48 Volts: Magicks

Recorded 9/12/2010

Full of warbles and marbles, Magicks is like taking a ride in a washing machine of love with your favorite 80s thrift store shirt.

It was almost a year ago when Soapbox posted a Craigslist ad asking for “experimental, weird, creative” musicians for our first composer workshop session at Crown Tap Room (before we moved into our current home). The goal was to find musicians who were pushing their creative limits and to see what they were currently working on, even if they were incomplete or works-in-progress. By observing and listening to other musicians as they were working through new ideas, our hope was that everyone could feed off of that energy and it would challenge and inspire the group to keep working and to try new things.

Jason, the man behind Magicks, was one of the bands that responded to that ad, and while he wasn’t able to make it out to that session I always wanted to get back in touch with him and learn more about his music and his process, as his stuff really stood out and we liked it. We caught up with him on a bright and sunny Sunday afternoon in September and recorded him playing a few songs live and did a quick interview. Note: the downloadable audio is of much higher quality than the audio in the videos and is well worth the download.

Download audio:

  1. This Was A Huge Mechanical Failure
  2. Trance Into a Dance Coma
  3. We Should Be
  4. Naptime

Soapbox: Could you describe your live setup?

Magicks: Basically all the instruments, the bass, the keyboard, the mic, and the guitar all go into [this mixer] and then through the effects send return I have [my] laptop hooked in, which is running FX processors. So say on the guitar channel, if I wanted to apply an effect to it, I just turn the knob and then it puts that effect on. And then the mixer also has built in standard reverb, chorus, delay that type of stuff, that’s the orange knob which I also use. There are a LOT of effects involved. [laughs]

Then I’ve got the FX going out to a loop pedal so say I’m playing something on guitar, I can loop it on here and have that going and then switch to the bass or something.

S: Is the loop pedal at the end of the audio chain?

M: Yeah, kinda. It’s like everything feeds into [the mixer] which then feeds into [the laptop] which then feeds into [the loop pedal] and then it goes back into the [the mixer].

S: So then you can kinda get a wet/dry mix.

M: Yea, exactly. And the left and rights go out into these keyboard amps. It’s totally weird, I was just trying to see how different I could make a setup.

S: How did you start with this setup?

M: I did a lot of recording in my friend’s basement and I had all my stuff down there. One day, one of my friends was having a birthday party and we were all hanging out down [in the basement], and people just started picking up instruments like the bass [guitar], one dude started playing the hi-hat, and I was looping stuff and singing on top of it. We had just happened to record it and people loved it apparently, so I went with it and started making more music like that because people were into it. I honestly don’t know how I got the idea to do this - I knew I wanted to incorporate a sampler and a bass and a guitar while looping stuff, but I wasn’t really sure how I was going to do it, so I had to sit there for a couple of weeks thinking about it. It took a lot of work just to figure out how to get everything the way I wanted it, which was fun for me, I love audio stuff.

S: So in terms of the creative process, has the setup changed the way you write songs?

M: Absolutely. With this type of stuff, I typically write songs in two ways. I’ll write it on acoustic and then I’ll try and transfer it over to this setup - or I’ll basically start with this setup. It’s two completely different songwriting styles. Like the first song I played [This was a Huge Mechanical Failure] was one that I had written on acoustic that I just threw FX on top of. And then the last song I played [Naptime] I made up just from looping stuff, messing around until I found something cool, then looped it, threw a guitar on top of that, and then looped that. That’s why it gets really “wall of sound” on that last track because there are a million things going on.The first song is just chords, the last song is turning all kinds of knobs and cutting out the loop or switching up the drumbeat.

S: What were the names of the songs you played?

M: The first song was “This Was a Huge Mechanical Failure”, the second was “Trance into a Dance Coma”, the third one was “We Should Be” and then the fourth was “Naptime.”

S: How long have you been using this setup?

M: About a year.

S: And before that?

M: Punk bands. [laughs] You can only do that for so long! You can do all kinds of stuff [with this setup], it doesn’t even necessarily have to be this [type of] music. I’ve been doing hip-hop with my buddies, because I can - I’ve got a sampler with hip hop beats and a bass. And with this keyboard I can make the entire song while they are rapping behind me.

S: Does this setup change the way you feel about performing? I know I’ve tried looping setups before and I remember feeling like it was a weird thing for other people to watch.

M: I mean I just go up there and I’m like whatever. If people dig it, that’s cool. I have noticed with the more loopy type songs people do pay more attention to that because they are like, “What’s going on here? That dude is just playing guitar and he stops playing and it’s still going on.” And then you throw in a melody and people are like, oh that’s cool that it’s just one person making all these sounds. Definitely people really like the songs that build. Like the last song it starts simple and then it builds, layer on top of layer, on top of layer like a huge cacophony of aural madness. [laughs]

S: Is there a story behind the name Magicks?

M: Do you know Alister Crowley? He was a british occultist around the turn of the century. He IS Sgt. Pepper. Robert Plant bought his old house, 666 some-street and he was just um…an occultist - I don’t how else to describe him. He had these weird beliefs and I read about him a few years ago and I thought he was an interesting character. Just the fact that all these bands had been influenced by him - Bowie has written a song about him, Black Sabbath has a song about him, Led Zeppelin has songs about him, he was just this really interesting guy and he was the one who popularized that spelling of M-a-g-i-c-k-s, with a k. And the purpose of that was to delineate it from stage magic, because the whole thing behind magic with that spelling is that it’s about changing your own reality through your will. Like making subconscious efforts to make your life better, which I think is really cool. Like that last video I sent you, I put subliminal messages that say “love” and “hope” and stuff like that. So I think there is some kind of force behind that, whether it’s all in our heads or not, it works! And I just want everyone to just have a good time.

S: Any influences? I know it’s a terrible question. Actually you don’t even have to answer that. [laughs]

M: [laughs] I think it’d explain a lot. Nine Inch Nails, they’ve been my favorite group since fourth grade. I think it’s insane that one dude can make those insanely awesome albums. And he’s really good at what he does, so growing up I kinda wanted to be a producer. And then Animal Collective, I saw them a couple of times and just the way they - they have a similar kind of setup. I don’t know how they have anything plugged in, but just the idea they had with DJ equipment mixed in with live instruments, I was really interested by that. And basically any shoe gaze bands from the ’80s and ’90s, were really awesome.

S: I think I read on your Myspace you described yourself as chillwave, and how it was related to nostalgia…

M: I actually found that [in an] article online. I didn’t write it, it was some girl, and she was just kinda describing this type of music as a throwback to people who grew up in the 80s and early 90s because the sounds, there are a lot of 8-bit sounds. And boomy kinda drums, think like Phil Collins or something. A lot of these bands are using these elements that people used back then. I wish I had the article or read it more recently. It really explained it, cause this music popped up, [groups] like Neon Indian, Washout, all that stuff popped up out of nowhere. What’s crazy is I started doing this early last summer and I didn’t hear any of those bands until winterish, and I was like holy shit, all of these people are doing the exact same thing without even really knowing it and it’s all within the same age group, you know 20s, people who grew up in the same period I did. I can see where they are coming from with the music. A lot of that stuff reminds me of 80s movies like the Top Gun soundtrack and just shit like that. Which is why I think people our age are really into that genre because it does remind you of growing up in the 80s.

S: How do you feel about Chicago and music in Chicago?

M: Oof. [laughs] I think it’s gotten kind of lame, to be honest. When I was in high school, my friends and I would go to local shows without even knowing who was playing. We would literally go to the Fireside [Bowl] every weekend just to go, because we would know we would see an amazing band regardless if we had heard them or not. I feel like people don’t do that anymore. Especially working at Reggie’s, we get a lot of phone calls where people want to know what time the band they want to see is on, and that kinda threw me off because when I was younger I would be there [when the doors opened] to see the entire show. If you’re paying $10-$15 bucks to see one band, and there are three other bands playing, why wouldn’t you stick around and see them - you might love one of the other bands. That alone crushed my heart a little. What happened to the music scene? It used to be so cool, it was genuine, everyone was doing it just to do it so people could have a good time. You know, $5 shows because it’s cheap and we want you all to come have fun. What happened to that? Now it’s like $7-$20 shows. As far as the music itself, I think it’s getting kinda stale. I hear a lot of the same indie rock bands, and there’s a lot of metal out there. I’m kinda glad the whole screamo, Victory Records thing is dying down because that was just a joke, I thought. Just like boy bands with makeup wearing black. [laughs]

There are a lot of awesome venues, like the Empty Bottle is cool, Sub T is cool, Bottom Lounge.

S: Fireside said they were doing shows again.

M: Yeah, I recently went back there. It’s weird.

S: Not the same?

M: No, it’s kinda cleaned up now and you know, they’re storing bowling balls on the stage, like that’s all it’s being used for. It was really weird, and you know it was a lot smaller than I remember. Maybe because I was younger back then and probably a little shorter. It was just really weird. I don’t know, if they start doing shows I don’t think it’s going to be the same at all. The vibe is totally different. It was a madhouse at some of those shows, there were no rules, there would be no security, people are just doing drugs in the alley and stuff, getting fucked up in the bathroom. You know? That was part of the charm of going to it back then, because it was so grimy and just disgusting! And now it’s just kinda cleaned up and it’s like, well this is just a show in a…bowling alley. You know?

S: You seem to do a lot of videos, that aspect seems important to you. Could you talk a bit about that?

M: Yea I was focusing a lot on music last year and I needed a break. I just needed to do something different for like a couple of weeks. So I made a video for one of my songs because I had video editing software and I used my digital camera, and I was just bored. It turned out to be really fun, I love the process of making stuff, [and] it kinda sets me apart from just a musician because I’m doing a whole audio visual type of thing.

S: And the visuals kind of go with it, there is a similar aesthetic.

M: Yea, totally trippy and psychedelic - yea, absolutely.

S: Jumping on beds, weird tunnel effects.

M: That video was great. I didn’t even know those girls - I randomly met them at Reggie’s. This will probably never work for me again - I literally said, “Do you guys want to come back to my place and shake your asses on my bed for a video?” And they were like, “Yeah! That sounds like fun!” And I was just like…no way that just worked. And they were so down with it - I was like, “Now play leap frog!” and they started playing leap frog. It was a good time. I think it’s a good way to promote too because after I made that video with them they went and told all their friends about it in their college town. So now some college town in Missouri is playing my stuff which I think is amazing.

S: Well I think that’s it, thanks for stopping by!

M: Absolutely, thanks for having me.

Magicks regularly performs at Reggie’s Rock Club, and Jason also works at the Record Breakers store upstairs. He will perform at Ronny’s this Saturday, Nov 9 and again at Reggie’s Rock Club on Sunday Nov 21st.

Magick’s self-contained live setup. Mixer, laptop, keyboard, sampler, loop pedal, amps, mic + guitars.