E4’s hit show The Midnight Beast returns to our screens this week, bringing with it laughter, tears and mirthful musical interludes.
I caught up with the beastly trio of Stefan Abingdon, Ashley Horne and Dru Wakely to discuss their humble beginnings as a Youtube sensation and what hi-jinks we can expect from the return of The Midnight Beast:
Congratulations on the second series! Can you give us a bit of a sneak peek of what we can expect this time round?
Ash: This series is a lot more shocking and dirtier, we really wanted to upgrade the whole thing. The music videos are bigger, especially the first number – it’s a big musical theatre number. We’ve always been influenced by South Park, the beginning of the movie, and we wanted to start off the series with a big kick.
Stefan: We’ve got some older people that were in the last one – like Simon Farnaby, who plays Sloman – and then we’ve got Julia Deakin from Spaced and Allen Partridge joining us, which is amazing. And we’ve got two great new characters – Julia’s Granddaughters, Ria [Zmitrowicz] and Esther [Smith].
Dru: And we have a job in this one, which is a pretty big deal.
Stef: The last series focused on our trials and tribulations as a band. This time we’re a lot less successful, so it’s more just about our friendship, holding shit together and trying to keep that crummy East London flat.
So it’s kind of like Girls in East London.
Ash: Absolutely. We’re gonna nick that.
Damn it. So what was it like coming back for series 2? Was there more pressure this time round? You’ve probably got a bit more of a budget to do bigger things at least…
Ash: I think the budget might have been a bit smaller actually.
They just wanted more.
Stef: They wanted to work us, yeah. It’s like that difficult second album thing – me and Dru played in bands before and we really approached it like that. Our involvement from the get-go was like “okay, you need to come up with 10 to 14 songs and they need to be good”, and for that to happen you’ve got to realistically write 30 songs and whittle it down. So we just spent a lot of time just cabin-fevering it in the studio. Last time we recorded the whole of the first season underneath the District line train track in Putney and that was really good – we just had to literally dodge the timetable, find out from TFL when trains were going. But this time we’re in a nice studio and we’ve got the space to ourselves and have our own vocal booth, so it was a lot more comfortable doing it.
Ash: With the songs, we’ve tried to push it a lot more.
Stef: In the first episode the second song in it is a big gospel number, so we got to record a gospel choir for it and that was absolutely fantastic.
That’s a brilliant number.
Stef: The way we work with the writers, they’ll pitch us the idea for the episode, we’ll say if we’re into it and we’ll collaborate on that a bit, then we’ll write the songs to it. We knew we needed a song about my character being heartbroken and we didn’t want to do just a standard breakup song, so we took it to there.
I was going to ask about how you collaborate on making the show because it’s got the same kind of vibe as your early videos – it’s quite madcap and irreverent, so I wondered how much input you had?
Ash: We’ve got such an amazing team around us and we got to handpick who we’d work with, so we had that mutual understanding that it’s got to be a project that we’d work together on. The director, Al Campbell, was incredible at doing that because, you know, we all act a little bit but it’s not like our forte, so he was very understanding and with his help we’ve improved. With the music videos, we’d have hour-long meetings where we’d discuss what was going to happen within the videos, put together treatments, and even with directing videos we’d have a big say on what should happen.
Dru: It’s never been a creative struggle. We’ve been so blessed with the people we work with, everyone’s just working towards that same goal. It’s never been like “I know you did the Youtube videos, but we’re going to do this…” – everyone just wants to make the best show possible.
So they haven’t Wayne’s World-d you?
Ash: No! One of the most surprising things was with the songs – they let us go away and work on tracks, then we presented them with all 12 songs from the series and they just said “yeah, perfect” – they didn’t have a single note. Whenever it’s the music, they just let us get on with it.
There’s some interesting things in episode one – throwing that terrible ‘Twilight but not quite’ party was great – especially the garlic punch.
Stef: I feel like it might work.
I put tonnes of garlic in everything I make. I’m intrigued by garlic punch.
Ash: Go for it.
Maybe I’ll do that as a companion piece for this?
Stef: Have you ever been to Garlic and Shots in Soho?
Stef: If you like garlic, they do chilli shots and garlic shots as well. Absolutely amazing.
Ash: Bring loads of chewing gum though.
Yeah, I wouldn’t go there on a date. So, what are some of the worst party experiences you’ve ever had?
Dru: It didn’t happen to me, but I laughed so hard that it definitely cleared the room. There was a girl who was sitting next to a candle…she turned around really quick and her hair caught fire and literally just started to engulf in flame. Everyone panicked and I just pointed and laughed. Everyone was really disappointed in me – everyone wanted to console her as she ran out of the room and I was the only one finding it side-splittingly funny. She was alright. She lost a good chunk.
Stef: Every one of our parties seems to end in injury. For Dru’s birthday we had a tonne of people round to my flat, and I’d left my Christmas tree outside –
Dru: Not really left, you just dumped it.
Stef: Yeah. And our friend Vicki fell over it, she was laughing so hard – again, always laughing – she fell over and split her head open. We had to take her to A & E. Disastrous party.
Well, speaking of extra-curricular activities, Ash you have your own clothing line – was fashion something you were always into?
Ash: Definitely! I spend far too much money on clothes and I always wear other people’s clothes, so I just thought why not create my own thing and wear it in the TV show?
Ash: That’s right. But yeah, it’s been doing really well. I started it only last month and it’s been doing really well. It’s crazy what we’ve achieved so far. But I also want to do more acting. I was in the latest series of Skins, and All Stars the movie, and before I was in Eastenders for a bit, so I’ve always wanted to do more acting stuff. So when this came along it was a bit of an easy way out – or an easy way in, actually…
Stef: You make it sound like suicide.
Ash: It was a suicidal move for my career. But I was on TV a bit more, that’s all that matters.
Going back to your Youtube career, I was thinking about the Another Boyband video which is a brilliant pastiche of boybands in general – are you trying to critique something about pop music or the pop industry today?
Stef: It certainly came from something. I got into songwriting because if you think something’s shit, don’t just sit back and talk about it – try and do something about it. I mean, the songwriters behind those acts are amazing, and One Direction’s music is incredible, put people are used to Simon Cowell putting things together and delivering it to them on a platter. People want you to just jump when they say it. We didn’t want to preach about it, we wanted to put a fun slant on it.
Dru: It was never meant to be a big political statement. More of a nudge and piss-take of these guys that are just pouting and kicking dust in a music video.
Stef: We’ve sat in board rooms before and had people pitch us the idea of ‘right, we’re going to take on the X Factor’, and that has become the biggest cliche!
Ash: There was talk of us going on X Factor at one point to do Another Boyband, which wouldn’t have worked! Contradicting ourselves about how X Factor is not for us and then going on it?
Yeah, I think the universe would have imploded.
Stef: Pop eats itself. I think if I write something that makes these guys laugh, or if Ash writes something that makes us laugh, that’s all that matters really. If no one finds it funny, at least we do.
Ash: I think about two years ago I had the idea of doing a parody of Whip My Hair Back And Forth, but the quality was really…it was shit. It was called I’ve Got A Boner In My Shorts. We recorded it and got to the stage where we were going to do a video – and we were like “this is fucking shit”. And I’m sure Will Smith would have got on to it, got in touch with us…
He’s litigious, that one.
Stef: It’s good to know when to kill an idea.
Before anyone lawyers up. Probably a good idea. So, you guys have your new album coming on March 17th?
Stef: Yep, and you can pre-order it throughout the whole of the series.
And what are your ambitions beyond that?
Stef: A musical would be nice….
Ash: We’ve been inspired by Book of Mormon recently, that was incredible. We’d love to do that.
Stef: It would be a fun project to do, and a third series would be amazing too.
We’ll keep you informed about that third series, and in the mean time you can watch the brand new series of The Midnight Beast on 23rd January, 10pm on E4.
Words: Thomas Dearnley-Davison
Photography: Matt Martin