When Logan Grime’s great, great, great grandmother, Mini Matilda, migrated from France to Virginia City, Nevada, to open a gold mine many moons ago, she never could have guessed that her future progeny would take her name and take the stage – pumping out jewel-like tunes to packed venues across the country with bandmate Skyler Kilborn. But – and we’re just guessing here – she’d be damn proud.
“When I was a kid, my dad did a drawing of a robot that played music and named it ‘Midi Matilda,’ after Mini,” Grime says. “It’s on my fridge. I’ve had it for about 20 years now.” And, just a year and a half ago, it inspired the name of Grime and Kilborn’s newly formed band – an apt moniker, as the music they create has an electronic framework brimming with soul, making Midi Matilda a name you need to know… right now.
The indie electro-pop duo released its first single (and video) in December 2011, and it didn’t take long for the critics to take note. Within a few weeks, “Day Dreams” was featured on tastemaker music blog, Neon Gold Records, and San Francisco commercial radio titan, Live 105, crowned Midi Matilda their “Favorite New Band of 2012”. A few months later, a HuffPo feature placed them in “the ranks of the Bay Area’s indie pop guard.” Not bad for a pair of DIY dreamers.
Singer Skyler Kilborn and drummer Logan Grimé met while studying sound engineering at Ex’pression College for Digital Arts in 2008. Drawn to each other’s obsessive work ethic and shared pop sensibilities, they started playing music together. Their campus was a cradle of sorts. It’s where they practiced, recorded demos, and where Logan perfected the production skills behind the band’s videos.
Red Light District, the band’s new EP, features six relentlessly fun, utterly danceable tracks. Marked by Skyler’s soaring falsetto, Logan’s driving rhythms, and a fresh mix of guitars, bass and synthesizers, the band sounds like Tears for Fears meets Frank Sinatra and Calvin Harris. And lucky for anyone who has ever seen them play, it’s a sound that translates into superlative live performances.
The result is a mix between electro and old-school rock ‘n’ roll, with Grime on drums and Kilborn on guitar and an instrument called a "Misa Kitara;” an experimental digital music interface that looks like an iPad made love to a guitar. “It's a fairly new instrument that only a few people are currently using,” Kilborn says. “I wanted to be one of the very first people to use the Kitara and by doing so make it a part of a consistent image for the band.” The company even created a custom model for Kilborn.
With Misa Kitara in hand, the band recently put out their first EP, Red Light District, which dropped in March 2012. The band not only wrote and performed the six-track effort, they also produced it – thanks to that education earned at Ex'pression College For Digital Arts.
Although the EP’s title may conjure up images of seedy streetwalkers and lonely Johns, the album is more like a journey through love and heartbreak – a sidle down a dark alley as much as an open-top ride through a countryside. Opening track “Day Dreams” is choral explosion, insistent beats and a swirl of instruments (horns, synths, keys) swathing Kilborn’s versatile voice – which careens from quavering falsetto to its richest registers – in a haze of sound. "You are my bad dream, you are my savior,” Kilborn sings, in that brief snatch of words summing up what it is to be in love. “Love & The Movies” follows, an ‘80s-esque jam replete with chiming synths that punctuate a darker narrative in which Kilborn shows off his deepest tones and cries, “The lovers on the TV screen, they don’t look nothing like you and me” – a statement that implies the cinematic quality of the song might just be a sham.
Titular “Red Light District” slows the action down in the middle of the record, taking us down some abandoned street to the darker side of the EP, Grime’s drums turning into an insistent heartbeat as Kilborn sings, "Old beliefs break down in the middle of the road. I think you turned the lights on.” Soaring thumper “Ottawa” follows with on a more hopeful note, as Kilborn croons, "I found a way I think you'll like. I believed I was polished, rough around the edges, and dancing in your heart.” “By The Firelight,” creeps in next, Kilborn whispering lyrics like little flickering flames, bursting finally into the band’s signature full-bodied, spiraling sound.
Finally, album closer “Stranger” takes us on a more leisurely stroll through the album’s dark city soundscape, where we can mull over all we’ve seen. "Is it wrong to be a stranger on the street corner tonight, hanging over like a rain cloud to feel alive?” Kilborn asks, and we wonder ourselves at our voyeuristic appreciation of this little wander of an EP.
The best part of the Midi Matilda story: despite their sudden success and swift critical acclaim, Logan and Skyler are the kinds of artists who treat fans like friends. They’re accessible. They’re down to earth. They want the same thing you want… for everyone to have a great time. And in a time when pop music tends to feel so impersonal and hermetically sealed, Midi Matilda is a blast of fresh air.