Published on June 17th, 2014 | by Ballard Lesemann0
Magic Camp Captures the Wild Sound on an Impressive Debut
Magic Camp’s new 16-song, self-titled album is a bewildering and fascinating collection. For those who’ve seen the Charleston-based quartet in action in all their spastic glory, the carefully arranged pop-rock stylings on some of these new tunes may come as a surprise. Fans of the band’s herky-jerky post-punk weirdness will enjoy other songs in the bunch.
Available for digital download and on cassette (no vinyl or CDs), Magic Camp is the band’s official debut. Charleston-based label Academia, an indie headed by rock fan and musician Greg Elias (a.k.a. Greg Islands), hooked up with the band this spring to press copies and plan this week’s release.
“I’m really bad at describing our own stuff,” says singer/guitarist Andrei Mihailovic. “I’m glad that we have support from someone like Greg who can promote and describe and explain what we’re doing pretty well.”
Mihailovic and his bandmates — bassist/singer Nick Jay, keyboardist/trumpeter Josh Jay, and drummer Chaz Straney — formed Magic Camp nearly four years ago, shortly after Mihailovic returned to Charleston from his college days at the University of Georgia in Athens, Ga. Mihailovic grew up in the late ’80s and ’90s on James Island with the Jay brothers. In middle school, he and Josh Jay played in school band together (with Mihailovic on French horn and Jay on trumpet).
“We all kind of looked up to Jay’s brother Nick, who was already in bands and stuff back then,” says Mihailovic. “In seventh grade, we formed a band called Nautilus with a guy named Logan Goldstein [currently of Columbia band Pandercakes]. Before we graduated high school in 2006, we put together a band called Italian Cuisine and recorded a 14-track album entirely about Italian food.”
Mihailovic and the Jay brothers enlisted Straney (previously of late local garage/rock band Sans Jose) to keep time for the project in 2012. That’s when they got serious about writing and arranging the bulk of their original set. They tagged themselves as a “nameless underground rock band practicing in basements and performing irregularly.”
“We wrote most of the songs that are on this new album within a few months of each other in 2012,” says Mihailovic. “I wrote seven of them, and Nick wrote six. One song [‘Chemical Wars’] is a tune I wrote with Zach way back in 2006. We started recording with Harper Marchman-Jones at the end of 2012, sometimes laying down songs we hadn’t even practiced yet.”
Currently the frontman with local pop/indie quartet Yr Lad, Marchman-Jones is a veteran musician and studio guy in the Charleston scene.
“Chaz and Nick Jay have been close friends of mine for years,” Marchman-Jones says. “In fact, I played in a an earlier iteration of Magic Camp called Diggy Pulley while Andrei was away at U.G.A. A few of the songs from those days [‘Things I Can’t Remember,’ ‘Flight of the Periodical,’ ‘Rewind You,’ ‘Trey’s Escape’) were included on the album. An early version of ‘Things I Can’t Remember’ that I co-produced with Chaz was my first real recording project — probably around 2007. When the guys were ready to document the songs they’d been working on, I guess I was the obvious choice.”
Magic Camp started tracking the basic tracks with Marchman-Jones in December 2012. “At first, we did some of the recordings live as a full band,” remembers Mihailovic. “But it was Harper and Chaz who both said, ‘Hey man, we can better than this; let’s track things.’ That’s when we got serious about things at Harper’s home studio.”
Marchman-Jones initially planned on doing the live-band tracking at the band’s practice space with vocal overdubs, similar to the approach he took while producing recent works by local act Southern Femisphere and Columbia-based Stefanie Santana. “After reviewing the work done over two sessions in December and January, it became apparent to me that this approach was not suited to the demands of Magic Camp’s music,” Marchman-Jones says. “This was a collaborative process, because of the tempo and time signature changes present in many of their songs. Andrei also laid down tracks for new songs that were not originally to be included [‘Crazy Grade,’ ‘Royal Star and China Girl,’ ‘Wife Swap’], as now he had some wiggle room to work with the other members of the band during the interim.”
The members of Magic Camp and Marchman-Jones spent plenty of time listening back to rough mixes from the original sessions before going into full studio mode in the spring of 2013. “Wes Schneider assisted me during this process, mainly with engineering the drums,” Marchman-Jones says. “He helped with tuning and muting. Because of the density of Magic Camp’s arrangements, I had a very specific aesthetic in mind for the drums. In order to make sure that Chaz’s nuanced fills and kick drum patterns would be audible and articulate, we treated the drums so that they would be very ‘clicky’ with fast decay and little ringing and resonance.”
Piece by piece, the band tracked additional instrumental parts, overdubs, and vocals through the spring and summer of 2013. Marchman-Jones paid close attention to the texture and interplay between the guitar, bass, and keys.”Because so much of Magic Camp’s sound is derived from Andrei and Nick’s idiosyncratic and virtuosic performance styles, I was very exacting when it came to instrument selection and amp settings,” he says.
“We made good use of multitrack recording to lend a sense of space to the guitars on the album. Andrei is a talented and flexible soloist, and his lead lines are always changing. Coaching him through epic, emotional displays such as the solo at the end of ‘Apple Head’ remains one of my most rewarding experiences as a producer.”
Anthemic songs like the nerdy/psychedelic “Royal Star and China Girl,” the slow and freaky “Casual Friday,” and the jangly, slightly Beefheart-esque “Combo Fat Blaster” benefit greatly from clever multitracking and the resulting wiggly wall-of-sound.
“Working with Harper was good because he wasn’t into doing too many takes of anything,” Mihailovic says. “We just worked until we all felt like like we had something. Harper kept everything moving along. On one song called ‘Lord of the House,’ Harper suggested dropping tempo between the verses and choruses and then picking them back up. It created an extra burst of energy there, which was cool. He was also big on doing a few multiple guitar tracks, which enhanced things. Sometimes, a single guitar track can sound kind dinky, but layered guitars can create a swirling effect, Harper has a good ear for vocals, too — much better than I do.”
The band and its studio team spent months going over each song’s arrangement and final mix, and they put serious time and consideration into the final track listing before solidifying the final order over the winter and spring.
“What you hear has been gone over with a fine-toothed comb, and I think that we made the best album we could possibly have made because we had a collection of songs that everybody believed in,” says Marchman-Jones. “We gave them all the care and consideration we could muster, holding ourselves and our work to higher standards than were probably necessary.”
In April, Magic Camp was almost ready to pull the trigger on a decision to press CD versions of the collection and self-release them when they bumped into Elias as a rowdy Guided By Voices tribute show at the Tattooed Moose where Mihailovic was playing guitar alongside Scott Dence of the Dumb Doctors and Boring Portals.
“I really met Andrei through Scott,” Elias says. “I saw him again at an Elim Bolt show and mentioned how much I liked the three songs Magic Camp had up on their Bandcamp page. I had no idea they had this 16-song opus in the can. I originally wanted to do a tape and digital single for our singles series, but once I heard the whole album, I was all in on doing our first full-length.”
Elias’ Academia roster already boasted an eclectic mix of local and national indie-rock talent, including the Dumb Doctors, Automono, Softails, Isaac Story, Poor And Perfect, and Jesus (featuring Sebadoh founding member Eric Gaffney). The quirky rock of Magic Camp kind of fits right in.
“They have this amazing combination of infectious energy, technical skill, and masterful, smart songwriting,” Elias says of the Magic Camp guys. “They’re fun and silly but emotional and soulful at the same time. It’s catchy and experimental, and the whole album doesn’t really fit into any genre. The tape is an hour long but maintains this power the whole time, which is a real testament to Harper’s production. He makes the pieces fit together without losing anything from their strengths.”
Magic Camp hit the street on June 17. The band will celebrate the release with a rock show at the Recovery Room on King Street on June 24. They’ll have cassette tapes and promotional band tank tops for sale at the venue.
“It’s gonna be rad at the Rec Room,” Mihailovic says. “We’re psyched. I live on the north side of downtown, so it’s one of my favorite hangouts. We’re glad to have [local band] Bath Salts on the bill, although it’s sad to hear that it’ll probably be their last show. They’re kind of a party-rock type band like us, you know?”
Magic Camp shares the stage with Bath Salts at the Recovery Room at 9 p.m. on Tues. June 24. Admission is free. Check out magiccamp.bandcamp.com, facebook.com/magiccampmusic, and academia.bandcamp.com for more.
Powered by Facebook Comments