West Coast dream pop duo Magic Wands aren't anything like a certain Baltimore-based East Coast twosome, with their danceable pop and upbeat, hand-over-the-eyes-for-shade approach to making fun music. I recently rang Dexy and Chris at their LA residence to talk about where they've been and what they're doing.
Let's talk a bit about the new record. It came out in April, and the preceding EP came out in 2009, with four of the songs re-appearing. What was the thought process between re-recording these songs, and why did it take so long for the full-length to come out?
Dexy: We recorded those songs again because they never really got properly recorded. I know they came out but it was super-limited edition, a few hundred copies, so a lot a people never heard them. We felt like they were just demos and wanted to re-do them and give them a much better treatment. Better studio, more equipment, work on the arrangements a bit more.
The reason it took so long is that the files got corrupted and we had to re-record the entire record again. There are two versions of the record actually, as we were able to salvage the files eventually. We recorded in four different studios with two different producers. We really took our time with it, we weren’t in a huge hurry, we just worked when we felt like it.
Chris: It would take a month, and then another month, and another month…
Dexy: We timed a lot of the vocals around the phases of the moon, only doing the vocals around a full moon because we did some of the vocals outside.
Obviously the moon motif carried over to the album artwork.
Dexy: Yeah, it did. It’s funny because the guy who did the art was in Paris, and he didn’t have any idea where we were in Palm Springs, and the cover of the album looked exactly like the backyard of where we were.
How was it working with two different producers on the same album?
Dexy: It was actually really cool because the first version of the album we did with John Morrical, and it’s more electronic/dancier, and when we lost those files we went up north and had to do everything again with another producer, Sep V. He wanted to take a more organic approach, so we brought in a live drummer, a live bass player, and re-cut all the vocals in the studio. The first version of the record was done outside a lot, and we were able to salvage some of that but for the most part there was too much noise, too much static.
So I’m clear, there are two different version of the records? Are they easily identifiable?
Dexy: The first one hasn’t been released yet. It would be cool to eventually put it out with one side as the four track and eight track demos, and then the other side the electronic dance version, and of course we have the one that’s out now.
Do you find that a recording is ever done?
Chris: It’s never done. When it’s done, it’s still not done. I could sit down with Aloha Moon right now and go through every song and say “maybe we could change this a little bit.”
For me, I think the songs get done really quickly, but it’s the mixing part. I could mix that record ten different ways. I would love to mix it myself.
You mentioned the bass player and drummer in the studio; does that translate to the stage too? It’s been a few years since I’ve seen play.
Dexy: We have a bass player and a drummer, and we have the backing tracks. Eventually we’d like to get a keyboard player and not have the tracks at all
C: The record is more keyboard-oriented, but live when we play, it’s a lot more guitar-oriented.
It sounds a lot bigger and more rocked-out than the album. Listening to the record it’s almost like “what we did do here?” because it’s so smooth, and delicate, and very calm sounds. Whereas live it’s very alive and raw, like an animal.
When I first saw you play it was with the Kills and you’ve done some recent dates with the Jesus and Mary Chain. Has that kind of aggression rubbed on your live show?
Dexy: We just literally played with JAMC a few days ago. It was definitely inspiring, playing with them. Same with The Kills. But yeah, I think so. We first played with them first last week, and then last night and I think last night was the best show we’ve ever done.
I sang on “Just Like Honey” with them last night at The Fillmore. I love the Mary Chain but that’s one song that I wasn’t totally familiar with. I had five minutes to learn it backstage and I completely botched my part on it. It was a call and response thing, but I kept singing along with him. I had their posters on my wall in high school and became the deer in the headlights. I was trying to hit the tambourine in time, and standing somewhat catatonically, thinking “Holy shit! Holy shit!” Oh well, next time.
“Crystals” on the new record has a strong summer feel to me. Is that intentional?
Dexy: For every song on the record we were trying to create a certain vibe. The whole concept of the record was an island in space, so we were trying for a jungle vibe, or tropical vibe, or space vibe or summer vibe. Summer night time, on the beach, waves, that sort of thing. “Crystals” is one of my favorite tracks on the record. That one in particular had that on the beach in the summer thing. We’re on the West Coast where it’s summer year-round.
Maybe you should record your next record in Pittsburgh in December.
Dexy: We were thinking of doing what we did times ten, going to an island and making our next record there.
Doesn’t Chris Blackwell still have a studio in the Bahamas?
Dexy: We’ll go to Necker Island and get Richard Branson behind it.