Set It Off: The Making of Midnight (with Cody Carson)

Written by Meg Clemmensen | Photos by Mac Praed (not taken for Unfazed)

With a brand new record hot off the press and a large portion of their release-supporting tours sold out, Set It Off are seeming to be sitting on top of the world right now. However, the process of creating Midnight came from a much darker place in lead singer Cody Carson’s lifetime. Before the band played a packed show to an eager audience in Toronto, I was welcomed onto their tour bus with open arms to further discuss what went into writing such an honest record and playing those same songs every night. Within our conversation, Carson goes further in depth about the past, present, and future of Set It Off!

Congrats on your new album! I believe it’s your highest charting release yet, how does that feel?

Thank you! It is! It feels amazing. We’re really happy to say that every album has charted higher than the last one. It’s our first time hitting the number one charting alternative record, which is awesome. It still hasn’t sunk in!

What’s the best part about this tour been so far?

Just being surprised. We go into the tour and we’re like, “I hope these shows go well, I hope they sell,” and then you see the presale numbers going in and think it looks pretty good, and then I think that the biggest moment was in Pittsburgh. None of us had seen the crowd before we went out. We kind of saw a glance, but we had no idea about the gravity of it. We all ran on stage and during the first song, we were like “Wow, what is happening?” They were rowdy, loud, and they were singing the words to all the new songs. I guess you could say they were doing their homework! It’s just been cool to see the response and how it’s helped us grow.

What are some major differences between this tour and the short one you did this summer after dropping the first single from Midnight?

Literally, the difference is that we’re playing A-market venues. In B-markets, everyone needs love. We have to go everywhere. We did the B-market tour because we only had a single to back it, and this time, the full album is out. We’re playing places like Toronto, New York City, and Chicago. Even Orlando, down in Florida, where we can see our family! It’s always cool to play in our home state. A lot of benefits. Also, the biggest difference is that our set is even longer. 18 songs... and it rips! It’s just back-to-back. It’s definitely the biggest vocal test I’ve ever had, but in a good way.

What made you decide to stray further from your rock roots and introduce more pop elements into your music?

What’s ironic about that is that it’s mostly what happened with our last record, Upside Down! In Midnight, we kind of thought the opposite. We were bringing some of our rock roots back in. With the pop element ever being introduced in the first place, starting with Duality, that was just because it’s the kind of stuff we mostly grew up listening to. We always wanted to be able to write in that style, but we didn’t know exactly how to do it at the time. We met a producer who opened our eyes to the ability to take music that we loved growing up and start to insert that into the aggressive style that we had so we found a way to fuse it, and I think that’s what Midnight is. A (hopefully) well-done fusion of the aggressive alternative sound with some pop elements as well.

Yeah, I definitely feel like it started in Upside Down, but you never fully returned to where you started. Could you explain Midnight as a theme? In particular, your song “Midnight Thoughts” references back to that, but what exactly does it mean to you as a whole?

I think the overlying theme for Midnight is change. It illustrates the hour of midnight, when you’re in a whole new day and everything that happened before is gone and you won’t get that back. Just appreciating time in general and looking forward to the future to make the most out of everything you can because every second counts. That’s where we were mentally going into this record, which is why Midnight is so prominent to us. It’s also just this world that can be created behind it that was also really enticing, like the element of surrealism by staying up too late and being delirious, such as “Midnight Thoughts” and how all those thoughts can occur and tear you down and try to destroy you, but you can flip it around. There’s a lot to take in. It’s this universal theme that anyone can grasp.

This record also seems a lot more raw and honest from anything else you’ve done before. Where did all this come from?

We always try to be as upfront and honest as possible. For the last record, Upside Down, I was at a way happier place in my life, and I was in a way darker place in my life for this record, and I think it reflects that. I’d say with this one, even in the interviews that we’re doing, we’re just not afraid to talk about everything. We don’t see a downside to being ourselves and bearing everything that we’ve been going through or will go through, our fears, our anxieties, our problems, our mental health issues. Everything is on the table because it’s part of who we are and we don’t have to be afraid to do that. If you are, then you become superficial, and people can spot that a mile away. We don’t want that. That’s not who Set It Off is.

What are the easiest and hardest parts of being so upfront and writing lyrics in the same nature?

That’s tough; that’s a good question! I’d say that easiest and hardest depends on the song and the day. Sometimes it just comes out immediately and it’s really fast, and sometimes you have to sit there and find out, “How do I make this lyric fit perfectly into the melody?” We usually write melodies first. Then, it’s kind of like a jigsaw puzzle where we’re fitting words into syllables that already exist and making that conversational as well as honest and open. It’s been a thing that we’ve perfected over the past few records, but it’s something that’s been a bit more of a challenging part of the process, but being honest about it is never a problem. Here’s the most challenging part— wondering how to say something that has been said before, but in a different way. You can write lyrics about a topic at any time in the same way that somebody else has done it, but how do you make it fresh when there’s so many billions of songs?

What is your personal favorite track on the album and what does it mean to you?

I have so many favorites for different reasons. I think the most well-written song is “Different Songs,” as far as melodies, lyrics, topic, and energy go. The most meaningful song to me is “Unopened Windows,” for obvious reasons. It’s about my father who passed, reflecting on windows of opportunity that have closed, accepting it, and learning to live with it. “Happy All The Time” means a lot to me because— this may sound a little self-centered and I’m not trying to come off that way— I will listen to our own song when I’m sad. That’s the only song I can really do that with. I feel like it has that power to take you out of a dark place or help you be okay with being in that place. So, those are my top three and those are my reasons why.

As for when you’re putting the entire record together, how do you decide which songs make the cut and which ones don’t?

Dan and I came together and we had like 60 ideas going in on our voice memos and most of those didn’t get used, obviously. We just wrote every single day; we treated it like a job. Once we started getting the mixes back, we started to understand which ones were the definites. We had a really good problem, and it was that we wanted to have way too many songs fit on the record than what could. It was really hard this time! What we will do is figure out what songs are serving what purpose, like “This song is about this fast and it’s upbeat and we don’t need another song like that unless it’s an undeniably great song. Alright, cool, so that’s going to be there.” We want every song to have a purpose on the record. We want it to feel complete, like there’s all these different emotions and by the time you’re done the record, you’ll be like “Oh my god, what just happened,” and then you want to experience it again. There’s a lot of factors that go into that, but ultimately, it’s just trying to make some songs and the winners make it.

Did you like it better when you had a small fan base and could easily connect with everyone, or do you prefer to be able to play the songs to large rooms and be able to connect with more people?

I think there’s pros and cons to both. What we’ve been focusing on as we move forward is finding a way to make sure we can still connect with those that really want to by doing the VIP sessions. With an 18 song set, it is really hard for me to then go outside and talk for three hours. I can’t, otherwise I won’t be able to sing for the next date, and it’s not fair to the other shows. Obviously, we want to play to the biggest crowds we can. That’s the end game. We want to sell out those stadiums! It’s just because that means that many people connect to our songs and we get to feel the feeling we’re feeling now, but multiply it. I don’t think we’re ever going to lose our ability to connect, because it’s always at the forefront of our minds and we always want to have that connection. The VIP sessions allow us to have those moments; like today we took extra time and we were able to do selfies and sign stuff and just commerce about what they’re going through in their lives, and that is important to us because they help us as much as we hopefully help them.

Yeah, you always seem to have really unique VIP experience ideas! How do you come up with those?

For us, it’s just like, “How do we make this just a hangout? How do we make it more relaxed to where it’s not like we’re this band, you’re that fan!” It’s more like we’re hanging out and we’re friends, we want it to be like that. That’s why we did that game thing before. I’d like to bring that back; the only problem with that sometimes is explaining the game in that short amount of time and making sure that everyone fully grasps it, because if you’re playing board games with your friends, the first time playing it is usually when you have to process it and then you can play it again. We don’t get that. We have to explain it the first time and everyone has to get it. We just try to be creative and make it a fun experience!

What’s your next step when you’re finished this tour?

Right now, we’re thinking about the next tour that’s happening after this, which is great, and Warped Tour is another thing! We’re so excited to be on Warped Tour; the New Jersey date and the Cali date! So check that out if you’re going to be down there! We’re planning some more tours already, it’s going to be a busy 2019 for us!

The new album is fresh off the press and you’re probably mainly focused on that right now, but when do you think you’re going to begin thinking about new music? Do you think it’s going to sound totally different or have a similar theme to Midnight?

There’s no way to tell that part yet. We kind of just let whatever the writing sessions are tell us what’s going on. I think that it’ll be similar; that’s just my first gut instinct. Just because of how well this is going and how happy we are playing these songs, so there’s no reason to change it. But I don’t want to make the same record, because we won’t and we’ve never done that. We are very involved in the creative process of “What is Set It Off now and what are we going to become?” I have confidence because of how much we care about it that it’s going to come out and it’s going to be great! As far as how soon writing is going to happen, as soon as we get free time again. It’s already starting to happen. It never really stops!

Although Midnight may not be completely sugary sweet on the surface, this record may just be leading to Set It Off’s huge breakthrough. It’s not difficult to see that Carson and the rest of the band are some of the most hardworking artists in the scene, and they’re making it absolutely clear that they’re here for the long run. Honesty will get you everywhere in life, and Set It Off are aiming to prove this by writing about what’s true to them rather than holding back due to anxieties. Midnight is available on all major streaming services, and you can catch them on tour near you sometime soon across the UK and USA.