Spotlight Band: Key To The Midway
Jesse Barnes – Vocals
Drew English – Guitar/Vocals
Corey Yoder – Guitar
Shane Barnes – Bass/Vocals
Ryan English – Drums
Interviewed by: Mary Ouellette
Michigan pop rockers Key To The Midway recently released their new EP Keep It To Yourself. We hooked up with lead vocalist Jesse Barnes and guitarist Drew Eglish to talk about the band, their new EP and the future.
Let’s start out with a little band history – how long have you been together, how did it all fall into place, etc?
Drew: Jesse and I were introduced through a mutual friend and met up and started jamming together. We both noticed a lot of musical chemistry in writing and demoing 2 separate songs; one of them actually ended up being our 3rd track “Drifting,” so we decided to take things a step further in completing our lineup. We both recruited our older brothers to make 4 members of KTTM then we realized that we would need a second rhythm guitarist. After a few different ideas for the position and almost managing to become a 6 piece band we recruited one of my close friends. He was doing vocals for a hardcore/metal band that I had done studio guitar for and I convinced him to take up playing guitar to complete Key to the Midway and we haven’t looked back since.
You’re from Kalamazoo, MI which doesn’t come to mind when you think of a thriving music metropolis – have there been challenges working your music from your home base? What have been the advantages, disadvantages?
Drew: I personally think Kalamazoo is quite underrated for music. There are a lot of people doing some great things to make our local scene what it is today, there are multiple monthly music publications and a lot of great and supportive venues that deserve a lot more recognition as well. It is tougher for us that Kalamazoo caters better towards indie and experimental genres than pop/rock music, but I feel like we still receive a lot of support from the area.
You recently (Aug 31) released your EP Keep It To Yourself – can you tell us a little bit about the overall feel of the EP?
Drew: Well with our first EP we wanted to establish our sound, while still leaving an open-end for some curve balls when we start writing again. I feel like whether you like us or not, you can definitely pick-up a sort of “feel-good-summer” feeling from the record combined with traces of dark undertones and melodies to go along with it.
Jesse: A lot of these songs are about doing or saying the things you sometimes second guess or never actually do hence the title “Keep it to Yourself.” Everybody has certain feelings they don’t express and lyrically our songs can vary from dirty thoughts as in “You’ve Got Me” all the way to the feeling of just saying screw it and moving on as in “Farewell.” We didn’t hold back when we wrote this EP, we wanted to write songs that were real and unique to us yet relative to others lives as well.
Since there are only five songs, do you think we could go through them track by track and you can tell us a little about each starting with “Scenery”?:
Drew: With this being one of the first songs Jesse and I ever wrote, we were very skeptical about recording this track and we almost didn’t. But as soon as we started doing pre-production on it, we changed a lot of things up and it ended up being the backbone of our EP.
Jesse: We wanted to write a song about the dream of being a musician and touring the country while still being fun. You hear a lot of sadder songs about this subject like how hard it is or how long you’ve been at it, and we wanted to change that. We wanted to be positive and just have a song that shows how excited we are to be doing this.
Jesse: Farewell is my personal favorite. It’s a song about being free, wanting to escape, and believing in bigger things. Musically we wanted this song to be emotional but in a good and inspiring way. The idea here is to hit you right at home yet still get you on your feet.
Just Me And You:
Jesse: Some people say this song is cheesy and to be quite honest it’s that way for a reason only because love IS cheesy. I wrote it like a storyline about love where it starts from senior year as a kid to 5 years later when you’re much older and considering the rest of your life together and everything in between. We wanted it to have a strong and smooth pop feel in the verses then turn the chorus and bridge around with a rock sound to give it some energy. We personally love this song and we hope you do too.
You’ve Got Me:
Jesse: This song is just fun. When we started writing it the idea was always to make it as fun and upbeat as we possibly could. But we also wanted to throw people off with some varying emotions and styles also.
Drew: If any song were to get stuck in your head this one would be it.
Do you feel there is one song on the EP that best defines your sound?
Drew: I really don’t think you could sum us up in a single track. We try to switch things up from song to song because we don’t really believe in writing a bunch of songs that all sound the same, but the EP as a whole is a good taste of what you can expect from us in the future.
What song on the album was most challenging to write?
Jesse: I would say “You’ve Got Me.” We worked with a lot of different ideas for the vocal melody and it also seemed like we were constantly messing with the structure too. It was just a song we kept going back to for a while because we were never positive if we had it just the way we wanted, so it took a long time before everyone felt like we finally had it right.
I think after listening to the EP most people are thinking – why only 5 songs?
Jesse: 5 songs just felt right for our first EP. We’re a fairly new band and we really wanted to get something out there that wasn’t pricy. However, on iTunes there is an acoustic bonus track that comes with the EP titled “Brighter Than the City.”
So if we did the math right..there’s two sets of brothers in the band. One might think that could lead to a lot of infighting – how have you worked that to your advantage?
Jesse: It’s simple, were family. Yes from time to time we have our little spats, but overall we feel a step ahead in band interrelations because as family we can always talk it out and get over it. We’ve had our entire lives to fight and bicker with each other and we’ve made it this far, so I think having your family in the band should only ensure people that we work together great and because of that fact I feel like we’re a much tighter knit group of friends.
You ended up working with producer Rob Freeman who’s worked with Cobra Starship, Hit The Lights in the past. How did you hook up with him and what did he bring to the process for you?
Jesse: Really we were shopping all around checking out various producers for a couple months. In the end what did it for us was his track record, but most of all he seemed like a producer who put his all into every band that came through his studio. We’ve all recorded in other projects before, and have learned what a bad vibe from band and producer can do to the overall process. He brought his full individuality to the table, his experience and he always had an opinion on what we were doing so it was a great learning experience for us.
One of the things that stood out to me on the EP are the rich harmonies – has this always been an important part of who the band is?
Drew: As a guitarist that started out playing metal music, I’ve always been a sucker for a good harmony on guitar. I always loved Iron Maiden early on based on the style of harmonies they included into their riffs and I’ve applied that towards what I do on guitar and even in helping Jesse construct some of the vocal harmonies on the EP.
You’ve been compared to bands like We the Kings, The Maine – are you okay with those comparisons and what do you think it is that makes you stand out from bands like that?
Drew: Anytime you’re compared to somebody successful it’s a great compliment. We never aim to sound like a certain artist since our respective influences are very different, but I’m happy anytime anybody gives us a chance even if they don’t end up liking us.
Jesse: I think what makes us stand out is the whole package. Lyrically we try to always be inspiring and fun. Even our more sad songs, we always try to give a good outlook to look forward to at the end of the song so no ones walking away saying, “wow, I feel worse”. We write with our time, things that are going on in our lives, things that motivate us that will hopefully inspire our listeners.
Since some people reading this will be hearing about you for the first time, what would you like them to know?
Drew: We’re a new band in an old game and to some people the genre of pop/rock is too well beaten of a path. But I think I speak for all of us in saying that we’re doing what we love playing what we love. Sure there are a lot of bands out there I respect and listen to frequently, but I wouldn’t change anything we’re doing just to sound a little more like them. Music is as personal as it is casual and we like to keep both in mind when writing, understanding that a good song has to have a certain balance of accessibility and uniqueness.
Drew: Thanks a lot to They Will Rock You for taking time to interview us and check out our debut EP “Keep it to Yourself” on iTunes!
For more on Key To The Midway: