Interview: The Magic Gang

Leonie Belleni chats to Brighton's brightest indie band, The Magic Gang.

Leonie Bellini
7th September 2020

From a pub garden in sunny South London just after the release of brilliant second album Death of the Party, The Magic Gang’s Paeris Giles chatted to me about the band’s recording process, the best foods for a hangover, and that cover of the Arthur theme song.

Congratulations on the album release! How do you feel now it’s out in the world?

Thank you! I’m glad the week is done (laughs). It’s a lot all at once, especially as it was supposed to come out in May and we pushed it back again, and then all of a sudden you remember that people actually give a fuck about your band!

Rewinding back to when the world didn’t permanently smell of hand sanitiser, what was the recording process last summer in Atlanta like?

The day we got there, they were still doing maintenance on the air conditioning, so we started trying to record in this 40°C heat, but we were so jetlagged we gave up... But overall it was good, because we were really big fans of some of the stuff the producer [Ben H. Allen] had done, and we’re good mates with The Big Moon [whose second album Allen also produced]. It was sort of a happy accident really, I used to live with Soph [Nathan], so I was asking her for tips.

What we did with the first record was more about simply getting the songs down and trying to get as close to the live setup as possible, but with this our style was consciously fluctuating a bit. We really liked this particular Clash album, Combat Rock from the 80’s, where they managed to cover so many different bases and styles in one go. We wanted to try and find a way to make it all sound as cohesive as possible, and were keen to avoid that cliché of every band’s second record jamming some fucking synths on it like *imitates very edgy overused synth noise*. I guess we do have that a bit with the addition of horns.

I think the brass and keys really work on this record though, they don’t sound out-of-place, but more like you were always building up to this more expansive sound. It adds a depth to the album, rather than just randomly shoving everything in for the sake of it.

It was literally a year ago that we finished recording it, and we were kind of worrying like ‘Oh God, are we going to alienate a lot of people?!’, but I think there’s enough in there, especially with some of the mid-album tracks, that listeners are used to.

What’s your personal favourite song off Death of the Party?

My two favourites are ‘Fail Better’ and ‘Go Moving’, a bonus track on the deluxe version. We wrote those back in the summer of 2018 when we were touring the first album, and they just feel so fun to play amongst ourselves. ‘Fail Better’ feels like the early stuff we did but with the updated lyrical themes and fast-talking pace, Kris’ lyrics on that are really, really good.

It sounds like a real growth of the summery house-party vibes that were running throughout your first album – some of the themes on this record are maybe more negative, or sombre.

I think you’re right in seeing that. It dawned on us quite quickly that we had maybe extended the student experience for a little too long. We graduated in 2015, and then preceded to stay in Brighton living all together in a house of eight musicians. Then our living situation changed pretty much overnight, and we all moved back in with our parents to save money.

It’s having to deal with the fact that things are more expected of you. Most of my close friend group from home are all doctors, engineers, and they just can’t get their heads around the fact that I might wake up of a day and have nothing work-related to do. It’s quite weird to get your own head around, and I guess you feel quite guilty for not contributing much – you kind of beat yourself up a bit.

I think that’s something a lot of creative people feel, but music is definitely an important contribution to the world in its own right. Are you excited to get back on tour in March (fingers crossed)?

Yeah, definitely! Everyone’s so friendly, especially in Newcastle. When you visit the same places so many times you get into your own little routine when you arrive, and we’ve got some friends up there so it’s nice to just hang out.

At this point in the album release cycle we’d normally be playing record shop instore shows, and be speaking to fans and talking about what they like on the record, it’s almost more for them than it is for us. For this release, we obviously haven’t been able to judge people’s reactions to hearing songs live, so the only real feedback we’ve had has been from interviews and written reviews really, which is weird.

I guess it’s something to look forward to! During lockdown though you’ve been busy doing lots of extra bits through the power of the Internet, including a legendary cover of the Arthur theme song. How did that come about?

A big fan of ours made a Twitter account that posted every day asking us to do the cover, and after a while we just thought: fuck it! It was fun, I remember doing the drum take with my little laptop mic and my dad knocking on the door telling me to shut up, and then that being played on Radio 1. In that period we were quite aware that it’d been a while since we’d put any new music out, so we wanted to make sure we were still present, getting involved in all these odd projects that may or may not need to be deleted off the Internet after a couple of days!

I really liked the love songs you were writing for people nominated by fans as well. The lockdown period was such a weird space to be interacting with people and making new music, but it was a really interesting way of going about that.

The reactions were great; I wrote one for a girl and her partner, and she replied saying they’d both been crying over it for an hour, it was very sweet!

Considering the title and overarching mood of the record, I’ve got some appropriately party-themed questions. What is your go-to drunk food?

Oh, mate! You know what, it’s rice cakes. It’s more tactical than anything else, to avoid feeling terrible the next day you need a really boring food so you can just eat masses. Like loads of white bread, loads of rice cakes, so the next day it can stave off the hangover.

What is the best themed/fancy-dress party you’ve been to?

This is actually the one that inspired a couple of songs off the record. We went to New Years’ party in Brighton, our friends live in a guardianship there in an old school and they’d covered every single wall and surface in foil. Everyone was dressed as space creatures, full of artsy students who can make themselves look proper cool, loads of little rooms, and a band playing. It feels weird talking about a party in such grandiose fashion but I’ve never been to anything like that, it was just amazing.

Finally, if The Magic Gang were a drink, what would you be? I’d go straight for a piña colada vibe, like summery, fun, melodic, light, but with a decent kick of alcohol.

That’s perfect, I agree with you. I was going to say Guinness, but Guinness is too good to compare to our band!

That’s not true!

The Magic Gang’s new album Death of the Party is out now, along with tickets for their March 2021 headline tour.

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