Austin's Magnet School are without a doubt one of the most bad-ass independent bands in the country. Their sound mixes rough and aggressive shoegaze with grunge and elements of post-punk. Heavy layered guitars blast the listener with intense space rock atmospherics, complete with catchy vocals that alternate between singers for a massive sound that never tires or becomes stale. Their debut album Tonight We Drink, Tomorrow We Battle The Evil At Hand is a certifiable masterpiece, and the band are looking to release its follow up later this year. Comprised of bassist Brandon Tucker, drummer Jason Ferguson, and guitarists/vocalists Michael J Wane and Mark Ford, Magnet School were featured on EIS' debut compilation, and our love for them has continued to grow ever since. Having recently released a brand new 7" split with Dead Twins, Magnet School look to have a big year ahead of them. The band were kind enough of answer a few questions for EIS regarding their future plans, history, and... Towelie...
EIS: How did the band form? How long have you been playing together?
MS: Let's see... we all knew each other from being on the Austin rock scene & playing in other bands - Jason & Mark grew up near each other in Tulsa, OK & go way back. But we all individually moved to Austin for the same reason - to start a band & play some rock.
After my previous band split, Mark and I talked about me possibly playing bass with this new project - once he told me who was involved - He, Michael J, & Jason - I was like "hell yes" as I knew these guys were very talented and also super cool. They'd started jamming while doing other projects at the time - I'd heard about it and was quite curious. I went by to jam one night and we instantly hit it off & eventually knew we had something very special with the 4 of us together. Magnet School was born.
We formed early 2005 - so we've been together about 5 years now. We self released an EP in 2006, our debut album was released on Arclight Records 2007 & then Bertus (Europe) in 2008, been on a few compilations including your 1st EIS comp, and recently have released a new single on Shifting Sounds - now we're ready for album #2. It's in the making...
EIS: Did any of you guys go to a Magnet School? How’d you settle on the band’s name?
MS: Actually, none of us went to a Magnet School. All public schools for us... Jason came up with the idea for the name - we all thought it was catchy - we kinda liked how the name (like an actual Magnet School) says a lot about us being from different backgrounds musically and culturally but coming together to make great music. We believe that makes us what we are... and it's always interesting.
The other band name name Jason was going on about for months was Exploded Hooker - it didn't make the cut, but we still use that name as our Copyright title. Pretty funny - and Jason designed his own Exploded Hooker t-shirt logo...
EIS: Your music experiments with elements of grunge, shoegaze, post-punk, and so much more. How would you describe your sound to someone who has never heard the band?
MS: It's difficult to describe our sound as it does cross several genres - I think you really have to listen to our album or see us live to get an accurate feel - but to someone who's never heard us, I'd say if you liked 120 Minutes or Alternative Nation back in the day, you'd probably dig us - if you like bands like Failure, Swervedriver, Hum, Shiner, Film School, early U2, & Sonic Youth then you'd probably like our music as well.
We aren't reinventing the wheel but I think we have a large enough palette to keep people's interest. The influences/genres you mentioned are all relevant but there's certainly other stuff in there as well. Plus we all listened to a lot of what would become "classic rock" growing up. It all rubs off on you...
EIS: You recently released the Mysterious 7” split with Dead Twins on Shifting Sounds records. How did the deal with the UK label come about?
MS: When we did the UK tour dates back in Sept 2008, we met Andy the owner of the Shifting Sounds label. Very nice guy! We played 2 shows with his band The Sound Movement from London. The band was quite generous to us - the drummer Graham put us up in his flat in London for numerous days and their bass player Kat helped book 3 of the tour dates including the London & Liverpool shows we had booked with them.
Months after we returned to Austin, Andy and I chatted about his label possibly releasing a single - when the idea of pressing a 7" vinyl came about, we decided to move forward and thought it would be fun to do a split 7" with another cool band and include the digi-download. We thought of Dead Twins as we're good friends w/ Nick & Gabe Cardinale and we have played a lot of Texas dates together. Plus their new album was almost completed at the time and "Action/Reaction" stood out right away.
EIS: Will Shifting Sounds release the second Magnet School album?
MS: We're not sure yet who will release it - it's possible though? Arclight Records have been soo good to us that we'd consider any offer from them - but we've had several other label offers as well. It's nice to have some options - we plan to focus on writing & recording - then see what works best for us?
EIS: What can you tell us about “The Sitch”? The track is terrific and sounds like the logical extension from Tonight!, was it recorded specifically for the 7”? When was it written? Is that the dial tone to “Funky Town” I hear at the end?
MS: Thanks for the kind words! "The Sitch" was written in 2008 - after playing shows and promoting "Tonight we drink..." for 6 months or so we worked "The Sitch" and a few other new songs into our live set list. Then Kevin Butler from Test Tube Audio approached us after a show at Stubb's in Austin and offered to record a single - he was pushing for "The Sitch" as he'd seen us play it live a few times. So we decided to work with Kevin & it was a treat! I'm pretty sure we've decided to leave "The Sitch" exclusive to the 7" split. But ya never know?
Yes - the tidbit at the end of the track is Mark's version of "Funky Town" on Kevin's bull horn - he played the key pad after a long session and many beers. You can hear Michael J saying "That's The Theme to Funky Town" in his best Towelie (from South Park) voice if you listen closely... haha!
EIS: What can we expect from the follow up to “Tonight!”? How is the writing process coming along?
MS: Expect us to come out with guns - we're having to really work hard to make a sophomore album that can stand up to "Tonight we drink..." - it's a hard one to follow, but we feel good about the writing process. We've been recording our rehearsal sessions for a few months now and it's a great writing tool. We all get to hear the new ideas the next day & can do our homework in between practices.
EIS: Will you be working with Kevin Butler at Test Tube Audio on the new record?
MS: I think we plan to track the drums, bass, and basic guitars to analog at Ohm Recording Facility with Chico Jones - that's where we recorded and mixed "Tonight!" - but we've chatted about Kevin possibly mixing the album at Test Tube. It's up in the air right now - but both studios are awesome so it will sound great regardless.
Magnet School will co-produce the album for sure like we did on both Tonight! and "The Sitch." We like to have our hands in the mix.
EIS: Your UK tour last year garnered a huge reaction from the fans and press overseas, were you guys at all shocked by this? How did the emphatic UK push/tour come about?
MS: Yes, we were a bit shocked & excited at the same time! A good number of our influences are from the UK so we saw the connection, but it's a nice feeling to be appreciated abroad. It really hit us when we saw fans singing the words to our songs while playing in Camden, London - the first date of the tour. That's was a highlight!
We had some British press, other UK journalist's, & European radio stations contact us after Bertus/Arclight released our debut album in Europe in June 2008. A writer who reviewed the album turned us on to some of her connections & that led us to meet The Sound Movement & their friends. Kat & I spent months working out the tour dates & logistics - and then we went for it. It was a blast! And we had a few days off in between the shows so we spent quality time in London & Liverpool, we also went to North Wales & saw Conwy Castle (one of the oldest in the UK) that place was built in 1283 - crazy! And the best part - getting lost in Sheffield!! But that show was one of our best ones & I remember having bizarre dreams about hanging out with Def Leppard while sleeping in the van on the way back to London...
EIS: So when can we expect a nationwide tour of the US?
MS: Hopefully soon? We did some Midwest tours dates in 2006 & 07 & we talked about hitting the East Coast back in 2008 when the debut came out but the gas prices went thru the roof! Up to over $4.50 a gallon around that Summer - then when the UK tour became possible, it was cheaper for us to work on that and expand our fan base abroad - and spend less flying than driving... oddly enough.
Can we sleep on your floor? Boston here we come... that's going to happen at some point.
EIS: You absolutely can! For those who haven’t had a chance to catch the band live, how would you describe your live show in comparison to the recorded material?
MS: Our live shows are a pretty close to the recordings with the right stage & sound guy in the mix. Sometimes we really have to work it to get our sound across when we're in certain venues & dealing with the elements. But that goes for any band... our sound is very layered so certain environments work better us. But we're always energetic & fun!
EIS: The texture throughout Tonight! are incredible as evident on tracks like “XX,” “Seventensplit,” and “Sweatheart in German”. Was there a lot of time spent on layering? On average, how many guitar tracks made it onto each song?
MS: Dude, we spent hundreds of hours recording guitars. Texture is our paint brush - most guitar takes have 3 mics/tracks being recorded at once (directional, ribbons, and room) for example - so when you blend both Michael J & Mark's combined tracks in the mixing sessions, you have between 9 & 12 guitar tracks on most songs, & sometime more depending on the song. We also combined direct and room mics on bass & had several room mics on drums - gives it a very ethereal sound. Michael J also did some piano & acoustic guitar on some tracks to really define certain melodies.
EIS: How did you decide to cover Swervedriver's “Never Lose That Feeling”? It’s easily one of my favorite covers I’ve heard in a really long time, have you heard any feedback from Adam Franklin? Do you ever play the song live?
MS: We always said if we did a cover it would have to be something great and somewhat obscure - we love Swervedriver & toyed with it in rehearsal one night & it sounded great! We recorded it during the "Tonight!" sessions & it turned out soo good that we decided it should be on the album. Swervedriver's myspace admin really loved it and passed it on to Adam back in 2008. We heard he thought it was a really good cover so that was exciting to hear! We do play it live now and then - it's a crowd pleaser and always cool to see those Swervie fans smile when they're not expecting it.
EIS: What are your favorite tracks to play live? Are they the same as the fan favorites?
MS: Somehow "Crush" stays fun live as much as we've heard it and played it. "710" was the first song we played live and its still fun to lock on and dig into. Otherwise we're enjoying the songs we've written in the last year.
EIS: With a sound as luscious and sonically dense as yours, I need to ask… what are your favorite go-to effects pedals?
MS: I'd have to say the analog delays & overdrive - Michael J & Mark use a wide array of effects but the combination of their amps, overdrives, and analog delay really creates a nice soundscape that defines our sound. Plus we use alternate tunings for all our songs and that also give us a very unique overall sound.
EIS: It’s been a while since the release of your debut, is there any concern/pressure regarding the fans reaction to the music?
MS: Not really, our fans have been very supportive - we released "Tonight!" in the US & Canada Nov 2007 but it wasn't then release in Europe until June 2008. It was a roller coaster ride for 6 months or so with the press & UK tour planning that was involved - it was overwhelming. It's been about a year and 1/2 since then but we hope the new single with be satisfying for fans until the next album is released. Some bands write/move faster than we do but then often put out total crap. We're absolute perfectionist so we moved slow at times - but then we'll get a burst of energy and create a bunch of new ideas in a short period. The creative juices have been flowing recently & the writing sessions for the next album are going well - it's very inspiring! But we do want to get the new album out to the world soon - so we plan to write all Summer with the intent to hit the studio in the Fall or soon after.
"The Sitch" has been great for us in the interim. And Shifting Sounds have opened more doors for us in the UK & Europe. But we do promise to deliver a killer album!
EIS: Are you currently talking to any record labels you can discuss? We know they must be calling…
MS: We have talked to several labels that are interested, but we're keeping it on the d-low until we decide which direction to take. You'll be one of the 1st to know when we do decide!
EIS: At SXSW I was ecstatic to see you guys live for the first time, and all of my expectations were met. You performed at the Small Stone Recordings showcase, among a slew of stoner metal bands, and held your own quite well. Have you been approached by their label? How did you end up on that bill?
MS: Arclight Records & Small Stone are sort of sister labels as the owners have been friends for a long time. We played the SXSW Small Stone Records day party back in 2009 as well. Scott and I chatted about us being on this years 2010 day party and it worked out nicely! It was cool of him to include us. We also have a licensing deal with Small Stone so we have talked about a possible SS release as well with Scott.
EIS: Can we expect Magnet School to take over the radio waves anytime soon? Did any songs from the debut receive radio play?
MS: We'd like to think that's possible? We've had some great breaks for being on an Indie label & getting the European distro - it's a matter of time before a larger crowd hears the new & older material. We did receive radio play in the US on college CMJ stations and on line stations. Plus EKR radio in Europe have been very supportive - they featured our debut album on several shows and now they are spinning the new 7" single into regular rotation.
EIS: Brandon, you’re currently playing bass in both Magnet School and STEREO IS A LIE. How’s the extra work load treating you? Any plans to have both bands perform together, with you pulling double duty?
MS: Actually, I recently decided to "gracefully bow out" of SIAL. It was a hard decision as I love the music & the guys but I was spreading myself way too thin. With Magnet School being my baby & passion for 5 years now, I decided it was time to focus on 1 thing. Plus, we've had soo many recent cool offers, label interest, & possible licensing deals that it seemed like my time would be well spent. I'm still friends with the SIAL guys & wish them the best! Who knows, maybe we'll rock a show together some day?
EIS: Well we wish you guys all the luck in the coming year, and look forward to anything Magnet School has to offer in the future. Thanks so much for doing the interview and I hope to see you on the East Coast soon.
Check out Magnet School live on Saturday, June 12th at The Double Wide in Dallas, TX. The band will also have their track "XX" featured on the upcoming FREE compilation from our affiliates EscapingTheOrdinary.net in the near future.