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When American Idol season three finalist Jon Peter Lewis asked his friend Ryan Hayes if he wanted to compete on NBC’s The Voice as a duo, Hayes replied, “Might as well.” And that’s how the twosome, who released their debut album earlier this month, came up with their name: Midas Whale.
Lewis, known as JPL during his Idol run, was living in Rexford, Idaho in 2009 when he saw Hayes singing at an open mic night. “I thought he was talented. He showed me a rock opera he had written with a mutual friend, Garrett Sherwood. I was really impressed.” Entitled Deep Love: A Ghostly Folk Opera, Hayes asked Lewis to sing a part in a live production — an audience that grew from 25 people in a living room to 1,100 attendees at an abandoned church. “And last year, thousands of people saw it as we toured regional theaters,” Lewis tells The Hollywood Reporter of Deep Love, which also cast fellow Voice alumni Amy Whitcomb and Savannah Berry.
In 2013, Lewis became the first Idol finalist to also compete on The Voice (Idol season two singer Frenchie Davis appeared on both shows but didn’t make it to the Fox show’s top 12). “I saw an audition notice for The Voice and hesitated because of my Idol experience,” Lewis explains. “I didn’t want to do it by myself, and was excited to find out they allowed duos … When we auditioned [for the show with Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘Cecilia’], that music represented where we were at that moment. I had moved away from Los Angeles and was living back in Idaho, and the landscape and area influenced my musical taste.”
Midas Whale made it to the blind auditions with “an ideal spot on the second day — the teams weren’t full at that point,” recalls Lewis. Midas Whale performed Johnny Cash‘s “Folsom Prison Blues,” but because of a mic failure, the judges only heard backup vocals and, therefore, didn’t turn their chairs. “Everything was reset so we could sing all over again. We’re the only people who know what it’s like to go from zero chairs to all four chairs turning around.”
Midas Whale chose Adam Levine as their coach and made it through the battles, but were eliminated during the knockout stage. “We had no aspirations for our future — it was an open book that we were writing as we went along,” says Lewis. They set up a Kickstarter campaign to test the waters about pursuing an album and were overwhelmed with 1,400 backers — about fourteen times the average music project on the crowdfunding platform — and exceeding their $30,000 goal.
The duo wrote 40 songs in three months, recorded demos for all of them and settled on a dozen for their debut, Sugar House. They traveled to Provo, Utah to record at June Audio, a studio home to many artists including Neon Trees.
Sugar House was released digitally earlier this month, with a physical CD and a vinyl LP edition to follow. Besides sharing their single, “Howling at the Moon,” the duo is looking at record label options and publishing deals. “We’re not concerned with becoming the next big thing,” says Lewis. “We’re enjoying the music, and the future is wide open.”
Watch the music video for “Howling at the Moon” below:
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