(In this post you will find BadWolf’s interview of Jamie Walters, aka Athenor, of Cleveland’s Midnight.)
Cleveland’s Jamie Walters struck gold (though maybe he didn’t know it) when throwback metal outfit Boulder became inactive and he formed his one-man project Midnight. Part black metal and part cock rock, Midnight has won over a surprising number of fans with a mixture of powerful hooks, depraved lyrics, and shocking imagery. The band’s 2011 album, Satanic Royalty, made me a fan. Their set at 2013’s Maryland Deathfest made me a devotee. Now, with their sophomore LP, No Mercy For Mayhem, I am a fanatic. Still, Walters’ music has the hooks, but perhaps not the ethics we as listeners demand from modern rock music. I got on the blower with Walters to see what satanic royalty has to do with sexism and an undying love for AC/DC.
I don’t see that many interviews with you.
Jamie: No, I try not to do too many interviews. I don’t know, over the internet. . . I’m not really an internet type of person, so over the internet you get kind of just like short answers, kind of half-ass, and then over the phone it’s always just like, ‘hey, we’re just talking’. I don’t like talking to people but it’s like, sometimes it doesn’t come across as an interview, because then you start talking about the Steelers, the Lions, kind of stupid shit — you know? — that has nothing to do with an interview. So.
You’re from Ohio, you’re like, you’re an Ohio boy, and you never play Ohio.
Jamie: Well, I wouldn’t say never, but not as much, you know, I guess just as much as any other cities.
Well, I mean, you played Cleveland maybe twice last year, you’re from Cleveland. . .
Jamie: Yeah, yeah.
. . . and you’re about to do this Hell’s Headbangers warehouse show.
Jamie: Okay, it’s just a warehouse, essentially, so I’m sure you’ve been to a warehouse, it has a bay door, a garage, and all that kind of stuff, and it’s a warehouse. You know, it’s basically like a private party here, just do a little gig here in the parking lot and play in the, you know, the bay doors, and just have bands play, and just have hotdogs and pop or whatever the shit and those guys are good and it would be cool. And of course they think on a little more bigger level I guess, and it’s like yeah, well, just have it open to everybody…. I thought it would be like a private party at most, you know, 40 people or something like that, but I guess beyond that it grew bigger than we anticipated. I don’t know. We’ll see, but it seems like there are a lot of people coming.
I think your band in particular fits into this idea I cribbed from another metal writer, who shall not be named. He’s an asshole, but I think he’s really funny, and he has this concept of the fun club… he likes bands that are fun to listen to, bands that are fun to see, bands that are in the fun club. And his idea of fun and my idea of fun are not the same thing, but when I listen to Midnight, you are the fun club.
How important is that to you, you know? How do you make fun music?
Jamie: I guess any music can be fun. I don’t think Black Sabbath started out as fun music, but it seems now it’s a joy to see that band, so they’re pretty fun as well. I think it’s just if you listen to music and it makes you react in some way, whether it’s you know, fun, if it just gets some reaction out of you, no matter what it is, I guess. That’s a good thing, so, I don’t know.
Well yeah, but your music certainly has a lot of big choruses, and it’s kind of got some rock and roll in it, and there’s the theatrical aspect with the masks and the hoods. It definitely seems like you wanted Midnight from the start to be kind of an accessible band.
Jamie: Well to be honest most of the stuff I listen to is, I guess, accessible music; Kiss, AC/DC, Van Halen kind of stuff. It still amazes me, like, anytime you see AC/DC, who to me is the most raw rock and roll band in the world, they have stadiums or a coliseum or whatever full of people, 22,000 people, just going wild. And they’re just playing straight through Marshals, no effects, no reverb, delay, that kind of stuff, they are just so raw, you know. Angus is running around on the ground tearing a guitar apart just making a racket, just making a noise essentially during guitar solos and stuff, and people are loving it. I think it’s just that they feel it. AC/DC is probably one of the most accessible bands in the world — they sell their t-shirts at Walmart, unfortunately. But somehow they’re just a great band and you can’t deny it. No matter if you like only Blasphemy and the most extreme death metal bands, you can’t deny AC/DC is a great band, so.
Yeah, absolutely. So people forget AC/DC was scary back in the day to an extent.
I think calling the record Highway to Hell, was a big deal.
Jamie: Yeah. They had double names, you know, for example Against Christ /Devil’s Children. They had tattoos, and tattoos were considered — only bikers and drug addicts and miscreants had them. Now any dweeb who goes to the mall has his nose pierced and a facial tattoo, so no big deal now. But AC/DC were definitely considered pretty scary.
What makes a good live show to you?
Jamie: Just something interesting to listen to and watch, to be honest. I mean, you don’t want to see a band that’s up there just posing or just standing there, or just doing the generic head-banging and putting up the heavy metal sign, which is gay as hell right now. It’s, I don’t know, just doing what the music makes you do, and it should come pretty natural…
You don’t like the devil horns?
Jamie: No, it just kind of irks me. I mean when I was a kid, maybe in ’87, ’88 — I mean I like devil’s horns, yes. But it just seems so — it’s lost its original meaning I think, at least in heavy metal. Now it’s like people take — if you listen to Trickster or any of that kind of stuff, people go “dude, metal, dude”, and then put up the metal horns sign, and it’s just lost its original meaning as devil horns. I don’t think anybody sees it as devil horns anymore, it’s like, ‘you’re rocking, dude’, you know?
You know you’re right, but you’re the first person I’ve ever heard express that to me.
Jamie: Yeah, okay. It’s just the way I feel about it.
Well, all right. So when I saw you at MDF, it’s so funny, because you have a decent rasp to your voice, I can understand the things you’re saying, you’ve got a decent rasp. But most of the bands there—I think it’s mostly the European bands that do this, it’s so strange—most of the other bands, when they talk to the audience they’ll still be doing the funny voice, and you spoke in your normal voice and something about that, like, I found that incredibly endearing.
Jamie: Well again, it just goes back to genuineness and honesty I guess. I mean to me I’m a grown-ass 40-year-old man, so if I was up in front of people going, [black metal voice] “How are you all doing tonight,” it’s just, I would feel like an asshole, you know? And one, I honestly don’t care how they’re doing tonight, and two, I’m not going to ask it in a distorted voice, so it wouldn’t make sense either way. Again, it’s just that I can’t do anything that doesn’t come natural, and it doesn’t come natural to me to do something like that, but yeah.
Well, I feel about that the way you do about the devil horns. I’ve always hated that. Even when I was like 14 and I was seeing mainstream bands I was like, ‘why are you doing that?’
Jamie: Yes, you know anybody, there’s always something that you listen to as a young kid and it’s like, ‘oh, that wasn’t as good as I thought it was when I was 13,’ but whatever.
Totally. But people will never admit that, they’re like ‘no, I was born with a Bathory back patch.’
Jamie: Yeah, it’s all what you get into and whatever. Everybody can’t be as cool as the next guy, so, I’m not worried about it.
That’s true. So what is with Midnight and women? Because on the Midnight Facebook page there’s always like, women wearing Midnight shirts. And I go to a lot of shows in Detroit, so normally a person would think it’s just some dude’s girlfriend or someone they paid or blah blah blah, but I genuinely have noticed a lot of women wearing Midnight shirts. Have you noticed that too? What do you think?
Jamie: Yeah, I kind of noticed that too. I guess it could be kind of a good and bad thing. If I wasn’t in the band I would say, aw man that’s poisonous, because if a girl likes your band then it’s like ‘they can’t be that good.’ But I think it’s different now, you know, it’s whoever can like it likes it. Maybe this music has a little more 4/4 time signatures to it, so it’s good to move up and down to, and women like to move up and down and shake their booties and their boobs, and maybe that’s why.
There’s women on both album covers and there’s songs about women, which is not usual for a contemporary heavy metal band, I don’t think.
Jamie: Well, maybe it comes back to, like I said, most of the stuff I listen to. You know, listen to the Rolling Stones, take ten of those songs, how many of those songs have to do with women on one of their records? Probably nine out of the ten songs, and then the tenth one being about drugs. KISS, how many songs do they have about women? Probably nine out of ten songs, and then the next one being about rocking. It’s an interest. It’s part of life, but I haven’t really lived in many castles recently, or I’m not slaying dragons as much as I used to, so I can’t really write about that stuff.
Do you worry about your lyrical content in that way? Because a song like “Endless Slut,” I could see one of my not-metal friends, I’m in the car, she’s going through my iPod, looks at that song and says “What the fuck is wrong with you?” Do you ever worry about that sort of thing?
Jamie: No. I can’t, you know. If I thought about things, things would be different. “Endless Slut,” I guess I don’t think there’s anything too wrong with that. There’s nothing wrong with sluts, especially an endless supply of them, or them doing endless amounts of things, so.
Jamie: It’s honesty.
I’ll give you that. I mean, I like the honesty. I feel like it’s hard for me to read interviews these days, because I feel like a lot of metal bands I talk to just say cryptic shit for the sake of saying cryptic shit, like they don’t want to come across one way or another, so they just spew nonsense.
Jamie: Yeah, some of the interviews I read just seem kind of blah. I don’t know, it’s either that or they’re saying stupid shit. But I don’t know, I guess that’s a tough question. Speaking of “Endless Slut,” I think the first time we played that was West Coast and there were people that were, like, it seemed like an extreme title to them. And to me it doesn’t, and maybe to you it doesn’t as well, just because… from Toledo, Cleveland, and it’s like, you can’t take that seriously. It’s not like, ‘oh you’re a slut, just waking around a street prowling for sluts.’ It’s a song. You know, it’s not a huge deal. The world’s still going to exist whether that song is made or not.
Well, at the same time, if you were a different band, if you were a different kind of metal band, or rock band, there’s a kind of metal band that could have a song called “Endless Slut,” and I’d listen to it and I’d think, ‘these people are assholes.’ But I guess I have trouble taking Midnight seriously enough to take offense to it. That’s just like my honest reaction to it.
Jamie: Well you can probably hear in the tone of the voice or something that I don’t have anything bad to say towards women. I have a mother, I have a wife, it’s not like I’m walking around degrading women all day. That’s not what it is, it goes with the content of the song, you have to say those words the way the music is played.
I got the sense immediately when I was listening to Midnight that when you’re fronting the band you’re kind of like acting out a character, I think, or am I wrong?
Jamie: No, it’s a sense of what you get. I mean, you have to get into that feel. I mean, in-between songs is one thing, I can talk about myself or I’ll say shit that I probably normally wouldn’t say at work, but I don’t know if it’s as much a character, it’s just the music that turns you into something.
At the same time, there’s people that would have you believe, with their like bloody pentagram on their head and their clown makeup, they’re like ‘no, this is who I am on a day-to-day basis. I burn all the churches!’ But I can’t take that seriously either.
Jamie: That’s usually how things are, like the bands around here who think they’re the most extreme or take themselves the most seriously end up just looking like, ‘do they just dwell in a cave all day and somehow write a song and get signed to a record label, and does the record label just tell them to go out and tour?’
At the same time, it’s sort of like… who inspires more bad behavior, you know? Burzum or AC/DC? My money is on AC/DC, actually.
Jamie: Yeah, probably. They have “Night Prowler.”
Speaking of Prowler. There’s a couple tracks at the start of the new album that do have kind of a different vibe to them. “Prowling Leather” is one of them. Like, rhythmically, they’ve got more of a swing, they’re a little spacier, and I wanted to know where that kind of came from.
Jamie: I don’t know. The only thing I guess I tried to do, I don’t want every song to sound the same, so they will be with different tempos, different rhythms, and you can’t have every song be ‘tap tap tap tap tap tap tap,’ so if you have a different rhythm just in one song, it makes the ‘tap tap tap tap-m tap tap tap’ sound even faster and louder. Which two are you talking about, “Prowling Leather,” and?
“Prowling Leather” and “No Mercy for Mayhem,” it’s those two. Because you come off, “Evil Like a Knife” is like, just like “Satanic Royalty,” it’s fast, it’s hard, and then it kind of gets a little spacier, a little dancier, and then you get to “Final Rape of Night” it’s fast again.
Jamie: I just, just paced it out. You know, even Satanic Royalty, I thought, has some different key songs and “Black Damnation” is slower.
And the title track to Satanic Royalty also has that kind of AC/DC slow fist-pump.
Jamie: Yeah, when I was recording that one the guy who recorded it, you know as we were going through was, like, what’s the running order? And I always thought that one should be first, just because it was kind of like a little different tempo; it wasn’t just an all-out basher. And he was kind of against it, he was like, “Just because it’s the title song doesn’t mean you have to have it as the first song, it’s kind of slow.” I was like, yeah, but it’s kind of cool to have an opening song that’s a little different, and then you can kind of put your head down or whatever and just keep bashing through. But you know, I have no problem with different tempos or different rhythms or whatever.