After exploring death and the many moods of healing on her beautifully somber debut album in 2019, Lady Midnight had already decided to make her next record more upbeat and dance-driven.
Then the pandemic hit. And then she broke her ankle doing what had been her passion growing up on St. Paul's West Side.
"I hit the two-step dancing to a song and just rolled my ankle wrong," the R&B/electro-pop singer recalled. The injury required surgery and kept her laid up for over a month — after being cooped up for seven months.
"It happened in November, right as I was hoping to wrap up the worst year of my life, and many of our lives. So I had a lot more time to think about what I wanted to do next."
Thus, for more reasons than quarantine fatigue, Lady Midnight is extra eager to get moving again as she returns to the stage Thursday night to kick off the free Lowertown Sounds concert series in downtown St. Paul.
A fixture in the Twin Cities music scene for nearly a decade, the real-life Adriana Rimpel got her start singing with the Afro-Caribbean dance band Malamanya soon after graduating from the Minneapolis College of Art & Design.
"In a lot of ways that became my college," she said of the group, which is also gearing up for live gigs this summer.
Rimpel began performing solo as Lady Midnight in 2016. She soon garnered buzz for her often visually brilliant live shows, blending dance, artful lighting and costumes, and her featured vocals on albums by Brother Ali and P.O.S.
When she released her own album, "Death Before Mourning" — a dazzling sonic mishmash of Poliça-style electro grooves and Erykah Badu cosmic soul — she had suffered an unusual string of deaths among family and friends. Thus, the album was loaded with haunted, introspective songs like "Bloodsong" and "Ode to a Burning Building." The latter became eerily prophetic of what the Twin Cities faced in 2020.
"In a lot of ways, I already made the record I might've made" during the pandemic, she said. "I already went through a lot of the emotions that everyone else was going through, and I didn't want to go through that again in my music."
One way she stayed productive during lockdown: She teamed up with fellow scenemakers Sophia Eris and DJ Keezy to raise funds for Auntie's, a new "safe-haven venue" proposed in reaction to widespread accounts of sexual abuse and harassment in the Twin Cities music scene. Her mom, Pamela Zellar, had long worked as an advocate for women suffering domestic violence.
While she's no longer formally involved in the still-gestating venue — "I didn't want the idea to be permanently tied to a bar setting," she explained — Rimpel pledged to continue supporting Auntie's and the broader effort behind it.
"This isn't something that should be limited to just one space; there should be many," she said. "And as well-intentioned as I know many venues in town are about making things better, it's just not going to happen until we see less cases of white men running everything."
As Lady Midnight, she kept up appearances during quarantine through a cool variety of livestream performances, including ones for the Star Tribune and Rochester's "Live From Med City." She also produced a virtual-reality-style "sound installation" for the Cedar Cultural Center called "Practice for Relief."
Singing on camera without live audiences "was a good challenge to learn and grow as a performer," she said, but she certainly prefers the old-fashioned way: "I really want to feel the energy of a crowd."
Even before the pandemic, Rimpel started feeding off the energy of local hip-hop producer Lazerbeak (Aaron Mader) of Doomtree and Lizzo's "Lizzobangers" fame. She guested on his "Night Stone" album with fellow producer Icetep, then released her new-wavy single "Tide Over" with them.
They are now hard at work on a full album, likely for release late this year or early next ("But don't jinx it!" she said). She can easily summarize its vibe: "I really just wanna dance, and get people dancing."
There's a lot more to that plan than just adding spark to her live shows. She pursued dancing throughout her youth at Spectrum Dance and other programs and still considers it "my gateway to becoming a performer.
"I have such a deep connection with dance, and I recognize that one of the really great ways to heal is through your body's movement — getting sweaty, and releasing that energy. I want to create something that will give people that sense of healing, to put the music and vibration within their own vessel, along with words of encouragement and empowerment."
She thinks it's extra fitting to debut some of her new songs for Lowertown Sounds, the free outdoor concert series in Mears Park.
"This music especially, I want it to reach young people, especially girls of color — to feel good about themselves and see that they, too, can find inspiration in them to create music or be creative in one way or another."
She quickly caught herself, though. "After COVID, I think we can all use that inspiration."
@ChrisRstrib • 612-673-4658
When: 6-9:30 p.m. Thursdays through Aug. 26.
Where: Mears Park, 221 E. 5th St., St. Paul.
June 10: Lady Midnight
June 17: Sarah Morris and Fires of Denmark
July 8: Flamin' Oh's and Kiss the Tiger
July 15: The Shackletons and Henry Invisible
July 22: Annie Mack and Maudlin
July 29: Salsa del Soul and Atlantis Quartet
Aug. 5: Jeff Arundel and Good Morning Bedlam
Aug. 12: Dan Israel and Chemistry Set
Aug. 19: The New Standards and Lucy Michelle
Aug. 26: Heiruspecs, the Fragrants and Saint Small