Interview: 2:00 AM Wake Up Call

2am Wake Up call

Recently I was able to schedule an interview with 2:00 AM Wake Up Call, the solo project from Micah Leith, to discuss the band’s latest single called ”No Nostalgia.” In this interview, I asked Micah about what went into the process for creating the visualizer video for the new track, how Micah does most of the songwriting for this project, and the opening of 2:00 AM Wake Up Call’s new merch store. If you’re enjoying the new single, please consider supporting this artist here.

Can you tell me what went into the process for creating the visualizer video for “No Nostalgia”?

It was a coming together of a few things that I’ve had in the works/in the back of my mind for a while. When I was a kid I loved making little animations with MS Paint and Windows Movie Maker, and so when I was working on the Prayer for the Lost single for the original release of Mall Fantasy is Dead, I incorporated a bit of animation to the live action elements of that video. I also animated the video for the New Year single off of the We Are Sun and Moon and Stars EP from early 2023. Completely unrelated to that, back in 2019 when I was still in college and working on the very initial ideas for the original Mall Fantasy album, I started digitally tracing images of my hometown’s mall from photos online, basically drawing over all the outlines and hand coloring them. The intent at the time was to use these in the marketing for the album somehow, or maybe make a music video out of them, but I never actually used them anywhere except for some background panels in the Y2K video from 2021. Unrelated again, in the summer of 2023, I found out that the local Sears was closing, one of the last ones in North Carolina. I went there a few times with my partner to get cheap office supplies and stuff on sale, and one time we decided to just film the mostly empty store, potentially to score as an unrelated music project.

So, when I was tasked with thinking up an idea for a new “No Nostalgia” music video, I combined all these elements together. I started by cutting the Sears footage (and some other miscellaneous mall footage) into a rough cut of the video, then I used a script to export every frame from that footage synchronized to the BPM of the song, and then I manually traced over every frame. I cut all the frames together, synced to the song with a pulsing effect to mimic the beat in the background, then to add some textural interest, I keyed in old commercials under the lines, and mixed a bit of Windows Media Player’s old visualizer into the plain black background. Finally I burned this to a DVD, complete with a menu and some original DVD menu music, bought a cheap old LCD from goodwill, built a mini-set from K’NEX and Lego and some other random nostalgic bits and bobs from my parent’s house, and filmed the DVD playing on the screen. I think the end result is pretty effective.

What is your process for songwriting? How has that evolved since your early days of writing?

Nowadays I have a routine of songwriting pretty nailed down. I’ll go to my favorite coffee shop, sit outside no matter the temperature, and write a couple of songs as I sip. I think it’s very effective to have a place where you go to song-write, because being there always puts you in the headspace to write, and therefore you can essentially access that at will. One thing that, judging by my conversations with other songwriters, is not all that common is the fact that I always write the lyrics first for my songs. Sometimes a melody will pop into my mind as I write, sometimes not, but I’ll always start with just essentially poetry with a consistent meter, and sometimes some scribbled chords in the margins. I’ll also often write a song chronologically. I’ll start with some idea or lyric, sometimes taken from my phone notes app where I’ll write down random phrases or lines that come to me in the moment, and then start with the first verse. I develop the idea as I write it, so that by the time I get to the chorus, I have a better idea of what I want to say with the song, and then by the time I’m writing the second verse or bridge, both me and the future listener understand the world of the song and the pattern, and so I can manipulate that to advance the narrative. This is of course all in the rough draft stage, and I do extensive revisions on a song to make sure it’s consistent and hangs together well as a whole before it’ll ever see the light of day.All this is essentially the same process I’ve used since I began seriously writing songs in around 2015. I think the main changes to my process have been that I discovered the technique of having a ‘songwriting place’ like I mentioned up top, rather than just sometimes trying to pull out my composition book and write off the cuff, which makes it a bit harder to get in that mindset. I also used to really lean in to writing twist endings for songs. Like I was all about that second verse or chorus totally re-contextualizing the first parts of the song. This is still a trope I’ll occasionally go back to, but I think it’s a mark of me not really knowing how to satisfactorily advance the narrative of a story without some big reveal early on. The other main difference I think is that I’ve just raised my own standards quite a bit. I used to not do very much editing on my lyrics, and I was a lot more likely to let a goofy or cliche line in there as long as it rhymed, and not really think about it that much. I think a lot of improvement to my writing has been from me just not being willing to accept the easy way out anymore, and instead really leaning into making sure every line is something interesting and meaningful.

Where do you find most of your inspiration for your music?

A lot of it I find in the everyday. Like I’m pretty sure the term Mall Fantasy was spoken off the cuff in a random podcast episode in 2019, and that just hit my brain in a certain way that I was like ‘Hmm, this makes me feel a certain way’ and I noted it down to use later. I do that all the time, be it in conversation, watching a TV show, or just something that enters my brain one day. It’s really all about the feeling that that tiny scrap makes me feel, and the work is to expand that feeling, or contextualize it, or just communicate it through a song built around it. For musical inspiration, I try to draw from a diverse set of influences depending on the project. For Mall Fantasy and Mall Fantasy is Dead, I made a mega playlist of pre-Gaga radio pop and let that inform a lot of the sounds on the albums. The studio is the other place where I get a lot of inspiration. Historically I haven’t done much demoing, usually just an iPhone recording of an acoustic guitar and me singing if anything at all, and so I come into the recording process with basically nothing but the idea in my head. This really lets the songs take shape as they are created, and allows a lot of creative decisions on the fly that I don’t think would be made if I planned it all super meticulously in advance. For example, when I go in the studio, I always have all the songs I want on the album mapped out in order and sequenced, but at this point it’s practically a tradition for me that one of the songs just doesn’t really hit once I start the recording process. For Mall Fantasy, that was one called “Pictures on the Wall” that was kind of classic rock-y, didn’t really play into the themes of the album, and just kind of dragged at close to 4 minutes. So I scrapped it and wrote “No Nostalgia” instead, which has turned out to be a massive fan favorite from the album. I guess what I’m saying is that inspiration is kind of cheap. There’s beautiful and sad and evocative things all around us in life, and the challenge is really capturing and channeling that inspiration into craft, and into something that communicates that initial spark.

I understand this latest release will also coincide with some cool merch options. Can you explain what that entails?

I’ve wanted to do merch for ages but I just never knew how to go about it. It felt pretty insurmountable at times. I’ve done a couple of very limited runs of physical media for previous albums, but that’s about it. A couple of years ago though, I started collecting cheap shirts from thrift stores, and from overflow bins at the dollar store. See, I live pretty near a few textile factories, so sometimes they’ll ship a load of extra shirts to the local dollar stores for cheap, and the brands are often pretty solid. I’m also dating someone who has a degree in printmaking, so I learned a lot about how I could DIY stuff pretty cheaply and effectively, and worked out a design that worked in those specifications. I’m super excited about upcycling all this stuff, and letting people pick not only the size they want, but the exact shirt to have the design printed on. I wish that online storefronts were a bit more flexible with their layouts to account for this stuff. Ideally you’d be able to click your size, and then have every shirt blank I have in that size displayed with the brand and cut, and then you’d be able to choose printing options, like what color ink the print should be. I think that’d be super cool, but the storefronts weren’t designed with this in mind at all, so I’m going to have to work around it a bit. Other than T-shirts, I’ve also got baseball caps made with much the same process (though they are all the same brand, I just scored them on overstock), physicals for the album lined up in Double CD and Double Tape options. I’ve also got quite a few button pin designs that I’m excited about, and I’m planning stickers as well. I probably could’ve done merch earlier and made it easier on myself by using a Print on Demand company, but I’ve always been invested in the tactility of creation, and I just don’t think that outsourcing everything to a third party would be as satisfying to me as creating it with my own two hands, at least while I have the privilege of being a small enough artist that that’s viable.