Super Midnight plays the blues in Memphis

Griffin Sendek | Photo Editor
Music education sophomore Spencer McNeill rips on his sax in a show at Moondog’s Pub.

Capri Scarcelli | Staff Writer

02/13/20

Born from a “product of necessity,” the six-person Pittsburgh soul band Super Midnight revels in their success of self-production within the ever-evolving music industry.

Alex Weibel, guitarist, and Spencer McNeill, saxophonist, are both sophomores at Duquesne University, majoring in music education.

According to Weibel, Super Midnight was granted the opportunity to participate in the International Blues Competition in Memphis, where more than 200 bands from around the world came together to enjoy the culture of the blues. This competition is held annually in the rhythms of Beale Street; this year, it ran from Jan. 28 to Feb. 1.

The Blues Challenge is not audition-based; rather, a band must get a sponsorship in order to qualify.

According to Weibel, the band was sponsored by the Blues Society of Western Pennsylvania, where the winning band gets to compete in the international conference.

“Every night from Tuesday to Friday, there were three bands at each venue, and you could just go and watch them all,” Weibel said. “It was great; it was so cool because it was Beale Street — this long street where you could just go and listen to all of these bands … everyone was so into it where it wasn’t really a competition, it was everyone just kind of going out and enjoying the experience.”

Qualifying contestants compete for various grand prizes and future gigging opportunities. According to the Blues Foundation website, winning instrumentalists receive “instruments, a plaque, cash and a package to include a variety of national and international club and festive gigs … in addition, [they receive] time to record, mix or master at the Showplace Studios [in New Jersey].”

The group performed in the youth division, for groups with members under 21. Bands that qualify for the youth division are judged, though do not compete internationally, according to McNeill.

Additionally, Weibel said there were master classes throughout the week that youth division instrumentalists could attend.

Super Midnight prepared a 30-minute repertoire, consisting of both covers and original pieces of theirs. McNeill said that their band does not have a specific genre: their music is fluid in the sense that each member has their speciality, though they found a unique middle ground for soul.

“We’re not confined by a certain genre … we all have a lot of different backgrounds, and we all bring our own thing to the table,” Weibel said. “A lot of it is pretty improvised music; it’s pretty free. I enjoy being able to show up to each gig and play the music differently each night … a lot of communication — that’s hard to find.”

According to McNeill, the Blues Society encouraged Super Midnight to compete, though they turned down the offer to instead ease into the opportunity they were given.

Griffin Sendek | Photo Editor
Sophomore music education major Alex Weibel picks away at Moondog’s Pub.

“We were originally chosen to compete in the challenge, but after reading the rules and finding out that you can only do this challenge three times in your band’s life, we were thinking like ‘yeah we should probably just test the waters first,’” McNeill said. “But we ended up doing so well that the judges told us we should’ve competed … we learned a lot though.”

According to Weibel, the band came together because of his and McNeill’s interest in gigging for fun, as Weibel had experience from when he was in high school.

Around the fall of last year, Weibel said that he was contacted for a gig, but soon found that he had to put together a group. He immediately contacted McNeill, who was able to recruit bass Eric Dowdell Jr. alongside keyboardist Henry Shultz and drummer Brandon Terry. Vocalist Jacquee Paul has sung with Weibel since she was 10 years old, just as Dowdell and McNeill have played together since they were 16.

According to McNeill, the band got their name from an inside joke.

“Me and Alex [Weibel] were hanging out one night, and it was super late, we didn’t know what time it was and we weren’t exactly with it, so Alex was like ‘dude, it is so late what time even is it,’ and I said ‘I don’t know man, like super midnight,’ and it ended up being, like, 3 a.m.” McNeill said.

Weibel said his favorite part about music is the communication that translates to what they love most.

“To me, music is a language. When really great musicians get together, it’s a conversation that transcends [the] language,” Weibel said. “That sense of community and togetherness that comes out of it? Living in the moment and being apart of such a subconscious experience … it is really hard to quantify.”

McNeill said that Super Midnight’s sound is “very collected” and “appeals to a wide audience of people, including the people making it.”

“It’s nice for us to play music that is both intellectual and accessible,” McNeill said.

McNeill and Paul write original music for the band. Their single, “Willow,” was performed at the International Blues Competition, and “the crowd really appreciated [it],” according to McNeill.

This summer, Super Midnight plans to work on an EP and release it come fall.

[It is] going to be a big time to focus on writing original music,” McNeill said.

You can follow Super Midnight’s journey by liking them on Facebook or following them on their Instagram:

@super.midnight

 

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