Interview with The Midnight Devils frontman Sam Spade

Date: September 12, 2021
Interviewer: Jeff Onorato
Photos: Jeff Onorato

The Midnight Devils rose from the guttery depths of the Midwest music scene in 2018, taking a grassroots approach to their success by pounding the pavement and playing live for audiences all across the country. They’re quickly making a name for themselves in their bid to further establish themselves and possibly even save the current rock n’ roll landscape from boredom and complacency. Proudly flying the flag of legendary glam, rock and punk bands of the ’70s and ’80s, their music and live shows perfectly encapsulate all of those genres into one formidable package that evokes decadence, attitude and debauchery. Their live show will immediately demand your attention from the moment that they take the stage. Sleaze Roxx caught up with singer/bassist Sam Spade just as the band is gearing up to embark on a late September tour with Pretty Boy Floyd.

Sleaze Roxx: Thanks for taking the time to do this interview. The Midnight Devils have had a busy summer, playing shows all over the country. What have been some of the highlights of the tour?

Sam Spade: Thank you so much for this awesome opportunity. We all have been huge Sleaze Roxx fans for years now. Hands down, Sleaze Roxx is the go-to for all news and content in our rock n’ roll world. Yeah, we have been very fortunate to bounce back after the pandemic with some unbelievable shows. In early March, we were out touring with The Quireboys as their support act across America. After the world fell apart, we had no idea what was going to happen next. It all started back up with the M-Pre Party in Hanover, Maryland. That was an insane party and really the kick off to all the summer madness.  The [M-]Pre-Party itself was jammed packed with tons of rock n’ roll maniacs that all finally broke out of quarantine. Huge thanks to Dave Dillman and Brad Lee for all the love over the years.

The next night, we got backstage with Enuff Z’Nuff and watched the whole festival from right on the deck. It was unreal. We talked to the Bulletboys, Steven Adler, SteelHeart, Kip Winger, and Don Jamieson. Next, we came back to the Midwest and did a huge party in Nebraska to 2,000 people with our good friends Asphalt Valentine and Native Sons. It was so cool to see all our home state friends and family going crazy. That was all put together by the late Bill Chavis — RIP. After that, we loaded up the van and headed down to Florida to open for Yngwie Malmsteen. This run of shows was by far one of the coolest experiences of our lives. We drove 24 hours straight through to the beach, got to meet the legend himself, and played on some of the most incredible stages to unbelievable audiences. It was a lot of hard work but worth every second of the journey. A few weeks back, we played in Jimmy’s hometown of Chicago, Illinois to a hotter than hell packed club, then headlined the first annual Central Illinois Music Festival. For all the bad things that are happening in the world, we have had some cool shining moments this year.

Sleaze Roxx: You’re going to be touring with Pretty Boy Floyd later in the month for a run of shows through Texas. That sounds like a killer line-up. Any chance of the band dropping a new song or two into the set?

Sam Spade: Yes absolutely. We have already added a song to our live set off the new album called “Highway 69.” It’s a powerhouse of a song that has been going over great every night. We are working right now on adding a few more to the setlist. With this being our sophomore release, it starts to get a bit tricky creating a 45-minute set list that includes the killer new tracks and the old one’s people already know and love. Getting the chance to tour with Pretty Boy Floyd is a dream come true, so we know we need to bring the heat and play the strongest catchiest songs we have. The whole tour kind of came about by chance because we were scheduled to be out with Enuff Z’nuff and Tora Tora but Dan Hill broke his foot. We got the call and the first thing that went through my brain was “this is the perfect fit for us.” We are opening for one of the glammiest sleaze ball bands in history in Texas for a whole week. It’s like the stars aligned and puked glitter from the sky.

Sleaze Roxx: Your drummer, Jimmy Mess, used to be in Pretty Boy Floyd. Any chance of him jumping up on stage to do a song or two with them?

Sam Spade: I really hope they get Jimmy up there every night of the run. I was around him during the time when he got that gig, and the excitement was contagious. He worked his ass off to get there and he told me “Dude even, if it only lasts six months, I can still say I was one of the members of Pretty Boy Floyd.” He walked away from that gig with some of the coolest stories and real drive to push The Midnight Devils to the next level.  It’s like he saw the road we needed to get on and pushed us that way.  From what I saw and heard it was a positive experience and It’s cool that we get to team up with them for some mayhem in Texas.  The other big thing is that Jimmy and I are both fans of Pretty Boy Floyd. He knows everything. That’s what makes it real rock n’ roll.

Sleaze Roxx: With Jimmy being based in another part of the country, does that make it difficult to rehearse and/or collaborate on new music? Clearly you find a way to make it all work, but do the logistics ever make it difficult?

Sam Spade: Jimmy is out of Chicago. Chris “Sniper” Hineline our guitar player is from Omaha, Nebraska, and I am out of Lincoln [Nebraska]. So, we have about 450 miles between us and yes, it makes things more challenging. To give Jimmy more credit though, he is a champion road dog and has been riding 10-hour greyhound bus trips to Nebraska to join up with us.  Everything is done through messages and emails, so we are lucky that technology has made communication much easier over the last 10 years. As far as rehearsals go, we have only had a couple real practices to get each other up to speed. There is an unspoken agreement between the three of us that we all have our parts together and are ready to play anytime, anywhere. For the new album, Sniper and I were pretty much stuck in Nebraska for the first half of the quarantine. It was the perfect time to get back in the basement and write ten songs for the next release. We then enlisted a local drummer to play on the demo tracks and went into the studio and cut all the songs. We took those rough drafts and emailed them to Jimmy, so he had an idea of where we were going with this record. In early March, Sniper and I drove up to Chip’s [Z’Nuff’s] house in Chicago. We all sat down and knocked out the basic drum tracks in three days. It was brilliant and for the most part pretty painless. Personally, I dig being from two different parts of the country. It gives us the opportunity to travel a lot and call Chicago and Omaha home.  We’ve spent a lot of time in Chicago over the last year and it’s such a wild city. I’ve only scratched the surface.

The Midnight Devils‘ “Pink Halo” video:

Sleaze Roxx: The Midnight Devils incorporate visual elements of sleaze, ’70s glam and even punk into the live show, right down to the visuals. This had me wondering why only two of the three band members wear the makeup on stage.

Sam Spade: We are a very visual band. We call it hyper-glam rock n’ roll. It’s become almost an extension of what guys in the ’70s and early ’90s were doing. I don’t consider The Midnight Devils to be a “hair band” but more along the lines of a next wave glammed-up party rock n’ roll band. We are always trying to push our own boundaries and limitations visual and sonically. There is a freedom and excitement that surrounds The Midnight Devils, and I am not ashamed to brag about that. It’s that freedom to dress however you want, be whoever you want to be, chase the big dream, and have as much fun as possible doing it. We don’t want to put any boundaries on this because that would go against everything we are as a band. I love looking out into the crowd and seeing wild maniacs from all walks of life dressed to impress and partying like there is no tomorrow. It doesn’t matter what color your skin is, what sexual orientation you identify with, or what style of music you are into. We welcome everyone to the party with big glittery open arms.

Sleaze Roxx: You guys seem like you have a lot of fun out on the road. What are some of the craziest things you’ve seen?

Sam Spade: I always tell people that haven’t been out with us that the road is still like the wild west. It’s rough and hard but anything goes as long as you can handle it. We thrive on being a road band. Staying in one place for too long has been the difficult part over the quarantine.  I don’t take it for granted at all. We’ve seen some of the coolest things traveling in a van around the country. The three of us get along so well, which makes all those long miles pass by quickly. Personally, I feel so lucky to have seen so much of the country with my two best friends and this is just the beginning. There is always a certain amount of “unknown” surrounding The Midnight Devils when we close those van doors and start a trip. You have to figure that something insane is going to happen when the three of us get together. On our trip to the M-Pre Party, we got profiled by the police in Indiana and pulled over on the side of the interstate. The cop was hell bent on busting us, well mostly Jimmy. They had the drug dog there inside of the van as we stood on the side of the interstate. Another cop rolled up and had three zip-tie handcuffs ready and waiting. I thought this was the end, but we got lucky and one of the officers was a marine. Sniper and Jimmy both are army veterans and started talking to the officer. They didn’t find anything and begrudgingly let us go. There are so many stories and memories that I could tell you. Walking up to the ocean in Florida was incredible right before we opened for Yngwie Malmsteen. For all the bad crazy, there’s enough good crazy to balance it out.

Sleaze Roxx: You worked with Chip Z’nuff on your forthcoming album. What did Chip bring to the table as far as what can be heard in the finished product?

Sam Spade: When we started out to do this new record, we knew we really had to bring it on this album. We got signed to Pavement Music out of Chicago and it was the next logical step to get somebody that knew what they were doing to help put this record together. Chip was excited about the project and that really got us excited too. We have done a bunch of shows with Enuff Z’nuff so we knew that Chip got us as a live band, so the challenge was to capture that sound for the record. We brought in ten rough demos, and he polished them up into instant hooky sing-along classics. I respect Chip so much and just really soaked up as much wisdom and knowledge as I could. Sitting in his house watching him work was incredible and inspiring. He really put that Chicago power pop sound on our rough demos, trimmed the fat, and kept the fire and intensity we create live. From our first album ‘Something Bigger’ to this one, you are going to notice a change like we grew up and learned some lessons the hard way. Overall, spending time with Chip and having him produce our record was a dream come true. I really felt like we stepped up our game and brought the best of the best for this new album.

Sleaze Roxx: Having written and produced so many of his own records as well as for other bands, I would imagine it was a tremendous learning experience to work with him in the studio. Does he make an appearance on the album at all?

Sam Spade: Yes! Absolutely! Chip is all over the new album. His fingerprints are unmistakable, but it only adds to the power of this new album. The hooks are bigger, the guitars are nastier, and the bass is sickening. He knew what he was doing, and we didn’t waste much time taking care of business and creating a bad ass party rock n’ roll record. The thing I am most proud of is that I can call Chip a true friend and mentor. Between takes, we would sit and talk about life, girls, the road, and where we were headed. He would light up one of those seven paper joints and start telling stories that would have us laughing all day long. I can call him up anytime day or night just to bend his ear and he is always quick to dispense some good wisdom and a few jokes. Inadvertently, during one of these sessions, Chip actually helped name the album with some great advice.

Sleaze Roxx: Can you divulge any details on the release yet, such as the title or what the fans can expect to hear?

Sam Spade: I can’t give you the name of the album yet, but we have the cover art and single art done. So, it’s all pretty set up. We are just waiting for the mixes to come back from Chris Steinmetz at Stonecutter Studios in Chicago. I can tell you that we recorded ten original tracks of sleazy filthy guitar drenched rock n’ roll. We will also be releasing one cover song that you would never expect out of The Midnight Devils. Our main goal was to expand off the first album and keep the party jumping on this new release.

Sleaze Roxx: I know you had mentioned previously that the album is currently in the mixing stage. Is there a tentative release date for the record at this point?

Sam Spade: That’s the difficult part — picking the right time to release a new album. The world is hanging on by a thread with the pandemic still raging on and we don’t want to put out a new album without a big tour to back it. We have learned that there is no easy way to sell records to people without getting on the road and doing it the hard way. So many bands put out albums in early 2020 and had to just bite the bullet because everyone was stuck at home. We have some big things in the works for later this year and in 2022 so we are expecting a release date around that time. We will kick it all off with a new video and single drop. We always say the formula was written by the guys that came before us. All we have to do is keep following that formula as The Midnight Devils and the rest will take care of itself. We aren’t trying to reinvent the wheel so don’t overthink it and it will all come out right.

Sleaze Roxx: With the renewed interest in vinyl, is there a possibility that the new album will be released in that format too?

Sam Spade: Yes, that is our plan right now. We want to start with putting out the single on killer colored vinyl and see where it goes from there. We are also going to put together a really glammed out cassette tape just because we can. Vinyl is hot right now and we have the opportunity to create something incredible and unique that we know our fans are going to love. It’s not just slapping a CD together and pushing it out there. We are going to put together something that compliments the songs and the album in the best possible way. I am a huge vinyl collector and it’s always been a dream of mine as well as every other musician to have your songs on a piece of vinyl. It’s the ultimate cool in the music community.

Sleaze Roxx: Your debut album ‘Something Bigger’ has a raw, high-energy vibe with a lot of different influences running through it. That carries over into your live show, just as one would expect. Who are some of your musical influences and do those bands still influence you as a writer and performer to this day?

Sam Spade: I am a huge classic rock guy. For me, it started with Elvis and The Beach Boys and moved into KISS, AC/DC, and The New York Dolls. From there, I got into punk rock when I joined my first band. The Midnight Devils have become a cool mix of all those bands that have influenced us from the beginning. Sniper is a die-hard Van Halen guy and grew up on KISS, The Who, and these great guitar-based rock bands. Jimmy came from the punk rock side with bands like The Ramones, The Misfits, and ’90s bubble-gum glam band The Peppermint Creeps. Those influences can be seen all over our songs from the boogie woogie to the shredding solos to the heart-pounding out of your chest drum beats. It’s really cool and unique because as hard as it is to believe, there aren’t a lot of people playing this style of music. We are in a class of our own and that gets me very excited. So yes, to answer your question all those bands come into play either consciously or subconsciously when we are playing our songs. I studied Paul Stanley and David Lee Roth so hard on how to be the greatest rock n’ roll front man. I want to take what they did and make it my own and show the rest of the world how a lead singer not only fronts the band but leads the whole party to a climax. For me, it’s not about standing still but more about that positive forward movement in songwriting, creativity, and performing live.

Sleaze Roxx: Your first album isn’t new at this point. It’s been out since 2018. What are some of your favorites from it to play live?

Sam Spade: We didn’t plan on it taking three years in between albums but that’s just kind of the unexpected way rock n’ roll and The Midnight Devils happen. Some of these songs, we’ve been playing for closer to five years now, but they are still exciting. I love the songs with the big crowd interaction parts. We are very proud to say we don’t run any tracks or sampling in our live shows. We really thrive on that back-and-forth energy between the audience and the band. It’s a big part of our live show. My favorites are “Memphis Mile”, “Baptized By The Radio”, “Bleed Betty Bleed” and “Generation Durt.” All of these are just huge sing-along, blow the doors off, crowd pleasers. I go into every live show with the goal of getting everyone in the room to sing our songs without ever hearing them. That dynamic energy coming from the crowd is what keeps your heart racing show after show. It’s unlike anything else I have ever experienced.

Sleaze Roxx: I saw the band perform back in July at the M-Pre Party in Hanover, Maryland. I was amazed by the band’s energy, passion and “in-your-face” energy that the band pours out into the show. I can’t think of too many artists that I’ve seen perform a song while standing atop a table in the bar. I’m guessing you just cross your fingers and attempt that very carefully with your bass over your shoulder?

Sam Spade: Rock n’ roll is dangerous and unpredictable. Sometimes I can pull it off but sometimes, I fall on my face but that’s all part of the show. We are always trying to push ourselves and the show to be something special and unforgettable. The energy comes from the music and the audience. I still get excited every night we play. If you only get a 45-minute show but you drove 20 hours to get there you better leave everything out on that stage. It’s almost like a challenge to other bands and ourselves, who can go the hardest and bring the most fire to the table. We love opening for other bands because it gives us a chance to set the bar as high as we want. You better not bring anything less than 100% because you know The Midnight Devils will be falling off tables in the middle of the bar trying to get over with the crowd.

Sleaze Roxx: The Midnight Devils also performed an encore of Poison’s “Fallen Angel” with Zenora that night. Was that planned out ahead of time or just a spontaneous thing that you did spur of the moment?

Sam Spade: That was so cool and I’m so happy those dudes jumped up on stage with us. It was very spontaneous and that’s what made it so great. We met those guys earlier in the day and shared a merch table with them, so everyone was cool with each other. I remember when I first started touring and the headlining band wouldn’t even let us play on the same stage as them. We had to play on the floor in front of the stage and that sucked. We are all in this crazy rock n’ roll world together so for us bringing up the new guys was a way to show some love to our friends.

Sleaze Roxx: Package events such as [the] M3 [Rock Festival], Monsters On The Mountain and the Monsters of Rock Cruise have been a lifeline and brought a renewed interest to a lot of the melodic rock bands from the ’80s. It’s a double-edged sword though, as an artist can get pigeonholed as being just a nostalgia act. Do you think that’s the case or just strength in numbers?

Sam Spade: I do feel it’s a very cool thing that these big festivals are back and better then ever. The crowds are loving it and the bands are delivering the big hits. I also love the whole atmosphere surrounding these shows. Thousands of people getting together to celebrate this style of music. The hard part for me is that what happens in five years when all these bands start retiring.  We are in a passing-of-the-torch period right now and The Midnight Devils are a big part of that. Who are going to be the bands filling clubs and festivals when the ’80s bands stop playing? There are very few gate keepers willing to take a chance on anything new that is coming out. We have to fight hard still to this day to get noticed by the powers that be to get on these big shows. The potential is there, and you better believe we will keep coming back bigger and better each time. The crowds have been so receptive to us but it’s the shot callers and managers that don’t want to go with anything new or unproven. It all comes down to determination and a whole lot of luck. I’ll sit around for hours sending e-mails to promoters and making phone calls just to get a hundred “No’s” but inevitably I’ll get one “Yes” and that’s the one that counts.

The Midnight Devils performing “Bleed Betty Bleed” live at The Venue in Denver, Colorado, USA in April 2019 (video by Rockin’ Ron Runyon (R.I.P.) for Decibel Geek TV):

Sleaze Roxx: Speaking of M3, I thought that the festival was fantastic this year. Were there any particular bands that you thought stole the show?

Sam Spade: M3 was incredible this year especially after not doing the festival thing for 16 months. The air was electric for the whole entire four days, and everyone was having a blast. For me, I thought Enuff Z’Nuff was brilliant, KIX is an unbelievable monster of a live band, but the one that really blew me away was the original BulletBoys. We ran into the bass player Lonnie [Vencent] at the hotel party the night before they played, and he was so cool. Then we snuck backstage and got to hang out with them before they went on. Our jaws were just on the ground. They were so good and exciting to watch. After their set, we all were sitting around, and they came up and started talking to us. Sixteen year old Sam would have been freaking out talking to Marq [Torien] and Lonnie backstage after a show this big. They were so cool to us and just an amazing live band. That’s a memory I will never forget.

Sleaze Roxx: Conversely, with the uncertainty and state of flux that the industry is in due to the pandemic, smaller shows in clubs/theaters can pop up and can be executed more easily than festivals. Would you agree with that statement?

Sam Spade: Yes absolutely. Things have changed so much over the last two years. Touring as a band has become a bit more difficult and you are always trying to stay safe and healthy. A lot of clubs and bars won’t book anything on Monday to Thursday so it gets a bit tricky trying to put together a tour with only a limited amount of shows in a week. We have been doing weekend shows here and there but larger scale touring just hasn’t been on the table for us yet. I have seen bands doing it but it’s hard work and people are still very hesitant to come out to shows. There’s also a lot going on with vaccine ID cards and whether that’s right or wrong, I don’t know. I do know that one of the last shows we played, you were supposed to have proof of vaccination at the door, but most people weren’t aware of that. Some were getting turned down from entering the bar and that not only hurts the bar but the band as well. It’s a tricky situation we are in right now. At least, we are all in it together.

Sleaze Roxx: Despite releasing ‘Something Bigger’ independently, you’ve still managed to get it out to the masses on all of the mainstream digital outlets and land a lot of coveted slots with other national acts. With the band now signed to Pavement Music, what do you hope to accomplish musically that you haven’t already achieved?

Sam Spade: Signing with Pavement was a huge deal for us. We were turned down by ten different record companies’ multiple times because we were too glam and too wild. Tim at Pavement was the only one that understood what we are all about. It’s high energy visual rock n’ roll music. It’s dirty and filthy, and very street in a lot of ways. Tim got it and was onboard to help us give the new album and actual push. Everything we’ve done so far has been very much on our own. We have been working closely with Chuck at Artist Worldwide and he has been instrumental in giving us these great show opportunities around the country. Right now, I feel like we have some real heavyweights in our corner pushing us to another level. You always dream of doing these big shows with these huge artists but when Chuck calls and says it’s happening, it kind of blows your mind. We always talk about our two types of goals, and these apply especially to the new album. We have short term goals of out selling ‘Something Bigger’, reaching a wider audience around the world, putting out an album that we are proud of, and playing as many wild insane shows as possible. We are working very hard to get The Midnight Devils to Europe or Japan because we believe our brand of rock n’ roll is still very relevant there. We want to people to be excited about this record and the future of The Midnight Devils. For our long-term goals, it’s very simple. We don’t want this to end. So, what can we do now that is going to give us a long a successful career? This is our first album out on a label so it’s very much a rebirth for us and the future is very bright.

Sleaze Roxx: Who are some of your favorite newer bands?

Sam Spade: There are a few bands that have been bringing the action that I can’t get enough of. I love Ghost. The whole mystique and production is unbelievable, and the songs are brilliant. These guys aren’t new but Hardcore Superstar has been consistently putting out great high energy rock n’ roll for years now. Also, not new but still cool are the Suicide Bombers from Norway. These guys are filthy sleaze bags and I love it.

Sleaze Roxx: If you could pick two to three bands to head out on a three-month tour with, who would they be and why?

Sam Spade: I would love to go out with Faster Pussycat. That would be an unbelievable match. Those guys still keep pumping out great tunes and have stayed true to that down n’ dirty street urchin rock n’ roll style they created in the ’80s. The same goes for Jetboy. We almost did a short run with Junkyard, and I was completely nerding out over that line-up. This run we are about to do with Pretty Boy Floyd is going to be insane. They were one on the list for sure. You just know it’s going to be an insane week long ride in Texas with those guys. As a kid, you always dreamed of jumping on a tour like this. Now after 20 years of slugging it out, we are to the point where we actually get to talk about touring with our heroes. I had the Pretty Boy Floyd poster on my wall as a kid living in my parent’s basement.

Sleaze Roxx: Do you have any favorite albums of 2021 so far?

Sam Spade: Hands down, I love the new album ’21st Century Love Songs’ by The Wildhearts. The Wildhearts are just one of those bands that keep delivering attitude drenched great rock n’ roll. They wrote the book on disfunction and realness in the ’90s and 2000s. Ginger is an incredible songwriter, and I will admit I took a lot of influence from him when we were writing the new Midnight Devils album.

Sleaze Roxx: Looking ahead, what does the calendar look like for the Midnight Devils?

Sam Spade: We are trying to stay as busy as possible with live shows as well as putting together everything for the new album release. We are about to start work on a new video but before all of that we are doing that week long run with Pretty Boy Floyd in Texas. After that, we will be joining Enuff Z’Nuff and Tora Tora for three shows in the south USA. Then we will be returning to Florida for a couple more shows with Yngwie Malmsteen before the holiday season hits. We try not to tour as much in the winter because of the weather but if an offer comes in, we won’t turn anything down. There are talks of a big full-scale tour in early 2022 but as with everything else, we are still waiting to see what happens with the rest of the world.

Sleaze Roxx: Thanks again for doing this. What is the website address where fans can check out The Midnight Devils’ current happenings and pick up some cool swag?

Sam Spade: Thank you so much for this great opportunity. I have been a long-time fan of Sleaze Roxx so this has been really cool for me. We have a ton of cool merchandise on our website I receive all the orders and ship all the orders so it’s still very much from my house to yours in that respect. Everything goes back into the gas tank of our bus to keep the tour rolling for as long as possible. We have t-shirts, bass string bracelets, lighters, and so much more.

The Midnight Devils performing “Baptized By The Radio” live at The Venue in Denver, Colorado, USA in April 2019 (video by Rockin’ Ron Runyon (R.I.P.) for Decibel Geek TV):