The Midnight Stroll’s Western Static has brought an interesting commentary on all the “static” going on in today’s society. While Behrens brings in the descriptive lyrics of what he notices to be happening around the world, Wilson brings in the tape recorders and inventive sounds.
Behrens and Wilson comment on the journey they’ve had since they started The Midnight Stroll, as well as the making of their new album, “Western Static,” and the they talk about the way that music saved their lives.
Aimée Santillán: I know this is a tour for Western Static. When did it start? How has the tour been going? Where did you guys come in from?
Aaron Behrens: It’s been going great. We’ve been going all the way up the east coast, from New Orleans, Atlanta, Nashville, New York, all the way around to Chicago, Minneapolis and back down to Tulsa, down to Texas, and now we’re hitting El Paso, and the west coast.
AS: How long is the tour going to run?
AB: We’ve got two more weeks, on the west coast. And then we’ll head back home to Texas.
Jonas Wilson: And then we’ll do another run in the spring, probably.
AB: Yeah. So, we’re pushing the same record. Kind of going out to let people know about Western Static.
AS: Have any shows stand out to you so far? What have you guys liked the most so far from the tour?
AB: We got to do a cool thing on Paste [Magazine] while we were in New York, and that was awesome. Chicago was great. Minneapolis was great. Tulsa was off the chain. It was really cool. It was kind of like a serendipity tour; we got to run into a lot of people we hadn’t seen in a while, so it’s been this really cool, like, finding new friends, and new fans, and then meeting back up with old friends again. So, it’s been cool.
AS: So, what can you tell me about this album specifically? I saw you guys listed as kind of all over the place in terms of genre. Is there a specific sound that you guys would like to head towards?
J: I think it’s largely experimental. We’re not really working with only one genre, but there is this specific idea of certain themed colors going on in the album, and there’s certain kinds at this album. Really for me, once in a lifetime, I get kind of David Burn inspired. You know, David Burn stuff, from Talking Heads, a lot of those background kind of colors going on in the record. I think that themed sonically through the record. But also, lyrically, there’s some themes too that were unintentional, but [Aaron] just kind of started writing about similar topics. So, between those two things, it kind of formed static in the noise, you know, those kinds of things.
AB: Confusion, you know, static resembles confusion sometimes as well. You can’t see through it.
J: It’s definitely a confusing album.
AB: But they’re still tunes that you can sing along to in the shower, you know, but if you look really closely, they’re talking about deeper things.
AS: When it comes to writing music, are you trying to get these messages across, or you want the music to be sound oriented first? Like you said, sing along to.
J: I think that to me the sing along factor, and the feel good factor of it has to be something that somebody can enjoy while it’s playing in the background and hopefully still be pleasant, and sound good and feel good. I want there to be a depth that people want to take a closer look at it. It’s definitely trying to find the perfect balance of that. You know, when you’re still feeling like you’re being creative and pushing some boundaries for yourself artistically, but hopefully landing in that perfect middle ground.
AS: Before this album, you only had only a couple of live albums only?
AB: We’ve done an EP, kind of when I was trying to figure out what I was going to do, once I kind of took a break from Ghostland, and from touring. I just wanted to do something with a bunch of acoustic songs that I had. I kind of went in that journey – put out an EP, found Jonas, luckily. We kind of got together and started as an actual band, just really co-writing a lot together. That’s when Heartbreak Bugaloo came in, and now you have Western Static is really, I feel, like a full realization of this idea we originally had.
J: Before we were a five-piece band. Now, we’re a duo with a bunch of weird tape machines on the back.
AB: That’s what we’ve been thinking about. We’ve been kind of evolving. That’s the way our sound will continue. We’re just going to continue to evolve.
AS: So, you talked about how you guys came together, and how the band kind of shifted, can you tell me about how the initial inception of The Midnight Stroll came to be, and how it’s been changing?
AB: It’s initial conception was me trying to find an outlet for a bunch of acoustic material that I had, because my other band was more like dance, electronic, crazy light show lasers and everything like that. I have that side of me, but I also have this other songwriter side of me as well, and I just needed to find my place to do that. I didn’t know how to do it, so I just sort of started finding people. I found a certain amount of people, and they slowly led me back to Mr. [Jonas] Wilson. And, I’ve known Jonas for a long time. We came up in Austin singing together, over a decade ago. So, it’s kind of cool to come back around and meet him – not see each other in so many years, but then just click, instantly. We just started writing tunes together, so, it’s really evolved over, from the EP, and then Heartbreak Bugaloo, and then Western Static. It’s just been this evolution of songs, and coming together.
AS: Can you talk about how it’s like Austin, being the live music capital of the world, is it kind of difficult, or is it better, as a new, independent artist coming up?
AB: Well, I think with all of it, you just have to cut your way through the jungle. Even when we were doing it, we were trying to do something new and creative. Now, there’s different areas people go. They tend, it seems, to stick a little bit more to what’s popular, but it always changes. I think with us, it’s really weird right now, trying to find our way through the jungle, and trying to connect people across the U.S. Because in Austin, we feel like we have our fans, but we wanted to try to get out there more and more. It takes somebody doing unique, making unique, good music, you know, that people can connect to. I think that’s where it comes to.
J: Just work harder on your music.
AB: Yeah, focus less on trying to make yourself famous and get better at making good music, and the fame will come from that. Maybe. No guarantees. Just make good music. Work hard. Dedicate yourself to something. That’s what we’re realizing more and more. You’ve got to dedicate yourself to something, if you want to be good. You’re not just going to wake up and be fucking good at making music, you know, that doesn’t happen.
AS: Coming from a city like Austin, how did you get to music, you guys individually?
J: I started being a young blues player, when I was about 15, well 13 really. I was playing all around Texas, and Europe and other places, from about age 13 forward. I was a young blues kind of musician. So, I traveled and played in Austin at a young age like that, and then got into punk rock and drugs and moved on from the blues a little. It’s still there, just buried in there.
AB: My influences were growing up in small town in Texas, and doing lip syncs, and singing at shopping malls, and practicing being a better entertainer. And then I hit puberty and got angry and confused, and started a heavy metal band. Then moved to Austin, and started trying to write real music after that. And then I got into an awesome project, called Ghostland Observatory, and ended up blowing up, and touring all over the world. Headlining major festivals all over the world. Now I decided to start another project as well, called The Midnight Stoll, and here I am.
AS: You mentioned you had been in El Paso before, and you kind of liked it. Can you tell us what was it about the city you liked, and why you keep coming back to El Paso?
AB: The reason I love El Paso, I mean, not only being half Mexican myself, and having a culture here, and a cultural connection to it as well, I feel like, also, the people here seems to be very open, and very wanting to get out their message about how much they love El Paso. And I’m always finding people that are really freaking doing some stuff here, that they’re not just talkers. You know, there’s a lot of people that they got inspiration, they got a vibe going to make their city cool. They see all these other cities coming up, and I get this vibe that people just want to make their city come up. And, also, I love the architecture downtown. I think it’s really cool, and I think it’s unique, and I’m glad to see people utilizing it now, more and more, and a lot of these buildings getting used now downtown. Because I’ve been coming back here for the past eight years, every year, so, for me, I’ve seen the scene change, and I’ve seen the people growing in a positive way.
J: Yeah. I love it down here. I love the culture. I love the shops. I love everything about this place. It’s just a great place to wonder around and get lost a little. I love walking around downtown, like [Aaron] said, the architecture. We did that Neon Desert Festival, what a cool thing to be in a city where your city will allow you to throw a downtown festival, a big ass party downtown. That’s rare. That’s awesome.
AS: You had said before that you’d rather live in El Paso, and I’ve lived in Austin before, and really liked it, so why would you want to come live down here?
AB: Well, I’ve lived in Austin since 2000, so I’ve seen Austin change a lot. I grew up in San Saba, TX, which is an hour and a half away from Austin, so, to me, I’ve got three daughters, a wife, so, for me, I see a place where I can move to that’s going to be cost effective for an artist to actually live there and do art. Because in Austin, right now, is getting too high for artists to actually live there and do their art, for musicians and everything. It’s becoming too expensive, for a lot of artists, you know. That’s what I do for a living, that’s how we both make our money, off our art, we don’t do anything else, and I’ve raised my family off of that. So for me, I look for cool places that are coming up that I can make a move to, to raise my family, because Austin has become so expensive. You can’t live there and do your art; it’s not going to happen.
J: It used to be the opposite. That was the initial draw for a lot of artists and a lot of creative culture that went there. It was still a college town, it was still relatively inexpensive, but there were venues, there was people doing things, and there was a youthful mindset. So, really it was attractive for so many years, but it’s really hard these days. The rent’s so sky rocketing, everything is so sky rocketing in price. It’s getting unaffordable if you’re not a millionaire.
AS: You were also talking earlier about the message that you’re trying to make with your music, but what is it exactly that you’re trying to say?
AB: Well, I mean, there’s multiple messages. There’s comments on life. There’s comments on the world and what’s going on in the political realm. There’s comments on what’s going on in the religious realm. There’s comments around your gender, about who you are. To me, I’m never going to be writing about one thing, because I’m a human, and I’m constantly evolving my emotions and thoughts and processes about things. So, of course I’m going to be looking at it in a different angle; I’m not just trying to come out of one angle. My whole thing in writing is more of a commentary of looking at life. To me, a lot of times when I do that, it feels like, in return, it helps me understand life a little bit better. I’m not necessarily writing saying, ‘I know what going on. This is what’s happening.’ No, I’m saying, ‘this is fucking crazy. What the fuck is going on?’ And then it kind of bounces back to me with people saying, ‘yeah, what is going on?’ and then you kind of talk about it. So, I’ve never necessarily, with my writing, I don’t ever just cut somebody. I’m more or less commenting on giving somebody a change to look at themselves, you know, or myself, to look at myself in my own life. That’s kind of where, lyrically, I come from. Sonically . . .
J: I always try to make a sonic approach to once I see what the lyrics’ about. That’s kind of the way we work, you know, [Aaron] starts something on acoustic or something, then he comes to me, and I’ll take it and make kind of more music around it, and fill it up, be playing all the other instruments and doing everything, and just kind of build an arrangement, start with his chorus structure. But, once I get the sentiment of what he’s talking about, it usually helps. That was kind of how the Western Static thing started. I think it was just a general notion. He started writing about some things and I think we noticed a few themes that seemed to be just more commentary on social, not political so much, but social and human interaction in modern society. It was just kind of feeling last year’s static of news and so much things to see through. So, I think Western Static is a bit of a kitschy, cartoony, fun ploy. We’re making light of it. There’s a comical intro theme to the record. It’s like a Sgt. Pepper album in our heads, meant to be listened to as start to finish, not track by track. You’re welcome to listen to it track by track, but the theme that we have was, once there was a lyrical theme, and that was kind of the general idea. Western Static kept coming up as the title, because there was lots of static and noise, but it was also a reflection of we’re talking about static of culture, and so much noise to see through that you just don’t really know where you’re looking sometimes. It’s kind of dizzy. So, the record’s a little dizzy, and I feel like there’s a little bit of a nauseous element, sonically, just to try and make it feel as dizzy, and feel some tension into the lyrics like that, but, like I said, there’s also a little bit of a comic relief.
AB: I can’t be full blown, like depression. There’s always got to be a silver lining for me too, you know, even if I get like super depressed, I’m always like I have to come out of it with a joke. That’s what’s wonderful about comedy, right? They make you laugh at the freakin’ worst things sometimes, but that’s what it’s there for. It’s a relative thing. It’s a thing to get balance to whatever’s going on.
AS: What is the western part of it about? Is it western as the United States, or western as the western side of the world?
J: Western culture, however you want to take it. It is both, a ploy at western culture, also kitschy western cactus and static, like I said, we’re playing a little bit of a cartoon, fun element into the whole record, just because it was heavy topics. And they’re lightheartedly done, and hopefully the lyrics were simple and delivered to where people can sign along and have a good time.
AB: Actually, the background of the record, of Western Static, is picture of out here in El Paso.
J: Yeah. We pulled out illegally out of the side of the road and dropped our tape machines and stuff all off.
AB: And took a bunch of pictures out of the side of the road, with the landscape. That’s kind of how the Western Static kind of came together a little bit. It made sense, and we were out here in El Paso. We were coming back from Neon Desert, because we played at Barrio Skate Shop afterwards, and we were coming back from that, and we were like ‘dude, we should just throw out our tape machines we have in front of these things; it would be a great album cover.’ So, even that, it was just the westerness of it too. It’s just what you take from it. It’s not up to us; it’s just what you’re going to take from it. So, it’s a cool thing. It’s like open conversation. It’s opening the door to conversation.
J: The little intro theme track, to me, was Blazing Saddles, in my head. Like, it was that. It was a whip and a lasso, and we’re having fun with it. It’s theatrical. It’s silly. It’s fun, but it’s also got something, if you want to be there.
AS: What would you say that it is about music that is different from other types of art?
J: I don’t think that it’s different from other types of art. I’m a very big believer in creative process coming, in general. I look to other artists, completely, for just as much musical inspiration, just thinking in texture and ideas and color. I look at painters a lot. I see a very similar theme to somebody who makes a record, in painting. There’s a similar layering, and a similar understanding of colors.
AB: It’s just working with different mediums. That’s all it is. Some people work with paints, some people work with sounds, but the process is still the same. Even if you want to go as far as boxing, all the way down the line, all these things have a process to them. It’s like a universal process. It’s kind of weird. It kind of runs through everything.
J: Yeah, I think so. I think that creating a magazine, or anything, any creative endeavor, you wind up hitting the same creative struggles: does this look right? Does this sound right? Am I telling the story correctly of what we’re capturing?
AB: How is it going to hit the people? How is it going to affect them? You think about all these things. We think about all these things. It’s just everybody sharing in this common thing; we’re just using different tools.
AS: Then, why did you choose music?
AB: Music chose me. I didn’t even choose music; I chose writing down my feelings before I lost my mind. I need music. I don’t do this because I do it; I do it because I have to, because it helps me deal with life. So, that’s how I found music. I found music as a survival mechanism, to understand what the hell was going on.
J: Same here. I didn’t know what I was doing until I finally started playing music, and then, when I was a kid, once I found it I realized, ‘Nope, I’m not doing anything else.’
– By Aimée Santillán