Lady Midnight is a vocalist from Minneapolis who has previously worked with groups such as VAN DAAM and Parables of Neptune. She recently released her first solo album, Death Before Mourning. She took the time after her set at Secret Stages to talk about her journey to the album, the album itself, and the power of music to heal.
Scratched Vinyl: Let’s start with some basic back story. How did you first get into music and learn how to sing?
Lady Midnight: Well, people have asked me that question before, “When did you start singing?” It sounds cliché, but it’s actually the truth – I’ve always sang. My mother said that when I was an infant, I would sing myself to sleep, and the babysitter also confirmed this. So it’s something that I always did to soothe myself. The fortunate thing for me is nobody told me to stop. I think many times people use their voice and somebody decides that, oh, that doesn’t sound right – don’t sing. You don’t have a voice – don’t sing. And I think that’s one of the most violent acts you can do to somebody, to tell them that their voice doesn’t matter. I was fortunate in that I was supported, being able to find my voice. It actually wasn’t until I was in college that I really did start to share that with other people. I was quite shy about it. I didn’t feel like I was good enough to sing, so I would test it out amongst some close friends. They were very supportive, and so an opportunity came to me. A friend of mine asked if I still sang – he had heard a demo of mine that I had done in high school, which was so long ago – and I was like, “What you mean, still sing?” He was like, “Yeah, I heard this thing, and a buddy of mine needs a singer for this Afro-Cuban band, would you be interested?” So I tried out, I got it, and the rest is history.
SV: So how did you make the steps from singing in an Afro-Cuban band, to where you are today?
Lady Midnight: Right? Because it’s super different from one to the other. Funnily enough, Minneapolis is very small, and we do kind of communicate with each other. Everybody is in a band, everybody has a visual art practice, or some rogue restaurant, or something odd. And the musicians in that band were good friends with – actually, I think it was that I was in school, with a couple of friends from college. And I had started to make music with them, right when I had graduated, but nothing ever came of it. I was with the Afro-Cuban band, and one of the friends, the best friends, lived with my other friend. I ended up reconnecting with him, and started an electronic project called VAN DAAM. And VAN DAAM was really the project where people started to get to know me. Like Slug from Atmosphere, and Lazebeak and P.O.S. – a few of the Doomtree people. And that’s when I kind of had more attention from the city, ‘cause I think that really helped me cross over from different genres. VAN DAAM was the bridge.
SV: Was that when you felt yourself finding your voice?
Lady Midnight: Definitely. I gave myself the name Lady Midnight, and really was able to write my own music, whereas before in Malamanya I was just singing covers. But with VAN DAAM I had the opportunity to compose my own songs and to really reflect on who I was as a woman, as a person, living at the time I was living in – being a young twentysomething trying to figure it out. That was really a formative step in where I am now.
SV: Since you mentioned it, where does the name ‘Lady Midnight’ come from?
Lady Midnight: Oh yeah. Well, VAN DAAM was looking for a name for the album, and I had mentioned ‘Lady Midnight’ for whatever reason, because it felt like it was mysterious, it was kind of the entity of the night, and it felt – the vibe that we were cultivating, felt very feminine, but also a bit witchy or something that was born from the occult in some ways. The more and more that I thought about it, the more I realized that I was naming how I felt when I sang those songs. And the producers both had producer names, and I didn’t want to be ‘Adriana,’ so it really helped me develop another persona on stage and gave me permission to do things that ‘Adriana’ wouldn’t do. That perhaps my mother would disapprove of, but with ‘Lady Midnight,’ it was okay to do that.
SV: You just released your first album, Death Before Mourning. How did you come into the project? Was there a certain approach to it, or did you sort of figure things out as you began to write it?
Lady Midnight: I do think there’s a couple of different entries. I started with the last song on the album, which is called “Lightness.” And that was a collaboration between myself and a producer named Ziyad. It felt so different from anything else I had written, particularly because of his style of production and the rhythms that he uses. He’s from Karachi, Pakistan. And he was just melding these triplets, just these time signatures that felt a little bit out of time, but still in time. It was such a refreshing challenge for me, to write to that type of music. I knew that this had to be the impetus. This was going to be the song, and everything else was going to have to fit along with this song. But I didn’t want to work with just one producer, because I had in the past gotten a little bit trapped with working with one producer, making a lot of compromises. I felt like I still wasn’t able to own my own voice. And when I started working with multiple producers, it felt like there was less pressures to make those kind of compromises. So I would just make a bunch of songs, and whichever ones felt like they were speaking to “Lightness,” or continuing a particular narrative, made it onto the record. But I say that it was twofold, because in that process of me creating this music, I went through a lot of loss. Personal loss. I went through a lot of death. It also felt like there was a loss of hope in some ways, with what was happening politically in our country. And so I created these songs that were – I think a comfort, but also a way of understanding death, understanding loss. When you lose somebody, or you lose an ideal, or you recognize a loss of innocence, in a lot of ways you can never go back. There’s no normal any more – there’s a new normal. But there always feels like there’s something missing. And you have to learn how to understand that void in a way that doesn’t completely suck you up and make you disappear. Music was the way that I was able to do that and find some footing, and find some purpose and meaning. If this helped me, perhaps it could help somebody else, and perhaps my trauma wasn’t for nothing. Perhaps this was the purpose of going through so much pain.
SV: Do you think that maybe going through these experiences pushed you to dig deeper on this album? Because I feel like on debut solo albums, people might be a little hesitant in putting themselves out there on that kind of level. Do you feel like these experiences maybe forced your hand a little?
Lady Midnight: Yeah, I mean it definitely pushed me to mature, and really define what’s important to you, because tomorrow isn’t promised today. So just say it, and get it out. And I definitely did, you know hold up the process only for the recording of it and the mixing and mastering and then really considering what are the visuals, like how am I going to support his work so that it has the tone that I want it to, but I did feel sure about it. And I had been singing for so long before I made this record, so it wasn’t like creating an album was new to me, it was just the first solo album that I did.
SV: You mentioned that you worked with a lot of different producers. You also did some production yourself…
Lady Midnight: Yeah. That’s kind of…up for discussion, because I created vocals. I recorded vocals, like just myself, for portion control, and so that’s what the production is, that I was able to layer my voice and create this composition and these harmonies. But it wasn’t through another – the only other machine was through the Helicon. So I was producing through the Helicon with my own voice. But I still think that’s composition, that’s production as well.
SV: The word gets so blurred when it comes to hip hop, anway.
Lady Midnight: Yeah, I mean, however you want to take it and look at it.
SV: Do you see yourself going in that direction at all?
Lady Midnight: I would really love to. You know, everything takes time, it takes attention and focus. And I would love for there to be an opportunity for me to do that, but it isn’t a priority at the moment. My priority really is to be able to perform this work with my band, and to be able to tour it. Because I do really believe in the message, I believe in what it does for people. Like the energy that I bring in order to cultivate this space of…healing, really. In a way that doesn’t feel preachy, that doesn’t feel cheesy or too Kumbaya. That really does feel honest. And allows people to tap in to things that the entire world tells them to ignore, and just push through. Just party, party, party, party! This is an album about death, you know? Who really wants to think about grief at a night club? But I do wish that there was more opportunities for discussion, because it’s pain, and a lot of people do come to the nightclub to escape the things that they are feeling. What if they actually came and someone was able to hold that for them, so that they left lighter, they didn’t leave with more fucked up shit and mistakes.
SV: And I think I saw that tonight. A lot of people, especially at a festival like this, a certain percentage of the audience was not familiar with your music at all, but they were able to connect with these things that you’re putting there in the music, in a way that they might not have been expecting. But when you speak to these experiences, everyone experiences loss, and to hear that genuinely expressed, it is something that people can latch onto. So they might not have been expecting it, but here it is, and all of a sudden I’ve had this experience.
Lady Midnight: Yeah, it does catch people off guard a little bit. Especially when I sing “PRTN CTRL,” I think they’re like, “Oh my God! All of these voices and these harmonies together!” And the intensity with which I sing the songs, which it just happens. I’m not trying to be that way, but it just happens. That’s really exciting. That feels really successful for me. That that’s the reaction from the crowd.
SV: So the album has been out, and you’ve also done some visuals. You just dropped the video for “Bloodsong.” How did that video come together? What was the vision for it?
Lady Midnight: That was really interesting, because it happened really organically. I had given the song to a friend of mine, who was actually more interested in doing portraiture work with me. She’s a visual artist, and was going to create these portraits, but then decided, “No, I actually want to try my hand at directing,” and wanted to put together a whole team to do this. I left her a couple of tracks, and I went on a trip to L.A., and I went with my partner and videographer, who was like, “Well, we’re out in this beautiful place, I have all this equipment, we should film something for your album that’s coming out.” Looking at the landscape, “Bloodsong” was the song that just felt like, “I think it should be this.” Just because it feels of the earth so much, and it just feels like where we are, it’s important to showcase the environments that we’re in. And when I came back, she had chosen that song, and I was like, “Oh my God! Shit! We already shot for this, and it’s so good. We can’t not use this.” But it was perfect, because her vision kind of created another narrative, and it was all of the scenes where I’m in black, and I have an altar, and I have these two people who are kind of acting as ancestors or spirits. So that, along with all of the footage we did in L.A., in California, and then later, going to Puerto Rico, being able to film there, all of it became this story. This vision that felt like bloodlines. That felt about ancestors, and being able to embody a sense of like…the things that we carry. The messages that we’re able to embody. And perhaps a willingness to kind of like receive that and recognize that we are worthy enough to hold those messages, and to continue that path. Maybe that path is to heal some ancestral trauma, or to continue the messages of our ancestors, or to do something completely different. Break that cycle and be something new that this generation needs. But either way, acknowledging where we come from – that we come from somewhere very, very, very, very old. So that’s how that came about. Long answer.
SV: Piggybacking off that, when you came out tonight, before you started the show, you spoke to the audience of your heritage, and then made the audience acknowledge the heritage of the area that we are in. Is that something that you do with every show?
Lady Midnight: I try to, yeah. Because I think it’s important to recognize where we are, and to know that we are guests on this land, but that we’re also on Native land. That these things had a name and had a place before colonization. I think it’s just respectful. It’s a respectful thing to do.
SV: It’s something that Americans need more of.
Lady Midnight: And it’s good, because I think it connects them more to the history before Christopher Columbus. There is so much more life that happened here. But it also probably stems from my culture. My mom raised me, and she’s half Mexican, and then my grandmother is also from here, but her ancestors come from Scotland and from France. But in Latin American culture, when you somewhere, to a party, or you go anywhere, you have to introduce yourself. And not just – you have to introduce yourself to each individual person, you have to go around, give them a kiss on the cheek or a handshake, and say, “Hello! How are you?” Because it’s important to make that connection. So to me, saying that in the beginning is a way for me to introduce myself to just the pulse of this land, the history of this land, the spirits of this land.
SV: Going forward now, are there more shows? More visuals?
Lady Midnight: What’s the next stop, right? I have a record release show that will be happening when I get back, August 9th. Which I’m really excited for, and I’m performing with my band. That’s something that I put together after the record dropped, because it was always my intention to play with live musicians again. So I’m excited to do that. And there aren’t any more visuals being dropped right now. Maybe something will happen, but I don’t know what. So nothing scheduled, but other than that, I really would love to tour the work, and tour it with my band, and support a really dope artist. That’s what I’d like to do.
SV: I’ll leave you with the question that I ask everybody, which is: If there were three artists that you’d like to work with that you haven’t, who would that be?
Lady Midnight: Anybody?
SV: You can take it any direction that you want to.
Lady Midnight: Do I work with them all together, or is it however I want to see it?
SV: Some people make a super track, some people take it other directions.
Lady Midnight: I would love to work with SZA. I really admire her voice and her style of writing, and just where she decides to go in the pocket, and I feel like we could make some really cool harmonies and narratives together. Another artist that I really, really respect is…I really like this artist out of the Bay Area named Iman Omari. His production is super cool, and he is also a singer as well. That would be hella dope. And then…this person is so elusive, I don’t know how I would ever find them, ever ever, but Jai Paul. If we could get him out of hiding, or wherever he lives. But the other notables, like Kamasi Washington is incredible, I really love Kelala…Kelsey Lu. Just kind of going more in that avant-garde art style. Those artists really speak to me.
To listen to/purchase Death Before Mourning, visit:https://ladymidnight.bandcamp.com/