You’d be hard pushed to find a 2016 ‘Ones To Watch’ list that didn’t include The Magic Gang.
The Brighton-based four-piece only released one single in 2015 – ‘No Fun’ with its flipside ‘Alright’ – but support tours with Wolf Alice and Swim Deep secured their reputation as one of the country’s most enjoyable up and coming live bands.
Contrary to the song title, their well-crafted pop songs are charming enough on their own, but the effect is enhanced by how much fun the band obviously have on stage.
They ended last year on a high with their own headline tour and continued that momentum into 2016, releasing their debut EP last month and announcing a London gig as part of NME’s awards shows. We caught up with them before their show at King Tuts in Glasgow to talk beginnings, Brighton and The Beatles.
The Magic Gang are: Jack Kaye (vocals, guitar), Kristian Smith (vocals, guitar), Angus Taylor (bass), and Paeris Giles (drums).
If you go back to the start, what was your introduction to music? What did you grow up listening to, or what did your parents introduce you to?
Kris: “My dad really likes Van Morrison and my mum really likes Stevie Wonder. I don’t really like Van Morrison that much but I really do love Stevie Wonder and I’ve always listened to that. Also stuff like The Beatles is quite a big one, Simply Red as well.”
Jack: “I don’t know if I was directly introduced to anything but probably the band that my dad used to listen to most was T-Rex, so he always had T-Rex’s greatest hits on. He listened to Queen a lot as well and then a little bit further a long, when I was a bit older, my brother used to just play Oasis on repeat so a lot of that. So pretty basic but still really, really good songwriting, which I guess is the benefit of being introduced to those artists.”
Kris: “Yeah, I mean I’m thankful my parent’s music isn’t full of tat so it was kind of healthy to have all that when I was younger.”
Paeris: “My dad was really into the Factory bands, mainly Joy Division and bands like that, and I kind of just progressed from there really. But I used to be really into metal and stuff so when you get shown that it does lead to you maybe branching out a bit more.”
How did you all meet and form The Magic Gang?
Jack: “We met when we were all around 16 or 17 and we kind of met in various different combinations before we formed but we basically met at sixth form college and then one by one we all moved to Brighton and that’s when we started the actual band. We got together and demoed a couple of songs and sort of went from there.”
Kris: “A few of us were friends for a long time before we actually formed the band so it was an interesting dynamic because it wasn’t just like a band thing, it was a friend thing if you know what I mean.”
I saw that you’ve all been in bands before – why do you think The Magic Gang is the one that seems to be taking off and going somewhere?
Jack: “It’s the one that got…”
Kris: “The most plays on YouTube!”
Jack: “Basically, Kris had an idea for a song and it just happened to be us four that were in the house to record it. We uploaded that and didn’t really think much of it at the time but then it just got more and more traction and more and more people asked about it to the point where we thought ‘we should probably do this for real now and make a proper band and write more songs’. So it wasn’t really the intention to… it was more kind of by accident.”
When I was reading reviews of your tracks, the one band that always popped up were Weezer. Are they actually an influence on your music?
Kris: “Yeah I’d say in a way, like, Weezer’s first two albums are two of my favourite albums of all time and, especially earlier on, when I was writing songs for the band that was a kind of point of reference. I feel like Weezer are such a good band and to be compared to them is quite a good compliment because I don’t really know that many bands that get compared to them. So, yeah, I always take it as a compliment but we don’t necessarily try to sound like Weezer. I think it’s because their songwriting is influenced by the same things that we’re influenced by, like Brian Wilson and The Beatles.”
What can you tell us about your debut EP?
Jack: “We’ve kind of ever so slightly moved on from the singles in the sense that it’s got more of a complete feel. So as opposed to just being like ‘rock’ it’s now got more of a laid-back sound. We’ve thought of how every part and every section sounds and it’s more musical in a way. The melodies are more thought out – each song feels a little more complete.”
Kris: “It feels a lot less derivative than what we’ve done before.”
Jack: “Yeah that’s the other thing about it, it’s like when I listen back to it now I can’t help but think it doesn’t really sound like any one thing. It sounds like a few different things and a few different ideas but in a kind of rounded off way which is good.”
Kris: “Yeah…in essence it’s a bit more seventies than nineties.”
You decided to self-release it?
Jack: “Yeah it’s out on our little label called Telharmonium, which is something that’s been set up within The Magic Gang camp. It’s been really good actually because it means that we’ve been able to do it on our own timescale. I feel like with this band it got off to a kind of slow start in terms of actually getting music out so this is the first release we’re doing now where you’re going to be able to hear a few songs at once and I think people are going to be able to make their minds up about the band a little bit better. We really didn’t want to wait any longer so we worked out it would just be better if we put it out ourselves.”
Is there any label interest? Do you think you’ll be signing a deal any time soon?
Jack: “Yeah, like we’re well aware that eventually we will be putting stuff out on someone else’s label but, like I said, because we’ve yet to become established we couldn’t hang around and suit another label’s schedule. I suppose the next release will be with someone else.”
Do you think living and working in Brighton instead of London had an effect on you as a band? I know you’re all in different side projects and working on different things…
Kris: “Yeah because it’s just allowed us to do our own thing, like we don’t really feel the influence and pressure of feeling like we need to be like other bands in London.”
Jack: “I feel like when we need to be in London we are, and when we need to play in London we do. When we’re in Brighton we’re basically like in our own world until it’s necessary for us to go and play and that works for us. Also there’s like a community of all of our friends who all make amazing music as well and I think we all help each other grow.”
I read that you have quite a dedicated fanbase. Why do you think that is, and is it important for you to establish a good relationship with your fans?
Jack: “We’ve gained that from our support tours. We’ve owed so much to bands like Wolf Alice and Swim Deep and JAWS who’ve taken us out and essentially allowed us to present ourselves to their audience and then their audiences have decided whether or not they like us.”
Kris: “I do think that what makes them stick around is probably the fact that when we play on stage we come across as quite approachable humans. We’re always smiling and I think it’s important to come across as someone you’d want to hang out with as opposed to someone who’s cool.”
Angus: “There’s not much mystique about what we do. We just put it on the table and there’s no pretence.”
You were mentioned in quite a lot of ‘new bands of 2016’ lists, but which new bands would you recommend?
Angus: “SHEIKH as well, who toured with us. They’re really good, they’re super young. I don’t think they’ll break through in 2016 but they’ll definitely have a massive buzz about them. Who else should we say? I think Abbatoir Blues are releasing an EP next year and it’s going to be amazing. That’s our housemates’ band.”
Finally, what are your plans for 2016?
Jack: “Early in the year we’re probably just gonna promote the EP a lot, tour more and stuff like that I reckon.”
Angus: “Then we’ll see, we’ll see if we have a deal on the table and if we have finances to start an album. We’ll definitely put out more singles after the EP, I think there’ll be a couple of singles and then we’ll either do an EP or an album. I think an album will probably be early 2017.”
The Magic Gang play 100 Club, London on February 15.