The Magic Kids seem to be on the brink. Their very first release — the “Hey Boy” 7-inch, put out on Memphis’ venerable Goner Records — earned them dozens of positive notices and just as many Beach Boys comparisons. One single later they found themselves on True Panther Sounds, who — along with Matador — will release their debut album, on Aug. 27. That album’s called Memphis, after the town that all six of the band’s members — Bennett Foster (vocals, guitar), Will McElroy (keyboard), Ben Bauermeister (drums), Michael Peery (bass, vocals), Alex Gates (guitar vocals) — grew up in, seeing shows and playing music. Here, Foster and McElroy discuss growing up in Memphis, working in a real studio for the first time, and just how sincere their whole exuberant shtick is.
How long have you guys known each other, and how did you all meet?
Will McElroy: I’ve known Al the longest. None of us went to the same school or anything, but I met everyone one by one, somehow, through music.
When did you guys become the Magic Kids?
WM: Me and Bennett and Al were in a band called the Barbaras with some other people who were out of town a lot. So we’d enlist the other Magic Kids every now and then to play fake Barbaras shows when the other guys were out of town. And then eventually it just became its own band.
What was it like recording at Doug Easley’s studio?
WM: It was exciting to do one of the first big projects to happen there.
Bennett Foster: I guess it was exciting to be around recording equipment — real recording equipment. Anywhere can be a studio, but the equipment that you have is really what makes it what it is. It was cool to be in front of a real mixing board.
WM: It was my first time being in studio that wasn’t, like, a laptop in a house. He had a mellotron, which was awesome.
How was working with Shane Stonebeck?
WM: Awesome. He’s a wizard, he can do anything, no matter how long it took. I guess there were some things we couldn’t do because it would’ve taken more time than we had or it would have killed us all in the process. But it was great; he can make our crazy ideas come to life and work together. Make them all “fit in the speakers,” as he would say.
What did you guys grow up listening to?
BF: Anything that I could find. My dad definitely tried to influence my tastes with his favorite artists — anyone from Hole to XTC to the Beatles. He liked whatever was on the radio, he liked a lot of coffee shop music like Morphine. And he listened to R.E.M. [Laughs.] But he also listened to Tom Petty and Traveling Wilburys and ELO.
What of what you grew up listening to found its way onto the songs that you recorded for Memphis? What could you trace back there?
BF: That’s really impossible to figure out. I don’t really know. I don’t think I could answer that. Sometimes you sit down and try to emulate someone, but you don’t really have control over what comes out of that.
What was your songwriting process for this album, and in general?
WM: I’d be hesitant to say there’s an “in general,” because we’ve all been in lots of bands together and we’ve all been in different roles before, so we’re trying to keep things open in the Magic Kids. This album, a lot of it came from me and Bennett sitting on the couch with acoustic guitars and keyboards and having crazy ideas. We’d just go back and forth, spend a lot of time on arrangements and stuff. All day long with nothing else to do.
So are you two the primary songwriters of the Magic Kids?
WM: So far, I suppose.
How many people were recording on the album?
WM: All six of us in the band recorded on the album. We’d get people to come in one at a time to add all the French horn parts or all the sax parts.
What was the scene like, when you guys were growing up in Memphis?
WM: When I was in high school, I’d mostly go to punk shows and hardcore shows. And I guess when I was 18 I discovered the garage-ier side of things.
BF: I’d say that was pretty much the thing for me. I think we even probably went to some of the same shows before we knew each other. I guess the hardcore was just sort of dying out as we started to have the freedom to go out. And I guess the garage scene was gaining popularity at that time, and actually had already been pretty big in Memphis.
WM: It wasn’t until we were more immersed in the sort of garage side of the Memphis music scene that I had revelations about playing music. I had been in bands before, mostly with Al. But I feel like we never really knew what we were doing until we decided to discover simple ’50s chord progressions and things like that. That was the first thing we could play that sounded like music to us, that we understood. And then I think just with that as a background, our ambitions growing, we added more and more elements to it but still with a pretty simple canvas for everything.
BF: Hardcore was never any kind of foundation, or anything like that, for me at least. It was more of a spectacle that my friends were taking me to.
WM: There’s still the ritual of going to shows and supporting other DIY bands that carried over from then until now.
BF: I think I tried to write a punk song and it was pretty simple. But I don’t know, I never consciously just wrote pop songs. But when I listen back to the tapes I made in high school, it’s pretty wimpy.
Who’s responsible for the lyrics in Magic Kids?
BF: It’s not something we tend to focus on a lot, and so it becomes kind of an afterthought. We have a general feeling, and then we just try to take advantage of any situation where it’s like a stream-of-consciousness. I’d like, as we grow as songwriters, for the lyrics to be more meaningful. They would be born out of a joke, or sometimes — like in “Candy” and “Summer” — they were attempts at writing sincere songs about real experiences. And other songs are maybe trying to be a little, weird, or funny, or would be born out of an inside joke, or just more sarcastic.
WM: Not that any of it’s supposed to be ironic, or anything.
BF: Well, I don’t know, I think it’s interpreted differently by everyone in the band. I don’t think that we are devoid of any of the jaded cynicism of our generation. We’re definitely ironic; we can’t really help not be.
So you wouldn’t say the persona that’s put across in your lyrics is an accurate representation of who you guys are as people?
WM: In a way it is, in the way that we’re the kind of people that would have those ideas and follow them to the end. Whereas other people might shy away.
So are you guys as romantic as put forth in Memphis?
BF: Definitely romantic.
WM: I guess our music is supposed to be songs that make us feel ways that we want to feel. Or something.