The music can speak for itself. That's what Rochester-based singer Rey hopes for with his electro-soul music project, midnight: a way for listeners to drop any expectations at the door and come to recognize their own vulnerabilities.
"I want people to build upon the narrative I create" through music, he says. "I recognize the beauty and burden of a unique perspective and expect listeners to apply theirs to my music."
Last fall, midnight released the intriguing "XII Labors" EP in a genuine display of soul-baring vocals and smooth, downtempo electronics. It's a skillfully crafted package, but on midnight's upcoming second EP, "0:00," out July 1, Rey has honed in on the raw emotions of "XII Labors" for something even more determined.
Rey doesn't want to publically disclose his last name, and he only lightly touches on his background when he is interviewed. He grew up in Pittsford, became involved in musical theater, and was cast in a couple of touring productions. An artist management agency took notice of his singing and songwriting and flew him out to Los Angeles, where, he says, he "wrote 60 songs in around 60 days, most of which no one will hear." But he became disillusioned by the hit-obsessed studio process — and the boxes producers tried to put him into — and moved back to Rochester.
He's warm and excited as he talks at length about his music, but Rey expresses his past frustrations at being "typecast" — when as a man of color he was expected to sing or express his emotions in a certain way. Rather, midnight is a way for Rey to convey who he is at the core. He keeps himself obscured and hazy in the background, but lets it all bleed out through the music.
Rey left LA dissatisfied, and shortly afterward started working on material that would become midnight. It was a way for him to exorcise his own struggles.
"Rage, depression, and insomnia have always been demons of mine," Rey says. "It's plagued me and is a struggle every day when I wake and attempt unsuccessfully to go to sleep. I created midnight as a way to dissipate what was becoming an insurmountable amount of internalized rage."
Midnight has evolved into a voice for Rey's darker, more passionately unforgiving parts, he says. It's both a release and an enabler.
But the context of where midnight comes from is only part of understanding the music itself. It is an extension of Rey, but it's also an extension of the listener.
The debut midnight EP, "XII Labors," was released last September, and the follow-up, the four-track "0:00," is planned as the first in a one-two punch — "a continuation in sound and aggression," Rey says — with "0:01," out in the early fall.
The "0:00" track "Native America," which features Grammy-nominated hip-hop band The Internet, premiered on BBC Radio 1 earlier this month.
Midnight is aptly named. Rey's vocals float around deep bass and shimmering, dynamic beats and synths — for "XII Labors," midnight worked with producers YLXR, Craves, Nick Leng, Jailo, Obey City, and Su Na; YLXR (out of Buffalo) returns for "0:00" — with a breathy falsetto that's straight-up seduction.
Yes, midnight drips lust, but the beauty of "XII Labors" and "0:00" is how it captures the full range of emotions that creep out of the late-night hours: romantic vulnerability, unease, danger, anger, even sadness. Rey is showcasing his own fears and shortcomings, but throughout the entire production — from the way his vocals might fall back into the mix to the more ambiguous aspects of his personal image — midnight is also creating a space for the listener.
"I want to stray away from holding the person's hand and guiding their narrative," Rey says. "It might feel good, but you also have moments of dissonance that create an uncomfortable feeling; I just want people to not be comfortable, to not feel settled. It's supposed to be a ride through the night in full gradient."
Rey hasn't performed a live midnight set, yet. But since launching "XII Labors" last September, he's picked up an impressive online following. And while his time in LA taught him a lot that he could use to push midnight, Rey wants to stay grounded in Rochester and build collaborations with area musicians.
He was proud when the BBC Radio 1 DJ premiered "Native America" and she announced, "Representing Rochester, United States," because, he says, "I had been told so many times that you need to say you're from Brooklyn; you have to say you're from this place or that place. And don't get me wrong; I don't have a rosy-eyed vision of Rochester. I'm highly aware of the problems, and how behind we are, but I see it as an opportunity."
EDITOR'S NOTE: Midnight released "Marauder," the second track off its upcoming EP, "0:00," on Friday. Check it out below.