Indie rockers Midwest December on the curious tale of their formation
Forming just this past August, Kansas City’s Midwest December has already crafted an EP, Indoor Recess, which draws from a variety of influences, from the Front Bottoms to McCafferty, but thanks to a bassist who’s also been a hip-hop producer, the new trio doesn’t hew strictly to any one identifiable sound. Their origin story is also definitely non-traditional, having pulled two guitarists from their fans and followers on social media, which also was the source for the EP’s cover art. It’s a pretty fascinating story for a group which has already amassed a hefty number of plays on Spotify, so I was really excited to hop on Zoom with vocalist Nic Westerfield, guitarist Tate Daniels, and bassist/engineer Josh Fairman to get the inside scoop on Midwest December.
The Pitch: You’re a very new band.
Nic Westerfield: Yeah, we started in August. When there’s no shows going on or anything, that’s kind of the best time to start a band.
How’d you all come together?
Nic Westerfield: It’s been crazy. I started Midwest December alone and then I added Josh and then Tate is the newest addition. We met him following the band on Instagram. We had a guitarist before him and he left, so we added Tate to the band. We actually just drove up on January 2–we drove up and got him from Minnesota on the third. He’s actually living in my basement now, next to the laundry room. So, yeah, we’re all fairly new to this, for sure.
Assuming you don’t just start a band out of nowhere, I’m guessing that you all had some musical projects beforehand?
Josh Fairman: Yes, I have been making music for about eight years now, solo. It started out with just being the bass player for various church bands, growing up in the church, and then I expanded that later on with just making solo music through my computer. Later on, when Nic hit me up, that was basically where it all kind of started. I had at least somewhat, you know, decent idea of what I was doing, but I had never made original music as a collective before.
Nic Westerfield: I’ve never made music. Nic has never been the lead singer of the band. Tate actually has a solo EP but yeah, this is my first rodeo, actually.
It’s your first rodeo? What made you decide to start making music: was it due to COVID and just being like, “I need to do something. I’m going to make music”?
Nic Westerfield: Yeah. I wanted to do it growing up. When I was in like second grade, I went to school in Kearney. We had the Purple and Gold Choir. And in my elementary school music class, they started handing out the flyers and were like, “Raise your hand if you want one.” I raised my hand and they all laughed at me, so I was always too scared to make music until just recently.
I got out of high school and I was like, “You know what? I think I’ll give it a try.” Josh is actually dating my sister and so, I knew that he had a certain amount of musical expertise, so I texted him and I was like, “Hey I started this solo thing, but I want it to be a band, so if you want to do that with me, that’d be really cool”–not expecting it to really necessarily go anywhere. But now we’re here.
If you didn’t have any musical experience, what was your starting point for making music?
Josh Fairman: That’s where Josh comes in again. I personally make a lot of solo stuff, and my solo stuff is very hip hop influenced, and I make all my own beats, but –as someone who would engineer for other rappers–they wouldn’t use their own. They would just take a beat off of YouTube. They were just typing “free beat” or whatnot, so when Nick asked me, “What do we need to do to start?” I was like,
“Well, we don’t really have band members to actually create music,” so the very first song we did, we literally just typed in, I think like, “free the Strokes-type beat” into YouTube.
Nic Westerfield: I wish it was free! I had to pay for it.
Josh Fairman: He paid for a lease for it and that’s really the first start of anything that we did: we just found an instrumental and we paid for it and then he just recorded and sent me the vocals through email and I engineered it all up. We didn’t even play the instruments for the first song we ever released–which is public information. It’s not like our fans are just now hearing this thing! [laughs]
But yeah, that was the very first start of it. Later on, me and Nic would just sit down and I would just play on the guitar a little bit. I didn’t have a bass at the time, actually, funny enough. I would just mess around on the guitar and he’d be like, “Yeah, I kind of like how that sounds,” or, “No, I don’t like how that sound is,” and that’s kind of how we took the direction that we decided to go.
That seems really interesting that you went to the internet to get the first music for the band, because it seems as though that has like crowdsourcing or internet sourcing has been a big part of making this EP, such as the fact that you all did an album art contest to come up with the art for Indoor Recess. Was that also sort of born out of artistic necessity?
Nic Westerfield: Our guitarist at the time, Spencer, came up with the idea and it was like, well, we couldn’t like go do a photo shoot. We have this thing where we keep getting guitarists who live super far away. It was the same kind of same story with our last guitarist: he was following the band and he messaged us and he’s like, “Hey, I really like the song,” and so we were like, “Okay, well you’re going to be our guitarist now.”
He came up with the idea, so we were like, “Okay, we could pay somebody to do it or we can do like a contest where we got our artwork and we gave them like a $15 gift card or something for winning,” but it was really cool just seeing all the talent everywhere. There was so many different types of art that came out of just us saying we needed cover art.
It was really cool to see: someone basically just did stick figures and then someone drew really realistic sketches of us and it was just really cool to see all the different art that came from our family, ’cause we’re making art and then, we have people that also listen to us and can also make art. It’s just very cool to like see that come together. It was really cool.
It’s certainly a lot of our M.O.: a lot of our base and what we have done has been through the internet which, of course, is a little bit more necessary as we try to get through this COVID mess. Until we got Tate here, everything that we were doing was just through sending audio tracks back and forth. That was a mess. It’s definitely a little bit easier when you’ve got everyone here in the flesh.
What’s the transition been like now that you have three people who can get in a room together and make music?
Josh Fairman: It’s been fairly easy on us because, instead of someone putting down an audio track and sending it to someone and saying, “This is what I did,” if Tate’s doing something and I like it, but I think, “How about we add this or change this?” instead of him having to completely rerecord it and send a new track, it’s just right there. We can just get to it and I feel like the creative process, just overall, is better.
Nic Westerfield: I certainly feel like being around creative people–kind of fuels my creativity, being around people, because before this, it was just me in my room, alone. So yeah, singing’s on and now we’re all together, we can feed into each other, just like Josh says: “Yo, this could be cool if we added this onto that.” The whole process is so much more quick, but also just more real. Organic.
You’ve got 15,000 monthly listeners on Spotify. You’ve got a thousand followers on Instagram. In terms of engagement on social media–which is so important now–is it even more so now because shows are not a thing? When I talked to another band, Blackstarkids, a while back, they were like, “We’re always on our phones, anyway. We may as well be promoting our band. Is it kind of like that?
Nic Westerfield: I know Josh and Tate actually turn off notifications but I’m constantly on my phone. I check my screen time and it’s disgusting: 11 hours or something like that. It’s a problem, but it definitely is where it’s like, “If I’m going to be doing something, I might as well be at least semi-productive.”
The reason that I love making music is that you can make so many connections with people. It’s kind of weird to say it, but people who listen to our music–our fans? It feels weird calling them fans, but anytime anyone wants to talk to you about how much they appreciate something that you’re doing, it’s just really important to us that we make those connections and that we get that base connected with us.
Those followers on Instagram? A lot of that was just from going to bands that we liked and saying, “We’re going to follow this many people that like that band,” and then we were lucky enough that some of those people liked us. The number one thing for us is just being able to make those connections that last into them maybe deciding, “Oh, well, if they put out a song that I like all, maybe I’ll show it to my friends,” and maybe their friends will like it.
That’s just kind of how we’ve been able to grow: I feel like we really are focused on actually being “people” people. If you’re a fan of something or if you like something and you’re able to interact with those people, it’s going to make you stick around
Josh Fairman: It’s good to let the fans know that we appreciate that they exist. I know that’s weird to say, but it’s a good thing to make sure that you interact with the people so they know we’re not just people up on a throne making music. At the end of the day, we’re literally three teenagers in Nic’s mom’s basement. We’re not that far off from our fans. And I think it’s good to interact with them and let them know we are paying attention to them just as much as they’re paying attention to us.
I have to ask, because “My Stick And Poke Tattoos Hurt Less And Lasted Longer Than You Did” is your most-streamed song and the first song I heard from you all: do any of you have stick and poke tattoos?
Nic Westerfield: I have, I did, but it faded. It’s a ghost and he says, “Boom.” I got it in my friend’s attic.
Well, if you’re going to get a ghost, an attic is a perfect place to have it done.
Nic Westerfield: Well, that’s what we were thinking. He actually tried to do it in his car, but I was like, “No, we have to do it in the attic.” I made it like, “It’s got to get creepy.”
Check out Midwest December’s brand-new single, “Two One Eight,” below.