Local Orono “funk and soul-influenced” band Midnight Breakfast released their debut self-titled album on all streaming platforms on Jan. 30. With a total of nine songs and a runtime of 37 minutes, the band packs a punch with easy, conversational pieces which paint intricate vignettes from start to finish.
Popular songs on this album include an optimistic “If You Comfort Me,” the intimate “I’ll Make You Happy” and “Bittersweet,” a fantastic showcase of instrumental improvisation and vocal command.
Midnight Breakfast consists of five members who are either currently attending or are alumni of UMaine: Jennifer Shevlin-Fernandes on vocals, Matt Donovan who plays guitar and bass, Benjamin Flanagan on bass and keys, Reggie Kollman on drums and Loren Pinkham who plays saxophones and keys.
Highlighting their most recent release within the context of their favorite performances at local Orono restaurants The Common Loon and at Woodman’s Bar and Grill, Donovan, and Flanagan, spoke to their beginnings and experimentality of composition. Both had significant roles in the album’s creative process, with Donovan contributing to the production and Flanagan helping combine the album’s instrumental and vocal aspects.
“When we recorded them, they came into their own life,” Donovan said.
During performances, some songs were seen as “explorative long jams,” while others were easy to pin down.
“Some of the songs, like the first track on the album, I can pretty much just always beat back to where it was, but pretty much all the rest of the songs [followed a relaxed form where] someone would take three times around the chorus and the rest of us will come in,” Flanagan said.
Similar to their live improvisational performance style, Midnight Breakfast relied upon improvisational techniques during the recording and production of their debut album, many songs left as a single great take using only themes from trials before.
“Most of the piano and saxophone you hear on the album is pretty like spontaneously improvised,” Flanagan said. “Very little of [the album] was predetermined, with the exception of ‘Biittersweet’ and ‘Comfort Me.’ ‘I’ll Make You Happy’ always has a different intro.”
During the composition process, the band took many different approaches, with each member adding to the progression and style, honing in on their own flair layer by layer until a finished groove would appear. “Somebody would come in with an idea or we’d be jamming and someone would say, ‘Oh, I like that idea, that little musical tidbit,’” Flanagan said.
“With ‘If You Comfort Me,’ one day, Jenn came over and she was like, ‘I don’t know how to describe what I’m hearing in my head, but she had written the first verse and had ideas for the chorus,” Flanagan said. “She didn’t know how to describe what she was hearing in musical terms, so instead, she just recorded herself singing all the parts a cappella… which really speaks to the level of musicianship [she has].”
Lyrically, Flanagan was able to speak for his and Shevlin-Fernandes’ composition process. If the band is not in a group session collectively brainstorming lyrics, or actively working lines and verses during a rehearsal in UMaine’s Black Box Theatre, Shevlin-Fernandes brings her own lived experiences to float upon the instrumental heartbeat of Midnight Breakfast.
“I think for Jenn, the majority of the writings have immediate real-world correlations, then she finds a way to sing it with words [that apply to] universal experiences to be more accessible,” Flanagan said. “In ‘Bittersweet,’ [Jenn found a] color that is associated with [her] memories, and this combination of feeling [created an image of] candles, bookshelves and corduroys [in a] kind of dream.”
Since the band and their music are still nascent, Midnight Breakfast is currently exploring what genre means for the development of the group’s musicality. Not wanting to be put into a box or schedule a self-fulfilling prophecy, the band is toying with the idea of an “indie” label but acknowledges that at this point, they are finding themselves selecting different categories each time a platform requests a self-identified, “opaque genre” as explained by Flanagan.
Still, Donovan credits Black American music genres such as blues, jazz, gospel and R&B for influences in the band’s feel, even if it isn’t directly apparent on the album.
“[Take] making a horror movie [as an example],” Flanagan said. “[When defined by a] genre, that’s like saying, ‘Okay, here are the steps you follow to [fit into that box].’ It comes with certain responsibilities. As someone who’s playing certain types of music, even if we don’t [label] ourselves as [this kind of] band or that band, we still are both in some ways.”
Midnight Breakfast credits their success from community support and involvement and dedicated their self-titled album to those who encouraged them from the beginning.
“It’s for the people that came to every show and said, ‘So when can I listen? When can we stream it?’ — I guess we should stream it; record it now. The amount of support around here is really awesome,” Flanagan said.
Currently, the band is seeing upticks in their listenership on Spotify in Western Canada in addition to their listener base including the Orono area, Boston and New York City with 620 monthly listeners total.
“Even that has exceeded my expectations,” Donovan said. “So now I’m just sitting back on the ride to see. If it doesn’t [exceed my expectations] again, it’s already beyond what I’m happy with.”
For more information on Midnight Breakfast, check out their Spotify, Soundcloud @midnight-breakfastmaine, Bandcamp and YouTube as listed as Midnight Breakfast as well as their Facebook and Instagram @midnight.breakfastme. To tune into their latest performance at Husson University’s “Overdrive: Full Saturation” benefit concert for the Bangor Area Homeless Shelter and latest music video, “I’ll Make You Happy,” visit their linkt.ree