Artist Interview: 1-on-1 with The American Night

Artist Interview: 1-on-1 with The American NightCouldn’t tell you where I found these guys, but I am glad I did. When I first heard about this band, I was immediately impressed, and just knew I had to learn more about their music. I schedule an interview and didn’t stop listening to their tunes for days on end. Then Alan Johnson emailed me and asked if I wanted to conduct the interview at his studio. Alan owns Static Shack Studios here in Indianapolis, and it proved to be the perfect setting for an interview like this. I could have talked to these guys for hours. They come from Bloomington, Indiana but are making a lot of noise around the Midwest. They are also going to be appearing on the next presents six bands for six bucks bill. I am stoked to see these guys live. I am also stoked to introduce you to The American Night.

I love the band name. Where did that come from?

We have been together since our freshman year of high school. The band name came from a line in a Jim Morison poem. The album an American Prayer is actually a collection of poetry. We were really into the Doors back then. The name has kind of come into it’s own meaning, and separated itself form the Morrison meaning.

At the time, it was just a cool name. Now it’s become a name that really means something. We went through a time where we wanted to put a K in front of it. It’s not the dragon/sword fighting kind of thing.

Did you know there is another band with the exact same name?

Yes, in Seattle. They are a Doors tribute band. A year or two after we started the band, we got an email from them. They emailed us and told us to change the name. We had done like a “poor man’s copyright”, so we were protected against their threats. We never heard back from them after that. It doesn’t really affect us.

Just so you know, the poor man’s copyright still holds up. In the end, they are just a Doors cover band, so it doesn’t really affect us. The copyright should stand up in court though, if it ever comes to that.

Where are you guys originally from?

We are from Fishers, Indiana. A couple of us are from Fortville, but that’s right next to Fishers. Most of us went to high school together. John, on the other hand, went to home school. Can we say, “He was home-learned”.

Since you all went to high school together, this might answer my next questions. But how did you guys all meet?

It was sort of a circle of things. Doug went to the same babysitter as me. We grew up together. Doug is a year older than most of us; he went to high school and there was a year of “separation”. We just hung out with other people for a while. He was hanging out with John, and when there was an opening, they needed a drummer, Doug thought of me! I joined the band and was terrible at the time for me; at least at drums I was terrible.

We were always friends with Mikey , in high school. It’s a small world. Some of us met at church as well. We just all stuck together. And, an even smaller world, when we were kids, we used to throw walnuts at our neighbors. Ten years later, a decade before everything came together, we were throwing walnuts at John. It’s just a small world. We were just talking about being kids, and John was like, “That was me.”

Tell me a little bit more about Heroic Music Entertainment.

It’s something that Mikey, Brad, and me started last July. It’s come along slow; just trying to figure out what we want to do. It’s artists helping artists. We are trying to help people where we can, help them get places they can. It’s generic, but that’s the general idea.

From an outside approach, it’s a really good idea and we are trying to figure out how to implement it. We just have to figure out the best time to get the physical part out. With having a record label now days, you have to figure out how to go about it. Especially with technology, in general. The music industry is almost a DOI. Kevin, for example, could be replaced with a drum machine.

It’s an idea; we always used to sit around and there is always a competition. The whole “artists helping artists” comes from that. It’s all about the state of the music industry. We got to talk to some folks, “You guys where you are at right now, you are at the same level as the majors. They are all trying to figure it out.”

Heroic and The American Night are still separated.

Who writes all your lyrics?

For the most part… everyone throws out ideas, and I take that into consideration. If I am going to be singing words, I want to get behind them 100%. Unless I have come up with them myself, it’s hard to pull it off. The rest of the band serves as a book of synonyms. I want it to mean something, and the rest of the guys just throw out the word. They help, but we try to think about what shouldn’t be said. We like to help narrowing down the concept.

(Doug) John is an amazing writing. John is very good at mumbling.

Where do you get inspiration for a new track?

Just for a song in general? Inspiration comes from all angles, really. We could have all kinds of different directions. We all hang out, as much as we can, and we are all “brothers” when we are all going through something, we are all going through it together. Whether it’s some girl, or our view on government. There are personal experiences, world events, and stuff like that.

Our drummer is so ADD; he is about three years behind. He always likes stuff that is already is out there. I don’t think you could really nail down a few single inspirations. For specific songs, maybe, there are specific things that inspire them, but overall just experience… good times. We are trying to get the best out of our lies.

As far as me writing, lyrically, I try to not just stay on one or a few themes. As far as love problems, or anti-government type stuff. I dabble in things here and there, but there are some bands out there that sing at the same thing time and time again.

In Dressed Up Devils, there is a lot of mention of power and rules… but the whole song isn’t just devoted to that idea. It’s not a political song. There are many flavors that go into a song. A lot of the time we are just inspired by just the music.

If anything, when we begin writing a song, its more the sound of the song and how that sound is shaping up. We will just feel where the sound of the song is going, and that will inspire me lyrically. I will start working with that lyrically.  Our song writing has developed over the years. We are now just writing music around feelings, and thinking on it on a deeper level. Our writing has matured.

I saw you drinking a Red Bull earlier… speaking of drinking, what are you drinking on stage?

(Laughs) American Honey? American Honey is usually my drink of choice. Or whatever other various drinks that I happen to come across. I like American Honey… a lot. The whiskey and the honey; it’s a magnificent thing. The honey soothes my voice out, and its easier to help me belt.

If they are doing deal drinks, at the bar, I will usually hit that up as well. We get what’s cheap.

You guys have had your tunes featured on Bob & Tom. How did you guys hook that up?

Bob helped us out a lot getting our new demo done. My dad actually knows Bob and they introduced us to Alan Johnson at Static Shack. We actually played his wedding. He asked us if we had ever had any recordings, and then he introduced us to Alan.

The wedding was fun. It was a lot of fun, actually. We forgot the keyboard. We have all forgotten stuff in the past, but never a full instrument.

Describe your genre in one word.

Oh God, epic. (Laughs) I honestly hate genre terminology. I don’t want to do it… there is the generic rock… but rock doesn’t mean much at all. What about legendary? I don’t know… I might just want to say music.

Here’s a word… tricky. We never really think about what genre. We just enjoy playing music.

You guys play a ton of live shows. What can someone expect from seeing you guys perform?

Energy… that’s one thing I have always been proud of. We are a solid CD band… we consider it an experience. We have always been proud of that, and its an experience, you walk away from it feeling involved. That’s what I think you should expect. Don’t be afraid to be dancing and moving. We are on stage, not one of us is still through the whole thing.

We are playing the music not only for ourselves, but also the people that are coming out to see us. I enjoy a full room, or six people standing up front. That’s what you can expect… an experience. I feel like every show is different and every show is true to that particular venue.

For example, I love Tom Petty. But his shows are all similar to the other shows. All those people who have watched it have seen the same show. I want more original, “I saw him do this, I saw him do that.”

So what are polar bear races?

It was a bad idea. There was a lot of whiskey involved. There is a pool at Doug’s house and Mikey stuck his head in the pool one night. He came into the house, was dripping wet, and wanted us to repeat his actions. It wasn’t really a race. We just got wet and cold; and we will never do it again. We didn’t know what to call it, so we called it a polar bear race.

If you could live anywhere else in the world, where would you go?

Ireland. There is something about it being a simple place. How cool would it be to build a hut, in Ireland, and just… that would be cool.

(Doug) I have never been to Ireland, but I have always wanted to go. I wouldn’t mind living there for a while.

(John) If I had to choose one place, for the rest of my life, I would have to pick Bangladesh. I am learning Bengali.

What’s a typical Friday night look like for you?

Well, the past couple Friday nights have been pretty good. A typical Friday night has been band practice for a couple of hours, going out, finding a pub or an apartment where we can all get together and hang out. Then we find some sort of bar to go through… the bar hop. There is a lot that happens in between. We have a great time when we are together. We try to keep it drama free, and have fun. There’s no routine, and that’s fun.

So what makes you guys feel “alive and real”?

(Doug) Playing music. Every time I pick up my guitar, and every time we play together. It wouldn’t be the same if it were other musicians, other people, and playing other songs. That’s what makes me feel alive. We are all about having fun and doing our best.

Having a great show, spontaneous moments, and as cheesy as it sounds, having a great epic song. When I heard Wake Up by Arcade Fire, the whole week I felt alive. Muse has been doing a pretty good job at making the hair stay on the top of my heard. Good songs and good shows.

(John) I would have to agree with Doug. When I think back, there have never been times where I have felt freer than when I am playing music. If I didn’t have that high, and that release, I couldn’t really picture my life being that enjoyable.

(Mikey) I would have to agree with the spontaneous moments.  I am a shy, loose cannon. I just want to go out and try something I have never done before.

How do you feel about Justin Bieber?

(Laughs) I don’t like his music, but whomever he is working for, I think they are brilliant. They are absolutely brilliant. Along with Usher and the Jonas Brothers, the bands that have found that niche… where they are everywhere, whoever is doing their marketing and PR for them. They are amazing. How many times do you hear of him on a daily basis?

(Doug) I have never heard of his music, but I have heard him do a drum solo on TV … but I have never heard his music. That super pop stuff doesn’t really go with me well. I respect him, and he’s out there playing music… he’s doing what I like to do.

What’s the most embarrassing thing that has ever happened to you on stage?

(Laughs) There have been times where John gets a little carried away. What could have been embarrassing, John fell and hit his face on the side of the stage, and did not miss a note or a beat. He just bounces back up like nothing ever happened. I was watching, and was baffled. It was great.

(John) I let myself go. I let myself… do what I do. Sometimes it can prove to be interesting.

(Doug) I just didn’t play very well. I find that embarrassing.

One time, someone booked a four-hour set. Our set is about one-hour. That was a long time ago, before our latest four-track EP. We played the same set twice, and when we were done with our second set, some members of the band were unable to fill their obligation. It was a potpourri of alcohol!

The average bar tab was about $12. We had a few beers, but everyone else was buying us shots. There were a lot of double gin and tonics coming to the stage.

How did you guys get hooked up with A&R?

We are not affiliated with them anymore. They just called us one day. We were not ready for it. I am not saying they are a bad organization; we couldn’t take advantage of what they had to offer because we were not ready for it. This was in the baby stages, like when we were juniors in high school. It was exciting, and we didn’t take it as serious as we should. It was a mixed relationship. They kept wanting money, and we were in high school… we were broke.

What’s the biggest crowd that you have ever played for?

We played at the University of Indianapolis. We also played the side stage at Verizon Wireless Music Center, and had a really good turn out… until the weather turned. That dwindled the crowd a bit. I learned to watch the Weather Channel.

The smallest?

We have played to one. That would be the smallest. We are a band that has bad luck with weather. Really and truthfully, it’s going to rain, snow, sleet… we always have the bad luck.

We played The Union down in Bloomington, and I don’t think anyone came to that show. The people we were banking on never came. I would say that would be our smallest show.

I need one answer here… who’s the greatest guitar player of all time?

I am going to say Hendrix. That may be generic, but he is the only guitar player to wear when I hear him playing, it’s his voice to me. There is so much motion, and fluidity when he is playing. It doesn’t seem like an instrument.

(Doug) Well Hendrix is the reason I started playing. I have always been a fan of Jimmy Page. He has skill.

You guys headlined the Fishers Freedom Festival. What was that like?

That was a nice experience being as young as we were. We killed that teen tent. We have headlined it two years in a row. We also destroyed Ben & Ari’s. We set attendance records there. We had people standing on tables; the fire marshal showed up and actually kept people out. It was insane!

If you could only perform one song for the rest of your career, which song would you pick?

(Doug) I really like Last Call.

(John) Again, that’s hard for me. I go through phases. Backdoor Man. That’s a fun song. We are never going to play just one song.

In your opinion, how has the Internet changed the current state of the music industry?

(Mickey) It has changed it by leaps and bounds. Never before has so much music been so accessible to so many people. It gives the little guy a chance. The days of where you can record a record, sell a bunch of records, and play a bunch of shows… it’s putting musicians back on the streets. It forces bands back on the streets to engage with their audience. You have to really go out and engage your fans. You have to make them a part of the experience.

(John) Stuff is instantly available to the world. If there is someone that is trying to make a profit or a living, if you are a true artist then you are concerned with people hearing… just exposure. We are not doing this for money, but hopefully one day we can do this full-time. I am not trying to make millions, I just want to be on stage and lay the guitar.

Music is my passion now, but I would love to call it my career.

Let’s say you are about to headline a show out at Verizon Wireless Music Center. Who would you have on the bill as support?

Alive or dead? I guess we would have to pick The Black Keys and the White Stripes. Not sure the White Stripes would flow, but the Black Keys would be sweet.

Where do you see yourselves in five years?

Hopefully on tour. Hopefully doing this but on a bigger scale, on a bus, just traveling around. Maybe on a plane. I think if we blew up tomorrow, we would still have a bus. You can’t road trip in a plane. Plus, I don’t wan t to deal with airport security.

What do you want to be remembered for when this is all said and done?

I want people to call our show the best live show they’ve ever seen. My folks still talk about shows they saw when they are young. I want someone; thirty years form now, to talk like that. We just want to give someone an experience. They did what they wanted, and they had fun doing it.

(John) Just to make someone feel something. Whether that’s anger, love, crying…as long as I can sing, we can play, and they come away feeling something.

I always let the artist get the last word. Go.

(John) Our band, as a whole, is just about kicking people in the head and making them feel something. We want to shake things up a bit; we are here to stir the pot. Help us out.

People have gotten comfortable, and don’t really concern themselves with feeling or thoughts. Our society just things that everything I okay. Some things aren’t okay. I just want to make people feel things. Make them think about things.