FRONTRUNNER exclusive: The Magic Gang

From their student house in Brighton to some of the UK’s biggest stages, including the likes of Glastonbury and Reading & Leeds, The Magic Gang have cast a spell and we’re all under its influence. Continuing to bring the rowdy energy of an overpacked house party to every space they play, they combine nostalgic sounds of The Beach Boys and The Beatles with modern-day indie and alternative rock, and the result is enchanting.

Their latest album, Death of the Party, invites you on a journey through those early, uncomfortable years of adulthood with effortless relatability. Reflecting this evolution in their sound, the quartet have added to the charming melodies and indie roots we know and love with a playful twist on genres, bringing in big band sounds to add a soulful flair. Moving from love songs to narrative storytelling, The Magic Gang are aging like a fine wine. And they’re only on album two.

FRONTRUNNER spoke with members Jack and Paeris about their journey, last year’s Death of the Party, coping with the pressure to do better and more.

Photo Credit: Dan Kendall

When you guys started out, did you expect to be where you are now?

Paeris: I think we’ve always wanted to do it, but when we started it was sort of by accident really, because we all studied in Brighton and just sort of made a band within our house. We were all involved in different projects and we recorded one song, put it on the internet, didn’t really think anything of it for a number of months and then checked the email account one day, and it was loads of requests from proper management people and we hadn’t experienced anything like it. So, sort of by accident that it came about! We used to joke about this band being the one that would actually do something.

How did you guys come up with your name?

Jack: Like Paeris said, this was intended originally as a bit of a side project, but we wanted it to have that vibe of a kind of mixed bag of lots of different members. So, we wanted it to be ‘the something crew’ or ‘the something gang’. I think the original idea was to have about ten of our friends in the band all playing percussion and acoustic guitars and stuff. The Magic Gang we’ve always liked because I guess it stems from an idea of not taking the project too seriously. It definitely streamlined and became something totally different but, I think the name just stuck.

Do you find it difficult to maintain a good relationship with music when it’s your career?

Jack: Yeah, I do. Your relationship with music changes. The way that I listen to music hasn’t really changed personally, but the reasons for writing music kind of changes. And when it becomes a day-to-day job, you feel like there is more of a reason to do it every single day, so it definitely takes a bit of structuring and self-discipline. But in terms of hearing a great song, that hasn’t changed for me personally. I can still get excited by other people’s music in exactly the same way.

Paeris: I guess when you’re in a band – I think it’s something that I’m personally quite guilty of – it’s quite easy just to pin yourself against whatever’s going on at the time. It’s never a competition or anything like that, but you just can’t help but sort of assess yourself against other things that are going on, but I think that’s just quite typical in any strand of life. So, I think it’s actually when you write music yourself, it’s easier to find a lot of good in other things that you hear and enjoy things a lot more just because you understand how it’s put together.

You recently hit the three-year anniversary of releasing your debut self-titled album, and moving from that to Death of the Party, your sound and your lyrics have definitely evolved and matured. Can you tell me about that? Was that an intentional shift?

Jack: Yeah, the focus was definitely on the lyrics with that album. We wanted to expand a little bit and try and just be a bit more honest and direct with the lyrics. We kind of felt like we’d done a whole album of nicely packaged, I guess romantic sounding lyrics that were quite universal, that then maybe were at risk of being a little bit vague. So, we tried to be a bit more autobiographical and a bit more honest with it, and I think we got some really interesting results from doing that.

I read that you focused on the transition into young adulthood and the struggles that come with that?

Jack: Yeah, we actually all split off – it was the first time we weren’t living together under one roof, so what you hear is each of our respective experiences of that. And yeah, just getting into our 20s and dealing with all of the anxieties and complications that come with that. You kind of get a dose of everyone’s internal monologue, which is really cool because it was the first time that we were maybe hearing a bit more about how each other feel. And ultimately, hopefully, that makes it more relatable.

You went out to Atlanta to record this album with producer Ben Allen – why did you want to work with him?

Paeris: We’ve always been quite big fans of Deerhunter, and he also did Merriweather Post Pavillion, that Animal Collective record, so we were just a bit spellbound by that! And he’s quite chill about the whole thing, I think the significance of his work is almost lost on him a little bit because he was just very humble and quite quick to diminish his involvement with it. But it was put forward to us by the label, we were like, ‘well, yeah obviously’ just because we’re such big fans.

Think was the first single you released from this album, was there a reason why you chose this song?

Jack: It felt very high energy and different, and we wanted to come back with something that sounded far away from the first album, but also was quite high, so we just went for that one. And it’s the first track on the album as well, so it just felt like a really obvious choice.

What was it like recording this album compared to your first one? Did you feel any pressure?

Jack: That’s a good question. I didn’t feel a sense of pressure, personally.

Paeris: I think with the first album, we’d been playing the songs some of them for a long time, so they were quite bedded in already. And it was just the case of trying to play them as best as possible together, whereas with some of the songs on the second album, we were still editing it as we got involved and making changes; it was quite a fluid process. And also, the first one I’m pretty sure it was in between two tours as well, so it was so full on and you didn’t really have that much time to think about what you were doing so much!

Do you prefer to work on an album when you’re busy on tour or to focus on it all in one go?

Jack: Well, we’ve never been afforded the luxury of being able to draw it out over a long period of time, and that’s quite like an alien idea for me. It would be nice to have the time and the resources to do that, but then there is a sort of feeling you get from going into a studio over a very small period of time and coming out with a finished product and I personally feel slightly disappointed when you come out of a recording experience and you haven’t just finished what you went in to do. I like working like that, I like going in and getting it all done, and then it acts as a kind of time capsule and a marker for that space at that time rather than being drawn out and tweaked over months or years.

I love the lyrics to (The World) Outside My Door – am I right in thinking that that was written about extinction rebellion?

Jack: Yeah, it was written around that time that was going on and it was kind of written about my feelings around it, and just the sense of knowing that something that felt monumental was happening and kind of feeling that I could be doing more – in general but using that as a kind of focus point – I could be doing more to involve myself or better my output in that way, and then being very absorbed in trying to write an album in my bedroom. It’s a song about wanting to do more, essentially, and then that was happening, so that was kind of where my focus was.

I found the lyrics, ‘first thing in the morning, I’m going to make a change’ very relatable – we’ve all put things off and especially currently living in such a huge time of change, there’s definitely a lot of pressure to do more and do better.

Jack: Absolutely. That’s why when you ask if it’s about extinction rebellion, I’m sort of hesitant to say yes totally, because that phrase of, ‘I’m going to make a change’ and exactly what you just said is something that I think about a lot more than I should. And if anything, that song kind of reflects my internal monologue day-to-day, especially now that we’re in lockdown and every day becomes a challenge of how I can prove to myself that I’m being as productive and proactive as possible. I’m definitely comparing myself to what I think my peers are doing. So, it’s totally about that as well.

It’s very easy to get lost in this illusion of what it is to fulfil a quota of being a good person every day, and you can definitely – especially when you’re not really seeing anyone in a physical way – you can build up this idea that everybody is doing more than you are and it’s very easy to get lost in that totally and lose perspective on what it is to accomplish things day-to-day.

I read that Make a Sound and Death of the Party are both recounting the same party from two different perspectives, tell me about how those songs came about.

Jack: It was a New Year’s Eve party, and it was a house share that our friend was living in at the time, and I always remember it being a big, slightly vaudeville-esque house, and just a lot going on, I think it was a themed party as well. And there were many floors and Kris spent the entire night on the ground floor and I spent the entire night on the second floor, so we didn’t see each other for the whole night. And we had two very different experiences of the same night. His was slightly less pleasant and more dramatic, and mine was kind of straightforward and easy and relaxing. And we both ended up writing songs about it without each other knowing. It was really weird to get that contrast, and then we were very excited that that had accidentally happened. We tried to use it as a springboard for the rest of the album, which didn’t really happen exactly, but it still felt like a good starting point.

Do you tend to take inspiration from your own experiences?

Jack: I think that yes, I do take a lot of it from my own experience, but a lot of the time it’s probably more how I’ve interpreted an experience. So, I think maybe I’m not as observant of the world as I’d like to be, but I’m quite good at articulating how something has made me feel, or I find it easier to do that so I can convey a feeling that I’ve gotten from something. There are many filters between the way I’ve interpreted something and the way it actually happened. So, in a way yeah, but then also it’s quite internal and overthought and overcooked!

You’ve also rescheduled your headline tour to October this year, and you’re also supporting Blossoms on their tour and playing Neighbourhood Weekender. What’s it like playing live now compared to your first few shows? Can you remember your first shows?

Paeris: I think the first ones were mainly house shows in Brighton, so we were playing to all of our mates and everyone was I think just excited to have a band in a living room basically! People were so passionate and enthusiastic and obviously that’s the biggest thing you notice; your friends are still always there and they’re still so ready to back you. Obviously, we’ve come quite a way from that, they’re still there and just as psyched for you, but they’re kind of respectfully at the back whilst they let the real fans have the moment at the front, because obviously they don’t want to be some embarrassing cheerleader. I guess it’s the little milestones that you sort of get to as you go through; I remember the first time we did a show when we got food backstage and that being such an exciting thing for us!

Photo Credit: Dan Kendall

Do you have any favourite songs you love to play live?

Jack: I was trying to remember some of them then!

Paeris: Yeah, when you said about the headline tour I was like, ‘oh god what are we going to play?’ Because some of the newer stuff I think we maybe played about three or four times, so that’s still new stuff that we haven’t got to play.

Jack: I always like playing All That I Want Is You from the first album because we play that one last, so it feels a bit like a victory lap if everything’s gone okay. And I just really like the song.

Paeris: I think Getting Along for me is my favourite of what we’ve done.

Speaking of playing the second album live, there are a lot of big band and brassy sounds – do you plan on bringing these with you on tour to the live shows?

Jack: Yeah, we play with someone called Lily who plays trumpet, and she does actually quite a lot at the moment, she plays the keys and stuff like that, so she’s been the only person we’ve had to help us get more of that album sound. We definitely want to continue doing that and then maybe even expanding on it for certain shows. We are very keen to do as much of it on stage as possible and avoid anything that’s pre-recorded coming on stage as well. We’re all for extra players coming with us, for sure.

Maybe you can make your band of ten people after all!

Jack: That’s a very good point actually! Rather than paying session musicians, we could just get a load of new bandmates.

And your latest single, Somebody Like You is the first song that you’ve self-produced. Tell me about that experience.

Jack: I loved it; it was really great. Kristian who plays guitar and also sings in the band, he kind of took the helm because he’s into production and stuff. So, it’s the first time that we’d ever been in a studio with just him in charge. And I think we got it done very quickly as well, it was a fairly painless experience. And we just love the way it sounds because it’s more to our taste than anything we’ve done before, I guess. So, all in all, very good. I think we’re using it as a tester to see if we want to go in and do a larger body of work by ourselves, and I think we’re going to give it a go.

And then my final question is are there any new up and coming bands or artists at the moment that you think more people should know about?

Paeris: I really like this band called Blanketman, they’re really good. They remind me of what was a bit more popular a while ago, really upbeat. Another one is The Cool Greenhouse, they’re really good. He basically just plays one note the whole time, but all the lyrics are really funny and entertaining. He’s got a song called ‘Alexa!’ it’s like a love song for Alexa, the Amazon thing. Speedboat from Brighton, they’re great. They’ve absolutely nailed the whole mid-80’s sort of new wave type thing, but again, still quite with a sense of humour about it.

Jack: I’ve got nothing. I’ve been listening to the Bee Gees! I’m not proud of that, I need to have a long, hard think about that after this conversation.

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