Grahame Lesh and his band Midnight North have created an exciting blend of rock and Americana that is both fresh and evocative of past masters of the form like Graham Parsons and The Band. He got his start playing music at an early age thanks to his rather famous father, Phil Lesh of The Grateful Dead. Though he might have family in the business, so to speak, the music he and his bandmates make stands up remarkably well on it’s own merits.
Grahame took some time out of preparing for the release of their new album Under The Lights on June 16th (and their special release party the following day) to expound on the wonders of Craigslist, the music and lessons he learned on the road with Twiddle and what it’s like having your dad crash the stage during one of your shows!
Live For Live Music: So, I know every interview you have done gets to your famous genes before too long so I thought I would get it out of the way first. Does your dad ever hit you up for a percentage of your earnings as like, a finders fee or last name surcharge?
Grahame Lesh: That is definitely the most fun way I’ve been asked something like that. I started my career as a family thing. There was some jamming with my friends, but when I really got serious it was with my family. And with my dad and mom running Terrapin Crossroads and giving us a place to play it has always been something I was aware and proud of. I’m pretty lucky to be involved with them and the crew here in Marin County.
L4LM: With all the musicians around as you were growing up, did it just seem natural to want to play, or was there ever a rebel period where you wanted to be an accountant or anything else as far away from music as possible?
GL: I wanted to be a baseball player, but that isn’t super weird for a kid. I liked Metallica and that kind of music when I was a kid, which is probably the farthest thing away from the music of the Grateful Dead you could find. That’s probably the closest I came to being a rebel.
Being surrounded by all these musicians, this community we have gathered together here in Marin County, and growing up as part of this family and the musicians who were around this music, this life was pretty logical to me.
L4LM: Growing up, It’s safe to assume people would come up to your dad and profess their love and talk about how his music changed their lives. What was that like seeing that love and reverence through the eyes of a son?
GL: It happens all the time and the thing I have always been struck by is how gracious and thankful my dad is back. None of his life would have happened without them. The community they built made that possible, and a bunch of fucking amazing songs they made! It was a crazy thing to watch, cause he was pretty much just my dad. They would come up to him, and even me when he was not there, and talk about how many shows they had seen, and how much each one had meant to them. It’s heavy stuff. But always uplifting to hear. When you’re a kid it kinda goes over your head though.
L4LM: I see that you met up with your first band mate on Craigslist. Is that true?
GL: We did! You can call it fate or whatever. When I was in college and some friends and I were playing around a bit, but our bass player moved away. So we found Connor [O’Sullivan], our bass player in Midnight North, through an ad on Craigslist. That band kinda fell apart, as bands do, after a while. We were still jamming when we could though, and Connor knew Elliot [Peck], our other singer-songwriter in Midnight North, and brought her into the fold and Midnight North was born. It was just one of those lucky things, that we all met right when we were looking to start something new, musically.
L4LM: Do you think Connor followed the protocol for Craigslist meet ups and warned a friend before he came to meet you?
GL: I hope he did! Connor is still all about Craigslist, and that economy around it. I think when he got there we looked pretty harmless.
L4LM: You gotta realize you were the greatest Craigslist find ever for someone looking to start a band, right? Superstar dad, you’re crazy talented and an already interested nation of fans is a pretty sweet amount of cool to bring to the table, right?
GL: (Laughs) Yeah, my family starting Terrapin Crossroads right after we got together and that giving us a place to play is very fortuitous. At the time we didn’t mention any of my family history or connections. Honestly though, I feel lucky to have met him, and through him Elliot. I mean…Midnight North is still going strong.
L4LM: Midnight North has a really cool, roadhouse Rock-Americana-Country vibe to it. Was that a sound you went for on purpose or was it just how you played?
GL: It was a result of the musicians and what we all brought to the table. When Elliot and the band started jamming together we gravitated to stuff like Graham Parsons, Emmylou Harris and stuff by The Band. We found pretty quickly that when we sang together, and when Alex Jordan, who also sings with us, when he joined that was something we all enjoyed as a band. The three-part harmonies we make are one of my favorite things about the band. I think if you play a lot of music together you sort of just find your path. And the more you play together the more you find the heart of your band.
L4LM: Similar question about songwriting–You are billed as one of the main songwriters of the band. Do you write as a whole?
GL: It changes from song to song. Our first album was kinda like 2 EPs. [Elliot and I] both had a lot of songs we brought in and played. But since Scarlet Skies, whatever we have written, once it comes time to bring an idea to the band,e we see where they take us a group.
L4LM: You’re getting close to the release of the new Midnight North album, Under The Lights, on June 16th. Anything about the new material you are particularly excited about?
GL: It’s interesting. There are a couple songs that we may stretch out live, but I like how concise the material on the new record is. There are lyrics and melodies on this record that I am really proud of. I really feel that there are moments and songs that people who like this kind of music will really dig.
L4LM: You’re throwing an album release party at The Great American Music Hall the day of the release, on the 16th of June. Word on the street is that it is being crashed by your dad and one of your mutual friends, Scott Law. For most people that would be kinda annoying, but I am guessing you folks aren’t too upset to have him share the stage with you.
GL: That party is gonna be really fun. The opportunity to have it at The Great American Music Hall, my favorite venue in San Francisco, is special to us. We have been holding a lot of these songs back, though we did road test them for a while. Now that the album is almost here we are itching to get them out and start playing them again. Connor plays some mandolin on the new album and that opens up the bass for my dad to come sit in and play a few with us at the show very organically. We’re looking forward to a special musical party for sure.
L4LM: You have plenty of non-legacy musical connections you have formed as well. You had a well-received and apparently friend-making run with Twiddle recently. How do you feel your roots-oriented vibe worked with their jam sound?
GL: It was amazing to play with them. It was the nicest time…they are incredible guys and they treated us so well. They are such good musicians and such a good band to watch, day in and day out. They play completely separate shows, song-wise and stylistically, on consecutive nights. It gave us a great example of what to work towards.
More than just the musical lessons, it was good to do a month together, in the old school way, to let us see how a band and their crew puts it together night after night. As for the sounds working together, I really think they did. Even if you look at the furthest extremes of our sounds it still comes from the same place.
I know some of what we were doing with our harmonies made an impact on them. When we first played together we worked out some harmonies for some of their stuff and a bit of that, or a form of it, made it to their new record. There was a lot of love that apparently went both ways.
L4LM: Something must have been working, as they added you to the 2017 lineup for their Tumble Down festival. How excited are you to get back together with them?
GL: We’re excited, but you can’t be around them and not get pumped for it. Our first gig out that way this year was in Burlington, and they were already talking about how incredible it was gonna be. They are just super excited about it. I know they are gonna be in their element, playing like 4 or 5 sets with them.
L4LM: The Everyone Orchestra is on the line up. Any chance you’ll be getting the call from Matt Butler to join in?
GL: Oh yeah, Matt is a friend from waaay back. I know Elliot and I, and Mihali are definitely gonna go out on that set. It’s such a cool concept, and Matt brings so much to it from the conductor sense. I never really understood how much of a factor a conductor was in classical music, but what Matt does is amazing.
L4LM: Well, with all this going on it sounds like you really have a jam-packed year ahead of you. Thanks for carving out a few minutes to talk to us about the fun on the way!
GL: No problem! Thanks for helping spread the word!
[Cover image by Bob Minkin]
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