If Steve Van Zandt didn’t have his own record label you would swear that he was directly involved in curating Jem Records’ current roster of artists. All of them present a sound that mines the best music of the late 1960s and early 1970s in ways that feel fresh and of the moment. Through what is arguably the most impactful promotional path a label has taken in some time, Jem has their artists tackle the music of icons like Ray Davies, Brian Wilson and John Lennon and packages them as tribute samplers. There, through songs both common and rare, people have been able to discover bands that they otherwise might have missed. It’s been an incredibly fun way to discover something new, and one act in particular is about to return from their debut with an album of songs that has boundless energy and superb execution.
Rattled Humming Heart, the sophomore album by New York City's Midnight Callers, follows their debut, Red Letter Glow; a record that came out at the end of 2020, right in the middle of the pandemic. As a result, it wasn’t supported with a tour, but enjoyed great reviews and “airplay” on a variety of formats. But it was the wrong time for a debut album. It might have been the wrong time for even established artists to put out something new. This moment is different. So is this record.
The album sails with sounds of power pop, glam rock, and ‘70s FM-radio-confident coolness. It’s both retro and infinitely modern, with the throwback vibe of Brit bands like T-Rex, the imagination of groups like Big Star, and the New York City-styled assuredness of The Strokes. The band consists of Chris Paine (rhythm guitar/vocals), Martin Stubbs (vocals/lead guitar), Julien Budrino (vocals/drums) and Marley Myrianthopoulos(vocals/bass). Kurt Reil produced, recorded and mixed the album at The House of Vibes studio in Highland Park, New Jersey.
Copper caught up with the band to talk about their creative process, how they pick singles, what it’s been like to part of the Jem family, and where they see their future and that of rock both headed.
The Midnight Callers, Rattled Humming Heart, album cover.
Ray Chelstowski: Is there a story behind the band’s name?
Julien Budrino: Coming up with a name is so much harder than it sounds! We had a long list of references to various power pop bands that we liked, like Big Star and the Raspberries. We all love Badfinger and Chris had “Midnight Caller” come up on shuffle on his phone on the subway one day. He sent the idea to Martin and right away they knew they had it!
RC: How does the creative process begin for the band?
Chris Paine: Usually it starts with a single good moment. A good hook, riff, or melody line will stick in somebody’s head and then we’ll build around that. Sometimes it comes together fast enough that whoever had that first idea can bring a mostly-complete song idea into the next rehearsal; other times it just hangs around as a cool little riff or groove that winds up getting put together with someone else’s idea to build a complete song further down the line.
RC: You have said that this record reflects a sense of maturity in regard to your sound. How so?
Martin Stubbs: In a lot of ways the first record was a journey of discovery. We didn’t really know what we sounded like as a band when we were writing a lot of those songs, and the writing and recording process was also an opportunity to explore and figure out who we were as a band. By contrast, the songs on Rattled Humming Heart were written for this band and for our sound, and the recording process was a chance to execute that vision.
RC: The record mines a lot of classic rock sounds. How do you knit them together to make them work as a cohesive collection of songs?
CP: We’re all from the generation that grew up listening to the greatest rock hits of the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s on shuffle on our iPods. I think that we’ve each incorporated elements of each of those eras into our personal playing styles, and as we’ve grown together as a band we’ve meshed those playing styles together into our overall sound. Our producer Kurt Reil also deserves a shout out here for his role in keeping us in the same sonic lane, even though some of the songs come from very different musical influences.
RC: Which track on this record would you direct people to first if they have never heard you before and why?
Marley Myrianthopoulos: If I knew they were going to listen to the whole song, I think that “Without Ya” really has everything that makes us who we are. There are a lot of dimensions to our sound that I think that song encapsulates really well. That being said, you often only have the first 10 seconds or so of a song to capture someone’s interest, and I think in that case I would go with “Baby Let Me Be.” Right out of the gate those bright guitars and harmonies tell you what to expect.
RC: Is that how you pick singles? “Baby Let Me Be” is one of those songs that in the 1970s, 1980s or 1990s would have been an FM rock radio hit. Where do you see rock today and where it is headed?
MM: Singles are often a way to introduce your sound to a new audience, so we try to pick those with an eye toward how quickly they can tell someone who has never heard of us what we’re all about. That’s one of the things that influenced the selection of “New York Tramp” and “Baby Let Me Be” as singles for this album as well as “41 Miles to Roscoe” from the last record. You never get a second chance to make a first impression! In terms of rock radio, I think that rock music fans are sometimes too picky in discounting how much of mainstream pop music is still rock-influenced. Olivia Rodrigo’s SOUR album comes to mind as an example of a (wildly successful) modern pop record that still showcases the staying power of rock’s influence. So I think rock music is actually in a really good and culturally important place as long as we’re willing to appreciate the way the genre has kept up with the times.
RC: Describe the room at House of Vibes recording studio and how it impacted the outcome of this record. Did you record live?
JB: Recording at House of Vibes is a lot of fun! Kurt has a full setup and we were able to lay down the drums, bass, and rhythm guitar tracks for the entire album pretty much live with just a few takes each over two sessions. Kurt is a very accomplished drummer himself which really helps with finding a good drum sound in the space. It was very different from the recording process for Red Letter Glow, when we had to record one instrument at a time in the living room at Chris’s parents’ house!
RC: You have participated in Jem Records artist tributes. Which one was the most fun and why?
MS: For me, it has to be “Come Dancing” from the upcoming Ray Davies tribute (Jem Records Celebrates Ray Davies, out August 11th). That was the one where I felt like we had the time to collaboratively create a version of the song that we were happy with and that felt true to both the source material and our own musical leanings, and then go into the studio and make it come to life.
RC: You’ve already received press praise and Steve Van Zandt has given you attention on Underground Garage. What does success look like with this record for you?
CP: I think that for us, success is people loving the music. We love doing this and we hope that our audience finds the same joy in what we’ve created. It was unbelievably gratifying to read some of the messages that people sent us after Red Letter Glow was released and we hope that Rattled Humming Heart moves people in the same way.
RC: Will the band support this music with live dates?
MM: On June 24th (the night after the album is released) we’ll be at the C-Note in Hull, Massachusetts, and then we’re at the Roscoe Beer Company (yes, that Roscoe!) in New York on July 22nd. Then on July 29th we’re teaming up with our good friends and label mates the Anderson Council (who have an awesome new record of their own) in Ringwood, New Jersey. New York City fans, keep your eyes peeled for a city date sometime in August!
Header image: Julien Budrino, Chris Paine, Marley Myrianthopoulos and Martin Stubbs of the Midnight Callers. Courtesy of Drew REynolds.
courtesy of Drew Reynolds.