Monday, May 21, 2007
Columbus' Magic City: Beat the lone drum
Being from a small town has a way of defining who you are. People find odd little routes toward their conclusions.
So when Columbus' Magic City made its live debut at Café Bourbon Street in June of 2006, its members were both nervous and glad they were coaxed into it.
"I’m pretty shy, so I think Magic City always had this fear that we would never actually play live," Karen said.
The group has been making jaunts up to Detroit for recording sessions, spear-heading a sound reminicent of garage rock girl groups of yore (more along the lines of Phil Spector and underground acts, rather than polished Motown.)
The members of Magic City are Nick on drums, Ann on guitar and backing vocals and Karen on guitar and lead vocals. The trio recently released a split 7-inch EP with fellow Columbus band The Patsy's. The group has two shows in Columbus this weekend, Friday at Carabar on May 25 and Saturday at Andyman's Treehouse on May 26.
What Magic City has brought to the Ohio music scene is a feeling of straightforward simplicity among the trying-a-bit-too-hard to be Arcade Fire stuff currently going on. Sometimes a song is a couple chords and an emotion. Sometimes you dont even need a bass player. Sometimes a band is merely a reflection of where you are from.
"It’s so rural that the place I’m from isn’t even a town with a name, it’s just a rural route postal address on a dirt road," Karen said. "I like Ohio well enough. I’ve never lived anywhere else, so it’s hard to know what to compare it to. But I grew up in this very rural section of the state, sort of an appendage of Appalachia. I think that probably shows through in the music, both with the sort of lyrical focus on the idea of isolation and in the archaic song styles I draw from."
Karen said she has always been drawn to 60s garage rock because that has been the soundtrack to her life since she was a child.
"Growing up, I remember listening to lots of oldies—like the Shangri-Las, Dion, Bill Haley and some MoTown stuff. So it was all this really catchy stuff, but a lot of it had this sort of dark, rock’n’roll undertone. Then once I started hearing stuff like Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent, it was all over! It’s just such fun music to play, and when we started Magic City we really wanted to have fun—that seemed like something that not a lot of bands were doing anymore. It’s really easy to play in a band and stand on stage and look miserable and play boring songs that you think are really deep and meaningful .... Most of our songs are pretty short and to the point," Karen said. "Plus, that old rock’n’roll stuff had a lot of style, and we like that. We like the idea that you should get dressed up to go out to a show—whether you’re in the band or in the crowd. It’s just fun. Maybe that’s a girl thing though? I don’t know."
I'm pretty set on this clunky theme of the small town molding who you are, so I'll get back to that: In small towns you either have the choice of conforming or isolation. Aren't small towns great?
Those who conformed have never left their home towns. The ones who didn't moved away - as fast as they could. Then they spend the rest of their lives feeling as though they will never be accepted.
"Now that I listen back to the Magic City songs I think the themes are pretty clear—mostly stuff about feeling lonely and restless. But I think that in general all songs are basically just love songs in some form or another—whether they’re about love, or sex or love of rock’n’roll or anything else. Even songs about being lonely are love songs in their own way. I think that once I came to terms with that, it made writing songs easier. I sort of stopped trying to be uber-deep writing collegiate indie-rock lyrics, and just decided to write whatever came naturally. I do like some bands that write great, passionate, literary lyrics. But I hate it when you can tell that someone is trying too hard to be clever or poetic. Whatever is genuine usually sounds best, I think," Karen said.
That Allen Ginsberg-style spontaneous prose is the perfect background for rock and roll. If it was good enough for the Beat poets it's good enough for Columbus 2007.
"Being from Ohio is kind of an interesting thing, because it seems that no matter where you are in the country—or maybe even the world—you’re sure to run into someone else from Ohio. It’s a strange phenomenon, but we seem to be everywhere. I’m not sure why—maybe everyone from Ohio is just happy to get out! But then again, almost everyone I know who has moved away, has ended up moving back. It’s a strange attraction, Ohio," Karen said.
Retro-flavored groups have flourished recently here in the Midwestern. Detroit has almost become synonomous with it. But few of the new bands have caught on to the desolate chill that used to be such a integral part of 60s garage rock. It's what made the New Bomb Turks so interesting.
Magic City has been able to create a genuine "feel" of their 60s counterparts.
Karen said perhaps the group's diverse tastes has helped keep them from sounding like just another garage-punk band.
Then there's the lack of a bass player.
"That actually sort of started as a necessity because we didn’t know any bassists. Then it became a joke, because neither of us wanted to be the stereotypical girl bass player, so we both played guitar instead. Then, as we were getting our songs together, we realized we wanted to have a little bit of the edgy, bass-free sound of the Oblivians and Cheater Slicks. I think we always wanted to be a girl-band who didn’t necessarily sound like a girl-band, if that makes sense? But we try to balance it out with a full guitar sound. Ann’s parts are kinda noisy and high, and mine are kinda bassy and steady. So it’s a good mix, we think," Karen said.
She said Magic City keeps moving forward with the simple philosophy of keeping things fun.
"So far, it seems to be working. But that doesn’t mean we don’t work hard. We practice twice a week and play out pretty often. We take this band pretty seriously—or as seriously as we can while still keeping it fun," Karen said.