Interview: The Magic Gang
When we first started out, the whole premise of the band was trying to get away from all the garage rock stuff we were hearing around Brighton. They were all about being in a band and just powering out chords, but we didn’t want to do that.
Young, carefree and swiftly scurrying up the British guitar pop ladder, Brighton-based foursome The Magic Gang refuse to give off the aura of mystique that many hotly-tipped young bands try to evoke. In fact, talking to bassist Angus Taylor is about as refreshing and honest a conversation as you’ll get: there’s no pretence or wandering elusiveness, just thoughtful answers and good vibes.
And it’s that term, ‘good vibes’, that can also be applied directly to the band’s musical ethos, peddling a raw guitar sound combined with blissful pop hooks which they delivered in immensely fun fashion on their self-titled debut EP released earlier this year. With a back-catalogue of tracks tailor-made for sun-kissed festival stages, it’s no surprise to see The Magic Gang on the billing for the Leadmill Live stage at Tramlines this year. Exposed gave Angus a call to speak about their upcoming Sheffield soiree, where they fit into today’s fragmented music scene and what – if any – message they’re trying to deliver.
I understand that you are all originally from Bournemouth and you moved to Brighton later on. What was the thinking behind that move?
I guess we wanted to move there because we knew how vibrant the music scene was. There are like thirty music venues spread across a couple of square miles. There are some that fit about forty people and others that can fit thousands. It seemed like the place to be and it’s a very liberal, forward-thinking place and we were all kind of after that. Bournemouth’s a lovely place to live but there isn’t much there culturally, not much of a scene to speak of.
There aren’t many places for bands in the south – and arguably the north, for that matter – to really grow outside of London. Brighton’s a bit of an exception though?
Yeah, absolutely. It meant that we could spend a year to hone our skills as songwriters. We held off from playing in London because we wanted to be ready. You’ve got to spend that time writing the good songs and get good at playing as a band before you start bringing it to the masses. So, yeah, Brighton’s the perfect sort of place for any band to start out in the same way that Sheffield or Manchester are places with a real scene where people support the cause.
Was it chaos living together or were you all quite chilled housemates?
It was absolute chaos as we all lived together but we also lived with a load of other musicians. The place was just a dumping ground because we’d all go there after gigs and eventually be like “Shit, where’s my amp?”. It was a great place creatively, though, as we had the space to play until the early hours in the morning. It spurred you on to listen to your housemate next door playing some fire tune and think ‘Fuck, I need to do that.’ Everyone was really supportive when it came to feedback as well, so it was a very productive experience overall.
But you’ve since bitten the bullet and moved back in with the ‘rents for a while. Is it nice to have a bit of space? I imagine touring and living together can get bit much.
I don’t know really, I do sort of want us all to move back in again. It’s just that we don’t have the money that we used to now that we don’t have the time to work other jobs. We still all hang out at each other’s houses though, so we’re not too far apart.
When I first started listening to you, I was struck by how different the sound was from other bands out at the time – there’s a huge mix of styles and it all just sounded much more exuberant.
When we first started out, the whole premise of the band was trying to get away from all the garage rock stuff we were hearing around Brighton. They were all about being in a band and just powering out chords, but we didn’t want to do that. We were more about the songwriting and just went off and did our own thing. It’s paid off but I still think we’re a bit of an anomaly in the sense that we’re not particularly derivative of anyone. It’s cool that people are into it though.
So what were your inspirations in those early days?
We all grew up loving The Beatles and still do, then The Beach Boys were a huge influence on us and our songwriting in particular. All the kind of classic acts like Fleetwood Mac and that sort of stuff, but there are also artists in the hip-hop scene like Kendrick Lamar and people that are actually trying something new. Hopefully in the next album we can move on from that sort of raw guitar sound and try and make things sound a bit more contemporary.
You’ve taken issue with being described as an ‘indie’ band. What in particular bothers you about that term?
The thing is, when people think of indie they just sort of think of big guitar bands. I mean, it’s alright to say The Courteeners or The Sherlocks are indie bands, but I don’t really see how we can be put in the same bracket as them. Again, I think we’re more about the songwriting and taking our influence from lots of different genres. I do understand why people see us as indie though, it’s an easy go-to, and I don’t get upset about it personally.
But it’s a bit of a damaging term these days?
I think in a way, yeah, because there are certain connotations attached to it. At our age, in our early twenties, it’s a phrase people use when they’re embarrassed to talk about music they used to listen to. It’s silly but I think it’s true.
Unsurprisingly, there seems to be a resurgence in young guitar bands finding a political platform with their music these days. You guys aren’t necessarily political. Is that something that you consciously keep separate from your songwriting?
To be honest, I think it’s something we’d like to explore going forward and try and get to grips with. I just feel that as songwriters we’re a lot better at talking about people. As a band we all like music and we see it as a sort of escape, so I don’t think it would feel right if we suddenly started talking about government policy or something like that.
Going forward, are there any issues you would like to discuss in your music?
Yeah, I think the main thing in our remit would be making gigs safe spaces for everyone: for women to be able to come to the front, for men to not be so macho and jumping around hurting other people. It’s just about stamping out abuse and sexual assault at gigs and making sure those things don’t happen. We’re very passionate about that.
Do you think bands can take themselves too seriously when it comes to trying to send a message? Can it sometimes get in the way of the music?
I think it’s great that there are bands like Shame giving out a constant message both inside and outside of their music. I think they’re very aware and they do it very well. The times I’d say I’ve seen bands taking themselves too seriously is when they’re not having fun on stage and are more focused on acting like they’re the dog’s bollocks. In the words of Harry Redknapp: “We’ve seen them on the way up and we’ll see them on the way back down.”
A case of image first, music second?
Yeah, you can usually tell them from a mile off. It’s just bad when you see musicians write things because they think it’s what the people want. You seem to get some people in bands that don’t even like or understand music, that’s what upsets me. I think some people need to spend more time listening to music and writing songs than thinking about their aesthetic, or taking cool photos, or acting mysterious. I just think that’s all bollocks.
Moving on to your recent debut album. After a fair amount of hype, did you feel a lot of pressure to deliver?
Yeah, because I think we’d been around for some time already without getting the first album out. I think the most difficult part was picking which old songs to include and which new ones. I think we certainly put a lot of pressure on ourselves more than anything, but it all paid off eventually. To get into the top 40 was insane for us; for the album to chart at number 12 was just completely overwhelming.
It’s been a quick rise for you as a band over the last few years. Now that you’ve got the debut album out there, does it all feel “real” now?
Oh yeah, for sure. It’s funny because some people in our hometown had this perception of us that we were ballers because we were signed to a big label and made loads of money off of that record, but nothing could be further from the truth. We’re still skint, probably more skint than we have been before, because we don’t have the time to have other jobs anymore.
What keeps you motivated?
I think the main thing for us is that we want to be happy with what we’re putting out creatively. We’re our own biggest critics, but we’re just happy that there are people enjoying what we’re doing at the moment. We’re just going to carry on doing our own thing and see where it takes us.
It’ll soon be taking you up this neck of the woods to play Tramlines next month. You’ve played here a couple of times before too. Fans of the Steel City? You’re allowed to say no…
We all absolutely love it as a place. There’s always a good atmosphere and we always have a good night out in Sheffield. The people are really friendly and welcoming, and it’s bit cliché but it is something you don’t really get down south. People at home will just look at you funny if you try and start a random conversation with them. The shows have been getting more and more crazy as well. Sheffield crowds are always up for it and we will be too.
The Magic Gang play the Tramlines Leadmill Live Stage at Hillsborough Park on Friday 20th July. Tickets are available from tramlines.org.uk