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Magic 12 - Interview

  by John Clarkson

published: 13 / 1 / 2002



Magic 12 - Interview

intro

'Magic 12' has in its line-up several of the best known members of the Boston independent music scene. Pianist Beth Heinberg and drummer and percussionist Nancy Asch have toured and also record with t


'Magic 12' has in its line-up several of the best known members of the Boston independent music scene. Pianist Beth Heinberg and drummer and percussionist Nancy Asch have toured and also record with the influential art rock group 'Come', and contributed to their acclaimed and most recent album 'Near Life Experience'. Guitarist Dana Hollowell was once a member of alternative country act 'The Willard Grant Conspiracy', and also appeared in its 'Screaming Trees' style precursor 'The Flower Tamers'. Magic 12's vocalist and songwriter Toby Ingalls meanwhile has worked in variety of local groups as a guitarist, including popular eighties punk novelty outfit 'Lou Miami and the Cosmetics' and also post-punk pop act 'Sensurround' with whom he recorded a single 'Windows to the Future' in the mid nineties. The band was born out of a bizarre, but dreadful accident when, in January 1996, Ingalls accidentally stabbed himself though the hand with a knife, whilst struggling with a mop. "I clean houses and manage household affairs for a day job" he explains in an interview with Pennyblackmusic. "I had just got this brand new job, and had to change a mophead. The one which was already on the mop was bound on so tightly that I couldn't get it off with a pair of scissors, so I went and got a knife and cut if off. In the meantime also I wound up putting the knife underneath my index finger, going through it, severing the two tendons and nerves in my middle fingers and bringing it out above the ring finger on my right hand." The accident put him in hospital with twenty two stitches. After a year and a half of operations and physiotherapy, and unable still to use his hand fully or to play the guitar, Ingalls, rather than abandon music, began to find new musical direction composing songs left-handed on a keyboard which his downstairs neighbour, Beth Heinberg, had loaned him. When Heinberg and her flatmate, Asch, started to attend rehearsals with Ingalls, the three musicians formed Magic 12, with Heinberg for practice and recording purposes taking over on piano duties. Hollowell, who had worked with Ingalls previously in two other local bands, 'Sob Story' and 'Spool', became a member of the group shortly afterwards when the trio decided they wanted to fill out and consolidate their sound. "Sob Story ran from 1987 through to 1990" Ingalls recalls, describing his and Hollowell's previous two incarnations "And then we had about a year off, before we started Spool. Sob Story was a little darker and a little more edgy, while Spool was more organic sounding and more vocal and rock 'n' roll. We did a lot of recording with Spool, but it never found its way into the record shops. The band was around for about two years, and although we did have a wealth of material, we just couldn't get the interest from record labels in getting it released." Magic 12's music has been described as "somewhere between The Velvet Underground and Kurt Weill". Heinberg's swirling piano is the predominant instrument, its lightly flowing chord-based melodies delicately balancing with smooth, clean-cut guitar playing from Hollowell and gentle and reflective drum and percussion work from Asch to create a stripped down, but evocative and passionate sound. Ingalls' lyrical, thought-driven vocals, often melancholy in tone and slow and unhurried in style, add further weight to the emotional drawing power and feel of the band, who have drawn comparisions as well with other 'mood acts' such as 'The Go Betweens', 'Mazzy Star', 'The Red House Painters', Harvey Williams and 'Belle and Sebastian'. "What I do is bring the chords and melody to the group" says Ingalls, describing the band's method of working and the way in which it structures its sound. " We then work collectively together as a team to arrange songs and I let everyone put in their creative input. Everyone is really giving, and we communicate well together." Ingalls' fragilely powerful and descriptive, scene-painting lyrics are frequently about loss, sometimes about collapsing love affairs, but often too about the failure and end of other relationships and friendships. "With any kind of poetry or lyric-writing or prose or fiction a variety of things may inspire you" he reflects "It may be experiences that you have had, or someone's experience that you're trying to home in on, or even just the whole creative process. With me I think it is almost a convergence, a marrying of all those three things that brings something to life for me." "The way I approach writing is to have total continuity in my ideas" he adds. "Sometimes things fall together immediately. At other times I get one line in my head, and I have to really think about it and to where I can take it." The group soon attracted the interest of Hollowell's friend and former colleague, Robert Fisher. Fisher is the frontman and lead singer in The Willard Grant Conspiracy, but also runs his own small label 'Dahlia Records' and promptly offered to put out a record by the band. The band's eight song debut CD, also called 'Magic 12', was recorded, as a result, at Boston producer Pete Weiss's prolific Zippah Studios in August 1998. The album was co-produced by both Weiss and Fisher and, as well as having Fisher on backing vocals, also features guest appearances from two other members of The Willard Grant Conspiracy, James Apt on bass and David Zox on bowed bass. With both Dahlia and Magic 12 working to tiny budgets, the album had to be recorded quickly, but effectively. "It didn't take long." says Ingalls. " There was a full day of recording the basics, and then another day of overdubs, and then another final day of mixing, so all in all it only took about three days. It was important for us to be well rehearsed. When you go in well rehearsed, it takes about half the time." "Both Robert Fisher and Pete Weiss were really great" he continues. "They have got a great sense of sound and offered wonderful suggestions. Robert has great ears. He can decipher when another part maybe needs to be put into something. Pete is the same, but did more of the engineering, putting this microphone with that amplifier, and that organ here, and that kind of thing." The album, which is limited to 1000 copies, was released to critical acclaim in December 1998. The Boston monthly rock magazine 'The Noise' described it at the time as "easily one of the best lo-fi indie rock releases in Boston this year". Local newspaper 'The Boston Phoenix' meanwhile called it "subtle and seductive", while French magazine 'Popnews', upon hearing it, defined Magic 12 as "exactly the kind of pop group you want to cherish". The CD has picked up celebrity status also with both 'REM' frontman, Michael Stipe, and novelist and seventies punk icon, Richard Hell, being listed amongst its fans. "It is all on hearsay" says Ingalls about Michael Stipe's interest. " A friend of mine, Lisa, who is a poet moved to New York and was hanging out in the poetry circles there where she befriended this guy, Doug, who is a friend of Michael, so I gave Lisa a copy of the CD and asked her to give it to Doug to give it to Michael !" "I never heard anything more of it, and just thought "Well ! At least I tried !" and then more than a year later, and from a completely different source, my friend, Dave, called me up and said "I was just down in Atlanta, and I was hanging out with some friends, and one of them was Michael Stipe. He said that he really loved your album, and we ended up going back to his house, and it was there in his CD player." I was totally surprised." Nancy Asch is a close friend of Richard Hell's sister, who she had given a copy to, and was equally delighted when on a lunch date with her friend, the punk star turned up and also expressed his enjoyment and liking of the album. Magic 12 have recently returned to the studio, and are currently working on their second CD. The album, which is to have ten tracks and to be called 'Dear Diary', will again be released by Dahlia and is being recorded to a slightly longer timescale and in two stages, six of the songs at Hollowell's home studio 'Dog Leg', the remaining four over two days at Zippah. The band will be self-producing the album themselves, with Fisher and Weiss, who are again also working on the project, providing assistant production. The album will also feature on all tracks James Apt, who has joined the band as its fifth member and is now its regular bassist. With Ingalls's injured hand at last beginning to recuperate, and the eclectic nature and range of the personnel involved, 'Dear Diary' will represent a change of direction for Magic 12. "I can play the guitar again now" Ingalls says "And most of the songs I have written for the new album I have written for the new record I have written primarily on the guitar. While I don't think I will ever be able to play as well as I once did, I'm well on the road to recovery." "I feel that the new songs are more uplifting and offer more hope than the first album also" he continues. "The band has also evolved a little more, and I think this album will be be a little more pop-orientated than the first one." With a projected release date of October for 'Dear Diary', Magic 12 have much to look forward to and hopefully will have a higher profile and reach a wider audience in the future.



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Magic 12 - Interview



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