A couple of weeks ago I jumped on a Zoom call with Midtown to talk about the band’s upcoming tour dates with My Chemical Romance, their plans for the future, looking back at their career with the benefit of hindsight, and what it was like for all of us to grow up in this music scene. Our conversation can be found below.
Rob: Jason! You know what’s fucked up? You look like you haven’t aged at all.
Haha, ok that’s not true! Look at this, I have grey in my hair, grey in my beard. We’re all getting old!
Ok, before we start, the plan for this interview is to avoid any threats of a lawsuit.
Tyler: For sure, well, I think the conversation today will be on a lighter note.
Rob: One of the funny things is that a lot of the stuff from back in the day, like if it gets brought up or someone asks me about it, I’m like honestly I don’t even remember. I don’t remember half of the things that even happened or the stuff with Drive-Thru, and it was funny because when I listened to you and that podcast, you actually reminded me of a bunch of things I had forgotten.
Yeah, that sure was a time. I think what’s interesting is that the whole When We Were Young festival, and all of that stuff, really got me just think about the music scene we grew up with, and that period of time in my life, and early AbsolutePunk, early Drive-Thru, and it’s weird to sort of reflect on life and where everyone started, you know?
Rob: Yeah, and I don’t know if it was the pandemic, or if it would have happened either way, but the pandemic really did escalate it I think. Everyone was kind of like, “ok, I can’t see my friends,” and you don’t really want to connect with your boss about something emotional, so I think it leads to wanting to reconnect with people.
Tyler: Yeah, you know, it’s interesting you say that. First, I realize that so many things go in cycles. And looking around, there’s so many things that are happening again. I’ll drive around and see younger kids, coming out of high-school, and they’re all sort of dressed like how we dressed in high-school. And all that early 2000s, late ’90s, and whether it’s fashion or music, there’s definitely that sense of nostalgia. But what I think is really interesting, more so, is that there’s an actual, I think I would call it an emotional connection to this kind of stuff, and that’s really cool to see.
Ok, let’s jump into it. When I first heard the news, that you guys would be opening for My Chemical Romance, I think I was both surprised and not surprised. Like, I sort of always assume we’ll get more Midtown one day, because to think otherwise would just make me sad, but to see something on this level really did make me double-take. Can you tell me a little about how this all came about?
Rob: So Tyler, you can correct me if I’m wrong, but I think this is pretty accurate. I think the idea of this started years ago. But the My Chem thing, or I should say when My Chem asked us to play these shows, we already had a mindset of potentially doing shows again. So about two and a half years ago, maybe up to three, we started talking. Now, out of everyone in the band, the least online and on social media person was Tyler. And Tyler would text me, text Heath, text Gabe, group chat us all, and just kind of – look, we haven’t talked about this, this is just me – but Tyler was kind of planting the seed, up to three years ago. And, part of the reason was, I think, Tyler, was that you had just moved, and your kids were getting older and they could understand, now, what their father had done before they were born in terms of playing in a band. So, just for fun, Tyler got me and Heath to go into a rehearsal space, just to play for fun, just to see each other, just because we hadn’t seen each other in a while … and it was literally two weeks before the whole COVID shutdown began. Which is just … yeah. And I think that was Tyler planting the seed, and talking about his kids, and whatnot, and Heath and I, well Heath was totally into it, and I think I was a bit apprehensive maybe about it. But, I love these guys so much, and to just be around them was so fun for me, and then that happens, and then the shutdown happens, and ironically, we started talking about getting together again, once we started coming out of COVID. Well, I don’t know if that’s even a thing or if that’s something we’ll ever be out of. But, in maybe the past six months, or around that, that’s when My Chem reached out and were like, “hey, would you want to open up for us on a few shows?” And, we were already thinking about potentially doing a show before we even got that offer. So, then at that point it was like, “oh, shit, well, every star just aligned,” and like we can’t really say no, because this would be the shot, if we were going to do it.
Tyler: Yeah, that’s pretty spot on. I think it was March 10th, 2020, when we had that rehearsal together. So, yeah, that’s like one week before everything happened. And I remember we were all chatting outside of that studio, who have not called me back by the way …
Rob: Jason, yeah, we’ve all been rehearsing on our own and can now finally try and do it together, or at least three of us since we’re on the east coast and Gabe is on the west coast.
Tyler: Yeah, and I think you really hit the nail on the head. And COVID had definitely exacerbated a desire to reconnect with the people who mean the most to you. And not to quote the end of the movie Stand by Me, but you’ll never have friends as good as the ones you did when you were a kid. And, like a lot of us now have kids who are curious about this kind of stuff, but even regardless of the kid thing, it was just like, just because we get older, why can’t we enjoy the company of our really great friends, you know? And also, it was and is something just that’s super fun for us. COVID and life has taught us just that the amount of time you have to just do fun things with your friends is very limited. And God forbid, something was to happen and we never seized the opportunity to do something like this when we had the chance…
Tyler: But, it’s true. And that really was what my motivation was, I want to have fun! I don’t have fun anymore, I mean, in that sense. And I want to! And let’s, you know, I don’t like leaving things forever and two years have now go by [snaps] … like that. And I think COVID has taught us all the value and importance of our friendship. And then the fact that people actually, ok, now I’m being presumptuous, but the fact that people maybe might want to go see our band? Like, that’s amazing. And let alone we could have fun doing it, people out there might enjoy it too? Like, Rob, when you do something awesome at work, no one like stands up and claps for you!
Tyler: And why not have that opportunity again too! Especially if we’re enjoying it.
And then, obviously the opportunity to open for My Chem plays a big role, right? Like My Chem goes away, and then they come back, and they’re arguably as big as they ever have been. Huge online fanbase, all that, and now you get the opportunity to walk out on the same stage as those guys.
Heath: Yeah, just watching them as a band, for their whole run. I remember watching those guys play small shows in Jersey with us, and I remember playing with them one time in Connecticut at a small place, and we watched those guys turn their little band into the biggest band in the world. And it was just so exciting to watch happen. And we couldn’t have been anymore happy for those guys, cause they just always have been, and still are, the nicest people. So it’s just so nice to be considered for any sort of spot on their show. You know? They don’t have to offer us anything, and they did, and it’s just really … you know it feels good, to think that people that you were friends with for a while are still looking out for you and still want to have you around and keep that relationship alive. And so it’s been really nice reconnecting with them over this period too. And now I’m getting a lot of weird text messages that I am very happy about every time they come in.
Rob: Jason, a few things with My Chem. So, before, I think, Three Cheers was released. And just so you know, Heath’s memory is the steel trap of Midtown. So, if you hear me be apprehensive, I’m kind of looking at Heath every time to see if I’m right.
Heath: It’s not what it used to be!
Rob: But before Three Cheers came out we shared a rehearsal space in New Jersey with them. And we were friends with them back then, and I remember driving to that space, and it was the winter, and I would just be driving past the Meadowlands, where the New York Giants play, and the temperature would be like “feels like” negative six degrees, and we would be driving to a warehouse that looks like this old factory from the early 1900s and had these old freight elevators we would take up to the space, but it was great because we could leave our stuff there and just play. And, so, we love them just from being friends with them in New Jersey and growing up and being excited about their band, but I think we also did a full half run with them at some point. And I think My Chem opened the first half of the tour and Senses Fail opened the second, and then I think Moneen was the second band on the bill, and then it was us, and maybe it was Reggie and the Full Effect? Was that tour? Did that happen?
Heath: I don’t remember the order, but those bands were all definitely on the bill at one time or another with us.
Tyler: Going through a bunch of old tour laminates and strange posters I found in my house, and I can definitely tell you that My Chemical Romance are on the list of bands, that for a split second, opened up one of our tours before taking off to become one of the biggest bands in the world. So they are on that list, and I think proudly on that list.
That’s awesome. So, it’s also been mentioned that you guys are also planning other shows, has that been finalized?
Rob: So, I think first and foremost growing up in New Jersey, New Jersey has always been our home base for what Midtown is. From being on t-shirts, to where we live, or lived, for years. So what’s interesting about that in terms of venues that were there when we were touring in the early 2000s, to now, it Wayne Firehouse, it was Club Chrome, Birch Hill, et cetera, et cetera, and those don’t really exist anymore. But, Starland Ballroom is still there. So, the one place that felt more appropriate than anywhere else, if we were going to enjoy this and have the great fond memories, and we were going to play a venue and not a festival for it, it would be Starland Ballroom. And that’s why we decided to say, we have to do a Jersey show, and let’s do it at Starland. Because that’s special and like home for us.
Do you see this as a one last hurrah, let’s remember what it was like, ugh pardon me, when we were young? Or is this something that could spark more in the future? New music, more shows, et cetera?
Rob: I think first and foremost, we all have full time jobs, and it’s really funny because now anytime a show comes up, we have to talk to our bosses and see if we can take time off and go figure this, that, and the other out. And it’s “ok, who can take care of the kids this day?” Or all of that. So, technically I haven’t gotten that far yet in thinking about it. But, I think as of right now our focus is on these shows. I don’t think we’re thinking about new music or any tours in the future as a full time band. And truthfully the hard part of being in a band, it’s freaking hard man, you know, just to like even break even! Even if you’ve had some success or are doing a reunion tour or whatever. It’s really hard. And I respect that and appreciate that for every band that tours. But at the end of the day our mindset at the moment is like having fun and enjoying these shows without thinking too much into the future.
That makes total sense to me. You know, I think about every few weeks I see someone do some sort of nostalgic post or talk somewhere about Midtown. Asking stuff like “why weren’t they bigger?” or “why didn’t they explode?” or just an outpouring of love for the band. What’s it like now, years later, looking back on the band’s legacy and that time in music and where pop-punk had a moment in mainstream music?
Rob: I haven’t seen those posts, so you can send them to me!
Oh, I definitely will start.
Tyler: I think Rob mentioned before, but I think I’m the least connected online to any sort of community. I am just like not a big social media person. But what I will say, first, now that there has been a large amount of time that’s passed since we were playing in the band. It’s actually shocking to me how many people, throughout the years, have mentioned it to me. Like, it’s not really anything any of us really identify with or have talked about in a really long time. And even in my career, I’ve run into many people who shockingly know the band. And anytime I’ve moved jobs, there’s always somebody who comes up to me shortly after and is like, “hey, I saw you at Warped Tour,” and I’m like, “what?” And like I would never volunteer this information but that has been amazing to see, you know that this meant something to someone. And I’ve been really proud of that, and I think it took a long time for us to get to the point where we were mature enough to appreciate that.
Yep, I can definitely relate to that.
Tyler: So the idea that there are people or fans that are appreciative of it, or that meant something to them, and that they maybe are going to support us through this whole thing? That’s super cool. And I think if you look at a cross section of the people that probably end up coming to these shows, I think we’d be pretty amazed at what they ended up doing with their lives. And there may be some really cool surprises, you know, of people that will end up participating in this with us.
Rob: And, Jason I don’t know if you know this, but I have these Instagram accounts, called Bodega Cats.
Yeah, yeah, I follow them.
Rob: Oh, great, thanks for your support.
Rob: So, what I do, and Tyler, I am not shouting out Bodega Cats, Tyler, I am telling a very relevant Midtown story.
Rob: So basically, and it’s not just a Brooklyn thing or a New York thing, it’s actually very international with a lot of Turkey cats, Turkey as in the country, and South American cats, where to keep pests out of stores they have cats in the stores and as you know cats are great hunters. So, what I realized, as these accounts grew exponentially … and basically people send in photos and then I post the photos of the cats in these stores … and what I realized from being in a band is that I always felt, from listening to bands like Propaghandi or Anti-Flag, you know, these bands that had a message. I realized that if you have a platform and you can do something positive or good with it, why not use that platform for a positive message? And I think that’s what we tried to do with Midtown over the years. And that’s why this has always been on my mind, from growing up with punk music. So, what I did is started a webstore and I donate some of the proceeds to animal rescue and cat TNR organizations. Now, when I was doing the webstore, I hired this guy to do the designs, this guy named Tim. Just from a basic referral, I didn’t know him at all. And when Midtown needed an ad-mat, I was like Tim is so good at illustrating, let me reach out to Tim for the Midtown stuff. And I had no idea he was a big Midtown fan. He freaked out. He was like “oh my god this is so incredible.” So it was one of those funny moments, like what Tyler was talking about over time, that it’s not a ton of people, but there are weird stories like that, where it’s really nice to see something we did that resonated with people. And people do remember that. Look, I work for a company, we do computer programing, and it’s like a 300 person office. One day we’re in the office and another company is in that we work with, from Germany, and the second in command guy at that company is here and I guess he walks by and sees me and then goes to someone else and is like, “is that the guy from Midtown?” And I’m 44 years old! And then our CEO comes over and is taking photos for this guy with me and this guy used to go see our band play all the time in Germany when we used to tour. So it’s this really cool but such small world stuff that can happen.
Hah, yeah, that’s incredible how connected our little scene can seem. And for me, Midtown’s always been one of those bands. Or, like, a metric mark, that if you know Midtown, then you really knew that music scene. And like if Midtown was your favorite band, then you were really into this kind of music, this scene. You know? So have you thought any about setlists or the group of songs you want to play?
Heath: I think in the past we’ve been really precious about that. And we always wanted to play the newer stuff, no matter what it was. I think on the last tour we did, for Forget What You Know, we did like 80-90% of that record, played very little off the other records. But I think this time were going into it with a different attitude. I think we’re going to try and play everything that people want to hear, and things that we want to play as well. I think there are some things later on in the catalog that are a ton of fun to play, but may not be someone’s favorite songs. And I think we want to lean a little toward the fan favorites.
What is it like to revisit those songs now?
Tyler: I think right now we haven’t really gotten to that stage. But I’ll tell you one thing, for me, it’s been really nice to listen to all the Midtown songs again. And I find a lot of joy there, I have a playlist of all the songs, and we’ve been talking about what we want to focus on, and there’s been an effort to diversify across all the albums. And for us, like Heath said, we always wanted to play the new stuff, and well, now there is no new stuff. It’s all old.
Tyler: And now we’re not as close to it, so like if we want to play songs that maybe back then we were like “oh that’s not really what we were going for,” well, now we’re not going for anything. We’re going to have a good time and let people enjoy and I think there needs to be a representation of all the songs. And that’s kind of the attitude we’re talking. Nothing is too precious. Let’s go and if people want to hear something, let’s have fun, let’s do it. And for me, like, for the past few years, if someone put me in front of a guitar and asked me to play something, I really can’t. I don’t really remember how. But like I remember every single Midtown song, completely, total muscle memory, no problem. Sit down and it’s weird, how if you do something so many times, and I give full credit to being able to play with Heath. Because everything was so thought through, and so specific. And I’m really excited. I was out running this morning, and I was listening to my Midtown mix, and I was asking myself how many songs can I get through before I get really tired, because I was pretending this was the amount of energy I am going to need to give off on stage, and trying to get myself ready for it. And you know, will there be some strategically placed slower songs so I can rest? Yeah, probably.
Tyler: But I really think we’re going to try and play a little bit from everything. And that’s kind of the goal. And like maybe we’ll see what people are saying on social media to help guide us to the songs people really want to hear. We’ll have to see, and I think those are things we’ll have to explore as things get a little bit closer.
Absolutely. Well, this is very exciting, and I’m happy and appreciative you could spend some time talking about this all with me today. It’s always fun to reminisce a little, but also to think about the future and what’s to come. Anything else we want to touch on?
Rob: Do you code your own website?
Yep, yep, still pretty much all of it, just like back in the day. All old school stuff though.
Rob: What’s your stack? Sorry Heath.
Heath: What, no nerd shit, what are you doing? This is rock and roll!
It’s all PHP, very un-cool.
Rob: What database are you using? Sorry Heath, last one.
Rob: I don’t even know that, I have a lot to learn.
Tyler: Rob! You don’t even know Maria?
Heath: How could you not know Maria?
Rob: OK, what do you want to hear, Jason? That’s the question.
Tyler: Yeah, give us one.
Hmm, ok, so I was recently on a huge Living Well kick, and I still think “Perfect” could have been a single. That’s a great deep cut song.
Rob: You know why that’s extra interesting? Guess who wrote that song. That’s Heath. Heath wrote that song on guitar, and he wrote the lyrics, I think, is that right Heath and you helped me with the guitar stuff?
Heath: Yeah, you showed me that guitar riff and then I wrote around it. You came up with that guitar riff.
Rob: I will say this, because I wasn’t thinking about “Perfect,” but there’s something about what Tyler just said and I am not against including a ballad every few songs. Because when you are in your forties and you haven’t played drums in a few years … you really appreciate those ballads!
Rob: Want to hear a quick story about the song “Perfect” before we wrap up?
Yeah, for sure.
Rob: Ok, you know the intro to the song? It sounds like it’s in the background? This is one of my favorite studio surprises. An accidental surprise. So, when you hear the drums in that intro, with that effect on them, that actually happened when we were recording the drums for that song and Heath and Tyler actually left their pickups on their guitar on, so the audio from the drums is actually getting picked up from their guitar pickups. And it wasn’t made that way, but then when we heard it back we were like, oh shit, let’s throw that on at the beginning.
Heath: I love that that happened.
Rob: Yeah, and you know the magic of the studio like that just don’t happen to the same extent anymore. Because you’re on a computer using ProTools throwing up dots on a screen. You don’t have the same ability to make the magic that would happen by accident.
Tyler: That being said, we used ProTools for all of our albums as well.
Tyler: But we were in actual studios, with actual instruments, but there’s a whole lot of ProTools.
Rob: But yeah, recording guitars onto ProTools!
Tyler: You know what, Jason, this has been so much fun. Thank you. I’m just really excited and now this feels like this is going to be real. And it’s wonderful to share this first conversation with you, of all people, and … Heath’s son!
Heath: He wants me to make some cookies.
Tyler: As he should!
Rob: You got my order for the Girl Scout cookies, right?
Heath: Yep, I did. But those won’t come in for a while. I’ll bring them to practice.
Rob: Heh, Jason’s favorite song.
No, yeah, I echo that as well. It’s been great to talk, always great to catch up, and I’m really happy to see all of you guys in a great space, and excited and happy about the future.
Tyler: Yeah, it’s going to be a great year.
Yeah, and hopefully as we slowly transition out of the craziness of the last two, you know, well, if music can’t bring us together out of that, I don’t know what else can. Thank you again, and I hope you have a great rest of your weekend.