Jeremy Redmore was scrolling online in 2006 when something caught his eye. The vocalist had recently left his band – and he stumbled across an ad on bands.co.nz, posted by someone looking for a new lead singer.
“It was like ‘charismatic frontman wanted for world-conquering rock stadium band,’” Redmore tells Rolling Stone AU/NZ. “I nearly spat my tea out, but thought ‘what is this?’ and laughed.”
Redmore was on the hunt for a new band after his previous group had “imploded.” His dreams of making a career out of music felt like they were slipping away – so much so he’d started a teaching certificate.
“I was wearing shirts,” he says, erupting into laughter.
Looking at him now inside Brothers Beer at Auckland’s City Works Depot, the idea of him in smart attire doesn’t seem so preposterous. Redmore sits with a beer in an unbuttoned blue denim shirt with a white tee underneath and jeans. He has a flat peak cap on – and of course, his signature spectacles. But back then, a daily dress shirt for an at-heart-rocker would have been a sombre prospect.
Redmore remembers leaving the computer that day to go have a shower. As time went on, he just couldn’t shake the message on the screen from his mind.
“I was like ‘you know what? It’s pretty cool. They’ve got ambition, at least. What have I got to lose?’ I called them up and they said they were doing their last gig at Studio with their old singer. They said, ‘come along and see what you think.’”
The band had been the brainchild of Simon Oscroft, known at that time as The Midnight Youth. He’d assembled a group of musicians for Rockquest each year since he was 13-years-old. In year 12, he landed on a solid mix of instrumentalists.
Oscroft tells Rolling Stone AU/NZ over an email sent from Los Angeles: “It was pretty obvious that this lineup was going to be great, so I was excited.”
Aidan Bartlett was on the drums and Matt Warman played bass. Thom Powers played second guitar but was an equally keen songwriter. The four of them were flanked by a singer who, after finding success with second place at Rockquest 2005, decided to move on after completing year 13 at Rangitoto High School at the end of 2006.
After their ad campaign caught Redmore’s attention, he went along to their gig a glimpse of what his future could look like. “I said ‘let’s have a jam,’ and from my point of view, we musically hit it off straight away,” Redmore says. “I think, at the same time, I was quite cautious in committing.”
Oscroft says they weren’t looking for much other than someone with a compelling voice, but struck gold with Redmore.
“New Zealand is a tiny pool – and we pretty much stumbled across one of the best male singers in the country which was insanely lucky,” he says. “It’s about the believability of a voice that makes people feel a certain way, and Jeremy had that.”
After about four months of jamming, Redmore was in, but guitarist Powers was out. It was Warman’s job to deliver Powers the news he was no longer in the band. More than 15 years later, Warman still sounds gutted at having to carry out such a grizzly task.
“I mean, it was hard because Simon and Thom were like the same person,” he says on the phone from his car after quickly dash away from his marketing job to relive his days as a rockstar.
“Thom was our best friend through high school, he was one of our best buddies. He was always tinkering with music. He and Simon were both sort of (Type) A personalities, driven songwriters, so it was never gonna work having those two in the band.”
Despite being cut, Powers accepted the decision and watched Redmore’s first show with the group. He wasn’t stoked, but fate had other plans for him. That night the guys introduced him to a friend of theirs, Alisa Xayalith. Their chemistry was instant and powerful, according to Warman.
They went on to make music together, as a duo of their own, The Naked and Famous. “They were instantly drawn to each other,” Warman says. “They did go on to do amazing things.”
Potential brewed within The Midnight Youth early on. The group were already hugely popular with an underground following they’d gained from school but an eagerness grew to get new material finished quickly. The group jammed in Bartlett’s bedroom at his parent’s house where his dad knocked down a wall to give them space to rehearse.
Eventually they got their own practice room – and wrote singles they hoped could get on the radio. The group didn’t have any funding, so chipped in themselves and took studio time where they got it.
Within a few months they were able to play a 30-minute set, with the vast majority of songs written between them, including one of their first originals, “Supernatural”, a song sounded like a mashup of The Killers and My Chemical Romance.
At the time, artists like them and Fall Out Boy, Plain White T’s and Panic! At The Disco were breaking through to the mainstream charts.
The group believed their style was sure to be accepted in the guitar-led alternative rock world too, naming their sound ‘world pop’ because they wanted it to be versatile enough for any market.
They started selling some of their songs as singles by uploading them to iTunes, and often played shows in a local rock band scene that was thriving between venues like Dog’s Bollocks and the King’s Arms.
Somewhere along the way, a decision was made to simplify their name and be forever known as ‘Midnight Youth’.
As momentum grew, the group began booking gigs as support acts, including opening for the reality TV reformation of INXS – a huge thrill at the time.
The band had another of their Rangitoto High School alumni working with them on the sound desk for live shows. Nick Campbell had been the year below the others and when the group needed another member, he stepped up.
Campbell bluffed his way into the band, telling them he could play guitar and keyboard even though he couldn’t – but very quickly, he learned everything he needed to know.
Redmore explains: “He’s just one of these people that has this amazing ability to pick up an instrument, because of his technical mind to just see how things work.”
He joined their strict rehearsal schedule on a quest to perfect their live show. “The dream was to be a touring band. We used to practice all the time and just get that down to an art,” Campbell says. “You need a little bit of luck to make it, but you need to be so prepared for when that luck comes along.”
In 2007, Redmore was flatting in Grey Lynn with Bradley Carter, best known as the lead guitarist for Steriogram, who introduced him to a businessman that claimed to have some experience in the music industry.
He offered to help them out, and paired them up with a producer in New York whose claim to fame was working with Avril Lavigne. If the band could get themselves there, they were told they could record their album for free. If they got signed to a label, which would mean an album advance, they would need to pay the $30,000 fee.
Songs were already in motion, recorded at Campbell’s studio. They saved up and paid for their flights, and headed to the US where they spent a month in 2007. The group recorded by day and crashed each night on mattresses in his studio.
While it was something of a lacklustre introduction to the big time, Bartlett holds the time spent in New York recording their debut offering among his fondest memories.
“It was our first time abroad as a band and it felt like we were on our way,” he recalls. “While we all thought this album was going to turn into something – looking back, that was not guaranteed. Getting any success in the music industry is no easy feat.”
New York heavily influenced gaps in uncompleted songs, with “Benjamin” written in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park and “Cavalry” penned on the subway.
“All On Our Own” stemmed from Redmore’s feelings while walking around the city for the first time, inspired by a whole new world abroad.
“It’s that youthful idea that anything’s possible and you need to step away from the world of your childhood and teenage years and learn who the hell you are.” he explains.
When they returned to New Zealand, they got the masters back from their American producer – for a price. While shopping the finished product around to labels, they were told rock music was dead more than once, but got signed and a plan was ignited to release a single, “The Letter”, in October 2008. They filmed a cheap but effective video and it began to circulate on music video programs.
Redmore and Oscroft ventured on a tour of the country, hitting all the regional radio stations with a live acoustic version, leaving lasting impressions on listeners and interested hosts. Just a few days before the Christmas cut off, “The Letter” was moved into a prime play position for the summer holidays.
Campbell says: “For us, it was a bit of a shock to the system because there was no love and then all of a sudden when “The Letter” came out, it was like ‘this is intense.’ It’s getting played all the time, not just on one demographic of radio, it was across the board.
“From there, you start getting better gigs and then you start realising what the real music industry is actually about in terms of business, corporate shows, festivals and touring.”
To kick off the year, they played The Edge Summer Jam at the start of 2009 with The Veronicas, Metro Station and P-Money in Hamilton.
“All On Our Own” was their follow-up single, released in March, which also popped off. It debuted at number 18 on the New Zealand RIANZ Singles Chart before peaking at number six. It was played more than any other song – from both local and international artists – on New Zealand radio in 2009.
By April they had shared their full album, The Brave Don’t Run, and for a time, things were tracking well. Oscroft felt vindicated. He had believed in their music, the band and their vision, and finally, other people were getting on board.
“It was nice to see other people seeing it too, let alone an entire country,” he says. “I felt relieved that I wasn’t crazy for thinking that these songs were good. I also felt a lot of gratitude and pure excitement that something turned from a dream in my head, at 10-years-old, into a fully manifested reality.”
But like so many other artists who find local success, their hit songs didn’t translate into money in the bank. Warman remembers hearing Midnight Youth’s music on the radio three or four times a day while working at a warehouse in Ellerslie picking and packing in between shows.
“One day, I had to rush during lunch from the warehouse to the record label’s offices where they had champagne, and they handed us all these amazing plaques. “The Letter” had gone gold and The Brave Don’t Run had gone platinum.
“There was a photographer and we took all these photos, and then I went back to work. So it was quite strange until later that year, when there was a bunch of money that came through, and we were able to do it full-time.”
The band soon became an obvious choice for the country’s biggest gigs, and in the summer of 2009 played the 11pm slot at Rhythm and Vines before taking the main stage at Big Day Out two weeks later.
“We had 20,000 kids singing our songs back to us. It really was cloud nine, I don’t think I’ve ever felt higher than that,” Oscroft remembers.
More often than not, though, Redmore was thinking about how they would keep moving forward. “For me, I think I suffered from a case of ‘what’s next?’ I don’t think I really took the time to soak up how special it was,” Redmore concedes.
Feeling like they had hit the glass ceiling in New Zealand, the group were encouraged to try and expand into a new market. They moved to Australia as a band, on their own dime, bought a van and began touring.
But just three months after arriving in Sydney, the people who signed them lost their jobs in some kind of mass clean-out. “We lost the backing straight away,” Redmore says.
While touring Australia was fun, within about eight months they realised they weren’t going anywhere with the songs that had made them big back home.
It came time to write their second album, World Comes Calling, this time drawing from external sources for their songwriting instead of the personal themes explored for their first offering.
For the album’s title song, the group kept up their interest in being big and bold, filming the song’s video clip at locations around the globe.
Redmore says: “It was very much that attitude of ‘why not shoot for the moon when you can land among the stars?'”
Despite giving it all they had, the album didn’t perform as well. Factors outside of their control soon began to take hold.
“We were still on a bit of this vibe thinking “The Letter”, “All On Our Own”, “Cavalry” did quite well, we just need to release something else and it will have the same effect’, and it didn’t at all,” Campbell says.
They’d peaked at a time when so many others with similar sounds did – American artists equally capable of capturing emotion but backed by far bigger budgets and people with their best interests in their corner.
“It was the story of our professional career, as a business, things would change,” Redmore concedes. “The world had been over-saturated with guitar-rock anthems. By the time we released another album of rock anthems, it just wasn’t enough.”
Social media also entered new frontiers and Midnight Youth got stuck in between a transition of platforms. Different feelings were taken on by the varying band members, and slowly an uneasiness began to grow. They also felt as though they were lacking essential guidance to direct them through a difficult period.
As Oscroft says: “No support, no belief, and no real promotion for a band concurrently large in another country. It was a harsh reality check. Australia doesn’t give out love too easily, but we weren’t warned, or ready for that. We were kids with blown up egos, and a terrible team around us who was wrongfully advising us.”
“For me, it felt like, ‘does Midnight Youth have real fans or does it have a whole lot of casual radio listeners who like the music and some of them will come to shows?'” Redmore says. “When I looked at the team around us and the advice that we got, it was terrible.”
Taking into consideration a number of factors, including his voice becoming strained from the intensity of their live shows, Redmore decided that it was time to go.
“He text us all to meet up and, and he took us to a different pub, not our pub, we used to go to this pub called the British Isles, it was our place, and Jeremy took us to the one across the road to tell us the bad news so it didn’t ruin the pub for us,” Warman remembers.
Oscroft was overseas when that meeting took place, but recalls the news triggering a wave of emotions. “At the time, I was shocked, and disappointed, angry, all of the things,” he adds. “But what I didn’t know is that life’s chapters can be bold, beautiful, ugly and ruthlessly closed or opened within a moment or a split second. It really has taken 10 years to fully comprehend the roller-coaster-fantasy-ride that being an artist gets thrown onto.
“We thought we would be U2 or the Stones, just like every band I have ever met thinks. You have to think that you’ll stay together forever and become stadium sized – otherwise you can’t keep the camaraderie needed to stick together and fight the battle.”
While it felt abrupt, Bartlett thinks the Redmore’s exit wasn’t entirely unexpected considering how everything was going.
For Campbell, though, it came out of nowhere. “You could tell he wasn’t very happy,” he says. “But to me it was never unhappy enough to quit, it was a shock. He could have talked to us about it, he never really brought it up in terms of ‘this is how I feel’ about the situation, instead it was just ‘I’m quitting because of how I feel.'”
Redmore admits his delivery could have been better. “I didn’t feel comfortable talking about that stuff with the band. It was fair to say I’d become more isolated from the guys.”
More than a decade later, everyone seems satisfied with what happened back then and where their lives are now.
“Despite my deep love for drumming and my cherished memories of being a part of the band, it ultimately broadened my horizons and led me to explore new opportunities. The fact that the band was able to have its moment in the sun is something I’m hugely proud of,” Bartlett says.
After a brief corporate career, he co-founded a startup called Designer Wardrobe in 2015, of which he remains the CEO. The online fashion marketplace for buying and selling designer fashion today boasts around 300,000 users across Australasia. “It has been an incredible journey, with its own ups and downs,” he reveals.
Warman still tours, playing bass for another artist, and is touched when he meets young musicians who remember the band and the impact that had on them. “You don’t always realise it from an outside perspective,” he says.
Now a dad-of-two, he’ll occasionally play his kids Midnight Youth’s music, adding: “They’re interested in listening to the songs.”
Redmore says those days were some of his best times as an artist but he doesn’t hold any regrets for walking away. “It was the absolute peak of my professional life as a creative to have a good couple of years of feeling like you’re on top of the world. I’ll always be grateful for that.”
He went on to release two solo albums. Last year he released a children’s book, Sing Like A Unicorn, aimed at helping kids find their authentic selves through singing.
Oscroft lives in Los Angeles where he produces and writes songs with Disney alongside artists from all around the world in his studio. Last year, he had his first mega-hit as a producer, the global top five hit “I Ain’t Worried” by OneRepublic, which featured on the Top Gun: Maverick soundtrack.
Oscroft’s ambition is still as evident as ever, with much larger dreams to fulfil on the horizon. “It’s really only the beginning for me,” he insists. “I’m living in the sunshine, making music every day with incredible talent, surrounded by friends in the creative field, and I get to travel the world doing what I love – I credit all of it to my musical journey as a kid in New Zealand.”
Campbell is happy remembering the “epic times” they had travelling as a band together. He runs an IT business but still dabbles in music, not letting his technical knowledge go to waste as a sound tech for Kiwi artists, including his long-term partner, country singer Kaylee Bell.
He’s on the fence as to whether or not they could have made it if Redmore stuck with it. There’s the dreamer in him which hopes and believes they could have recovered from that second record after sorting out their differences and frustrations.
On the other hand: “You need to have the right people around you, and we didn’t.”
But that’s a story for another day.