When REM made their breakthrough it was only after playing hundreds of gigs and that’s a formula The Magic Gang who are back on the road have followed.
The result of relentless touring by Gus Taylor, Jack Kaye, Kristian Smith and Paeris Giles was a self-titled album debut packed full of their trademark melodic powerpop that surprisingly hit the number 12 spot.
“We’ve been going for five or six years now, and we started when we all moved to Brighton,” says bassist Gus Taylor. “We were playing in a bunch of different bands, and one day Jack and Kristian wrote a song together.
“Me and Paeris were in the house. and us four had never played together as that combination, so we recorded the song and put it out. It was supposed to be a side project, but it immediately got a lot more blogging attention than any of our other bands. It was kind of a happy accident how it stared.
“I think we thought the music was good, but whether people were going to be into or not was another thing. We knew we had some kind of legs because we wrote pop songs, and lot of our influences are in classic pop bands like the Beatles, the Beach Boys and Fleetwood Mac.”
Former Inbetweener Simon Bird commissioned Belle and Sebastian to write the soundtrack for his new movie ‘Days of the Bagnold Summer’. Bird wanted them because of their unashamed commitment to melodic pop with wry lyrics fitted with a movie focusing on people who don’t quite fit in. Despite their success, The Magic Gang have ploughed a similar furrow as music biz outsiders, and Gus is keen to push back on the idea that actually bothering to write a song like Getting Along, with a decent hook and a big chorus, is something to be sneered at.
“I would say that there is a view that big melodies are uncool, and maybe it sounds somewhat cynical, but some of the greatest music of all time are just brilliant pop songs. Go back to Stax and Motown they are just beautiful songs, and just because they are big melodies it doesn’t mean they’re not musical.
“It doesn’t mean they are not incredibly intelligent pieces of music and we like to write with big melodies as we look to music as a form of escapism. It is our own political statement not to sing about politics, and how shit everything is We like to listen to music to escape from all of that.”
One of their breakthrough moments was last year’s Reading Festival when a huge crowd of fans turned up when they announced a surprise last minute set on the Introducing stage.
“It was announced that morning and I was surprised by how many people there were,” recalls Gus. “I was also impressed by the crowd at our Festive Republic set that night as we clashed with Kendrick Lamar, personally I would have gone and watched Kendrick. It was amazing clashing with someone like that but people were still coming to catch us.”
The too cool for school brigade always look at pop bands as if they are something unpleasant on the bottom of their show. But The Beatles began as a pop band, as did The Beach Boys, and even more offbeat artists like Bowie always had a pop sensibility. The look of joy on the face of the fans at that pop-up gig singing along to tracks like All That I Want is You or Take Care tells its own story.
“The first record we loved writing those big melodies and the lyrics were almost secondary. We were young when we wrote those songs, and they are somewhat naïve. But are very universal because they are vague metaphors or ideas about love and personal relationships. It’s nothing new, but if it’s not broke don’t fix it.
“There’s lot of sadness in some of the songs and there’s uplifting lyrics in there too, so maybe it’s not so literal or political in that sense, but it means a lot to people. There’s a lot of young kids who say the music has helped me through some really difficult times. There is nothing that compares to someone telling you that your music has affected their lives in a positive way.”
In these days of digital downloads and Spotify shuffle the Brighton based four piece have a commendable commitment to the album format, which seems to suit a generation increasingly turning back to vinyl. But were they surprised when their album nearly hit the top 10?
“Massively shocked as the whole album release week was crazy going up and down the country to record stores with hundreds of people coming out to chat to us, and see the small shows we were playing.
“We were hoping for top 40 maybe, but we felt we did it in an incredibly traditional way. There was a bit of press here and there, but we weren’t championed by them by any stretch of the imagination. So it was quite an organic following with people just being into the music and buying the record, which was really lovely.”
The Magic Gang do seem like a bunch of smart guys who have a plan for longevity so Yala! Records is a good home for them as one of the co-founders is former Maccabees guitarist Felix White. He’s not involved in the songwriting, but White’s long experience in the music business is something the band are keen to tap into.
“I am a massive Maccabees fan and we all grew up listening to them,” recalls Gus. “Even from the start when they said he liked the tunes let alone before he got involved it was amazing for us. The Maccabees had such a brilliant career, and they did it very organically, built up over time.
“Their fourth record was their first number one, so I think there are parallels in the way hopefully our career pans out. Hopefully, we are career artists where we keep making records and getting better with each one. They are almost like a great case study for us to look up.”
The Magic Gang are about to release their second album and have gone back to basics playing small venues to road test their new tunes in front of a live audience.
“I’d say it does very much sound like us but it’s a real development in terms of maturity and sound. Lyrically we have really honed in on that and tried to take a step back to understand how important that is. The album, Here, There and Everywhere, has different kind of influences, but ultimately every tune still sounds like us.
“It’s interesting with me, Jack and Christian all singing lead vocals on different songs, which has kind of developed, so there will be more variety of different songs people have brought in.
“We are just throwing in a few new tunes and we played four new ones last week. This tour is a good litmus test as they are tiny rooms so you can really tell if the audience is feeling them or not.”
Find out more: https://www.themagicgang.co
Interview by Paul Clarke, you can see my author profile here: