Some artists are so far ahead of their time that it feels like they’re playing 4-dimensional chess. That’s the case with the bicoastal band In The Middle, whose new album Brain Games doubles as an intriguing comic book. The band Coheed & Cambria accomplished this feat in the 2000s, but I assure you: it ain’t easy.

The duo consists of LA-based Marissa (Mars) Santiago and NYC’s Apollo Hull. With the names Apollo and Mars from Greco-Roman mythology, these two aim to be musical gods atop a comic book Mount Olympus. The album/comic book has a simple premise: if you stepped into your own brain, do you think you could make it out? (In my case, I’d get trapped in the serotonin-receptor area.)

In The Middle’s Brain Games is about as far removed from bedroom pop as you can imagine. The title song is hooky and pulsating. With each successive single, this artistically ambitious duo will amaze us throughout 2023.

Linking your music to a comic book, a la Coheed & Cambria, seems like a daunting task. What’s been the biggest challenge so far?

The biggest challenge with creating a comic book has been writing a storyline that makes sense chronologically with the songs on the album. Not only did we have to think about how to arrange the track list based on how the songs blend into one another, but we also had to arrange the songs based on how they could fit with the storyline. There was a lot of going back and forth between the songs and the comic book, which we think gave us a chance to go deeper into the lyrics as well.

Why did you choose the monikers of Apollo and Mars? Do they refer to Greco-Roman gods or NASA missions?

Our full legal names are Apollo Hull and Marissa Santiago, so Mars is just a shortened version of Marissa. Our names ended up being a pretty cool coincidence, and we felt like it could be a really interesting detail for the comic book.

Is Mars in L.A. and Apollo in NYC or vice versa? And do you collaborate mainly by Skype or Zoom?

Currently, Mars is in LA while Apollo is in NYC. Mars will be moving to NYC this summer. We recorded different parts of our upcoming album in Orlando, LA, and NYC, and we were able to work with a lot of different people who really helped bring the album to life. We worked with an artist from Europe and a producer in Russia. Right now most of our collaboration happens over FaceTime and text messaging, but we also have periods of time when we travel to one another and create as much content as we can.

Your social media memes are really clever and attention-getting. Comparing Toyotathon to a festival like Lollapalooza is classic! Are we (as a society) getting more into memes than the actual artistry they promote?

Thank you! For artists in the age of social media, it can be really frustrating to spend so much time, energy, and money on creating music, only to feel like nobody cares. Meanwhile, memes are constantly going viral and dominating the internet. The idea behind “meme marketing” was that if we could build trust with people by making them laugh, then they would be more inclined to care about our music and the meaning behind it.

Will your upcoming singles be stylistically similar, or will they cover a wide range of musical styles?

Brain Games is a chaotically cohesive collection of songs that feature rock, pop, hip-hop, rap, and EDM influences. If we had to describe the album in one phrase, I think we would classify ourselves as an anti-pop band. With so many musical influences, we promise there is something for everybody on this album.