A Conversation with Terry Bozzio
Mike Ragogna: Terry, when did your devotion to percussion and drums begin and who are some of your early musical heroes?
Terry Bozzio: Surf Drum Music, Sandy Nelson etc., then The Beatles on Ed Sullivan made me beg my father for drum lessons. I'm celebrating the anniversary of 50 years since that first lesson on July 15, 2014. Then the San Francisco music scene exploded and local bands like Big Brother with Janis Joplin could be seen down the road for $2.50. Jimi Hendrix and Cream came next. Then I went to college and got into studying the great jazz drummers who played with Miles or Coltrane and classical music.
MR: What was playing with Frank Zappa like and how did he influence you? What are your favorite recordings with him?
TB: I was very much in awe of Franks's multiple talents and intellectual prowess. I learned so much from him in 3 years! It was like Marine Boot Camp for musicians.
He took me from being a naive drummer from San Francisco to being known all over the world with credibility, just because I was affiliated with him. Favorite recording would have to be "The Ocean is the Ultimate Solution" because it was an improvisation with him.
MR: You also played in UK and with Jeff Beck. What are your reflections of those years?
TB: Ah, the English! Well, Beck, of course, is just the best guitarist and one of the nicest people I have worked with. Thanks to him and keyboardist/composer Tony Hymas we made Guitar Shop, won a Grammy and toured the world several times. Playing with Jeff is like lighting a fire. And I loved to try to light him on fire! The UK was a great experience for me as well, I was a sideman member, enjoyed the music and tried to play my ass off back then.
MR: How did your group Missing Persons come about and did you leave for creative or personal reasons or...?
TB: It was a concept that developed between Warren, my ex [Dale Bozzio] and myself. I was frustrated by being a sideman in UK and wanted to do something more unique and modern. Warren left Frank Zappa and I left UK. We hooked up with the legendary Ken Scott, and Zappa let us use his studio to cut the demo EP (that got picked up and later sold something close to 400K, which for a time was the best selling EP in history). The idea was to be as creative as possible w/great players and intricate music but in the "pop" universe. We wanted it to be like a Fellini movie, and it was on many levels, including the tragic parts!
MR: Do you have a spiritual connection when playing drums and percussion?
TB: Absolutely. It's really very much a "whole psyche" experience. I describe it as a "borderline" state of using all that you know and are, consciously: Intellectually, emotionally, physically and intuitively. But dipping into the unconscious and letting things happen or come through you that you were not aware of or planning. That's the spiritual moment where things better that you could conceive happen. At that moment you use everything you know about music and compositional technique to develop, repeat, enhance or contrast with this sort of "gift idea" you have been graced with. When you are in this "zone," it is an awesome experience.
MR: Any particular moments of your career overall that you're the most proud of?
TB: My bio is loaded with them, Zappa once called me a genius! That was nice! But, I'm hoping this upcoming tour will be that. My big kit has midi to enhance the melodies I play. There are a lot of contrasting pieces I'll be playing that take from, classical, ethnic percussion styles from all over the world, ambient, spacey, film score like compositions, as well as my art work as a stage set. I hope to take my audience on a time traveling experience with me!
MR: You also recorded instructional videos, performed at drum clinics, etc. How do you feel about being in the role of teacher or mentor?
TB: You can't keep it unless you give it away! When not touring I work at DrumChannel.com hosting shows where I get to interview the best drummers in the world and play with them! And I have a full Art of Drumming lesson series you could study from. It covers all the elements of music: rhythm, melody, harmony, dynamics and orchestration as applied to the drum set in video and downloadable PDF files of exercises. I feel responsible to study and use the correct language of music--from the Western European tradition--when I speak and teach. I then try to share my concepts. A concept can be universal and students can apply them in infinite ways according to their own expression and affinities.
MR: What advice do you have for new artists?
TB: Study, learn the history, learn the basics. Try to be consistent and enjoy the process. Look inside, be authentic and honest with yourself, others and your art.
MR: And what would you have told Terry Bozzio when he was first starting out?
TB: Probably the same thing...but I wouldn't have listened!! Youth is wasted on youth.
MR: Where do you see your place in music as a player and patron saint of the ostinato?
TB: I don't see myself that way at all! An ostinato is just another of many musical/compositional devices. Most music falls into the homophonic category, that is, sound with sound, harmonic or rhythmic accompaniment with a lead melody or rhythm line. The accompaniment is always subordinate to the lead line. Much the same way as a pianist plays a bass line or chords with his left hand while playing the lead melody with his right. This technique has been around for hundreds of years--i.e. Mozart's use of the "Alberti bass line"--and is not my invention. The drum set was only invented about 1899 when a drummer rigged up a way to play bass drum with his foot while playing snare drum with his hands. We've been expanding and developing techniques and technology to this day. It's what we do! What we love! I love to compose, paint, practice new things, invent new equipment, make my drums look like an abstract (but functional) sculpture! Nobody pays me to do those things! It's what I feel compelled to do. But I also love to share what I've discovered with others. That's where my love of performance comes in. And most importantly the magic of live music. There is nothing to compare it too... CD's, DVD's of say Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring" are great, but when you hear it played by great musicians in a symphony hall it becomes transcendent!
Think about it. Music is a ritual or reenactment of a myth. A theater is a "church" for music. The listener gives himself over to the experience without the distractions of the outside normal world. The artist is a channel or medium for the very spirit of creativity. He is high up on stage, the listener low. He is in the light, the listener is in the dark. He performs through an amplified sound system while the listener is silent. If the artist does his job correctly, both share in a transcendent experience where one is lifted above our normal mundane state of consciousness into a place where time and space no longer have such a hold on us. We are transformed, if only for a moment, into a place where feelings of awe, joy and ecstasy exist. Science explains this as entrainment, because everything in the universe is rhythm--frequency and vibration. From the rotations of planets to tempo, into the hearing range of pitch, to color--trillions of vibrations per second--to radio waves, x-rays and beyond, all are related by the law of the octave. So music is indeed a metaphor for the universe!
An Evening with Terry Bozzio North American Tour Dates:
Aug 14, 2014 - Ramona, CA - Ramona Mainstage
Aug 15, 2014 - Mexicali, BC, Mexico - Lob Bar (Bol Bol)
Aug 17, 2014 - Phoenix, AZ - MIM Music Theater
Aug 19, 2014 - Las Vegas, NV - Sam Ash
Aug 23, 2014 - Denver, CO - Soiled Dove
Aug 26, 2014 - Tulsa, OK - The Vanguard
Aug 28, 2014 - Conroe, TX - Dosey Doe
Aug 29, 2014 - Fort Worth, TX - McDavid Studio
Aug 31, 2014 - Austin, TX - One World Theater
Sept 04, 2014 - Orlando, FL - Plaza Live
Sept 05, 2014 - Largo, FL - Largo Cultural Center
Sept 08, 2014 - Charlotte, NC - The Neighborhood Theater
Sept 10, 2014 - Washington, DC - The Hamilton
Sept 11, 2014 - Wilmington, DE - World Café
Sept 13, 2014 - Asbury Park, NJ - The Saint
Sept 14, 2014 - New York City, NY - Iridium (2 shows - 8pm & 10pm)
Sept 15, 2014 - New York City, NY - Iridium (2 shows - 8pm & 10pm)
Sept 16, 2014 - Stafford Springs, CT - Stafford Palace Theater
Sept 17, 2014 - Woodstock, NY - Bearsville Theater
Sept 19, 2014 - Richmond Hill, ON, Canada - Cosmopolitan Music Hall
Sept 21, 2014 - Buffalo, NY - Nietzches
Sept 22, 2014 - Cleveland, OH - Nighttown
Sept 24, 2014 - Nashville, TN - 3rd and Lindsley
Sept 26, 2014 - Newport, KY - The Southgate House Revival
Sept 30, 2014 - Little Rock, AR - Juanitas
Oct 05, 2014 - Chicago, IL - Martyrs
Oct 06, 2014 - Chicago, IL - Martyrs
Oct 10, 2014 - Winnipeg, MB, Canada - West End Cultural Centre
Oct 14, 2014 - Calgary, AB, Canada - Orpheus Theatre
Oct 17, 2014 - Vancouver Island, BC, Canada - Tidemark Theatre
Oct 18, 2014 - Vancouver, BC, Canada - Rio Theatre
Oct 19, 2014 - Seattle, WA - The Triple Door
Oct 20, 2014 - Portland, OR - Aladdin Theater
Oct 23, 2014 - Oakland, CA - Yoshi´s
Oct 25, 2014 - Los Angeles, CA - Catalina´s
Oct 26, 2014 - Los Angeles, CA - Catalina´s
A Conversation with July Talk
Mike Ragogna: I'm sure you've been asked this a billion times, so here comes a billion and one. What is the history of the name "July Talk"?
Peter Dreimanis: Essentially, the first song that was written for the band was called "July Talk" and we ended up switching and using it as the band name because it seemed so fitting. The whole band is based around conversation, every song is kind of a back and forth between Leah and I. The month of July seemed prevalent because as a young person you can start a summer, you can party your face off, you can fall in love, you can have these incredible high highs and low lows and then the fall can come and everything gets swept under the rug. We wanted to have a conversation that was stuck within that naïveté, I guess, that lost summer. That kind of felt fitting for the band's name because of the dramatic live show we try to put as such a priority.
MR: You guys are based in Toronto, right?
Leah Fay: Correct!
MR: What's the history of the band?
LF: Peter and I met in a bar.
MR: A lot of great stories start with that line.
LF: [laughs] We dug the way our voices sounded so we started getting together and playing some tunes and it quickly became very obvious that this project needed to be a full-on five piece rock 'n' roll band, so Danny Miles on drums, Josh Warburton on bass, and Ian Docherty on guitar all came into the picture. Basically, we toured the sh*t out of Canada and now we've kind of slowly been introducing ourselves to the rest of the world.
MR: Josh, you've directed the band's videos, which are all in black and white. Usually, that approach is used for a retro or noir effect. What was your intention?
Josh Warburton: The video is just an extension of an aesthetic that Peter had early on. We approached everything in this black and white visual that helps illustrate the ying and the yang, the black and white of the conversation between he and Leah. Obviously, as a filmmaker when you're told you can only make something in black and white you're thrilled because normally people don't want to see black and white or don't want to commission black and white work. For us it became this opportunity to have a wonderful aesthetic and from there build in some period elements while still keeping the project rounded and contemporary. It's just a great place to start from and the band is really fun to film, there's always great energy, so it seems to be the perfect fit.
PD: It's just as important that we have fun creating the visuals for the band as we do creating the record. I think as the project develops they become so interwoven you get lost. When we're writing a song it won't be five minutes into finding that hook that we're already thinking of what the visual side could be, so moving forward we're really looking forward to working our asses off and trying to create something really cohesive.
MR: What's the music making process like?
LF: July Talk kind of only lives on stage. When we first released our first album in Canada, we'd played maybe four shows or something like that, so the ten songs came out and we quickly realized how much they were changing and how much we were learning about what this project really is. It's kind of a chaotic rock 'n' roll experiment based on a conversation, so the way we write is trying to capture that kind of energy and write with an audience in mind. The way we've figured out how to do that best for us currently is locking ourselves in a cabin or a house and working sixteen to eighteen hour days waking up in the morning and writing. It can be complicated to collaborate but at the end of the day five minds are better than one.
MR: Peter, how do you feel about your voice being compared to Tom Waits?
PD: [laughs] It's an inevitable thing when you sing in that register, to be compared to people that do. I've always lived by the idea that as an artist if you're not exercising the part of you that makes you the most unique you might not be getting at the epicenter of what you can put into the world. It's important to me that I experiment with that. As soon as I became old enough as a teenager to start making these sounds that I thought only old men could make, it opened up a world of opportunity. All these songs that you start playing and start writing suddenly mean something completely different when they come out of your gut, or out of this part of you that you didn't even know really existed. Writing with Leah, it's an entirely incredible project. We always joke that if we ever had another band where it was just one of us songwriting would be kind of boring. It's so addictive to create these two sides to every issue and use the difference in our voices to illustrate that conflict. It's quite addicting, and my voice doesn't seem to be going anywhere, it's only getting lower. Hopefully, we can keep doing it.
MR: Do you think that might be from life on the road?
PD: Uh, yeah, you hit the nail on the head.
MR: And Leah, you're a soprano. Did you have any training?
LF: Not really. The first time I started singing was because I very briefly wanted to have a career as a musical theater actress. I spent my whole life dancing and doing art and then eventually studying performance art, but when I was trying to figure out what it was I wanted to do I was like, "I just want to be a triple threat!" Unfortunately, I didn't really have any faith in my voice, but you have your heart broken and then you need to start writing songs about it. I started singing out of necessity, not so much because I thought I had a good voice.
MR: Where do the topics you write about come from?
PD: They kind of come out of nowhere. We could be driving in a van and something comes up. What's changed over the last year of writing for the band is that we're a bit more on the same team. It used to be that Leah would write what she's says and I would write what I'm saying and we would hope there's enough butting of heads in the process that there would be conflict in the art. But I think as time went on, we started doing it more like how the band makes music, which is a heavily accountable editing process where every little part. Every little word has to be proven to each other and we have to make sure that we're headed in the right direction. The topics we write about lately is kind of what it's like to be a man or a woman at our age and try to be brave and say things that everybody knows, but people are a little afraid to say; acknowledge the unacknowledged. I think that inherently when you put a man and a woman on stage, you could be singing "Born To Run" and it would mean something totally different from when Bruce Springsteen sings it. People are going to attach gender identity to anything so we thought, "Why not explore those topics and really try to take an opportunity that's fallen in our lap?" I think that's the direction that we like to write in, to examine those ideas.
MR: Your latest single and EP title is Guns + Ammunition. Its subject matter seems pretty universal yet complex.
PD: Yeah. We're really obsessed with these two opposite sides and "Guns + Ammunition" seemed like a perfect metaphor for codependence. Neither of them is anything without the other. Thinking of that when it comes to being in love and being damaged felt right. I think that as we go through these writing processes, we get excited because we push each other and make sure that we're really getting to the essence of something. The only reason it really is rewarding is because when you write the songs that really do get to the essence of that conflict. When you play it live, it's different every night and there's a fight that starts. Each song is getting to that point, and when we started playing "Guns + Ammunition," it was just so obvious that that song was able to hit something that created this feud, this chaos, this manic-ness on stage that hasn't disappeared, and it changes every single night.
MR: So your live act contains a performance art approach. How much of that would you say is in the mix on stage?
LF: Well, it's not really a planned thing where we say, "Tonight's going to be a night that we focus on performance art," because that kind of goes against everything that I think live performance art is and stands for. Where it falls into a more conceptual-based is just because we're trying to all acknowledge the fact that we're human beings on stage and we're in a room with a bunch of other human beings who can be affected by us. It's all just feeling what the room needs and then giving whatever that is to them on a night-by-night basis. There's a lot of pushing on boundaries and sometimes taking things back.
PD: I think that the real thing that I've learned from Leah, especially from her education with performance is just seeing vulnerability and the risk of failure as a good thing. Something that I think all five of us have realized is that it's not interesting to watch a performer sit in a comfortable chair and play their song. If you're going to get at that conflict that we're talking about you need to see somebody at their absolute breaking point, the break where they think that everything's going to fall apart and maybe it does for a few seconds, maybe mistakes are made, maybe guitars get unplugged and there's things being thrown. That's what we're trying to get at, that point where the audience really isn't sure if what's happening is good or bad or intentional or how they should feel about it or react. Those are the moments in a July Talk show where everybody in the room is feeling so uncomfortable and so intimate at the same time. I think that's kind of what we're trying to go for, those moments.
LF: When you're on stage, you can totally manipulate people. If Peter smashes his face and he's bleeding but then I say, "Don't worry, it's fake blood," seventy-five percent of the audience will believe me. You can really take them along for whatever sort of ride they're willing to go on.
MR: July Talk was acknowledged as Best Alternative Group of the Year by Canadian Sirius/XM's indie awards, and you've also been nominated Group of the Year at the Juno Awards. These are pretty big accomplishments considering this is technically your debut EP.
LF: We're totally babies.
PD: [laughs] We actually joke about it all the time. It happened far more quickly than we expected. It's kind of just one of those situations where the point that we thought this band was going to is so far past that we're really just trying to get to the point where we can live as artists and have ideas and put them into action. That's our dream now, so we all just work together and our lives have, basically, been turned upside down. But we like them much more than our old lives.
MR: Hey July Talk, what advice do you have for new artists?
LF: Do your thing. Don't give a f**k about what anyone else thinks. You've got to hone in on what it is that makes you, and what it is that you want to say and try not to be affected by that human urge to compete and compare and talk down to and all those things. At the end of the day, you've got to be a good person. That's the important thing. You can't be a s**thead.
PD: I think the biggest thing is just staying on the idea that if you make a mistake make it again and capitalize on it. That's what people are interested in seeing. They're interested in seeing human beings, they don't want to see this glossy thing that has nothing to do with real life. That's what we're into. I don't know if it will work for them.
Ian Docherty: Play a lot and tour.
Josh Warburton: I'm kind of reiterating, but I think being sincere in what you're doing is important. It's really easy when you're a musician, and especially in this industry, to start to model certain elements of your act around what's working around you. I think when that stuff happens, you get a lot Frankenstein bands, both visually and sonically. If you can stay the course and find what it is that influences you and then if your songs can translate and play well just on the acoustic guitar, then you're golden.
Danny Miles: I full agree with Josh, being true to yourself, and Ian as well, working hard. It doesn't come easy. We are a new band, but we've all been working hard for years before this.
LF: Try to be as smelly as possible and make all the people fall in love with your pheromones.
MR: [laughs] Where do you want July Talk's future to go?
PD: I think we very early on decided that we needed to know what we were in it for. You obviously don't become a musician to make money anymore, so it's very important to know what you're doing and why you're doing it. Josh and I had that conversation when we first started the band. "What do we want?" I remember Josh's answer was to make a great record, one of those records that people remember. My goal, if you want to call it that, was to have a show that people knew and could come and enjoy and see multiple shows in a tour and still feel like they wanted more. As soon as we started developing that, well, right now our live show is where we feel at home. We feel totally rewarded by it and we can't get enough of that. The record is the next step, moving forward. You're always trying to create that sound and capture that moment on record. I think that's next for us. I hope with this release in the States we can continue exploring that.
LF: I think when you start a band, what you really want to do is take over the world but then the checkpoints of world domination keep getting farther and farther away and the world just keeps getting bigger and bigger. I think that's kind of the motivating point to keep going, you just have to accept that you don't know anything. For us, as long as this project keeps going and we're constantly being pushed back onto our asses, it makes us want to stand up again and work harder and keep learning.
Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne
A Conversation with Magic Man
Mike Ragogna: Here you are with your You Are Here EP, "Paris" being one of its featured tracks and premiered video. But enough of that. You're a Boston act, a place from where many high-powered, iconic groups have emerged. So what is Magic Man's superhero origin story?
Sam Lee: Well, we're all from a mysterious alien planet where the lower gravity makes us musical geniuses.
MR: Hmm, there's something familiar about this story. Watch it be the truth...
SL: No one would believe you even if it was! [laugh] In terms of the band, Alex and I actually grew up together, we've known each other since preschool, we grew up right down the street from each other. Then throughout middle school and high school we learned how to play music together. We played in a lot of bands together, a lot of different types of bands; some typical garage rock bands, some cover bands, played some instrumental, broody post-rock music. Magic Man, we started in the summer after our freshman year of college. It was the first thing we'd done together that really felt like something we could take pretty far. We self-produced and self-released our first album as Magic Man in winter of 2010, but that was when we were in college, so we weren't really focusing on the music full time. We played a lot of basement shows, house parties, frat parties, did a little bit of touring, but really we were in school so that was taking up a lot of our time. But during that time, the band evolved from the two-piece of Alex and I to a five-piece band. We started focusing our sound more on a full rock band sound, still using a lot of the electronics and synths from when it was just the two of us and a laptop, but we tried to focus it on a more energetic, rock-oriented show. That's kind of how the band developed the sound we have now, playing shows with the full band and writing with that sort of sweaty house party show in mind, trying to keep as much of that energy there in the music as we could.
MR: Is that how the creative process takes place? You and Alex create the core of the songs and then take it to the rest of the members?
SL: That's exactly right. Alex and I usually come up with the songs. I'll come to Alex with a chord progression or beat and he'll come to me with a lyric or a melody or something like that and we'll build the song up from there, get it to a demo state with just the two of us, and then bring it to the band to learn how to play live and to record.
MR: Do you guys come from Boston proper or one of the suburbs?
SL: We're from a suburb called Newton.
MR: Do you think growing up in that part of the world had an influence on your creativity at all?
SL: I would say where we're from definitely had an influence, particularly because Newton is obviously a relatively wealthy community and our parents were very supportive of our music. I don't know how common it is everywhere, but starting in fourth grade we started playing the recorder. That was horrible. We were all really bad at it, but pretty soon after that, I took up an instrument in the school band. Newton South High School had a really good music scene. In Newton in general, there were a lot of kids playing music. Kids in bands playing in their parents' garages or basements or wherever. I definitely feel like maybe not so much the geography of where we're from, but the people influenced us definitely.
Alex Caplow: The mentality, yeah. The standard for what kind of music kids were playing in high school bands was far higher than just being in a jam band or playing covers. Everyone was sort of feeding off of each other's creative energy. It wasn't really enough to just jam out. People wanted to come see real bands with original music, so everyone was very, very passionate about their projects and about joining lots of different bands.
MR: So there was something in the dirty water.
SL: Yeah, yeah, there was definitely something in the dirty water!
MR: This is sort of an obvious question for someone as old as I am, but "Magic Man" to me references Heart's song "Magic Man." I'm imagining you've come across that a time or two.
SL: [laughs] Oh yeah.
AC: Yeah, we do come across it. It's a great song but it's also a coincidence. The story behind the band name is actually that when we were writing the first Magic Man songs we were in France, working on organic farms the summer after our freshman year of college. Sam was learning French. My mother is French, so I was happy to come join him. We met a lot of really interesting characters while we were there and writing music on his laptop during the day when it was too hot to work. One of the farms we were working at was hosting this circus festival by chance, so there were just hundreds of really crazy characters--jugglers, magicians--and we were doing more pitching circus tents than farming. The first person that we met was a young guy, around our age, who was an aspiring magician who called himself "The Magic Man." He didn't speak English very well, but he was this guy who showed us the ropes and was our first friend that we made and the first supporter of our music. He was the first to hear the songs we were working on at the time, so when we were thinking of what we should call this project, we decided we should name it after him.
MR: That's a great story. Who influenced you guys?
SL: We listen to a ton of different music and try not to get bogged down or pigeonhole ourselves into one or two genres, especially when we're working. We love listening to everything from Top Forty stuff to more obscure underground music. I feel like everything brings something to the table that gives you an interesting perspective. Then sometimes you hear something you like and you can steal it and use it in your own music.
AC: During the first songs that we wrote, we were listening to a lot of Arcade Fire and Postal Service and The Killers. I grew up listening to a lot of Coldplay, so we have a lot of that line between pop and alternative rock and electronic music, where all those circles intersect. That's where we were trying to go with it, to take you to the best of all those worlds.
MR: And now comes the part of the story where the low-gravity alien gets signed to The Daily Planet...I mean Sony. How did that happen?
SL: Well, Derek [Davies] and Lizzy [Plapinger,] two good friends of ours who run the label Neon Gold had an imprint deal with Columbia. They signed our first album, Real Life Colors. We had put it up on BandCamp giving it away for free. We got some attention from blogs. It ended up on Pitchfork and a bunch of other blogs, which was great and we had some great feedback from fans. And at that point, we were kind of thinking, "We're going to make a second album and we're just going to do it the same way we recorded our first album. We'll record it ourselves, produce it ourselves, friends will play on the record, and friends will help us make it." All of a sudden, Neon Gold, our favorite label, one that's released a ton of stuff we look up to, got in touch of us. It's sort of like a dream come true, them wanting to work with us.
AC: It was hard to stay focused in school when that deal was presented to us. My future was no longer becoming a psychologist. I was dreading not knowing what I was going to do after school. I didn't want to go to grad school. Then all of a sudden, we had this record deal and it was like, "You can be a musician as your occupation!" It was a great way to graduate.
MR: Congratulations! So the next step, obviously is a full album. Is this EP a sampling of what's going to appear on that?
SL: Yeah, we recorded it in the same sessions. Once we graduated from school, we holed-up in a home studio in Providence, Rhode Island, where we moved after we graduated and really spent a year or more crafting these songs and taking ones we'd written in college and improving them. Last summer, we took those songs, we went to New York and worked with a producer there, a producer named Alex Aldi. We built the songs up from the demos and did some additional production and mixing and ended up with the songs that are now on You Are Here and Before The Waves, our album. It's definitely a similar sonic palette, but hopefully on the album, there's a little more variety, more room to tell a narrative and have the journey from the start of the album to the end.
MR: It's interesting that your EP includes three songs with geographical shout outs..."Texas," "Paris," and "Nova Scotia."
AC: Yeah, we actually have songs called "Chicagoland" and "South Dakota" on the album as well.
MR: Does this reveal a subconscious desire to travel the world as the band Magic Man?
SL: Alex is actually a South Dakota native from a past life; he's been reincarnated and is inhabiting his alien body with the spirit of a South Dakotan. What do you call someone from South Dakota? Dakotan? Decoded?
AC: A South Coyote.
SL: It wasn't something that we consciously set out to do, but we did name the EP You Are Here kind of thinking of those geographically-named songs. Once we were putting the songs together for the EP and album, we liked the connection. Writing about places is something that we've done for a long time. You can see a bunch that didn't end up on the album that use the same tricks. It's kind of a fun exercise, to write about how a place makes you feel or what it means to you, or to use it as a jumping off point for a song, especially being people who really like to travel and being a band that started when Alex and I were traveling. Thinking about how a place might inspire you is always a good place to start a song. You might end up with something that has nothing to do with the place by the time you're finished, but that spark sometimes is sometimes a good way to come up with an idea.
AC: Yeah, one of our favorite songs was called "Tokyo." Tokyo inspired the song, but it didn't end up being about anything related to Tokyo so we thought that would be confusing. It was hard to change that name, but it was probably for the best.
MR: You could have an album filled with the names of places even though the songs have nothing to do with them.
SL: Yeah, Bon Iver's second album has a bunch of songs named after places and I'm not sure what they have to do with the songs, but I've always liked them. It also gives a good image to the listener, I think. You think about the place in addition to what the lyrics are saying and how they relate.
MR: Who does most of what during the creative process?
AC: We both have different expertise. Sam is definitely more towards the production side and I lean more towards the melodic and lyrics side. It's often that Sam has a beat or a chord progression and then I write a vocal melody over it and some gibberish lyrics and we pass it back and forth. There are other times when Sam totally changes the melodies or I start off with the initial groove. It's really just a fully collaborative process.
MR: And the lyrics?
SL: We're both definitely involved in the lyrics. On some songs, one person will write all of the lyrics and we'll love it and only change a few things. Other times, we'll sit down together and one of us will contribute a verse and the other will contribute a chorus. It ranges, totally. Some of the songs I can point to and say, "Alex wrote this," and others I can say, "I wrote the majority of that," but the majority of the songs are a collaboration. We start with something that someone came up with, but by the time we're done it's something we put equal amounts into.
AC: It is interesting to think about, because I've heard that for most singer-songwriters, the lyrics come first, that the core of the song is like the story they start telling. For us, we put a lot more energy into making sure the song works on its own without the lyrics. We focus on the feel and melodies and the sound that we want to go for, so I record gibberish lyrics for all the songs before we actually write the lyrics. I know I want it to go... [rhythmic verbiage], so I know exactly what sound I want to be there, and then we fit in the lyrics after to make sure it fits with the mood of the song. But first, we make sure that it stands on its own without lyrics at all.
MR: I've often wondered how bands stay together when the song concepts only come from the lead singer.
AC: It's all the groupies.
SL: [laughs] The fact is we all do the same amount of work when we're on tour. We all get the same benefits. It's just a great lifestyle that we all enjoy. The other members of the band, while they don't write the songs directly, they're all songwriters themselves and they have the time to work on their own projects, so they definitely continue to fill creatively fulfilled even if it's not through this particular project. And during practice, we all throw around tons of ideas and build the songs back up for the live show. It's definitely a collaboration.
MR: What advice do you have for new artists?
AC: I would say that one of the things that helped us the most in reaching an audience was putting our first album out for free. Just focusing on sharing it with as many people as possible and not at all focusing on the money side of things. We knew that most importantly, we wanted people to hear the songs and if they liked them, they would share them with their friends. That's how we built our fan base. The album was free and that blogs would post about it and say, "It's free! Just click on this link to get the album, it's actually pretty good!" So I would recommend that if you're trying to get started, really send it around to as many people as possible.
SL: On that note, one thing that's been pretty helpful for me on this journey so far is to remember that the reason you're doing what you're doing is because there are people out there who are supporting you, like the fans. They're the reason you're there. You wouldn't be doing it if it weren't for them. In the same vein, you try to give back or try to appreciate them. Sometimes there's a show you don't want to do because you're tired and it's been a long time and for you, it's just another show. But for them? iI's the show they've been really wanting to see or they're just trying to have a good time that night. It's important to remember that while you're doing it for yourself because it's your art, there are a lot of other people that are keeping you doing what you're doing.
AC: Respond to their tweets, show them that you care and it will turn them into a life-long fan.
MR: What's the goal down the road?
SL: Have you seen the show Pinky & The Brain?
MR: So this is about world domination.
SL: Yup. World domination. But in all seriousness, I think our goal is what I was just saying. We love playing music, we love writing music, we love touring and playing shows, so we want to be able to do that as long as we can. Now that our album is done, we're focusing on the touring side of things, trying to play for as many different people as possible, travel to new cities and new countries even and play as many shows as possible. Once that touring cycle wraps up, I'm excited to get back in the studio and lather, rinse, repeat.
MR: And hope the magic happens again.
MR: Has this interrogation missed anything?
SL: In terms of important dates, our album's coming out July 8th, you can preorder it now on iTunes.
AC: And you get stuff immediately for pre-ordering...
MR: Like a secret decoder ring?
SL: ...and also on July 8th, we're starting a west coast headline tour from San Diego to Vancouver and then after that we're going to be on tour with Panic! At The Disco for pretty much the rest of the summer. We'll be traveling over a lot of the US, so hopefully, we'll be able to see as many people as we can and play a lot of shows.
Transcribed By Galen Hawthorne
Follow Mike Ragogna on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ragz2008