The Midnight Beast are about to go from YouTube sensations to TV stars, with their own E4 series due to start next Thursday. Here Stefan Abingdon, Dru Wakely and Ashley Horne talk about how it all came about:
How do you originally know each other?
Stefan: I met Ashley when I was ten years old. We were filming a nursery rhymes video and I was breakdancing.
Ashley: And I was just throwing my lanky self around, having a go at dancing.
Stefan: And me and Dru met when I was 12 and he was 14, at a drama group. And we started playing in bands together.
Ashley: And I'd go along to gigs to watch them. I was a bit of a groupie.
And how did you come to form The Midnight Beast?
Dru: After hanging out with each other for quite a while, and becoming really good friends, we always wanted to do something together. Comedy-wise we were always on the same wavelength and into the same stuff, and also the same kind of music. But at that stage we were also more seriously music-driven. Ashley dabbled in a bit of bass, but didn't really play an instrument. So we were just hanging out, mucking around with some stuff, and then Stefan heard the Ke$ha song, Tik Tok, and he spawned this idea to do a take on that. And we sat down and mucked about with the lyrics for a parody, and Ash was around one day when we were going to make a silly video for it, and it just all fell into place.
The Ke$ha spoof has now clocked up over 13 million YouTube views. When did you begin to twig that this was going to be something quite big?
Stefan: The day after we put it up, it started getting crazy views. I think it went to 20,000 that day, and it just kept going. We really knew by then.
Dru: Ke$ha herself Tweeted it and mentioned it, and on Christmas Day we were on MTV's homepage with a link to the video. At that point we thought "Shit, we might actually have something here that we can carry on and continue doing."
How often were you logging on to check your stats?
Stefan: It was probably every couple of hours, just refreshing it and going "What?"
Dru: we couldn't believe it was getting so many views so quickly.
Stefan: You could literally watch it move, which was crazy, really weird.
Why the name The Midnight Beast?
Ashley: We always get asked that question, and I'm not sure there's a reason behind it. Stefan and Dru used to DJ under that name, and then it just carried out from there. It's just a really awesome name.
Did you have day jobs at the time?
Dru: Yeah, I was working at Homebase. I was in the garden centre, flogging compost and those perennials that I know so much about!
Ashley: I was working at Reiss, the clothing store, and a bit of Costa Coffee as well. It's so nice to be able to do this as a full time thing now, and make a living off it.
Stefan: I had just quit Urban Outfitters, and was pursuing songwriting for the last time before it was time to knuckle down and get a real job. And then it took off.
When did you make the decision to do this full time?
Ashley: It was when we did this gig at Brighton beach. It was a guerrilla gig, we tweeted about it a few hours before we performed, and we just thought that a few people would come down. And 3,000 kids came down, and we realised we were actually like a band. This wasn't just YouTube views on the computer, it was real people.
Dru: It was the discovery that the YouTube figures actually meant something in real life, and translated to real people. And we were quite lucky, we do our own merchandising and stuff, and once we got that going we were able to get a little income to put towards the band, so we were able to support what we did as a full time thing.
You've got the new sitcom coming up on E4. What's the concept?
Stefan: It's like a dirty Glee. It's Inbetweeners meets Flight Of The Conchords. It's about the three of us as mates, all living together in a dingy shitty flat with no door, and it quite subtly goes into these big music videos. The videos are our characters' escapism. There are a lot of larger-than-life characters, and us just playing heightened versions of ourselves, with these massive musical numbers thrown in.
So the versions of you in the sitcom are reasonably accurate?
Dru: They're near-enough real. They're just heightened versions of us. I do enjoy my video games, and I do indulge in a snifter of port or two.
Ashley: I love women and I don't like music!
Stefan: And I love bossing the guys around in real life.
How much of the script-writing were you involved with?
Stefan: It was a very constructive process. They [Jason Hazeley, Joel Morris and Tom Edge] would write stuff and bring it to us, and we'd say "I don't think we'd say that, or do that," and they really listened to us. That was a massive thing, and they were great with us.
You are very keen to exert an element of control over your brand. Was it quite a difficult experience giving up some of that control, having other people write for you and direct you?
Dru: At first it was a little daunting, but everyone was so welcoming, and understood what we were all about, and what we were like as characters, and everyone really got that. We were all on the same path and wavelength, there was such a backing that we never felt like we'd lost control of anything.
Stefan: Besides, there was no way we could do it all, not with a project like this, and we really just had to take that on board.
Is it a very different process, filming a sitcom from filming your videos?
Stefan: It was weird how similar it was.
Dru: Apart from the obvious differences like the amount of people behind the camera. The thought process behind the series was just the same as we use for our videos. One difference was that people had to go out and buy the props we needed.
Stefan: Yeah, normally that's my parents.
The series is also spawning your debut album.
Stefan: We're putting it out on our own label that we've just started up, called Sounds Like Good, as well. We're releasing stuff a bit Glee-style - once you've seen the song in the episode, you can buy it on iTunes straight away. So there's EPs with every episode, and then at the end, after the sixth episode you can get the album.
Why did you decide to do it on your own label?
Dru: We're so used to having such a close-knit team of family and friends, it just suited us. We've been in to talk to labels and management groups, but we just enjoy being hands on with everything we do. We don't have anyone saying to us "You need to get in the charts". If we get in the charts, great, but that's never been the point of us, we just want to make people giggle and enjoy our music.
Do you get recognised a lot?
Ashley: A lot more recently.
Dru: It's weird when someone comes running up to you saying "Ohmigod, are you from The Midnight Beast?"
Ashley: And they're crying!
Dru: If someone's taking a picture and their hand is shaking, or you have your arm around someone and they're trembling, it's so bizarre.
Ashley: Or when they're taking pictures and they don't think you've noticed.
Stefan: One guy dropped his iPhone after he'd taken a picture of me, and it smashed on the floor. And I felt so bad. If he hadn't bumped into me that wouldn't have happened.
You mention your families help out quite a bit. What do they think of the work you do?
Ashley: My mum is quite old school, it took her a while to get used to the swearing and stuff, but she loves it now. She comes to all the gigs, and wears the T-shirt.
Stefan: Yeah, my mum runs our merchandise store, and my dad tour-manages, and is A&R-ing for our label. And my brother used to DJ for us as well. It's a proper family-run business. Ashley's parents do all the photos for us - they did our calendar shoot for us yesterday.
So how do they all cope with the fact that one of the tracks on your new album is called Strategy Wanking?
Stefan [laughing]: My dad always tells me that before Midnight Beast he never listened to the lyrics, just the music, so I'm not even sure he will have noticed. ‘I really like this beat'. It's really odd, hearing him on the phone, doing business calls to our designer, going ‘Could the text for Strategy Wanking be a bit bigger?' with a straight face.
- The Midnight Beast starts on Thursday July 5 on E4. Here's a video from the show: