Midnight North Reflects on their Rich Bay Area Musical Roots and Journey as Musical Troubadours in New Single "Back to California"

Article Contributed by Americana Vibes | Published on Sunday, September 10, 2023

Midnight North, formed by singer-songwriters Grahame Lesh and Elliott Peck, take their cue from the fertile Bay Area music scene and are set to release their next studio album Diamonds In The Zodiac via Americana Vibes on November 10, 2023. Today, they have released the second single off of the album entitled “Back to California,” which simultaneously reflects on their roots as musical troubadours on the road and an array of musical styles fledged out of Northern California that have influenced the band and paved their musical journey. The new single is accompanied by a music video on a vintage Super 8 camera by Sam Watson that features behind-the-scenes moments from the 2023 summer tour. It depicts the essence of the band's early days as road warriors embarking on their first East Coast tour and recording at Levon Helm Studios in Woodstock, NY. Watch the video HERE.

“Back to California” was originally written for the band’s 2017 album, Under the Lights, right after their first East Coast tour that marked one of the longest stretches on the road as a band. Reflective of the imagery featured in the video, Lesh looks back on that time in the band’s career and muses, “It felt like we could claim some of that classic rock and roll imagery of troubadours on the road eating up the miles. The themes are right there on the surface—they touch on a yearning for home that the narrator feels while still feeling the excitement of being out in the world.”

While the lyrics were penned years ago, they still seem to fit on the new collection of songs in Diamonds in the Zodiac as the band changed the key and updated the feel to make it mirror where they are musically today. Nodding to a multitude of Bay Area-influenced artists who inspired Lesh and the band’s songwriting, particularly through both iterations of the new song, he details, “I was influenced by two connected but very different bands while both writing the tune and rearranging it for Diamonds in the Zodiac in 2022. In the past, I was thinking of local heroes the Mother Hips and their “California Soul” from their country-inflected Later Days era. In 2022, I was very influenced by Hiss Golden Messenger and MC Taylor & his band’s immaculate blend of groove with wonderfully composed songs.” The band’s drummer, Nathan Graham, coined the term “Bay Rock” to describe the essence of “Back to California”—a style soaked with roaring, continuous drum grooves with the extra topping of hand percussion anchoring the track evoking the band’s Bay Area roots musically while also being the perfect track to turn up driving through the Robin Williams tunnel from Sausalito to the Golden Gate Bridge. “Back to California” features backing vocals from the entire choir of the full band and extended family of musicians who were at the studio that day, including Phil Lesh, Amy Helm, and touring keyboard player TJ Kanczuzewski.

Diamonds in the Zodiac is a two-generation musical family affair through and through. In addition to Grahame Lesh’s father, Phil Lesh of The Grateful Dead, playing bass on the album’s lead single “The Colors Here” and joining the band on background vocals in “Back to California,” the album was produced by Amy Helm, daughter of The Band’s Levon Helm. Of the family lineage and connecting with Amy, Grahame explains, “Things have come full circle in that it was meeting Amy and Levon Helm at a Ramble in the Barn that gave my parents the inspiration to open Terrapin Crossroads, and having Terrapin was so instrumental in the band’s development. And now Amy produced this album and shepherded these songs to their ultimate form.”

The album’s title Diamonds in the Zodiac comes from the unearthed Robert Hunter lyrics for “Jupiter,” one of two extended tracks on the album. It was recorded at Dave Schools’ (Widespread Panic) Spacecamp in Occidental, California and mixed by D. James Goodwin, who has worked with such luminaries as Bob Weir, the Hold Steady, The National, Goose, and Bonny Light Horseman among many others. Besides the elongated forms in “Jupiter” and Graham’s opening “Questions,” the album is increasingly song-oriented and steeped in bluegrass, country, soul, blues, funk, jazz and gospel – a true Americana melting pot.

In anticipation of the album release, Midnight North will be performing the following tour dates with additional plays to be announced:

9/27 - Charleston, SC - Charleston Pour House

9/28 - Asheville, NC - Salvage Station

9/29-30 - Nashville, TN - Touch of Brews

11/10 - Menlo Park, CA - The Guild Theatre

Diamonds in the Zodiac will be available on November 10th and can be pre-saved HERE.

For more information and to learn more, visit midnightnorth.com.