Kids at Midnight - Modernizing 80s Synth-Pop
Coming onto the worldwide stage after her song “Boys Like You” was featured in a Netflix original show, Jane Hanley (aka Kids at Midnight) has just released her first album, All I Ever Wanted Was Your Love. Combining the old with the new, Hanley modernizes the twinkling 80s synth-pop sound over 11 tracks. Get ready to be sucked into a soaring cinematic soundscape when you listen to her release and then prepare to be a fan (and listen to it over and over). Sitting down and chatting with her was like sitting down with an old friend. In this interview we got into the nitty gritty of what it’s like to hear your song on television, high school crushes, and the amazing feat of writing, recording and producing your own album.
You have a dreamy 80s pop synth style which I love. What made you decide to go that way with your sound?
I don’t think it was a conscious decision. I think it’s just because that’s what I love. I was a little kid in the 80s and when you’re a little kid in the 80s, it just seems like literally a bubblegum, sunshine, sequin, rainbow of and everything was just great like childhood is. It’s still my favorite style of music and that’s what some of my favorite songs are. I’m just a huge film and TV fan. That’s been such a huge part of my life. I call myself a bit of a dreamer but I would much rather watch The NeverEnding Story and close my eyes and dream of a cinematic big adventure. I think that comes through in my music. So, yeah I never made an actual conscious decision. Early on I was an acoustic guitar player. I played folk and I really wanted to make electronic music cause it was just starting to become cool. I thought it would be exciting but I didn’t know how. At the time, I was with a production partner and then he left and I just went ‘Shit! What do I do now?’ So I just started teaching myself and I tried to make a modern alternative or indie electronica sound. I just couldn’t do it. My brain wanted to add really cheesy hooks and twinkles. After a couple of years of trying to be cool and hip I thought that I’m not going to fight it, I’m just going to go with it. I think people respond to that because I’m being authentic and my real self.
I for one am a huge fan of your sound and the 80s dreamy part of it. Who are your biggest influences?
It’s funny but movie and TV themes are my biggest influences. It’s kind of embarrassing to say. The theme from The NeverEnding Story is one of my favorites songs of all times. It’s a Georgio Moroder produced track and he’s a really big footprint on the 80s since he’s synth based. He crafted the sound that everyone made. I also love OMD (Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark). They have this song called “If You Leave” and it’s the most beautiful synth 80s romantic song. It’s so dramatic. But every one of my favorite influences is just huge drama. I also love the harmonies in Fleetwood Mac. I think in a lot I’m trying to recreate that thick sound too. But obviously growing up in the 80s, Madonna and Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson. And Cape Bush is also a huge inspiration.
Speaking of TV, your song “Boys Like You” is on the soundtrack of the Netflix show Never Have I Ever, so what was it like to watch the show and then hear your song play in such a pivotal scene?
It was like every dream I’ve ever had since I was a little kid happening in front of my eyes. It was absolutely mental. It wasn’t a tiny deal at all. It wasn’t like ‘oh this is cool, yeah great whatever.’ It was flip out, scream, cry. I was crying because that show’s such a perfect combination of romantic comedies and coming of age. It’s not syrupy, it's proper real life funny and got bits of rom-com but not a cheesy rom-com. I was a bit obsessed with that growing up so when I’m writing a song I’m imagining this love story. Then they chose my song and they put it to the most romantic moment and I was just like ‘Well that’s it now.’ It was pretty cool.
That’s how I found your music to start with was because of that show and that song really just resonated.
Well, thank you. And yeah, a lot of people have found me from that show because it was so popular. No wonder I've got this huge influx of messages and fans. The way people are finding me through TV is how I found music and moments and special things. So it’s really cool to have this 360 come about. Being on that show was very special and I'm so glad and thankful that this weird little style of music that I make has now reached a lot of people. I had a decent fanbase and decent success in Australia but not worldwide. My style of music isn’t really going to shoot itself across the world. So being on that show was just perfect. It means that the people who are going to like it have seen it and found it. And I think that’s really sweet and cute. Everyone feels about the song the way I felt writing it. Everything in that song really happened. I wasn't dreaming a story about someone else. A boy actually told me to shut up in math class because I was answering too many questions. I wanted to be the first one because I was always that annoying kid. And he was so sick of it that he was like ‘Shut up Jane!’ I had written in my diary that I loved this guy and he was going to see it because he would always tease me by stealing my stuff. But then another girl came to my school and he fell in love with her and he would talk to me about her because I was his friend. All this stuff was little chunks out of my high school years. So it’s really sweet that lots of people are like ‘Oh my god I can feel this! This is me’ because it’s been all of us. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t had their heart broken. And you grow up and look back on it and you’re like ‘I’m never going to do that for boys like you.’ But when you’re 13, 14, 15, 16 you're just like ‘Oh my goodness’ the person who I’m meant to be with forever doesn’t love me. I’m going to go jump off a bridge.’ I’m so glad that I could share that with lots of people.
For your latest song, “Mary’s Queen of Scots” you filmed your own music video in your house, edited it yourself, and then released it. What was that process like?
I actually filmed it in my cousin’s house because his house is basically like a gallery or museum. There’s so many beautiful pieces of art and art deco crystal and beautiful velvet chairs that are actually from 1901. His taste and design is just insane. Just before the lockdowns here I told him “I don't know how we’re going to do this isolation. I can’t do this big video anywhere. Let’s just hang out in your house and I’ll wear a bunch of sequin dresses and be an idiot.” So I actually had a lot of fun because it was basically us just playing the song and dancing to it. My cousin and his partner are in the background dancing as they’re filming me. It was basically just like this little party of being silly in my cousin’s cool time capsule apartment. I just chopped it up and edited it and put it out. I just wanted the people who had found me from Never Have I Ever to know that more stuff was coming.
I love that so much. How has the lock down and the pandemic affected the way you look at music and music production?
I’m actually really lucky because I’m looking at a lot of my contemporaries who rely on other people to produce their music and they’re really struggling right now. It’s been years and years of really hard work learning to produce and do everything by myself. It would be so amazing to have a big producer producing my music, but at the same time it would probably be really different than what the Kids at Midnight sound is now. So for me it hasn’t impacted the way I make music at all because I make music myself in my room. It’s actually impacted how I’m able to get away from that. When I’m recording and producing and mixing and editing and all that sort of stuff I spend all this time in the studio working and then I need to get out. I need to see my friends, my best friends, my cousins and just hang out. I need to get away from myself since I spend so much time with myself. So it’s that more than anything. I need to be able to be normal and relax and destress my brain and not worry for a while.
Writing and producing your own music and you said that you created this entire album you’re releasing from scratch. What goes into such a large project like that when you’re doing it all by yourself.
Time. Hours and hours and hours and hours and hours. This took a few years because I don’t just produce. I teach dance classes, I DJ, and I book things as well. I’m not doing all of that now obviously. For me I work my normal job and then I do my writing, singing, recording, editing. If you’re doing the job of 4 people it takes a bit longer. So the main luxury in making this album is time. It’s quite funny that this lockdown has actually helped me finish it. Some of the songs had been singles over the last couple of years and the new ones I had been working on over this last year or two. I finished it over the past few months and got them mastered and ready to go. When NBCUniversal contacted me and asked if they could use my song on Mindy Kaling’s new show said yes. They said it would air around April and I told myself that I had to get my bat in gear so I could finish this album I’d been working on for a couple of years. It had to be ready for around that time because I was never going to have so many people being able to listen to my music again. It was a really good deadline to have. When you’re making music yourself it’s really easy to say ‘it’s not finished yet’ and keep working on it. You can work on a song forever. At some point you need to just stop, but if you're in a room by yourself there’s no one to stop you so this deadline was actually essential and I’m so thankful for it.
What is your creative process like? Do you start with the music first or lyrics?
I mostly start with music first. For me my brian goes chords, melodies, then lyrics. So I’m either playing guitar or playing some chords on the synth or piano and just finding a nice melody and I’ll just sing gibberish to it. Sometimes perfect lyrics come out. With “Boys Like You” a lot of it came out as I was singing it because that story was already right there ready to go. For me it’s like a painting and the background is the chords. I’m pretty methodical so I have my chords and then the melody just naturally comes to that and then the lyrics will come from the sounds and the beats in the melody and I’ll work the best lyrics for what story I want to tell. You never know where a cool melody is going to hit you though. Sometimes you’re driving and a melody will just hit you in the head and you just get your voice memo and you sing it down. Very rarely do I ever have a melody first and then do chords around it.
Can you give any hints as to what your album is going to be like?
It’s called All I Ever Wanted Was Your Love. It’s a compilation of really dramatic cinematic 80s-style, sonic love stories. It’s a combination of really outwardly big dramatic ideas but then also extremely personal singular experiences. It’s very romantic, it’s very 80s and I hope it’s like the soundtrack to a lot of people dreaming about their crushes.
Last but not least, could you describe your new album in 3 words?
Romantic, dreamy and unashamedly 80s.
STREAM ALL I EVER WANTED WAS YOUR LOVE HERE