Singing Redemption Songs with Twelvenoon & Midnite

Story by Kylie Yamauchi
Images by Meagan Suzuki

In their debut musical release, two singer-songwriters reflect on their experiences with depression and faith.

It was the morning after Christmas when Gabriel Miller and Freddy Leone, the singer-songwriters behind Twelvenoon & Midnite, herded me toward a white SUV in a Starbucks parking lot. I had only just met them for coffee to ask them about Season, their new EP, but Miller and Leone preferred I listen to it instead. “Should I sit shotgun or in the back?” I asked. Miller pondered before answering. “Backseat,” he said, “then you can get surround sound.” Leone took the driver’s seat and turned on the car. Once we were settled, Miller swiveled around to look at me. A kolohe grin spread across his face. Leone fidgeted in his seat with a smile just as wide. “OK, you ready?” Miller asked.

Our meeting marked two weeks before the release of Season. From the way they acted, it may have well been the first time a public listener would hear their collection of five songs. Miller pressed play on his phone and a track titled “Sin” filled the car.

The song, which Miller wrote, began with wind chimes and ambient noise. The peaceful instrumental drew me into a spiritual space. I envisioned myself surrounded by nature. “I can’t believe these words you said to me,” Miller sang on the track. “Smoking, drinking, wash it down slowly.”

He sang each line carefully, pausing between every couple words as if they were drawn out of him in religious confession, or like someone in a drunken stupor. Either was a possibility, considering the song juxtaposed themes of Christian faith and intoxication.

“Every time I choose to do this, it’s a sin,” he continued defeatedly.

Miller wrote “Sin” as a testimony to the darker moments of his depression. Having been abused as a youth, he became addicted to drugs and alcohol. According to Miller, his depression grew over the years, eventually driving him to attempt suicide.

“And many times, I’ve been looking to get away from here,” he sang in “Sin.” “And many times, I’ve been searching for a way out of here.” After his attempt, Miller found himself on the floor, still alive, the presence of God lingering in the room. Miller refocused his life on growing his Christian faith, a decision that alleviated his depression.

The haunting song came to a peaceful end, and Miller caught my eye in the rearview mirror. “You like it, yeah?” he laughed. Then it was Leone’s turn to play a song he wrote and composed.

“Two-thirty” transitioned us into a rhythm and blues mood. There was an immediate distinction between the singers’ voices, aside from their natural tones. In “Two-thirty,” Leone didn’t treat his words cautiously but declared them defiantly. “Not myself, can’t recognize me,” he sang. “Zero confiding, there’s nothing guiding.” “Two-thirty” is also about depression, which Leone developed a couple years back.

According to Miller, Leone could hardly imagine himself writing and performing music. After Leone attended a live public performance by Miller and friends, Miller encouraged Leone to join them next time. “Nah, it’s not for me,” Leone said. At that moment, Miller recognized the symptoms of depression in his childhood friend. Leone’s voice intensified through the speakers: “It’s so loud in here, yet I don’t want to leave, I crave your air so bad and I just want to breathe.”

It was hard to reconcile that the singers behind these songs filled with hurt and struggle were the duo in front of me, two men throwing out goofy dance moves. “Two-thirty” faded to an end, and like “Sin,” its finishing lyrics avoided closure. I found myself wanting more of their stories, to find out how Miller and Leone had gotten to a point where they could move forward from their darkest moments. Miller turned to face me and asked, “OK, how about one more?” The next song, titled “Beautiful Life,” started with the lyric, “peace like a river,” and was sung by both of them.

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