Electric Magma interview with Tryg Smith and Tim Reesor
In my ongoing quest to expose the psych scene of the US’ Great White neighbor to the North, Canada, I have found some truly jaw dropping bands. Shooting Guns, KRANG and Powder Blue have all knocked me off my feet, running the gambit from free-form stoner rock and shoegazing grungy psych to precision timing and blistering metal inspired riffage. I love good instrumental music and I have a special place in my heart for all things fuzzy and distorted so when I heard Electric Magma for the first time it was a no brainer; check, check and check! This was a band that couldn’t be ignored. I needed to talk to them. For thirteen years Electric Magma has been brewing up their unique blend of stoner rock and drinking beer, lots of beer. They’re one of the few instrumental stoner rock groups that rely more on composition and competent musicianship than solely on monstrous repetitive riffs and thirty-minute solos. After seven albums and thirteen years on the scene they aren’t showing any signs of slowing down, in fact if they have anything to say about there’ll be at least four more albums, not including the forth coming Power Move, in the band’s future! All three members of the band sat down to talk shop with me and shed some light on where the band’s been, how they got to where they are now and where they’re planning on going from here, so you’d better kick back with a good glass of beer and get the skinny.
Who’s in the band? Is this your original lineup?
Tryg: The most recent lineup is Tryg Smith, Tim Reesor and Emilio Mammone. Emilio, our current drummer, is brand new to the band joined in the past six months. We’ve had a number of drummers over the years. Tim and I are the founding members and have been the core song writers of Electric Magma since the beginning. Tim and I have had a common vision for what Electric Magma should be, and twelve years later it still remains very clear to us.
Are any of you in any other bands? Have you been in any bands that released anything? If so what?
Tryg: I did some stuff in 2006-ish with a band called Keef who had a similar style of music to Electric Magma. They did release a full-length but I was no longer with the band as other commitments prevented me from continuing to jam with them, although a number of songs that I co-wrote with them did end up getting recording and released.
How did you meet? What led to the formation of Electric Magma?
Tryg: Tim and I have been writing and recording music together since 1993. We’ve had a few different bands that we’ve recorded and released music in together. Our first band was called Alabaster which released one self-titled CD in 1996. We went on to become twentyseven which released an EP in 1999 called off the shelf. But as time went on my tastes were slowly evolving and Tim and I ended up regrouping in 2000 to begin forming what would become Electric Magma. One particular night in the winter of 2000, after seeing a band called Clutch for the first time, any question as to what Electric Magma should sound like became crystal clear and the rest, as they say, is history.
Where are you originally from? Where is the band located?
Tim: We are all originally from the Greater Toronto Area and have all moved in and around that area over the years. We’ve never really strayed too far away though.
What is the local scene there like? Are you very involved with the scene there? Has it played a large role in Electric Magma’s history or evolution?
Tim: The local scene here is very diverse. Toronto being a major hub for Canada has a lot of international touring bands stopping by. On any given night there’s likely hundreds of bands from hundreds of genre’s playing, which makes it a little tough for an underground genre to grow and prosper. Also people who listen to our style of music seem to be older people 35 to 50. They don’t go out as often as the younger crowd, so we have to really plan our shows well in our area. The Toronto scene has played a very minimal part in our history and evolution; we’ve always had more success outside of Canada. If anything, it was the Internet that played a very large role.
You guys have influenced so many people it’s crazy, but I’m curious as to who some of your influences are?
Tryg: Are you sure that question is for us? Ha-ha! If we’ve influenced many people it’s news to me. But with that said, I’d be unbelievably honored to think anything that what we’ve created has had an influence on other people, that’s the ultimate compliment. The fact that people, outside of our circle of friends, know about our band is something that humbles me. We’re very appreciative that people, be it one hundred or one thousand, have discovered our music. It means a lot to us when someone from the other side of the world orders one of our records.
Tim: I’m still very surprised when I receive messages from fans on the other side of the planet. To me, I still play in a little basement band like I did when I was seventeen. The only difference is, back then I was surprised to learn of fans in neighboring communities, I never ever thought we would reach neighboring continents.
You released Canadian Samurai II in 2012 and are preparing for the release of Power Factor in 2013. How is the creativity level in the band after a decade? Do you plan on continuing to release material for the foreseeable future? How have you managed to stay around this long? It seems like you have to get along pretty well, at least creatively, to make music together for a decade plus.
Tryg: Like I mentioned earlier, Tim and I have actually been writing and recording music together for twenty years now. I don’t see any reason why we’d stop. It’s something we’ve always done and we can write music together effortlessly at this point. I don’t think Electric Magma will ever really cease to exist. It’s an ongoing project that we don’t ever plan on writing an ending to. I’m sure over time the focus may change. Actually it’s changing now. We’re spending much more time making music these days than we are playing it live. It’s just where we are in life now. When Tim and I started this band we were single guys with a whole lot of free time to drink beer and make music. In 2013 things are different, we’ve both got families, and I run my own business. Free time is a lot more valuable and rare these days. So although our focus has changed, we still write and record Electric Magma music all the time, it’s in our blood.
Can you tell us a little bit about Around Ahead Music the record label you started to release Electric Magma’s music? Why your own label as opposed to seeking out a record label? Will the upcoming Power Factor be released on Around Ahead as well? What’s it like owning your own record label?
Tim: Back when we were starting out as musicians we wanted to show people we meant business and were smart. We would spend just as much time writing business plans and making sure our music had been copyrighted properly, or what we thought was properly, as we would writing music. This process led us, in the very early days, to start our own legitimate publishing company and link our written works to it. As the band progressed our catalogue got bigger, and it only made sense to continue to self-publish. There have been times in the past we considered taking on other bands and building on the business, but it hasn’t happened yet.
What is the songwriting process like with Electric Magma?
Electric Magma: For the most part it’s effortless. After writing songs together for twenty years, we can write a song really quickly together. It usually starts around one or two main riffs that are plucked out of thin air during rehearsals. Once we have the main riffs down, we build a song around them. Tryg is pretty quick at coming up with riffs and Tim’s really meticulous about song arrangements so it’s a really good combination. Beer is a very big part of this combination as well. A well thought out beer run before any sort of work is definitely necessary to the process.
Do you guys like recording? It drives some bands up the wall.
Tryg: I personally love it. It’s the finalization of your ideas. It’s a snapshot of the band at that particular point in time. That’s why I despise when bands re-mix or re-record their old songs. It’s blasphemy! It’s disrespecting your own work. The song you recorded was meant to sound exactly the way it sounded at that point in time. That’s the magic of making records. It’s a pretty special thing. I always look forward to the next studio project.
Tim: When I was younger, sans family, I preferred to hunker down for a week in a studio rather than go to Daytona Beach or Cancun. The recording process for me was a lot of fun. I have always been very hands on in respect to the recording process, and as a band, we were always very meticulous about being prepared for it. For three months before studio time we would collectively work ourselves very hard to finalize arrangements and tighten ourselves up, to the point of exhaustion. By the time we actually record, we can get a lot done in a short amount of time. It’s nice to push yourself that hard, keeps your brain moving.
Scott Reeder of Kyuss mixed your latest album Samurai II. How exactly did that come about? I know that you were heavily influenced by the desert rock movement of the 90’s. Was this a long time dream or did some outside influence bring Scott into the mix?
Electric Magma: Tryg contacted him through Facebook and asked if he’d be interested in mixing our album. He said sure. That’s really all there was to it. We do have to add though, that after working with him at his studio in California, Scott Reeder is one of the nicest people, in or outside the music scene, we’ve ever met. It’d be hard to find a more genuine, down to earth person and we hope to work with him again in the future.
Speaking of insane involvements with Canadian Samurai II, Ken Kelly of KISS cover fame did the cover artwork. How did Ken get involved? Are you fans of his work?
Tryg: Well the cats out of the bag… I’m a full fledge member of the Kiss Army. I’ve been a pretty crazy Kiss fan since I was very young. I published a Kiss fanzine in the late 80’s called Kiss Thunder, which was fully supported by Kiss. I guess Canadian Samurai II, being a special album (our first ever vinyl release) seemed like an appropriate time to go all out on the artwork. Basically, we can thank the power of the internet for the cover happening. I contacted Ken through his website and he was extremely accommodating. It’s nice to know there are people out there like Ken, who has had his work featured on, arguably, the most famous Kiss album cover, who will still accommodate an underground band like Electric Magma. We’re really proud to have his artwork featured on one of our releases. We feel like we’re in good company.
Can you talk a little about the recording of Canadian Samurai II? Where was it recorded? Who recorded it? What kind of equipment was used?
Tim: This particular session was very different than the other albums. Generally, we would have an albums worth of tunes ready to go and would just go and find a place and record them. In this case, we decided that vinyl would be the only logical format of choice. Because we decided to release the album on vinyl we actually considered the medium’s limitations before we started writing. We knew we didn’t want to have a nine minute song because of the time constraints etcetera. Once we had all of the songs written, we sat back and asked ourselves “for our very first Vinyl release, are these tunes worthy”? We decided no, scrapped more than half of it, and started again. In the past we would have just stuck the tunes on CD and said “off you go”! We knew it had to be special.
Was the recording of Canadian Samurai II much different than your other albums? How have things progressed since recording your first release as far as the recording process and equipment you use? How has the band’s approach to recording in general changed since then?
Tryg: Tim will have more to say on the technical side of this, but I wanted to say that the big difference, well actually there were two big differences were: one, we had Scott Reeder mix it in California in his studio with us. And two, this was our first vinyl release and there were different considerations that had to be addressed on the production end of things to prepare the tracks for vinyl.
Tim: I actually think the recording process has UN-progressed to some degree. With Karaoke Bitchslap we recorded to tape from an analogue console, we mixed to tape, we mastered from tape, we edited on tape, we were completely analogue except for the transfer to disc. It was wonderful. Unfortunately most of those studios have gone out of business and the ones that are still around can only cater to bands that have record label budgets. I for one can’t drop six-grand on a recording anymore. Luckily for us, I do the bulk of the recording now, which gives us the flexibility to be very picky. We can spend days goofing around with Mic placements to try our best to mimic the raw sounds we are after, and I can spend a month straight in post production if I want to, without killing the bank. Our work ethic and preparedness still hasn’t changed at all, so in that respect, Canadian Samurai II hasn’t been a change in process at all. With every album I get better at knowing what I need to do to achieve our sound. I do miss having a seasoned engineer around from time to time, because it’s wonderful to bounce ideas off a guy who knows what I’m talking about. The quality of recording digitally has progressed exponentially though, which has helped us tremendously.
Where can our readers buy a copy of Canadian Samurai II? What about the rest of your back catalog?
Electric Magma: Everything can be purchased directly from our website. ITunes carries our entire catalogue through Friendly Fire Distrobution. If you are on the other side of the planet, you can also buy hard copies of our work through Kozmik-Artifactz.
What do you have planned as far as touring goes this year?
Electric Magma: We generally try to play out of the country once a year somewhere special. This year we’ve focused on writing, so as of today (May 2013) we don’t have anything planned.
You have played with some amazing acts over the years, who are some of your favorites?
Tryg: Well the obvious established bands that we’ve played with like Clutch and Fu Manchu would be at the top of my list, but those are obvious. We also more commonly play with indie bands like us. Personally I don’t necessarily listen to a lot of music in our genre these days and you will seldom find me at a live rock show, but there are a couple indie bands we’ve played with in the past that I think really nailed what they were doing. Diablo Red from Toronto always sounded fucking badass. They had a wall of sound and massive tone. I also really dug doing shows with Blood Ceremony. That band has got a lot of coolness to their show and sound. Their female front woman is the highlight. She’s got this trance-like trippy, hippy thing going on and she plays the flute like no one’s business. They’ve got the right mix of things happening and they are clearly doing something right because they are having a lot of success right now.
Tim: Fu Manchu and The Atomic Bitchwax top my list.
Do you have a funny or interesting story from a live show you’d like to share with our readers?
Tryg: Yes. It involved our smoke machine and the Baltimore fire department. Our smoke machine is infamous.
Tim: Mine would involve our smoke machine, an Ottawa PD cop car, and an Electric Magma branded cock-pump strategically placed on the hood of said cop car. I think I’ve lost track of how many times we’ve set off fire alarms across the country. Tryg’s funny story can be heard on a bootleg if you can find it on the internet; the Baltimore show where our smoke machine set off the fire alarm was recorded and is in circulation on the bootleg scene.
We talked a little bit about it before but what’s it like looking back on making seven albums and ten years of making music in retrospect? It has to be fulfilling to have such a rich legacy behind you already and you guys certainly aren’t showing any signs of slowing down!
Tryg: Yes. That’s been the goal and it’s something we’ve talked about over the years. Our goal was never to try and build a band that would “make it” in the scene. Our goal from the beginning was to have a band with a full discography and a long history, and if people caught on along the way, all the better. We’ve stuck to that plan and now, twelve years later, we’re proud to look back on a catalogue of Electric Magma releases, would we like to have been signed to a cool underground label like Small Stone or, the late, Man’s Ruin? Hell yeah! But it would have been solely for bragging rights because we wouldn’t have done anything differently except for having a record label logo on the back of our albums. We used to shop around to labels back in 2004-2006 but no one was interested in us because we didn’t have a vocalist and we didn’t tour all the time. So we stopped shopping the band around after that because, again, it wasn’t really the overall goal. We are self-financed; we don’t have any issues with taking care of the finance or business end of the band ourselves. If we want to put out an album we’ll do it. We’ve gotten pretty good at the process over the years.
Where do you think the band’s headed from here? Do you have anything special, besides the release of the Power Factor album, planned for 2013?
Tryg: More records. I have always stated that I see at least a dozen Electric Magma releases happening, so we’ve got a lot more material to create. That really is the focus of the band: writing, recording and releasing music. Touring, in the traditional sense, is out of the question. We still play shows from time to time, like we always have. We like to take extended road trips down to the states when we can and play a handful of shows but we aren’t really in a position to be a full time touring band. You have to take a big leap and be prepared to be a starving artist if you play the kind of music we play full time on the road. And although I take Electric Magma just as seriously as the guys who have decided to be full time musicians, I don’t have the same desire to live on the road playing stoner rock music that they do. Unless you are a band like Clutch, who seem to have made a comfortable living doing it, chances are you will always be playing for gas money and sleeping in cheap hotels; it’s just the nature of the music we play. It’s not main stream and there isn’t enough money to be made to make it a full-time career. But I do take it just as seriously and I am just as passionate about the music we make as anyone who does it full time.
You just released your first album on vinyl Canadian Samurai II. How does it feel to have something on vinyl after all these years? How do you feel about CDs vs vinyl? For that matter, cassette tapes are making a comeback; do you have a favorite media or one that you just hate?
Electric Magma: Amazing. Vinyl is the natural medium for bands like us. It’s organic. The whole vibe of putting on a record harkens back to a time when our music would have been a natural fit. As far as CD’s, we’ll never release one again, they’re redundant now. You can buy our albums digitally, that’s the equivalent of a CD release now. Here’s a link, you can go buy our whole catalogue on ITunes right now and start listening to it on your IPod!
Digital music is rapidly changing the face of the music industry to put it lightly. But amidst the industry turmoil I’ve been exposed to an immense collection of incredible music. I know you recently signed a deal for digital distribution of you catalog for the first time and you’ve run your own label through the rise of digital music, how do you feel about digital music and distribution? What about its effects on the music industry and record sales?
Tim: We’ve actually had digital distribution of our entire catalogue for many years now. We pulled the music down about a year ago because the process isn’t very affordable for the one band show, if we had a roster, sure, but at the end of the day it’s not cheap to have your music out there. We began selling on our website exclusively and we definitely lost exposure on mobile devices etcetera. When we were approached by Friendly Fire Distribution to put it back on there, it made sense for both of us. We’re not making as much money off our music anymore on the retail side, but the overhead of managing the stores has dropped immensely. The best thing and the worst thing about digital distribution is the pirating that occurs the second music is made available but the pirating actually drives sales and exposure, so it’s hard to have an opinion on that one way or the other.
I love having a digital copy of an album to take on the go but there’s something magical about a physical release for me. It’s something to hold and visually experience while you listen to the music, helping to create a world if you will. Do you have any such connection with physical releases?
Tryg: Yes artwork and design is a big part of Electric Magma and always will be. I’m do graphic design for a living so the artwork is an integral part of each release. I spend a lot of time on it and if you look closely you will see themes that have been interwoven throughout all of our releases so if you ever have all of our CD covers and liner notes together you can look at them as a collection and see certain recurring elements throughout. This goes for our stage performances as well. We’ve had Magma girls on our stage banners since the beginning of the band, they’ve evolved over the years, but they are a common element to the Magma “brand”.
What’s the best place for people to keep up with the latest news like album releases, tour schedules and gigs from Electric Magma at?
I ask everyone I talk to this question so please give me as long or short a list as you like. Who should our readers be listening to from your local area that they might not have heard of?
Tim: That’s a tough question. I am out of touch with cool up and coming bands in our area. Monster Truck comes to mind though.
Is there anything that I missed or you’d like to talk about?
Tryg: Beer, let’s talk about beer for a bit. We have dubbed our music “Beer Rock”, and it’s fitting because beer has fueled the band for its entire existence. I personally like the good stuff. I like good craft beer. IPA’s are my beer of choice. I’m excited that the craft beer industry is blowing up right now in Canada resulting in an endless variety to try. Some of my current flavors of choice, both craft beers and regular: Mad Tom IPA, Amsterdam BoneShaker IPA, ShockTop (Belgian white), Millstreet Cobblestone Stout, Flying Monkey Smashbomb IPA, London Porter (in a can), Grolsch (in a can), I could go on and on… It makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside! I’ll leave you with these words to live by they’re not mine, but I feel like they should be; life is too short to drink cheap beer.
– Roman Rathert
(February 2003) Electric Magma – Electric Magma – CD – Around Ahead Music
(July 2004) Electric Magma – Karaoke Bitch Slap – CD – Around Ahead Music
(November 2005) Electric Magma – Snail The Wah – CD – Around Ahead Music
(January 2007) Electric Magma – Coconut Bangers Ball – CD – Around Ahead Music
(April 2009) Electric Magma – Mudshovel – CD – Around Ahead Music
(July 2012) Electric Magma – Canadian Samurai II – 12” – Aroudn Ahead Music (Limited ot 300 hand-numbered copies; 25 copies signed by Scott Reeder)
(??? 2013) Electric Magma – Power Factor – ??? – Around Ahead Music