how did you guys come to form The Midnight Beast?
Dru: After hanging out with each other for quite a while, and becoming really good friends, we always wanted to do something together. Comedy-wise we were always on the same wavelength and into the same stuff, and also the same kind of music. But at that stage we were also more seriously music-driven. Ashley dabbled in a bit of bass, but didn’t really play an instrument. So we were just hanging out, mucking around with some stuff, and then Stefan heard the Ke$ha song, Tik Tok, and he spawned this idea to do a take on that. And we sat down and mucked about with the lyrics for a parody, and Ash was around one day when we were going to make a silly video for it, and it just all fell into place.
The Ke$ha spoof has now clocked up over 13 million YouTube views. When did you begin to twig that this was going to be something quite big?
S: The day after we put it up, it started getting crazy views. I think it went to 20,000 that day, and it just kept going. We really knew by then.
D: Ke$ha herself Tweeted it and mentioned it, and on Christmas Day we were on MTV’s homepage with a link to the video. At that point we thought “Shit, we might actually have something here that we can carry on and continue doing.”
How often were you logging on to check your stats?
S: It was probably every couple of hours, just refreshing it and going “What?”
D: we couldn’t believe it was getting so many views so quickly.
S: You could literally watch it move, which was crazy, really weird.
And it also did really well in Australia, didn’t it?
S: Yeah, it went to number 1 on the iTunes charts in Australia.
D: There were family friends of Stef there, whose garden overlooks the sea, and a yacht went past with our version of Tik Tok blasting out of it. Stuff like that was just really mental.
Why the name The Midnight Beast?
A: We always get asked that question, and I’m not sure there’s a reason behind it. Stefan and Dru used to DJ under that name, and then it just carried out from there. It’s just a really awesome name.
Did you guys have day jobs at the time?
D: Yeah, I was working at Homebase. I was in the garden centre, flogging compost and those perennials that I know so much about!
A: I was working at Reiss, the clothing store, and a bit of Costa Coffee as well. It’s so nice to be able to do this as a full time thing now, and make a living off it.
S: I had just quit Urban Outfitters, and was pursuing songwriting for the last time before it was time to knuckle down and get a real job. And then it took off.
When did you guys make the decision to do this full time?
A: It was when we did this gig at Brighton Beach. It was a guerrilla gig, we tweeted about it a few hours before we performed, and we just thought that a few people would come down. And 2-3000 kids came down, and we realised we were actually like a band. This wasn’t just YouTube views on the computer, it was real people.
D: It was the discovery that the YouTube figures actually meant something in real life, and translated to real people. And we were quite lucky, we do our own merchandising and stuff, and once we got that going we were able to get a little income to put towards the band, so we were able to support what we did as a full time thing.
How do you come up with the songs. Do you all sit down together to work on them?
D: Stef’s a singer-songwriter, so he takes main reins on writing vocals, but it’s quite a group process. We all tend to sit down with a beat, or maybe lyrics that Stef’s started, and maybe jump on.
S: Yeah, I’ll write a skeleton of the song and play it to the guys – I still just do it to make them laugh, really – and then we’ll decide whether it’ll work as a Midnight Beast song. And then they’ll come on board and funny it up.
What about the videos? Do you get someone from outside to come in and direct and give ideas?
A: It’s all from us, really. We’re still doing it ourselves.
S: We’re so sure of the thing that we want. We’ve had a mate, Martin, get involved recently, he’s got a great camera, and he’s good at holding it! And he’s also got good knowledge with editing, and he’s taught me loads of new programmes.
D: It’s just been a bit of an upgrade.
S: And he helps us out, and voices concerns about things that may not work. And it’s been the same with Ben Gregor, who’s directed the series. We’d say what ideas we liked and what we didn’t like, and he’d say the same to us. And it was edited by a guy who’s not at all the kind of guy you’d think would be editing this kind of show, but his daughters are big fans of ours as well, and that really helped the edit process. He’d show them bits, and they could tell him what they thought.
What are your favourite songs and/or videos that you’ve done?
S: I’ve always loved Lez Be Friends. It’s always been one of my favourite subjects, and if someone goes “What is your band about?” I just play them that. It kind of gets the message across.
A: And quite weirdly, I just sit there and watch all our videos quite a lot. Just to make myself laugh.
S: They’re kind of documents of fun times we’ve had as friends.
D: That’s why I really like the Pizza in Ibiza one, because it was the first one we really ventured out – we all put in a bit of money to go to Ibiza and do it – and it was like a holiday and a laugh for us, and we captured it in the video.
You’ve got the new sitcom on E4. What’s the concept?
S: It’s like a dirty Glee. It’s Inbetweeners meets Flight of the Conchords. It’s about the three of us as mates, all living together in a dingy shitty flat with no door, and it quite subtly goes into these big music videos. The videos are our characters escapism. There are a lot of larger-than-life characters, and us just playing heightened versions of ourselves, with these massive musical numbers thrown in.
So the versions of you in the sitcom are reasonably accurate?
D: They’re near-enough real. They’re just heightened versions of us. I do enjoy my video games, and I do indulge in a snifter of port or two.
A: I love women and I don’t like music!
S: And I love bossing the guys around in real life.
How much of the script-writing were you guys involved with?
S: It was a very constructive process. They’d write stuff and bring it to us, and we’d say “I don’t think we’d say that, or do that,” and they really listened to us. That was a massive thing, and they were great with us.
You guys are very keen to exert an element of control over your brand. Was it quite a difficult experience giving up some of that control, having other people write for you and direct you?
D: At first it was a little daunting, but everyone was so welcoming, and understood what we were all about, and what we were like as characters, and everyone really got that. We were all on the same path and wavelength, there was such a backing that we never felt like we’d lost control of anything. We were all coming at it from the same side, which worked really well.
S: Besides, there was no way we could do it all, not with a project like this, and we really just had to take that on board.
Is it a very different process, filming a sitcom from filming your videos?
S: It was weird how similar it was.
D: Apart from the obvious differences like the amount of people behind the camera. The thought process behind the series was just the same as we use for our videos. One difference was that people had to go out and buy the props we needed.
S: Yeah, normally that’s my parents.
On your website, you put out a call for fans to come and get involved in the shoot. Did that actually happen?
A: Yeah. A lot of our music videos have our fans in them anyway. But yeah, we had quite a few of them come down.
Do you have quite a close relationship with your fans?
A: Yeah, particularly because Twitter makes it so easy to have a conversation with people. We need to have that relationship for The Midnight Beast to work, really.
S: Yeah, it’s weird. Some bands are on Twitter, and if you’re into them, and then they tweet about getting a sarnie from M&S, it sort of puts you off. Why would you want to hear MGMT talking about that? Some bands are better off without Twitter, and others totally rely on it, and we totally rely on it.
The series is also spawning your debut album.
D: Yeah, it’s really exciting. Because we’ve done so many new songs and videos for the series, we’re able to release the series and a whole load of new musical content all at once.
S: And we’re putting it out on our own label that we’ve just started up, called Sounds Like Good, as well. We’re releasing stuff a bit Glee-style – once you’ve seen the song in the episode, you can buy it on iTunes straight away. So there’s EPs with every episode, and then at the end, after the sixth episode you can get the album. And you can get the album either on iTunes or in HMV and stuff.
Why did you decide to do it on your own label?
D: I think it just suited us. We’re so used to having such a close-knit team of family and friends, it just suited us. We’ve been in to talk to labels and management groups, but we just enjoy being hands on with everything we do. But we’d never say never, the time may come where we would need extra help or extra hands, but for the time being, there’s no need to complicate everything. We don’t have anyone saying to us “You need to get in the charts”. If we get in the charts, great, but that’s never been the point of us, we just want to make people giggle and enjoy our music.
Do you guys get recognised a lot?
A: A lot more recently.
D: It’s weird when someone comes running up to you saying “Ohmigod, are you from The Midnight Beast?”
A: And they’re crying!
D: If someone’s taking a picture and their hand is shaking, or you have your arm around someone and they’re trembling, it’s so bizarre.
A: Or when they’re taking pictures and they don’t think you’ve noticed.
S: One guy dropped his iPhone after he’d taken a picture of me, and it smashed on the floor. And I felt so bad. If he hadn’t bumped into me that wouldn’t have happened.
D: But it’s really nice. Again, it’s great to actually have real people interested, rather than just figures in YouTube.
You mention your families help out quite a bit. What do they think of the work you do?
A: My mum is quite old school, it took her a while to get used to the swearing and stuff, but she loves it now. She comes to all the gigs, and wears the t-shirt.
D: I think they’re all very proud – they’re all behind it.
S: Yeah, my mum runs our merchandise store, and my dad tour-manages, and is A&R-ing for our label. And my brother used to DJ for us as well. It’s a proper family-run business. Ashley’s parents do all the photos for us – they did our calendar shoot for us yesterday.
So how do they all cope with the fact that one of the tracks on your new album is called Strategy Wanking?
S: My dad always tells me that before Midnight Beast he never listened to the lyrics, just the music, so I’m not even sure he will have noticed. ‘I really like this beat’. It’s really odd, hearing him on the phone, doing business calls to our designer, going ‘Could the text for Strategy Wanking be a bit bigger?’ with a straight face.
The Midnight Beast is on Thursdays from 5th July on E4.
The Midnight Beast – Quirky