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Here We Go Magic, from Brooklyn, is a band obsessed with inward time and outward space. Songs like “Over The Ocean” and “Alone But Moving,” from their 2012 masterpiece “A Different Ship,” speak to this cosmic divide. That territory is charted even further on 2015’s “Be Small,” which, like its predecessor, comes courtesy of Secretly Canadian Records. “Be Small” sees this beautiful psych-pop band reduced to a three-piece, comprised of singer and songwriter Luke Temple, bassist Brian Betancourt, and guitarist Mike Bloch.
BTRtoday caught up with Bloch to discuss this evolution and the band’s magical trajectory.
BTRtoday (BTR): Here We Go Magic lost two longtime female members in Jen Turner and Teeny Lieberson, but the new album “Be Small,” is just as powerful. Your show the other night at Union Pool was really energetic, and there was a distinct lack of synths (even though you yourself do a ton of interesting synth-like guitar work). Does this more stripped-down, traditional rock ‘n roll sound reflect the state of the band? How do you think the all-male version has altered the sound?
Mike Bloch (MB): It’s an interesting question, but in truth there hasn’t been just one big shift. The live lineup/instrumentation of the band has been morphing over the last few years. Jen, our former bass player, was playing a lot of keys when we toured “A Different Ship.” Then for a while Luke and I both had synths on stage that we’d switch to throughout the set. More recently, we’ve been using a lot of sampled synth sounds on a drum pad. The show the other night at Union Pool was actually the first time we’ve ever had no synth sounds at all. Kind of an experiment in austerity.
We hadn’t played in a while, and it felt more stimulating to try to keep it loose and simple and fill out the space with just the guitars. Sometimes it can be inspiring to remove a familiar layer from songs that you’ve gotten used to a certain way. If the song is strong it still holds up, and different aspects of it pop out and you find yourself responding in new ways.
As far as the gender balance of the band, it’s definitely true that Jen and Teeny were a huge part of the language we developed as a band, playing together so intensely for so long. So if you still feel like you hear some female energy in there, that’s a great thing. But you know, music is music, it’s like talking. There’s surely some different perspective offered when it’s a woman’s experience versus a man’s, or an elephant’s, or people from different backgrounds, etc.
In the end, though, a band is a bunch of individuals who happen to like what happens when they talk together.
BTR: Your guitar work is really impressive–there’s a lot of syncopated, bluesy riffing and krautrock spaciousness, but there are also strange effects that tastefully peak out of the mix, both in terms of color and notes. Is your playing busier these days in that you have to add other peoples’ parts? How do you go about choosing guitar effects for songs?
MB: Thanks, that’s nice to hear. I think probably you’ve got no choice but to be a bit bolder when the instrumentation is more sparse. Not really in the sense of trying to compensate for any lack, but just that you’re aware that the ear goes to whatever choice you make when you’re making that choice in more open space. So you sort of end up anticipating your own voice differently.
Fundamentally though, I don’t think my approach changes much. I try to look for little odd corners in the songs to accent and put some light on. As for effects, I tend to get about a pedal a year, and then over the course of a year, try it at every possible setting. Not a big gear head. I usually choose the pedal without trying it first.
Album artwork courtesy of Secretly Canadian Records.
BTR: How much of the music on “Be Small” was born of jams? I know that’s been an integral part of your process.
MB: A lot of that album was actually built up trading files back and forth. One-man-jams on top of one-man-jams. A different process from previous albums.
BTR: There’s a really cool outro on the song “A Different Ship” (from the 2012 album of the same name). Was that an in-studio creation between you and producer Nigel Godrich? It’s so spooky, but contains the soul of the album that preceded, not an easy thing to do.
MB: We did a bunch of ambient recordings at Nigel’s studio in London, where he’d set up a bunch of mics and we’d play random instruments recording at double tape speed so that the playback was super slow. And then, of course, Nigel somehow found the most beautiful accidental moments and wove them into the album. He’s kind of a magician that way.
BTR: You guys have made some pretty interesting and, at times, controversial music videos, most notably with directors Nat Livingston Johnson and Greg Mitnick of Mr. Wonderful, which are often grotesque and hilarious. “Casual” comes to mind. Are there any future video plans with those guys or anyone else? Do you have a favorite HWGM video?
MB: Yeah, those guys are old friends. Really talented and open-minded with endless ideas. We really get their humor and aesthetic, so we’ve worked together a lot. No plans yet for future videos, but they’re always fun to make. We’ll see what happens.
BTR: Any plans for a new album? If so, what can you tell us?
MB: We will make one. I have no idea when, but it’ll happen.
BTR: Good to know! Any solo projects on the horizon or anything you’d care to tell us about what you’re up to?
MB: I’ve been talking with some friends about putting a project together, actually. You’ll be the first to know.
Until then, check out Here We Go Magic’s impressive discography and updates on their website!