© C.B. Linsey
The Talking Heads are alive and well. Oh, you hadn’t heard? Yeah, they retooled the whole scheme, got some balls and kicked shit into hyper-gear… Okay, so that might not exactly be true, but as Mary Beth states in the titular track to The Baby Magic’s latest album “Rent A Place In Hell” “it might as well”. This is some seriously nihilistic, experimental, far out there, new (or is it no?) wave, insidious oblivion. All that said, being bad has never been so good! Taking some serious nods from the new wave scene of the 80s and putting it into a trash compactor with insane minimalist punk, garage rock and a healthy dose of fun The Baby Magic probably aren’t quite like anything else you’ve ever before, except they’re a lot like everything you’ve ever heard before. It’s a strange dichotomy, and I suppose one could take that statement as a compliment or an insult, depending on how it was read so let me elaborate. The Baby Magic use their razor sharp wit to extract everything that they care about, everything they perceive of value from what they’ve heard before and paste it back together into this twisted Frankenstein monster of their own creation. Hammering drums and sinister sounding distorted bass guitar gang up with the relentless guitar, Mary Beth Brennan’s shrieking vocals and twisted keys to create an unstoppable juggernaut of minimalist sound, and while things may sound really dark, there’s an underlying and unstoppable sense of fun to The Baby Magic’s music. Brennan often tackles some pretty heavy imagery, the guitars get murky and fuzzy, the keys dark and ominous, but all the while, there’s this sense that everything’s going to be okay at the end of the movie, the hero will rescue the girl and stop the bad guy, despite what Brennan may tell you in songs like “Hold On Extremely Tight”. I think my favorite thing about The Baby Magic is that they genuinely sound like they don’t give a shit what anyone thinks about them, though. They’re making music because it’s what they love to do, because they feel like it’s something they need to do. I’m not sure if it’s for them or an imagined audience, but I do know I hope that The Baby Magic keeps doing what they’re doing and never changes. I’m dead serious, the world needs bands like this. People who are taking the lessons that they’ve learned from everything that they’ve hear and moved forward with it, creating something vividly original and personal in the process. Long live The Baby Magic.
Listen while you read: http://thebabymagicmusic.bandcamp.com/
© Shana East
Who’s is The Baby Magic and what do you play? Is this the original lineup or has there been any changes as far as that’s concerned since you all started playing?
The Baby Magic is Mary Beth Brennan (lead vocals and keys) Patrick Coleman (Guitar and back up vocals) and Santiago Guerrero (drums). Oh, and believe me that Santiago is not our first drummer. The first drummer was a guy named Ron. Then it was me (Mary Beth), then it was Patrick’s younger brother Jimmy, and now it’s Santiago. Hopefully, we’ll stop here ‘cause we all feel very close and committed to each other musically.
Are any of you in any other active bands or do you have any side projects going on at this point?
Yes! Santiago’s the drummer in Georgia O’Quuef. They’re an awesome hardcore band. I drum in a band called Dead, Death, Die, which is an indie rock band, and I also have a solo project called Baggy Time where I play acoustic guitar and sing all kinds of fun songs.
Have you released any music with anyone else in the past? If so, can you tell us a bit about that?
Nope. Other than a new single coming out, everything has been self-released.
How old are you and where are you originally from?
I’m thirty five and I’m originally from Brooklyn, New York, but I’ve spent most of my childhood in a town called Williston Park on Long Island, New York. Patrick’s thirty three and has spent his early childhood in Baltimore, but grew up mostly in Batavia, Illinois which is a suburb of Chicago. Santiago’s twenty seven and was born and raised in Chicago.
What was the local music scene like where you grew up? Did you see a lot of shows or get very involved in the local scene there? Do you feel like it played a large part in forming your musical interests or shaping the way you perform at this point?
There was a really great punk ska scene on Long Island when I was a teenager. There were a lot of places that had all ages shows. It wasn’t a scene fully on surface, so I depended on my friends that were all in the scene to tell me where to go. I would dance my ass off at every show. It certainly showed me how much fun dancing is and that’s something I still incorporate into our shows.
What about your home growing up? Was there a lot of music around the house when you were a kid? Were either of your parents or any of your close relatives musicians or extremely interested or involved in music?
When I was a young child my dad would make sure we listened to classical music while we ate. He was really into composers and would quiz me on them. My mom and my dad would play lots of music from the 50s and 60s, as well as Broadway musicals. My sister and I shared a room, and she loved listening to Broadway musicals as well. She was also really into George Michael. My brother would listen to a lot of Morrissey. I mean a lot of Morrissey. Everyone in my house loved listening to music. As far as playing music, my sister was a great flute player in school but never went pro with it. My dad and my brother both tried to play piano for a bit, and I’m pretty sure my mom has never picked up, or wanted to pick up, an instrument in her life.
What do you your first real exposure to music?
Probably listening to They Might Be Giants for the first time ever. When I was a sexually confused teenager I understood nothing about love and I really didn’t want to focus on it at all, secretly knowing that I was hiding something. They Might Be Giants were talking about taking a “rocket to the moon” and I really connected with that. They would have a surf breakdown in the middle of a song just for the hell of it! Every song was one weird party after another. Listing to John Henry for the first time was probably my first real exposure to music.
If you were to pick a moment, a moment when everything seemed to change for you and you became aware of all the amazing possibilities that music presents, what would it be?
It was after my first Modest Mouse show at the Bowery Ballroom in 1998. At this point, it was a band my best friends were very into, so I went to the show. I bought one of their CDs and I listened to This is a Long Drive for Someone With Nothing to Think About as I went to bed. It opened my mind to being truly honest with music. I had no idea that you could do that. It was like someone breaking the rules, but not getting in trouble because the laws weren’t made yet.
When did you decide that you wanted to start writing and performing your own music and what brought that decision about for you?
I started writing songs about poo-poo and tin cans my sophomore year in high school. My friend Maryann played the guitar and I really thought it be fun to sing with her. She played and sang along, and we do some takes on tape. But I got the serious itch to perform, jumping up on stages where I wasn’t welcome and dancing to the band playing. At the time, I really didn’t think it was a rude thing to do and it felt great.
What was your first instrument? When and how did you get that?
My first instrument was the alto saxophone. My family rented it from the school. When I got to high school we had to find a way to get our own instruments. My old neighbor in Brooklyn who was a jazz musician had a Yamaha alto sax and he said it was the Chevy of cars. He sold it to me for exactly what he bought it for, one hundred and forty dollars, and in great condition. Now that’s how people should sell musical instruments. If you listen to “Gas Station” on our last album Whoopsy Daisy you’ll hear that baby sing.
How and when did the members of The Baby Magic originally meet?
Patrick and I met at the Columbia Chicago dorms. He was in the dorms and I had moved out of the dorms the previous year, but I would come back for parties, or rather searching for parties. We went to a lot of parties all around Chicago. Patrick was a laid back cool party dude and I was an intense party animal. Not much has changed for us. When he moved out to an apartment I went to a small barbecue he was having. I wasn’t invited, but he was happy when I showed up. He was playing guitar and I was singing a song about rape. The repeated line in the song was “I don’t want to rape you tonight”. It made people feel very uncomfortable, but he stayed with me. After that, we started our first band called The Fucks. We met Santiago when we played a show with his old band The Vatican Junkies. We thought he was a great drummer and he was a lot of fun on stage. When we needed a new drummer, Santiago was the first on Patrick’s list and Santiago was very interested. He gave a special touch to our songs that we were missing, and he had the right attitude that we were looking for.
© Derek Quint
What led to the formation of The Baby Magic? When was that?
Patrick and I had a band called Firecrotch that started in 2003 or so. It was just him on acoustic guitar and me singing. We then got a drummer but kicked her out. We couldn’t quit resurface. I moved to Los Angeles for six months to become an actor and Patrick visited me. I told him how bad I wanted the band back and he shared the same feelings. I also was not a Los Angeles girl. I moved back to Chicago and we named ourselves The Baby Magic. That was in 2008.
Your name is extremely fitting and while it’s pretty memorable and stuck in my head right away, I haven’t quite put my finger on what it means. What does The Baby Magic mean or refer to in the context of your band name? Who came up with it and how did you all go about choosing it? Are there any close seconds that you almost went with you can recall at this point?
As much as we’d, The Baby Magic, like to say the name implies a deep significance, it’s just a name we picked from a list of many possible names. It seemed to fit the nature of our songs at the time and provides us with a template for future songwriting. Some of the names on that list were Mommy + Tits, Tits + Mommy and Please Don’t Hate Us.
Is there any sort of creed, code, ideal or mantra that the band shares or lives by?
Yes, and it’s simple. We always try our best to be nice and respectful to people. We have been tested and we have succeeded.
Where’s The Baby Magic located these days? How would you describe the local music scene where you’re located at these days?
We are, and always have been, in Chicago and we’re usually on the northwest side. Chicago’s scene is bursting right now. There are so many great bands playing all the time and the crowd that comes out is so much fun. Art is at a high here in Chicago! House shows and art spaces are better than ever.
Do you see a lot of local shows or do you feel like you’re very involved in the local music scene? Are you involved in booking a lot of local shows or anything?
We all definitely go to a lot of local shows. I personally feel pretty involved in the music scene, but definitely not as much as some people I know. I would love to get more involved, actually. Santiago is really into the house show scene and books a good amount of shows.
Has the local music scene played an integral role in the sound, history or formation of The Baby Magic? Or do you all feel like you could be doing what you’re doing and sound basically like you do regardless of where you were or what you were surrounded by?
Absolutely! I’m not exactly sure how, but I know it’s true. You go out and hear something, or see something that you think is super cool, and you can’t help but sublimity try to sprinkle it on yourself in your own way.
Now you all have a sweet conglomeration of sounds going on that seems to kind of bend and drift across genre lines, picking and choosing what you want from a number of places. I’m curious who you would cite as your major musical influences?
We all come from very different musical backgrounds. I’m really into early 60’s pop and 90’s indie rock. Patrick prefers noisy feedback laden no wave and big guitar rock. Santiago’s really into metal and hardcore.
What about influences on the band as a whole rather than just individually?
I’d say most of our collective inspiration comes from other bands we play shows with. We’ve been lucky to play with many amazing performers over the years. As a collective though, we do all love Ween.
How would you describe your sound to our readers who might not have ever heard you all before? Whenever I do these interviews I have to describe a band’s sound into words and I always feel like I’m putting way too many of my own thoughts and perceptions about things into there. I’m interested how you would describe The Baby Magic in your own words?
We also find it very hard to describe our music! If I had to say anything though, I would say we try to deliver unpretentious songs that can inspire you to dance, think about life, and have fun. We try to blend the dynamics of our personalities into our music and hopefully create a unique experience for the listener.
What’s the songwriting process like for The Baby Magic? Is there someone who usually comes to the rest of the band with an idea for a song or maybe a riff and then works it out with the rest of you all as a unit? Or, do you all just get together and kick ideas back and forth kind of coming off of the cuff and letting things grow and evolve until you have an idea or something that you’re interested in working on and refining from there?
Lately, we’ve been jamming out a lot and recording ourselves and reviewing parts we thought were awesome, and then playing them again from memory. But before that, I would bring in lyrics first, and we would work through the songs part by part, changing things over and over again. Sometimes, the songs come out really quickly and sometimes songs take a super long time. Everyone comes up with their own parts, but we’re definitely always giving each other ideas of what direction we think would work in certain places.
What about recording? I mean, I think that most musicians can appreciate all the time and effort that goes into making an album when you’re finally holding that finished product in your hands. But getting to that point though and getting things recorded and sounding the way you want them to, especially as a band, can be extremely difficult to say the least and has torn more than one band apart. What’s it like recording for The Baby Magic?
We know how limited money and time is to record, so we go in super organized and excited. Of course, we can bump heads here and there, but being in a band of three people, our voting system’s real easy. Also we never talk to each other disrespectfully. Raising your voice or using a rude tone isn’t our style. Although time is limited, we always do our best to work on a sudden idea that may come up. If it doesn’t work out, at least you tried it. When recording Rent a Place in Hell Brian Fox was our engineer. He came into our practice space beforehand and we played and talked about every song and what we wanted from it. That was very helpful.
Do you all like to take a more DIY approach to recording where you handle the technical aspects of most things on your own, so that you don’t have to work with or compromise with anyone else on the sound? Or do you head into a studio and let someone else handle that side of things so that you can just concentrate on your music and getting things to sound as good as possible?
We’re not the most technically inclined bunch of musicians, so we definitely require an engineer at this point to assist with the recording. For our first record, Whoopsy Daisy, we had a producer, Jack Armando, help us refine our music and teach us the all important lesson of self-restraint. We had great songs, but sometime they carried on longer than necessary. He also coached us on how to get the most emotion out of each take while recording. On Rent a Place in Hell, we went without a producer and had more freedom with the structure of the songs. We appreciate any input we can get in any recording process and hope to avoid self-indulgence.
Is there a lot of time and effort that goes into working out every little aspect of a song, with all the arrangements and compositions locked down and airtight before you go to record and album, or do you all get a good skeletal idea of how a song’s going to sound, while allowing for some evolution and change when necessary during the recording process?
Our songs are constantly evolving. We do crunch the songs before going in to record just so we don’t waste studio time, but we keep an open mind as we go along in case a better idea emerges. The songs from Whoopsy Daisy sound pretty different live now. We try to constantly tweak our music for the better.
Do psychoactive or hallucinogenic drugs play a large or important role in the songwriting, recording or performance processes for The Baby Magic? I don’t mean that in a negative respect at all. People have been tapping into the altered mind states that drugs produce for the purpose or making art for thousand of years at this point and I’m simply curious about their usage and application when it comes to the art that I personally enjoy and consume.
What a fun question. I would definitely have to say that we all smoke weed; some more than others for sure. I wouldn’t say it’s important in the songwriting process, but it certainly doesn’t hurt. We’ve all messed around with a lot of different drugs, but other than weed, it’s nothing we do during band time.
Your first release that I know if was in 2012, the Whoopsy Daisy album. Can you share some of your memories of recording that first material? When and where as it recorded? Who recorded it? What kind of equipment was used? Was that self-released or who put that out? Was that a fun, pleasurable experience or more of a nerve-wracking proposition for you all at that point?
We recorded that album at Strobe, a recording studio in a neighborhood in Chicago, Humboldt Park, in the winter of 2012. Our producer was Jack Armando from the Chicago band, My Gold Mask. Balthazar de Ley was our engineer. They’ve both been working together on Jack’s projects for a while, so they were very familiar with working together. We mostly used our own instruments, but we did use this awesome old organ that they had on the song “See Means Yes”. I would like to talk more about the fancy equipment that the studio had, but I can’t. It was self-released. We had a lot of fun, although moments of frustration hit us from time to time. Working through frustration and keeping focus was an important lesson that we learned from this album. I also learned that I suck at whistling. We recorded the album in three days total, so we really didn’t have anytime to waste. We were very happy that we got everything we wanted done in the time we had.
Earlier this year in 2014 you followed up Whoosy Daisy with your sophomore album, Rent A Place In Hell. Did you all try anything radically new or different when it came to the songwriting or recording of the material for Rent A Place In Hell? What can our listener expect from the new album? When and where was it recorded? Who recorded it and what kind of equipment was used? Who released Rent A Place In Hell?
With Rent A Place In Hell the listener can expect some of the flavors of Whoopsy Daisy, such as a rough sexual song and a deep song about an animal. But the similarities stop there. We wanted a theme to the album. Putting it shortly; it’s about the freedoms we have, working too much, and the everyday fears that we carry. Patrick took a lot of time picking out the perfect blend of pedals and structuring the different sounds for each song. And as for drums; it’s a completely different drummer, so you’ll definitely hear the difference there. Expect to dance more and not have a moment of boredom. It was recorded in February of 2014 at Electrical Audio in Chicago. Brian Fox was our engineer. He was Santiago’s roommate at the time and our personal lifesaver. Sorry to disappoint you about not knowing more about the equipment we used. I will tell you one fun fact though, we got to use tympanis!
Does The Baby Magic have any music that we haven’t talked about yet, maybe a song on a compilation or a demo that I’m not aware of?
We will be on a compilation called So Fly to be released via Berserk Records with My Gold Mask, Swimsuit Addition, and Absolutely Not by the end of the year. We have a brand new song on it called “Control Freak”.
With the release of the Rent A Place In Hell album not too awfully long ago at this point, are there any other releases in the works or on the horizon for The Baby Magic at this point?
We’re currently working on new songs and expect to have a new album out as soon as musically possible.
Where’s the best place for our US readers to pick up copies of your music?
We’re in record stores all over Chicago. As far as the rest of the US goes, we’ve dropped our record off in a lot of cities such as Cleveland, Ohio Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Brooklyn, New York Ashville, North Carolina and Louisville, Kentucky. We’re planning on reaching out to more places very soon as well.
What about our poor international and overseas readers? With the completely insane international shipping rates that just seem to keep going up and up, I try and provide our readers with as many possible options as I can for picking stuff up when it comes to imports!
I ’m going to do my best to get some to England soon. Check out Vinyl Boutique Camden. Also, if anyone has ideas on what countries might be interested in our music, please let us know and we’ll try our best to send some over.
And where’s the best place for our interested readers to keep up with the latest news, like upcoming shows, tours and album releases at?
As of right now, Facebook. We understand a lot of people don’t like being dependant on Facebook, but as far as looking good to certain venues it’s an important site to keep up.
Are there any major plans or goals that The Baby Magic is looking to accomplish in the last of 2014 or in 2015?
We would love to get bigger shows with bigger bands. More listeners would definitely be amazing!
What, if anything, do you all have planned as far as touring goes?
We just came back from a two-week tour and it was awesome. We plan on touring again the summer of 2015 for sure. But this coming fall/winter we plan on playing Milwaukee and Madison, Wisconsin, and Minneapolis, Minnesota. I think we’ll call it “The Short M Tour”.
Do you all spend a lot of time out on the road? Do you enjoy touring? What’s life like on tour for The Baby Magic?
We just started really getting used to the road. We love touring, but money and jobs are an issue. We all get along really well and enjoy the time that we spend with each other. Sure, we have shows with packed crowds and sometimes, not so much. For the most part there are a lot of great bands and old friends that treat us amazing when we are on the road. I feel like on our last tour certain people pulled out the red carpet and were really amazing. There were some other nights, though, that were hard to deal with. One night, a big fight broke out in front of us and we all faked sleeping. Another night, the band we were supposed to stay with left us and said they forgot their phone in their merch box, luckily for us a girl that lived upstairs from the bar gave us a great place to sleep. In general, we love tour and wish to do it more. We love eating food in different places, meeting new people and hearing new bands. We love drinking different craft beer from all around, and honestly, at the end of the tour, even the struggles become fun stories to talk about on your way home.
Do you remember what the first song that The Baby Magic ever played live was? Where and when would that have been?
The Baby Magic played our first show at Quenchers in Chicago in August 2008. Our first song I’m not sure of, but I know that we played a lot of our album Whoopsy Daisy at that show. Just not as tight, of course. It was a great show, though.
Who are some of your personal favorite bands that you all have had a chance to play with over the past few years?
Big Freeia, Swimsuit Addition, The Cell Phones, My Gold Mask, Blood Planet, Girl Group Chicago, Waxeater, The Rutabega, and Doomster.
In your dreams, who are you on tour with?
For me, Modest Mouse, but I wouldn’t mind taking Patrick and Santiago’s first choice of Ween.
© Josh Fontenot
Do you all give a lot of thought to the visual aspects so the band that represent the band to a large extent, stuff like flyers, posters, shirt designs, cover artwork and that kind of thing? Is there any kind of meaning or message that you’re trying to convey or get across with the visual aspects of the band?
Oh, yes! We love a band art project. We find it hard to keep with one piece of art and just run with it, though, so our art can seem very jumpy.
Is there anyone that you usually turn to when it comes to your visual needs fro the band? If so, who is that and how did you originally get hooked up with them?
We’re always changing that up. We do a lot of the work ourselves as far as the local shows go, but as far as an important artwork such as some of our band photos, record covers and record release show posters, we always look to our expert artist friends.
With all of the various methods of release that are available to musicians today I’m always curious why artists choose and prefer the various mediums that they do. Do you have a preferred medium of release for your own music? What about when you’re listening to or purchasing music? If you do have a preference, what is it and can you tell us a little bit about why that is?
Our last album Whoopsy Daisy came out on CD, but I really wish we had enough money to put it out on vinyl. I think vinyl’s a great way to listen to music. Also, it’s easier to sell since it’s more collectable. Lately, I’ve been streaming most the music I listen to.
When I was growing up my dad would take me around and he would pick me up random stuff from the local music shops on the weekend and I developed this whole ritual, man! I would rush home, snag a set of headphones, start feverishly reading the liner notes and then just stare at the cover art while the music carried me off on this whole trip! Having something physical, something concretely connected to the music that I was listening to, always made fro a more complete listening experience for me. Do you have any such connection with physically released music?
I do at times. I love album art, but I’m not even close to where you are with it. Growing up, I listened to mix tapes and the radio mostly. I did love buying albums here and there. And in my teenage years I always enjoyed stealing something from time to time. Security wasn’t too tough in the oldies section at Tower Records…
Do you have a music collection at all? If so, can you tell us a bit about it?
I’m just starting a vinyl collection. So far I have six. I have a lot of CDs, but I don’t play them so much right now.
Like it or not, digital music is here in a big way right now. I mean there are ups and downs to anything and I think it just depends on how you look at things and utilize them, but when you combine digital music with the internet, well then you have something crazy on your hands. Together they’ve exposed people to the literal world of music that’s around them and it’s allowed them for the first time to really reach out and talk to those people. It’s eradicated a lot of geographic boundaries that would have crippled bands even a few years ago. On the other hand though, while people are aware of all this new music, they’re not necessarily very interested in paying for it. It’s harder and harder to get noticed in the digital jungle these days, and while I think that people’s relationship and interaction with music is constantly evolving and no one was getting rich from record sales on an indie or local level, digital music has really altered people’s perceptions of what music should cost and how it should be consumed, and I’m not sure that digital music has done any of us any favors in those regards. As an artist during the reign of the digital era, what’s your opinion on digital music and distribution?
On one hand, it’s great to know that anyone can hear it. If it wasn’t for digital music would I have this interview? Sure, maybe the money situation would be different, but at the end of the day, more art is out there at your fingertips and I love that factor. Also, we’re realizing how many people that make art are out there, and can we pay them all? I hope one day we can. That’s why my favorite music site is Bandcamp. You can hear any band that wants to be there and everyone gets paid a fair price. I really do wish that music paid like it used to and hope for the best.
I try to keep up with as many good bands as I possibly can but with so much good stuff out there it’s hard to know where to even start sometimes. Is there any from your local scene or area that I should be listening to that I might not have heard of before?
Rat Hammer, Absolutely Not, The Cell Phones, Swimsuit Addition, TOOFUNCHILD, there are a lot of great bands here in Chicago but this’ a good start.
Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me about the band. I know this took a while, but I swear I’m done, no more questions! As you were so generous with your time though, I’d like to open the floor up to you for a moment. Is there anything that I could have possibly missed or that you might just want to take this opportunity to talk to me or the readers about at this point?
Patrick and I started a band before The Baby Magic. We started out of the pure love of wanting to perform. We still play together with those same ideals along with Santiago. Together, we’re all so grateful for people like you that care and spread the word. So, thank you very much and keep up the great work!
(2012) The Baby Magic – Whoopsy Daisy – Digital, CD – Self-Released(?)
(2014) The Baby Magic – Rent A Place In Hell – Digital, 12” – Self-Released(?)
© Carrie Shemanski
Interview made by Roman Rathert/2014
© Copyright http://psychedelicbaby.blogspot.com/2014