Artist Profile: Nikolas Heidel and Max Slater of Old Middle Modern

Nik is the lead singer and guitarist for an up and coming Columbus band called Old Middle Modern. After exchanging a few emails we agreed to meet at his home in Olde Town East. “It will be clean,” he said, “we are listed on the Old Town East Historic Homes Tour this weekend.” So we met on a warm summer evening and the house was clean, as promised, and it was beautiful. I was first greeted by the wagging tail and prancing feet of the resident house pup. Later, Nik answered my knock with a big smile and firm handshake. He introduced me to Max Slater, the drummer for the group. The three of us chatted for nearly an hour, the conversation tumbling effortlessly from one topic to another. In the end, I learned a lot about this new band and the “no pressure” attitude of the guys putting it together. 

Ali: So exactly how long have you guys been together? 

Nik: Realistically, 7-8 months. We got together late last fall and played our first show at Rambling House Soda in January. But we’ve known each other for 5-6 years. Max and I were in a band together called William Reach with my brother Chris.

Max: Before he kicked us out…

Nik: Yeah, Chris will self-admit he can be difficult. We pissed him off a lot…..

Ali: I know Max plays drums and Nik sings what about the rest of the guys in the band? 

Nik: I sing and play guitar. Isiah plays bass while Dan is on the keys. Chris is on lead guitar. 

Ali: Are you formally trained or mostly self-taught? 

Max: Most of us are self-taught. I’ve been playing for about 10 or 15 years.

Nik: I think Dan is classically trained. He went to Capital University. He may have gone as a recording artist but he definitely went to Capital. 

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Ali: Who came up with the name Old Middle Modern?

Nik: I did, in high school English class. The teacher was writing out Old English, Middle English and Modern English and the way I looked at it on the board I thought it looked cool. So I wrote it down on this post-it I had in my pocket. With the post-it I also randomly had a sliver dollar so I did one of those pencil rubbing sketches and I actually still have it. When we were in the band William Reach I proposed it but our bass player just sh*t all over it. He said it was the “worst thing ever” and he’ll still say that. Our current bass player hates it too. I got these screen printed posters for Christmas with Old Middle Modern on them and took them to practice one day. Our current bass player suggested we change the name but I pulled out the posters and told him it was too late, you have no say. So we stuck with that and I still dig it. 

Ali: Tell me about your sound. I saw folk, country and doo wop on your Facebook page. I heard the first two but where does doo wop come in? 

Nik: That’s mostly from one song called “Drinking Again”. The rhythm of it is very 50’s prom. 

Max: Some of our other songs are steeped in that Motown rhythm, slow soul. We are definitely not a doo wop band.

Nik: Ha! Yeah, we should probably straighten that out.  

Ali: Who are your influences? 

Nik: I think me and Max out of everyone love old country like the Louvin Brothers, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash. As a band, I think we are big fans Dawes. 

Max: My Morning Jacket. Kind of that whole New-Americana stuff that’s going on. Also a lot of stuff that's singer/songwriter, steeped in American writing tradition. We sort of listen to everything. Dan is a big metal head. Isiah is a big bluegrass guy. Chris is in another pop/punk band on the side. 

Nik: I’m the only one in the band who is not in like two other bands. 

Ali: I know it’s still early in your career but have you guys discussed any plans for a full-length album?

Nik: Yeah! We did some live recording at Sonic Lounge in Grove City to kind of a get a feel for the songs and we are currently trying to rework some of those recordings.

Max: I think the intention is to do a full-length album when we have the material and time but we aren’t like rushing for that. It’s not something we are really trying to push out. We will probably wrap up this batch of 10 or so songs and focus on some serious recordings with some outside voices helping us out. We’ll throw it around and see where it goes. 

Ali: This is your first Campfire Session. What are you most excited about sharing with us? 

Nik: I saw CAAMP play a Campfire Session last year and it was just great. The atmosphere is awesome. Now, I’m pretty excited to take my turn, get a bunch of people out there, and just play music. I’m also excited to have the video, that sounds pretty awesome too. 

Ali: Campfire Experiences are times we gather around good music and good friends in a space that allows us to connect to nature and get back to our own authenticity. Do you have a campfire experience of your own you can share? A memory of a time and place that allowed you to slow down and reconnect to yourself?

Max: There was a time when I was living in New Zealand. My roommates and I gathered with friends from all over the world on a beach, near the bay, the night before we were set to leave. We were standing on the sand but completely surrounded by rocks. The moon was as full in its reflection on the water as it was in the sky. We built the biggest fire we ever had. It was so surreal, visually just striking. There is a lot of potency to a fire experience. 

Nik: My grandparents have a place about an hour north of here that we call “The Farm.” There is a 15 acre lake, a farmhouse, and forests. So I got to grow up there and sit around the lake by a bonfire. Honestly, a lot of these songs are from when I would go up there, build a fire by myself and play guitar. Which I think is the most relaxing thing ever. You can sit, have a drink, and just stare at a fire. I think in doing that you just go into thought. That’s why it’s a pretty awesome thing to do for songwriting. There are so many recordings where there is fire in the background, people do live-recordings by a fire because you can hear it and it’s soothing. So yeah, I’ve had a lot of experience with the atmosphere of campfires. It’s very relaxing in general. When you add music then it’s just about about perfect. 

Ali: Do you guys have crazy or interesting camping stories? Anything funny or dangerous? 

Nik: Nelsonville Music Festival last year was a pretty interesting experience. When the shows are over they have an after-party. We headed back to camp to grab some beers and head over to our friends because they had a big campfire. We ran into guy who was on a different planet. He was speaking in tongues and his eyes were rolling back. He followed us and tried to explain that he was a conduit of an ancient alien or something. We knew we didn’t want to mess with him or be mean so we asked “what are you saying man?” He mumbled for a bit and finally said that he was telecommunicating with this ancient alien and that they needed to start a new race of humans. He was going to be the primary birther of the new humans with this ancient alien seed. He talked himself out and wandered away. We later saw him bumping through a crowd of people with a huge camping backpack and three folding chairs strapped to his body. He was so out of it. We saw him the next morning, so he made it! He probably just took too much acid. 

Ali: We are so pumped to have you play at our September Campfire Session. We can’t wait to hear your stories and we’re really excited to share your music. Where can people find you in the mean time? How can people support you?

Nik: We are working on that now. We are trying to get more recordings up because at every show people keep asking. We are hoping with the Campfire Session we will have some video that people can see too. 

Max: Once we have recordings that we are happy with will you be able to find us on all of the big sites: Spotify, SoundCloud, Youtube. 

Nik: We are still such a new band. We’ve all been friends for so long this is more fun than anything. We’d like to keep it like that, a goofy music mess. 

About the Author:

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Alisha Grove is a city girl with a 4H past. With a background in the music industry, event planning and public relations, she contributes to The Campfire Experience in a multitude of invaluable ways. Be sure to say hello at the next Campfire Session!