Magic Man’s Before the Waves is the album to listen to when you feel on top of your game and in love with life. Paradoxically, it is also the album to listen to when you’re broodingly thinking about lost love and unrequited crushes or reminiscing the past. It’s “not all just sunshine and bubblegum”, but still sculpted in a euphoric, feel-good atmosphere. Feeding new energy into the upbeat electro synth-pop genre, Before the Waves is full of bubbly rhythms, clever synth productions, and heart-pounding choruses. Magic Man was originally formed with just lead singer Alex Caplow (Tufts ’12) and guitarist Sam Vanderhoop Lee in 2010 as they travelled around France working on organic farms and B&B Inns. Justine Bowe (Tufts ’12), Joey Sulkowski, and Gabe Goodman were added to the lineup in 2013 and 2014. With all five members of the band having either grown up or gone to school in Boston, Magic Man formed with strong ties to the Boston music scene. Speaking with me over the phone as he wanders around a Wal-Mart, Sam Vanderhoop Lee (guitarist and keyboardist) recalls the first years of Magic Man and the DIY music scene in Boston.
First off, congratulations on the release of Before the Waves. In the album, there’s a shift in sound from Real Life Color. What was the thought process behind this?
The shift really came from when we started playing live. Alex and I, just the two of us, recorded Real Life Color on a laptop and an acoustic guitar. And that was all the gear we had. But then we started playing live, and we added this whole band. We couldn’t really get the sound we wanted with just two people anymore. With this whole band, we really enjoyed that bigger, more rock-oriented sound: live keys, guitar, bass, drums. And we started writing with that in mind. That’s kind of how we ended up with the sound in Before the Waves.
What kind of emotional response do you see your listeners having when hearing your music?
Ooohf. I mean, especially live, we love looking out at the crowd and seeing people dancing and having a good time at the show. We definitely try, even with a song that’s really upbeat, we try to sometimes include a little tension in lyrics, you know, not all just sunshine and bubblegum. But even if some songs might be a little darker the more down tempo we get, we still try and add an air of hopefulness. Some people call our music nostalgic, and I think that’s pretty appropriate. It’s a mixture of happy and sad. We do try to walk a line. Still, we definitely try to stick to making, at the heart of it, music that’s optimistic and upbeat. And I think that’s something we definitely aim to come off as making— music that makes people feel good.
Though Magic Man was formed in the process of traveling, the majority of you have had some form of experience living in Boston—how would you say Boston has helped shape your music?
Four of us are from Boston, and then our drummer Joe went to school in Boston. So we definitely have the Boston connections. I think one big thing for us in particular was playing a lot of shows in the Boston DIY scene. We played house shows, basement shows, college parties, and things like that. We played a lot of great shows at DIY venues. Venues where they may not have a great PA, maybe there isn’t a PA at all. There’s probably no stage, a tiny little room, really sweaty, really loud, but really fun. And you kind of need to bring the energy and the excitement and the intensity yourself because the production value might not be that great, or you might have people who can’t see you because they’re at the back of the basement. Playing those shows really helps us bring that intensity and raw house party feel to the bigger stages we’re now playing. Something we really have Boston to thank that for.
Do you have a particularly memorable show you played in Boston?
We played a show actually at where Justine, our keyboard player, was living at the time, her house at Tufts. We had a lot of shows there. And we played a show in the living room. I remember we played our very first show as a band at Justine’s house. And at this show, our friend Brian came to this show, and somehow he ended up crowd surfing in the middle of the living room. A foot away from the ceiling. And we somehow managed to capture an epic picture of him on the arms of all these people fist pumping to the music. In the picture, it just looks so happy. That’s definitely one memory.
What advice would you give to all the aspiring college musicians out there?
Get out there and try and do as much as possible. Whether it’s recording music, writing songs, playing with friends. I mean college is a great place to be. You meet so many talented people: musicians, singers, people who might be interested in making videos or helping put together shows on campus. It really helps to try and kind of do as much as possible. You never know what kind of collaborations will result. And there will be really cool results. Even if, I don’t know, maybe you’re not used to playing that kind of music or playing with a trumpet player or something like that. You can definitely get some cool alternative perspectives from different people. I mean colleges have a ton of resources. They have resources as in they have people or a lot of schools have a media lab where you can learn how to record or make music videos or things like that. Just get out and do as much as possible.
What do hope and passion mean to you?
I mean, they’re both important things. Whatever your career or ambitions are, it really pays to dream as big as possible. There’s that sort of cheesy but also pretty good quote ‘if you’re dreams don’t scare you, they’re not big enough.’ I feel like you have to find that thing you’re incredibly passionate about whether it’s your job or your hobby or your relationship, any of that. It can help you keep a hopeful, positive, and optimistic attitude. Walk the Moon just came on in this Wal-Mart that I’m standing in.
Check out Magic Man perform with Panama Wedding at the Royale Tuesday, March 10!
And here’s a video of them playing at Tufts in SoGo back in 2012: