In music, the distinction between sideline hobby and serious project is difficult to define. At what point does heading over to your buddy's house with a six-pack and a six-string push past killing time? When do jam sessions become rehearsals? It's a threshold many inchoate bands transcend without realizing it.
This was the case for Midnight Plus One, a Chapel Hill powerhouse that melts shoegaze heft atop ragged punk energy. Three years ago, longtime buds Pete Wagner and John Bowman craved a new musical outlet. Wagner had just finished a stint playing bass with the shapeshifting Auxes; Bowman, a veteran drummer, had a newborn baby at home. At first, their jams were just an excuse to hang out, but over time, that started to change. New members joined. Shows were booked. An LP was made.
"We've always just wanted to make music for us, to make us happy," Wagner explains. "It snowballed and became like a real band all of the sudden. You kind of get in that mode where you know how to be in a band, and you're like, 'Oh yeah, this is what you're supposed to do. You put out a record, and play in front of people.'"
The group's self-titled debut justifies the interest. Wagner's driving riffs expand into dense but energetic onslaughts, aided by fellow guitarist Nick Senese. Casey Cook adds sardonic coos and yelps, sneering so as to cut through the ruckus. "Knives on the Beach," the record's six-minute centerpiece, pushes from dark and slinky verses to thunderous crescendos, repeating the exercise in a way that never gets stiff.
Wagner, 36, moved from Chicago to the Triangle eight years ago, but the last time he played guitar in a band was in the Windy City. He's typically played bass, boosting momentum for the surging Challenger in addition to his time with the formidable and strange Auxes.
"I think I still play guitar like a bass player," he explains. "It's very simple, a lot of just a pummeling sort of thing. You just beat the shit out of it and hope it sounds OK."
Indeed, his guitar playing benefits from his bass chops, as he siphons energy from efficient progressions. His easy chemistry with John Bowman has had time to gestate; his first band after moving to town was Summer Sorcerer, in which he played keys to Bowman's rhythms.
In addition to lending a glass and an ear to his fellow Carrboro musicians as the "Bow" in Rosemary Street watering hole Bowbarr, Bowman, 40, has manned the kit for an array of local bands. Eagle Bravo—which grew out of his first serious band, Rights Reserved—rode its purposefully driving punk rock to regional success in the mid-'90s. Since then, he's balanced stints with Auxes, Challenger and the tense and serrated Milemarker. He's drummed for the murky alt-country outfit Trailer Bride and rapped for the heavy and highly entertaining Kerbloki.
"I try to play like the drums are a song themselves rather than a straight beat," Bowman says. "I've always done that. The drumming is pretty straightforward, but I try to let my personality come out in the drumming."
Senese, 33, was the first person to join Bowman and Wagner's loose experiments. He connected with Bowman while drinking at Bowbarr and soon discovered that the three had nearly identical record collections.
His textural acumen is more refined than you'd expect for a guy with a largely hardcore background. In Chicago, where he played shows alongside a few of Wagner's bands, he instilled gritty fuzz into the force of John Brown's Battery and reinforced the strung-out tangles in Black Print's knotty jams. He moved to the Triangle about three years ago; Midnight Plus One is his first serious foray into the local scene.
"I've always been into aggressive, faster music, as well as dynamic stuff," he says. "You get a little older, and your tastes expand a little bit. You mellow out to some degree."
Cook, 40, is best known for her role in Americans in France, a jovial and snotty art-rock whirlwind that tore out of Chapel Hill with sharp hooks and frantic energy. In that band, she wrote lyrics and melodies, but her job as drummer kept her from being able to do the bulk of the singing. With Midnight Plus One, she steps out and stands up.
"I've always been sitting down playing the drums, although I was also writing the music and the lyrics," she says. "[Singing is] completely different. It's a lot more freeing."
Outside of music, Cook is a talented painter with a master's in fine art. She moved to North Carolina from New York about seven years ago and first focused on music, a pursuit that eventually revived and inspired her visual style. Her new paintings frequently incorporate phrases ripped from her lyrics.
Temple, 37, is the newest addition to Midnight Plus One; she replaced former bassist Tre Acklin about three weeks ago, and Saturday's gig at Local 506 will be her first public outing.
For years, Temple has played with Black Skies, a lumbering psych-rock trio that doesn't allow menace to outweigh melody. Her experience pushing things forward beneath Black Skies' ironworks should prove invaluable as she attempts to power this band's weighty dynamo.
"I think we all have similar musical interests," Temple offers. "I started out being into The Pixies and Black Flag. Black Skies kind of turned a little heavier and was embraced by the metal scene, but we never really saw ourselves that way."