It’s impossible to listen to Magic Giant without cracking a smile. I first saw the L.A.-based band at Arroyo Seco Weekend in Pasadena, California, and their upbeat lyrics and danceable tempo brought an air of happiness and positivity to the whole festival. While in the crowd at their set, I literally heard a girl say, “They make me want to grow my hair real long and throw away my cell phone and live in a f*cking tree or something.” Which, to be fair, was true. They give off a bit of a hippy-dippy vibe (in the best way possible, of course).
The indie-folk three-piece is made up of Austin Bisnow (lead vocals, cello, synthesizer, percussion), Zambricki Li (banjo, fiddle, viola, cello, harmonica, mandolin, octave mandolin, acoustic guitar, dobro, lap steel, backing vocals. Yes. All of it.) and Zang (acoustic guitar, cello, bass, percussion, backing vocals), so I mean, I guess they’re musically inclined. And their stage presence is absolutely phenomenal. When Bisnow wasn’t jumping around on the stage with the energy of 6 espresso shots, he was jumping off of it and into the crowd (with more energy, if that’s possible). They even made a makeshift stage in the middle of the crowd and braved the heat with the rest of us at one point. The energy Magic Giant brought to the set was truly one of a kind.
Magic Giant’s debut album, “Into the Wind”, which had a pretty unconventional recording process (more on that later), is honestly the perfect road-trip album (but that might be because it was literally made on the road). Like I said, their music will inevitably make you smile, at the very least. At the very most, you might feel an urge to grow your hair real long and throw away your cell phone and live in a f*cking tree (or something).
I was lucky enough to get an interview with Magic Giant to discuss the making of their debut album, “In the Wind”, among other things like Earth Day nudes and WWII-bunkers-turned-recording-studios. Here’s what they had to say.
Affinity Magazine: Have there been any advantages to being Los Angeles based? Any disadvantages?
Magic Giant: Los Angeles is like a big spicy burrito bowl. It definitely helps to pull from the variety of personalities and cultures that exist here. It’s nice to “live” in an urban environment to balance out some of what we do on the road which is often times in nature traveling between festivals. Los Angeles has some of the best musicians in the world and it has helped us be able to get guys like Rashawn Ross from Dave Matthews Band and Spencer Ludwig from Capital Cities on the record. LA is so spread out that often when we’re in town recording or writing, we end up posting up at one member’s house or the studio and working, so it’s almost like being on the road in a way. We find that when we spend blocks of time together without interruptions, it helps the creative process.
AM: Who are some of your biggest inspirations in the music industry?
MG: We’re on the bill at a couple of festivals with Bleachers this summer and have been super inspired by their live show. We create our kaleidoscope of sound with four people and seeing them play was a window into what we could do if we expanded a bit.
AM: I saw your set at Arroyo Seco Weekend, it was phenomenal. But you guys call on a lot of different instruments, everything from a guitar to a cello to a banjo; did anyone have to pick up any new instruments for the band to sound the way it does? Or did you just have very musical backgrounds?
MG: It runs the gambit. We all have different musical backgrounds and believe there are no rules what can be done in music. Zambricki plays some obscure stringed instruments and we have modified some instruments to serve the sounds we’re hearing in our heads. Zang was pretty much a bass player before he started playing guitar in the band and both he and Austin picked up cello when we were writing the first couple songs.
AM: You guys are obviously very environmentally conscious, your merch site even talks about the eco-friendliness of the manufacturer. Why do you find it important to use your platform as a band to raise awareness about the environment?
MG: We think there’s already enough t-shirts and jean shorts in the world so rather than doing a mass pressing of band T-shirts, we upcycle them to create our merch. So all the merch at shows is one of a kind. In general, we try and tour consciously and keep a low impact.
AM: Can you talk a little bit about One Tree Planted and how you got involved with them?
MG: One Tree Planted is an organization that plants trees all over the world to offset some of the clear cutting and diminishing of forests. Trees clean the air we breath, the water we drink, and combats the global climate crisis. We believe in small intentional acts of kindness which are right in front of us. It’s not that we think we’re going to change the world with this small campaign–it just reminds us to be present and that what we are a small piece of a larger puzzle. For every album sold at shows, we are planting a tree with One Tree Planted and will continue to do so moving forward at festivals and as we tour. It all started with the risque photo on Instagram. It was Earth day and we had a ridiculous photo of Austin walking down the beach naked in Hawaii. We thought it would be fun to post the photo and plant a tree for everyone who commented on his bum… you know, to celebrate Earth Day. It’s how outreach meets nudity meets social media, Magic-Giant-style and was such a hit that we extended it through the release of the album.
AM: You guys found yourselves recording your album in a lot of unlikely places, what kind of challenges came with that?
MG: Last summer while we were on festival tour, we had dreamt of making a record, so we built a solar-powered mobile recording studio. We bought a little shuttle bus and outfitted it so we could drive it into nature. So basically we could pull the bus up to an acoustic anomaly like a hollow redwood tree or a two and a half mile tunnel, bring microphones inside them, and record… powered by the sun (solar panels) in complete silence! There are some challenges that go along with this sort of endeavor, like when we went to record in a rainforest and realized the rain would ruin our precious microphones and recording equipment that cannot get wet!!!
We also got kicked out of Moab National Park by a park ranger… but not before we grabbed amazing reverbs.
AM: Whose idea was it to turn a bunker into a recording studio?
MG: Buddy Holly used to record in a concrete structure back in the fifties so we knew that it was possible. Led Zeppelin would do some pretty wild things in non-standard environments to get their drum sounds, so there was a precedent in the history of music to create and record in unconventional spaces. We happened to find this space and love the recording process so it was perfect.
When we first got into the Bunker, it had a big echo like being in the Sistine Chapel or in a huge cavern. It was constructed in the forties during World War II and was built out as a big wooden structure underground that had concrete poured in. So it’s completely sealed, which allows for great control of acoustics. One of the first songs that we recorded there was Set on Fire, and when we listened back to the drums, we knew we were onto something special.
AM: I read that you guys sometimes soundtrack yoga sessions… What’s that like?
MG: It was at one of our first festivals that also had yoga and when they asked us to play a yoga session, initially we said, “No” because we weren’t sure how to do it. After talking to the teacher who was running the class, we realized she was awesome and had a vision, so we decided to give it a try. The class was under a huge tent on top of the hill overlooking a lake at the festival with about 300 people all stretched out. We started playing and it ended up being the first time we improvised together as a band. We weaved songs with extended instrumental sections and basically fed off of the class and the teacher and everything that was going on in the space. It was a little like live scoring a movie and was quite emotional… something we were not expecting.
AM: Do you have a favorite city to play in? Why?
MG: We’ve been a band for three and a half years now and have only scratched the surface of cities. The album comes out in Japan this August and we go to Europe for the first time in September. We’re smack in the middle of tour right now and playing a lot of cities for the first time. We’ve been lucky enough on this tour to sell out in some cities where it’s our first time playing there! It’s amazing people come to shows and you can tell they’ve been living with the record because they don’t just know the chorus… they know all the words to the verses and bridges! We just had a great run on the East coast in Boston, NYC, Philly and FireFly Music Festival, and we always love playing in San Diego, Denver, and Seattle on the west coast. Chicago rocks too. There are too many!!!!