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14 September 2018

INTERVIEW: Josiah Webb of Magic Shoppe.

Photo by Alex Ioannou

Magic Shoppe identify their music as “hypnotic reverb rock”. The band name is apt: Magic Shoppe have consistently offered up their own magical concoction of gazey, dark and heavy psychedelia on four EPs and three full-length albums across an eight-year period, all with an excellence that only increases with time. At the core of Magic Shoppe is Josiah Webb, who writes the material and engineers, sings and plays on the recordings, with other project members contributing here and there and filling out the live line up. These participants are Stevie Moonboots on bass, Dave Mulvaney on drums, and Richie Gibson on guitar, with Josiah helming on guitar and vocals in the live setting. Stevie and Dave are both members of Vancouver’s The Orange Kyte while Richie is guitarist in B-17 and co-owner of Toronto’s Optical Sounds label.

Josiah, who lives in Boston, Massachusetts, has graciously taken time out from the flurry of activity that attends an LP release—read about In Parallel below—to answer our questions.

How and when was the band formed?
In the winter of 2007…in the frozen tundra of upstate New York. Things started rolling for Magic Shoppe the night I met Rob and Richie Gibson from the Optical Sounds label. Some Optical Sounds bands came down from Toronto to play a show at a local venue around the corner from my apartment at the time. We all hung out after the show until the sun came up. I asked Rob and Richie if they’d be into putting out some recordings I was working on as an EP. Without even listening to it, they agreed. After that night, I realized I needed to have an actual band, so I recruited some friends and the rest is history, I guess.

Can you tell us what the band has been working on and what you've got forthcoming in the near future (new releases, tour, etc.)?
Our latest full length In Parallel was officially released on Little Cloud Records (which I co-own with Mike and Joe Nesbitt) in North America and Cardinal Fuzz in the EU/UK on August 31st, 2018. This record is a lot more rock ’n’ roll than our other records. It also has a ton more reverb, fuzz and delay on it. I’m down with how it turned out.

In support of this record, Magic Shoppe is touring Europe, Scandinavia and the UK for the entire month of October (look here for details).

Defining one's sound by genre can be tiresome, but do you feel that the band identifies closely with any genre?
I think we’re a decent mix of simple rock ’n’ roll and shoegaze, with maybe a little bit of modern psych.

What artists (musicians or otherwise) have most influenced your work?
I grew up as a skate boarder in the US. My friends and I got rad on half-pipes while blasting AC/DC (Bon Scott era), My Bloody Valentine, The Kinks, The Standells, Dinosaur Jr., Ride, Mercury Rev and The Flaming Lips (their early stuff). I think a lot of those bands inevitably show up as clear influences on our records. Right before the recording of In Parallel, I got my hands on a sweet 1967 Fender Jaguar and I ended up going a bit bonkers with the tremolo arm on the In Parallel recordings.

What do you think of modern shoegaze/dream pop/psychedelia artists, any favorites?
Some bands I’ve been listening to a lot lately are Davilla 666 (from Puerto Rico), TOY,  AC/DC (I listen to Bon Scott-era AC/DC pretty much every day), Haunted Leather, Morgan Delt and Telstar Sound Drone (I *really* dig Magical Solutions To Everyday Struggles).
What is the most important piece of gear for your sound? Any particular guitars/pedals/amps that you prefer?
I always change my pedalboard around, but my amp has always been a seventies Silver Face Fender Twin Reverb. I dislike the sixties Fender Blackface Twin Reverbs (no master volume). Most Fender Twin Reverb nerds swear by the Blackface single volume Twin Reverb. They seem to like it due to the way it drives the pre-amp tubes as you increase the single volume knob, which is exactly why I hate it. I don’t want my amp to color my sound in any fucking capacity. That’s what my pedalboard is for.
Some guitar pedals I swear by…

I’ll always have a Death By Audio Fuzz War and a Caroline Guitar Company Kilobyte delay pedal on my board. The Fuzz War is a widely used staple fuzz pedal and the Kilobyte delay is like many other lo-fi delay effects, but it has a unique feature that I could never live without. It has a button to step on that throws the delay feedback into total oscillation until you release the button. I can step on a button on the pedal—and it just goes completely insane.

What is your process for recording your music? What gear and/or software do you use? What would you recommend for others?
I’ve never paid a studio or an engineer to record Magic Shoppe records. I do everything myself. The first song tracked for In Parallel was “(un)Sound Mind”. That track was almost completely done before our EU/UK tour in 2017. When I got back from that tour, I just started tracking everything else pretty much all at once. Aside from the Velvet Underground “Heroin” cover and “(un)Sound Mind”, I had no idea what was going to be on this record. I just poured a scotch, had a seat and pressed record.
I’m a software and plug-ins guy. I have a simple process and some sidechain compression software that I’m comfortable with. Also, real tape is unbelievably expensive. I own a shitty Radio Shack mic, an SM-58, a D-112, and two super basic MXL cardioid mics.

I use the Glyn Johns method for miking drums (four mics). My drum kit is a sixties red sparkle four-piece Japanese stencil kit. It’s not a high-end kit by any stretch of the imagination, but I compensate by using high end vintage heads on it and I tune all the drums super open. I engineer, mix and master all the Magic Shoppe records with inexpensive gear I already own.

How do you feel about the state of the music industry today? There is no doubt a massive change underway. How do you see it and do you feel it’s positive at all?
I think it’s really wide open. There’s a lot of publicly available services you can use to get your stuff out there. There’s Bandcamp, social media, Spotify, iTunes, etc. Just start googling how to do stuff. You’ll inevitably find lots of services you can hook into and use.

Previously a record label was a lot like a pimp, but the days of record company pimps and hookers are long fucking gone. Now you can be both the pimp and the hooker—it’s fantastic.

When it comes to label releases versus DIY/Bandcamp and the like, what is your stance, if any?
I don’t think it matters. Twin brothers Mike and Joe Nesbitt and I founded our own record label (Little Cloud Records) to release Magic Shoppe records, as well as a few records by other bands we know and like. It took a bit of initial credit card debt to get things going, but we’re doing pretty well now.

Bandcamp is great. They make it really easy for bands to not only make money, but also to be found via networking.

Before Mike, Joe and I started Little Cloud Records, I kept seeing Mike buying tons of Magic Shoppe records on Bandcamp and I was like, “Who the fuck is this guy?” I checked out the Bandcamp list of music he’s supported/purchased (it’s public) and it was amazing how much good music he bought that I’d never even heard of. In turn, I ended up buying that same music, and those bands got my money and support.

Do you prefer vinyl, CD, cassette tape or MP3 format when listening to music? Do you have any strong feelings toward any of them?
Digital streaming or vinyl. It depends on where I am. If it’s a band I’ve never heard before, I prefer vinyl. I like to hold a record jacket and look at the artwork and all that. You can do some pretty clever shit with a vinyl record product. Weird shit with center labels, colored vinyl, marbling, etc. It can be a mind-blowing experience to be looking at all that while listening to the music. I’m not a fan of CDs.

What is your philosophy (on life), if any, that you live by?
I think I’ve managed to make a few semi-intelligent decisions and I’ve also had a bit of luck/chance that I can clearly identify as a starting point for a lot of great things that have happened to me in my life.

I don’t think a person can completely control their own destiny. There are definitely a lot of things that a person can control, but there’s a huge universe out there and a lot of people also doing their own thing. Collisions will happen, both good and bad. I just try to enjoy the ride.

ALBUM REVIEW: Film School | Bright to Death. Reviewed by Elizabeth Klisiewicz.

Film School – Bright to Death
Release date: 9/14/2018

I have followed Film School for years and was delighted to hear about this fantastic new record. It is their fifth release and first full length recording since 2010. Without diving back into their catalogue, I can only say that this new release is stuffed full of memorable and downright terrific songs with a multitude of textures. The range of styles include dream pop, synth pop, post punk, and elements of psych.

The album title is taken from artwork seen by singer/guitarist Greg Bertens at an exhibit by Chinese students on the theme of global warming. The phrase ‘bright to death’ popped into his head as the band recorded in Joshua Tree. Four members from the original lineup are on this record, as well as a guest appearance from Adam Wade (Shudder to Think, Jawbox) on several songs.

The elegant “Crushin” opens up this release, and it’s heady, romantic air saturates the senses with a perfumed, sonic splendor. The chilled-out keys, bass, and guitar lines frame it perfectly. To think it came out last May, it doesn’t seem that long. “Don’t Send My Love” is a catchy gem with a gentle feel that I adore. The production is crystal clear and immediate. “Bye Bye Bird” is another winner, one of my top picks on a record crammed with amazing tunes. Talk about a strong melody, it just grabs me up and never lets go. And you have to dig that buzzing synth darting through the mix!

“Two in Sun” hovers on the shoegaze periphery but lands more in the swooning psych school of dreamgaze that delights and cajoles my ears. “The Celebration” is another favorite, instantly reminding me of the harder-edged days of The Cure, but not in any way derivative. The chilly synths and cold waves of bass and drums swirl around Bertens like a doom cloak. Yet, the chorus erupts with a brighter edge. And oh, “Go Low” is so bloody cool and excellent. I really love the keyboard washes that propel this slow simmering tune along. Brilliant!

“Here in the Shadows” once more visits the altar of cold wave by way of synth pop. Bertens lends a great vocal to this evocative hook fest, one that screams single to me! “In Two” is so pretty, taking me back to the glory days of synth pop, but the lush production is instantly modern. “Bright to Death” is akin to living inside a silver-infused daydream, clouds split through by rays of sunlight. Imagine drifting through the water on a lazy summer day and dipping your sun blistered feet in cool water. Soothing and essential listening! “Waking Up” brings the album to a close on a very high note, soft, chiming notes stroking the senses. It is cheerful and rather sublime, and I am sorry to come to the end. An excellent addition to Film School’s body of work, and quite possibly the best thing they’ve ever done. Highly recommended!