The Musician Spotlight Series shines a light on up-and-coming bands and solo acts creating heartfelt and original work across genres, giving them an opportunity to talk about their music, their collaborators, and why they do what they do.
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James King & The Midnight Hours
“A classic rock ‘n’ roll trip served up retro style” playing everything “from three-part harmony-drenched rock to wild psychedelic ragers”, this Toronto-based band took first place in the 2017 Open Mic Festival at the Paddock Tavern and won the chance to record a single at The Record Room with Dan Harden. That single ‘Nightmare’ landed them in the Top 100 of over 2000 artists from across Canada who competed in the 2018 CBC Searchlight Competition.
The band consists of
– Critics’ Pick Award winner James King (JK) from North Augusta, ON on rhythm guitar and lead vocals
– Gaby Grice (GG) from Toronto, ON on keys and vocals
– Richard Lam (RL) from Vancouver, BC on lead guitar
– Mike Lee (ML) from Toronto, ON on drums
– Daniel Williston (DW) from Moose Jaw, SK on bass and vocals
Check them out this coming Saturday, June 9th, as part of their monthly residency at the Amsterdam Bicycle Club in Toronto.
When did you know you wanted to be a musician?
JK: I grew up in a very musical family. My father plays guitar, banjo, fiddle. Most things he puts his hands on. So, I always had that influence. Music was always very big in our house. You just started singing and playing things at a very young age. All of my siblings did, it was just sort of the way it was. My parents are both from the generation of all the singer songwriters like Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, and all the great rock acts. Lyrics and meanings of songs were always really important and they would say “listen to these words”. Music was always something that was very special and had such high meaning in the house. Treated with reverence almost. I think I wrote my first song when I was 16 and it just grew from there.
Are you trained? How did you develop your skills?
JK: Everyone in the band has some kind of musical training. My father showed me a little on the guitar in my early teens, but I mostly taught myself and picked it up. Same with the piano. I eventually took singing lessons and learned my music theory. I sang in every choir I could find. Church choir, school choir, city youth choir. I love harmony singing. It’s my favourite thing and I wanted to be not just a good, but a great harmony singer. I just would do things over and over. Learn how to play a song on the piano and sing it. I would practice again and again until you get it right. As with anything, the more you do it the better you will be. Everyone in the band has been doing music their whole life. Gaby started piano lessons when she was 5 and sang in many choirs. Daniel’s father is also very musical and he has been singing and performing since a young age, Mike took violin lessons and has been playing drums his whole life. Richard as well did piano and guitar lessons from a young age but also is mostly self taught, he can play any instrument. That’s just the tip of the iceberg with everyone as well, their combined experience is overwhelming. Then we all have had theatre training. So we all have been performing for a very long time.
Who are some of your biggest musical influences?
RL: Our biggest musical influences as a band are probably Fleetwood Mac and Neil Young. My personal influences as a guitarist for our stuff comes from Bruce Springsteen and The Living End!
JK: As a songwriter I am influenced by a lot of the classic singer-songwriter’s that my parents showed me like Neil Young, Carole King, Joni Mitchell. Stevie Nicks is a major inspiration to me. I was always influenced by those famous frontpeople. Mick Jagger, Freddie Mercury, Janis Joplin. The theatrical ones. I would watch a video of them performing and just go “I want to do that”.
GG: Fleetwood Mac, Heart, CSN&Y, Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, The Allman Brothers Band, E-Street Band
ML: Fleetwood Mac for sure, especially Stevie Nicks, some Joni Mitchell, some Rolling Stones, some Neil Young, bit of Pink Floyd, some Bruce Springsteen…
DW: The Who, Led Zepplin, Springsteen, Neil Young, CSNY, Rolling Stones, Beatles, Jefferson Airplane
How did the band come together?
JK: We are all friends who initially met in the theatre world. We all have backgrounds in music and theatre. Gaby, Daniel, Richard and myself all graduated from theatre programs. Mike trained at the Second City. But we all have done music our whole lives and been in many different bands. This isn’t the first time at the rodeo for any of us. So, I think we gravitated towards each other because we all had this love of rock n roll. I had written all these songs and I just wanted to play them with a full band, so I just asked everyone if they were interested and we got together and started playing. Within the first minute I knew we had something special. There was an energy and vibe that was there almost immediately. At the end of the day we just love to play. We enjoy ourselves immensely when we do this.
How would you describe your sound?
GG: Rock and roll, of course. Or ‘Retro Rock’. Soul Rock.
RL: Our sound is: warm, gritty, real, rock-y, folk-y, tight.
JK: It definitely has a retro 70’s vibe. Lots of vocal harmony and just straight up rock.
DW: I would describe our sound as harmony-rich classic rock and roll.
ML: We have quite a bit of variety in our sound. James is very versatile as a singer and writer and our songs range from 70s folk rock (‘Like the Wind’, ‘Where Will You Take Me’) to very soulful and almost jazzy (‘Straight Down the Line’, ‘Across the Country’, ‘Could Love’) to radio rock (‘Place in my Heart’, ‘Tallulah Bankhead’) to rock opera territory (‘Nightmare’, ‘Moon Child’).
Walk us through the writing process on a new song.
JK: I write all of our original songs. They start out in a more simple basic form. I write them either on guitar or piano. I usually make a little crude recording on garageband, maybe dub some harmonies and send it to everyone. We then all get together and work out arrangements. This is one of my favourite times. We all just get in a room and try different things, and grooves and ideas. Everyone brings something to it. I cannot say enough how much everyone in the band’s contributions and ideas have made the songs what they are. We hash it out and just really work on it until we feel happy with it and like it’s audience-ready. It is a team effort and everyone’s personal energy and love and style make the band what it is.
What’s your favourite tune in the band’s repertoire and why?
GG: ‘Straight Down the Line’ because it’s sexy and sensual and groovy as all hell.
ML: It changes, especially with new ones being worked on, but I think ‘Nightmare’ is my favourite both to play and when I think about the process of it; it was the first song James brought to the band to play around with and arrange and it came out with a bit of everyone in it. Also it’s a ton of fun to play.
DW: My favourite song of ours is ‘Tallulah Bankhead’ right now. I think it’s different from the other tunes we have, and it has this soaring quality in the chorus that really lifts me. Always a highlight of our set is getting to play that one. Also, we have had opportunity to pare some songs down to just acoustic instruments, and that song seems to really hold up no matter what instruments you’re playing it on, and it reveals itself in different ways for each incarnation.
RL: My favourite song of ours is ‘Nightmare’ – everyone in the band knows their parts so well and we all work together to unleash this massive explosion of energy. You can definitely feel the effect it has on the room.
JK: It’s very hard for me to pick a favourite. All of my songs are special to me in different ways. It’s like they are my children, so I almost feel guilty picking a favourite. They are all a part of me, and each one a piece of my soul in some way haha. I really have a soft spot for ‘Straight Down the Line’. That one felt like it was almost beamed to me or something, I am very proud of it. I feel like it gets at something that is very meaningful to me and I think to many others. I always just hope that people can relate and see themselves in the songs. If it makes someone feel or be moved then I have done my job.
What can audiences expect from one of your live shows?
ML: Real music with excellent vocals, songwriting that you won’t believe, throwback 60s/70s vibe, and you’ll feel the love energy and enjoyment everyone’s having both in the band and the audience.
RL: At our live shows you will get a massive loving celebration of the music we play together and the friendship we have as a band. It will be loud, incredibly fun, sexy, sweaty, and always unpredictable.
DW: From a live show, people can expect a high level of musicianship, a level of craft that is rare in bands, a whole lot of hair flipping dynamism and rock music that’ll perk you up, send you back to yesteryear and get your feet tapping and your heart bursting.
JK: People can expect to be entertained. The band really has a chemistry and an energy that happens when we play together. We feel it, the audience feels it. Maybe it has to do with our theatrical backgrounds, but we don’t just stand and play. You will get a show, and fantastic music.
GG: An authentic rock and roll show, and a totally unique energy and retro sound that you don’t hear very much in 2018. You might dance, you might sing, you might cry, you might fall in love, you might go home and have sexy times. Hopefully you’ll do all of these things, and then we’ll definitely have done our job.
Where can we find your music?
JK: Our single ‘Nightmare’ can be found on the CBC Searchlight website. We are in the process of releasing it ourselves on most online streaming sites (there will also be a big single release show coming up, so keep on the lookout for that!) And you can always come down to the Amsterdam Bicycle Club for our residency on the second Saturday of each month. 11pm. We play our originals, some covers, and lay it out on the stage every time. To quote Joni Mitchell ” It’s the unknown child so sweet and wild – it’s youth – it’s too good to waste…” It’s rock ‘n’ roll, baby.