Aaron Behrens And The Midnight Stroll
“My goal has always been to take you on a trip,” says Aaron Behrens. “I never said the journey was going to be the same every time, but do you trust me? Then let me take you along…”
Best known as the volatile frontman of groundbreaking electro duo Ghostland Observatory, Aaron Behrens embarks on his most surprising and creative excursion to date with the self-titled debut EP from Aaron Behrens & The Midnight Stroll. After almost a decade fronting Ghostland – including four acclaimed albums and myriad single, EPs, and live releases – Behrens found himself lost within EDM culture just as the genre he’d helped pioneer achieved its mainstream crescendo. In response, he reached for his acoustic guitar and penned a series of songs touched by his original inspirations – glam, deep soul and classic FM radio pop. New songs like “Day and Night” and the slide guitar stomp of “Rising Sea” swap out the lasers and electronic bells and whistles, instead offering up an organic, dynamic, and intensely personal brand of contemporary rock ‘n’ roll.
“It’s just good songwriting,” Behrens says. “Good music that means something. Something that’s real. It’s great to party all night and watch the sun come up, but is it real? Is it really what’s going on in the world right now?”
While Behrens had long managed to inject some level of lyrical depth to Ghostland’s rainbow-colored party funk, his new acoustic-built songs simply did not mesh with the duo’s sonic or emotional tenor.
“It just wasn’t the atmosphere for the kind of songs I was writing,” he says. “It’d be like standing up in front of a party and pulling out a Bible. That’s just gonna put the brakes on everything.”
Rather than force his new material into the Ghostland context, Behrens chose to put the duo on hiatus, physically manifesting his decision by swapping his trademark do for a close crop better suited for family life with his wife and three young daughters.
“I needed to back off of that roller coaster and just come home and rejuvenate,” he says. “I needed to be with my family; I needed to reacquaint myself with my roots in small town Texas, with being a songwriter.”
In due course Behrens’ mojo returned and he began thinking of his next musical move. Encouraged by his friend Matt Drenik (Battleme, LIONS), he put together a band comprised of Austin’s finest – including members of The Black Angels, Black Joe Louis, and more – and in the spring of 2013, recorded a passel of demos with producer Erik Wofford (Bill Callahan, The Octopus Project) at Austin’s famed Cacophony Recorders.
“This whole new door just kind of opened up,” he says. “I had been thinking about how I wanted to reenter the Austin scene, I wanted to reconnect with old friends, I wanted to reestablish myself with the musician base here. And that’s kind of what happened.”
When the studio supergroup proved impossible to reconvene for live performance, Behrens found a new partner in Austin songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Jonas Wilson (Lomita, The White White Lights). Together the two musicians rebuilt The Midnight Stroll, enlisting bassist Alex Schroeter, drummer Don Clark, keyboardist Sweney Tidball, and saxophonist Jason Frey.
“The original sessions ended up being a platform for me to find musicians,” Behrens says. “Do you dig these sounds? Would you like to play ‘em? It became a real band, instead of just guns for hire.”
The newly reconstituted Midnight Stroll made its live debut with an 11:15 AM set at Austin City Limits 2013 – quite literally the polar opposite of Ghostland’s customary headline slot.
“It was humbling,” Behrens says, “but at the same time, it was refreshing. It was nice to catch people at the beginning of their day. It was nice to catch the sunlight energy from the air. It was a wonderful challenge, which is what I really needed. Like, this is what you want; now how are you going to work it? So I just went out there with my music, the way I always do.”
A legendarily outsized live performer, Behrens managed to meld his famed showmanship with a heretofore unseen subtlety that prompted the Austin Chronicle to note how the frontman “still has night moves like Jagger,” only now it has been fused with “a sense of wonder and lonely burned-out detachment.” The Houston Press applauded a later date, declaring Behrens “still brought the same amount of energy” to the stage, adding, “He seemed to be born to front this band.”
Indeed, the new, improved Midnight Stroll conjured the natural spirit of the 2013 demos while also raising the stakes with the unified approach of a committed rock ‘n’ roll outfit. Behrens and his Strollers “slowly slid back into the studio,” re-recording tracks at the singer/songwriter’s own Skeleton Farm Studio before moving into Austin’s renowned Bismeaux Studio, the state of the art complex owned and operated by Asleep At The Wheel’s one and only Ray Benson.
“It’s a time capsule, basically,” Behrens says. “It’s what you imagine when you read about Hendrix recording. There’s all this great old gear, like an RCA board that Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin sang through. You can’t help but feel the spirit in there.”
Behrens – now also managed by Bismeaux – was given the figurative keys to the studio, allowing him and the Midnight Stroll to use the facilities whenever it was not otherwise occupied by such clients as Los Lonely Boys, Kelly Willis, and of course, the GRAMMY® Award-winning Asleep At The Wheel.
“We got to take time and record a real record,” Behrens says. “For the first time, I was like, this is what making a record feels like. It’s been an entirely different experience.”
If there if one aural link between Ghostland and the Midnight Stroll it is Behrens’ extraordinary voice, a sublimely unique instrument equally capable of howling rock ‘n’ roll fury as it is of flights of swooping, soulful falsetto. Songs like “Keep On Rising” and the mesmerizing “Through Time” see Behrens’ stadium-sized star power and elaborate phrasing wholly matched by the Midnight Stroll’s glam jam stylings.
“I love to see what happens when you mix different chemicals together,” Behrens says. “This band has already changed the way I sound – it’s exciting. These guys bring such a classic sensibility to the songs. Listening back, I was like, Wow, this sounds like the records in my dad’s collection. It sounds like the records I grew up listening to.”
That having been said, Behrens is very much an artist of his own era. As such, he has opted to issue the Midnight Stroll recordings incrementally via a series of short, sharp independent releases – available via his own Skeleton Farm Records as both digital downloads and “beautiful boutique small batch vinyl creations” – with additional installments slated through 2015.
“Attention spans the way they are now,” Behrens says, “I felt like a full album debut was a lot to digest. I thought, what if slow it down a little? The first EP is like a handshake – Hello, my name is Aaron. I used to be in Ghostland and this is my new sound. Then the next stuff is going to be a little bit deeper.”
Having blasted the walls down, Behrens is eager to “take the sound new places, meet new people, and engage in different environments.” The first AARON BEHRENS & THE MIDNIGHT STROLL EP marks a indisputable left turn in terms of sonics, style, and overall attitude, a dazzling new chapter in a career Behrens hopes is as fluid and mercurial and true as those of his heroes.
“I admire people that say, Look, I’m an artist and I’m forever changing,” he says. “My inspiration comes from my life. It doesn’t come from all this prefab shit around me. If I’m going to preach the truth to you, then I have to be honest with myself. I can’t be putting on some kind of bullshit mask and projecting false energy. That’d be me selling a product that I don’t believe in, saying words that I don’t believe. I don’t want to be that artist – I want to be Neil Young or David Bowie or freakin’ Johnny Cash, people that continued to create art from the truth within.”
Keep On Rising
Day And Night