It’s hard to say whether Midnight Snack’s infectious busking sets are more likely to add a bit of pep to the pedestrian pace or to halt it altogether. Either way, the self-described art rock quintet, which made the move from Boston to Asheville several months ago, has been steadily building a presence among downtown’s streetside stages.
Despite a dedication to the outdoors, though, the quintet of Berklee College of Music graduates is gearing up for the band’s first “real show.” In anticipation of Midnight Snack’s milestone — which kicks off at Foggy Mountain Brew Pub Friday, April 24, at 9 p.m. (no cover) — Xpress caught up with the band to hear about the transition from Boston venues to Asheville’s paved spaces from bass player Peter Brownlee.
Mountain Xpress: Why do you busk so frequently?
Peter Brownlee: We started busking in Boston in 2011 as a way to raise money for the band and to promote ourselves, but mostly just because it was really fun. Since then, we’ve busked in nearly 30 different cities from coast to coast, [and] busking has become a significant portion of our income. In addition to the financial benefit, it has been an awesome way to promote our band. It helps get people to our shows, more of our CDs out there, and it’s a great way to build a fan base. We’ve even made some really great friends along the way.
When you put yourself out there, as you do when you’re busking, you’re bound to get some ups and downs. Some days, we get such an overwhelmingly positive reaction from total strangers, it’s enough to almost bring one to tears. Then we can go out the next day in the same city with the same band playing the same song, and it feels like we don’t even exist. It can be a very humbling experience.
What tales have you accumulated during your sidewalk sets?
When we were on tour over the past four months, we busked all over the country. One of our single best days we had busking was right here in Asheville. I can remember playing Edward Sharp’s “Home” to a crowd exceeding 50 people right in the Grove Arcade. I watched strangers meet for the first time and ask each other to dance, [saw] cars pulling over just to have a listen, and I think I even saw a cop tapping his toe.
Speaking of cops, that’s the other trouble of busking — it’s not legal in every city. Once, while busking in New York City, we got the police called on us. They told us that they could legally seize not only all of [our] money and merchandise, but our instruments as well. Fortunately, good manners went a long way with the officer, and we left with just a warning under the condition we would never busk in [the city] again. We’ll see about that …
Some of your sets consist of recognizable covers, but are there originals mixed in as well?
We write all of our own music and have self-produced three EPs and two albums over the past few years. However, we do enjoy performing a select few of our favorite songs from other artists. We’ve covered Arcade Fire, The Talking Heads, Edward Sharp and the Magnetic Zeros, Beach House, MGMT, Bob Marley and a few others. When we busk, we usually try to play two originals followed by one cover. When we play our electric set, we usually will throw in one or two covers.
Covers, for us, are a fun way to interpret a song by a band we look up to by trying to make it our own. It’s a fun challenge that usually produces a good result. Covers can also help engage a listener who otherwise might be unfamiliar with our brand of art rock.
How is the transition into Asheville’s music scene coming along?
The music community down here is such a breath of fresh air. It’s so nice to be in a place that values art the way that Asheville does. We’ve found the possibilities are wide open down here in the music industry if you’re willing to work for it. If there’s one thing we learned from Boston’s overly competitive music industry, it’s how to work hard.
How will your indoor set differ from your busking shifts?
The show at Foggy Mountain will be different for us because our lineup has changed since [we began the] tour. We’ve got almost all of our bases covered [now, and] it’s been really exciting to play with several of Asheville’s very talented female vocalists. We’re excited to be joined by Carly Taich on Friday night, and we will also have our very own Zack Kardon and good friend Meryll Davis opening up the night with a few songs they’ve been working on.
For anyone who has seen Midnight Snack before, this show is sure to provide a new experience. And for anyone new, it’s a great chance to see what we have to offer.