Splitting their time between Illinois and Indiana, Midwest Hype has spent the last few years consistently crafting a unique blend of reggae, rock, hip-hop, and funk complete with a brass section and a resident emcee. The group is gearing up to release their latest LP, The Time, a follow-up to the phenomenally infectious DAYGLOW EP in early 2012.
Midwest Hype’s drummer and founder, Max Kepler, was kind enough to spend some time talking with Midwest Action about the group’s past, and its exciting future.
Can you talk a little bit about how you guys got together and decided to start making music?
I started the group with a couple of guys that I went to high school with, but realistically we got started when I was a sophomore in college. Everybody went down to Muncie, Indiana, to Ball State. I was still at Purdue at the time, and we had recorded a couple of little tunes and were playing out. A couple of guys that we knew from La Porte were in the music program down there and knew horns players and keyboard players. We slowly started bringing people in for shows and we had written songs that we wanted horn parts on.
The band started out as a foursome and then we gradually added in trumpet tracks, keyboards, and then we added on a hip-hop element, where the one guy is just an emcee now. It was kind of a slow progression but it was built out of us wanting to have sounds in our music that we couldn’t produce as a foursome. We just added them and it became a part of the fixture because we liked it so much.
What’s the writing process like with so many members contributing different instrumentation? Is it a lot different than when you guys were just writing as a four piece?
It’s actually very similar. George is the lead songwriter and he usually will have an idea for a song, something that he has been playing around with and then bring it to us. Our role then is that Midwest Hype does a band arrangement of that song. We sort of take his idea and fill it out and then once we learned the structure and format of that song, we put our own little tweaks on it like how we are going to move through a bridge. It’s all sort of an arrangement of George’s initial idea that he comes to us with.
I assume that each of you brings your own influences into that final arrangement, is there something that you guys listen to collectively to get into the Midwest Hype mindset?
That’s sort of what has been our nature as a band for a long time, listening to everything. Each person has a different sort of focus, but we listen to all kinds of stuff. A lot of times we’ll go through phases- listen to a lot of hip-hip, listen to a lot of Steely Dan, listen to a lot of old, old reggae, like ’60s reggae, we’ve listened to funk for years. The horn players are big jazz guys, our bass player is a huge Victor Wooten and Béla Fleck fan, so we sort of listen to everything. We’re just doing it from whatever we’re riffing on lately and sometimes that will end up, if you’re listening for it, in the songs that we write.
I love that diversity that you can hear in each track.
Some bands really like to stick to one thing, they have a very specific sound and sometimes that’s great. Like Rage Against the Machine always sounds like Rage Against the Machine, you know? And that’s cool, but for us we like to do different things.
If someone just heard the music without knowing anything about you, they may be surprised to hear that you’re from the Midwest. Do you think Midwest culture has had any effect on your music or would it have turned out the same if you guys had formed elsewhere?
I think that our sound is very specifically Midwest. I know that a lot of people think that it comes, with the reggae and stuff, from Southern California or something like that, but we all grew up on the beach. Chicago’s a beach town, people don’t remember that. Northwest Indiana is only a 10-12 minute drive to get to the Great Lakes, so we’d hang out there and we wrote a bunch of surf music when we first started. I think that because we’re from the Midwest that it influences us in that way. We get the best of both coasts. You hear a lot of New York hip-hop and you hear a lot of West Coast reggae and Sublime and grunge and all that shit.
You’ve got a new record, The Time, due out in early 2014 – Can you tell me a little bit about how it came to be and what we can expect to hear on it?
We had been wanting to make it for a while and we finally hooked up with a guy from our hometown named Willie Waldman, who has been a Los Angeles session player for a very long time. He worked on a lot of Death Row stuff with his partner on the studio, Dave Aron, who was the engineer for a lot of Death Row music. He did Tupac and worked on Sublime and Prince as an engineer. He did a ton of hip-hop stuff.
We ended up getting a really great deal on the studio so we were out in California doing a couple of shows and just went into the studio and cranked out this record in like three days. We were up until five or six in the morning each night just pounding away trying to get all these tracks in. And it’s tough with seven people, it’s a lot of layering and things, but we got it all cranked out and we nailed it. (laughs) We came out with ten songs and it’s pretty much exactly what we wanted to have happen. There’s always some things you’d change when you’re pressed for time that much, but I think that also kind of brings a unique flavor to it. It makes it more live. You don’t have time to go back and think about every single little thing. “Is that perfectly on click?” or anything like that. It was great.
The tracks that are on the record, some of them are pretty new, but they’re mostly songs that we had been closing shows with for like two years. Songs that we had wanted to do, but didn’t make it on Dayglow, which is a little poppier. These are a little bit grittier tunes, a lot of them heavy, lots of big guitars and cool stuff like that. It’s going to be cool because we’ve never really made a record that was this varied and this heavy before, so I’m really looking forward to having everybody hear it.
Are you guys going to be self-releasing the record?
Yeah, we were hoping initially to get on with Sony, because the studio was in talks to have a label that they were going to be producing and putting out music through. It ended up not working out which is too bad because we’ve been sitting on it, waiting for this Sony deal to come together, and then it just fell through like a month ago. So we’re like, well, I guess we’ll just have to do it ourselves, which is totally fine with me. We’re working with a new management team and getting the pieces together right now and 2014 looks really good.
Will there be any sort of physical release for the record, or will it be digital only?
It’s definitely going to be mostly digital. We’re still going to have CDs at shows. At the record release party, everybody will still be able to buy a copy of it, but I think the plan right now is to release it mostly for free online and if people want a physical copy or a signed album we’ll be able to do that but you’ll have to come and get it at the live show.
You can look for The Time this coming March, and be sure to grab your tickets to see Midwest Hype perform at the first ever Midwest Action Party at the Empty Bottle on January 9 with Soul Low, Freaks for Geeks, and Sidewalk Chalk! Details on the event page.