Written by Megan West
If you’re an avid festival-goer, you might have run into Magic Giant, a three-piece band sometimes described as “rave-folk.” They bring physical energy to every show, and try to leave as small an ecological footprint as possible along the way. Their new album, In the Wind, which was recorded in various locations while the trio toured last summer, meshes natural sounds with a vast array of instruments, including cellos, synths, harmonicas, mandolins, and violins. The band recently stopped by Asbury Park’s Wonder Bar. We talked a little about live performance, Bruce Springsteen, and group dynamics.
I wanted to start off and ask you about the East Coast leg of your tour. I know you recently played at the Wonder Bar in Asbury Park. How was that?
Austin Bis: The show was awesome. It was out first time playing in New Jersey proper. We played in New York a handful of times, but this was our first time in Asbury, or Jersey. You know, you never know what to expect and it was craziness. People are rowdy there.
Zambricki Li: It was really good.
Austin: People were just, like, chanting and cheering in spots where people normally don’t. They were looking for a place to get vocally involved. It was super fun. And we stayed right in Asbury Park. We walked to the venue, went in the ocean, skateboarded around Asbury.
You get a lot of attention for the energy you have during live performances. What do you think makes a good live show?
Austin: There’s all different types of good live shows. The energy isn’t always physical. With ours it tends to be, but I just think a good live show is when the crowd and the performers are connected, and that’s what we feed off of.
Zambricki: Yeah, and some of it is just being present. We’re there with the crowd, and if they’re freaking out, it kind of makes us freak out too. At this New Jersey show, I almost started pushing Zang off the stage, just because the people in New Jersey, they were pushing us and were were pushing back. It was pretty cool. Afterward, I felt like, “What just happened?”
We have a part of our show that’s pretty stripped down, but as far as the high energy sections, we play every show like it’s the Coliseum, so if it’s a club in New Jersey, or it’s a festival, we play it like it’s our last. It tends to be pretty high energy. Which I know is like a Bruce Springsteen thing. I don’t know if that’s what he thinks, but you have Springsteen rocking the stage in his seventies, playing three hour sets, and there’s sweat dripping from his bandana. And we’re inspired by that. If Bruce can do it for three hours, like, shit, we can do it for an hour.
You play a lot of festivals. Do you feel like that’s the best venue for your music or do you feel like small shows have different benefits?
Brian Zaghi: I think they all have their special attributes and moments. A small intimate crowd, you can really connect to them and we all get rowdy together. When you’re put up on a festival stage, you can move a sea of people. It’s different. You can’t connect with every person the way you can at a small venue. I think they all have their benefits.
How does this experience in Magic Giant compare to other musical endeavors you’ve had in the past?
Zambricki: Definitely more collaborative. When we are creating things, it’s all together and it feels that way. Whereas in other projects, either I was running the ship, or I was just a worker bee or something. It just feels like we’re all building the thing together.
Brian: And for me, I feel most expressive in this group. Other bands I was in, they didn’t feel as sincere, or as much “me” or like I could really express myself in these ways, but in Magic Giant I feel like it’s really our thing, being true. Every night I perform I believe in it. It’s real.
Austin: This is like the dream I’ve always wanted. And what comes out of it is really like a new animal. It’s a combination of the three of us. It creates this new thing. It’s really fun.
Going off of that, what do you feel each of you brings to the table when you come together?
Austin: I think we all have different fortes. I think Zambricki is a master with words. And when we’re stuck on a lyric or something, we’re always like, okay, let’s see what Zambricki has to say. Things flow out of him in a different way. I think we all have our different fortes.
Zambricki: Zang is really good at production moves, things that I never even thought about, stuff we’re doing with the instrumentation and the production value is really awesome. What Austin said earlier, about creating this new animal, I feel like Zang is intimate with that animal in a real way, so he helps shape us into it sometimes. I’ll write seven pages of lyrics just to get one because I like to do stream of consciousness writing, but without having a little guidance it’s just like words on a page. So I feel like Zang is really in touch with our spirit animal.
Brian: For everyone, we have so many unique things that we can bring to create something special, a special animal…That’s what the animal said, I just talk to him. [Laughs.]
Austin: The animal talked to us. We are into religion in Vermont, where the animals talk to us. [Laughter.]
What kind of animal is this three-part animal?
Brian: I see a lion, but with Zebra stripes. And peacock feathers…
Zambricki: Yeah, a tail with peacock feathers, I just saw it. It’s hiding.
Brian: Yeah, It’s here. It’s in Vermont by the river.
You guys are a really eco-friendly band. Could you talk a little bit about that?
Zambricki: We built a solar-powered mobile recording studio. Part of it was putting up solar panels, and part of it as installing the gear and making it so it worked together. Last summer we were on a festival tour and along the way we recorded in all these really beautiful acoustical places, like a redwood tree in Humboldt, and a tunnel in Washington. And since the record has come out, we partnered with the organization called One Tree Planted. They plant trees in Colorado and Vermont, and for every album people buy on this tour, One Tree Planted will plant a tree, actually in Colorado. So if just offsets kind of what we’re doing a little bit. It’s something we can do that’s right in front of us.
Brian: And then for our merch it’s all one of a kind upcycled stuff. You know, we think there’s enough t-shirts and jean shorts in the world, and there’s probably boxes sitting all over New Jersey, or all these different states in people’s garages of merch they’ve made from previous tours. So we want to be at a net zero at the end of every tour. So we make merch for the tour, we sell the merch, and then we start again. Keep a small footprint.
So a lot of the recording process was done in nature. What was it like when everything came together in the studio?
Austin: We have a recording studio in Los Angeles called The Bunker where we did a lot of the drums on the record. So when we got to Atlanta in the studio it was basically like taking all of these elements and putting it into a pot and making like a big witch’s brew. Looking back, it was kind of a whirlwind of recording. So it’s like taking a breath and listening back to what we said.
Brian: And we often try to redo some things. Sometimes we try to beat the recording but the ones we got out in these random places were so much better. It’s kind of cool to see that those takes stood up and there were some really cool elements to them.
We worked with a co-producer in Atlanta for a few weeks, which was a really good to get perspective on the album, especially because the three of us worked together engineering, producing it, and doing all these things for two months on the road. So we really needed someone that wasn’t
Zambricki: …part of the spirit animal! Or at least was friends with it.
Are you guys writing while you are on the road?
Brian: Yeah, like we said Zambricki’s got this notebook of lyrics. Fourteen songs. Twenty-five pages. [Shhh.]
Zambricki: Last summer, as we were touring, we were also recording, and re-writing. So we actually are at the beginning of a longer process. Yeah, we are writing some stuff.
Austin: Now we are trying to get the tour to be the tightest it can be.
Brian: We have been recording every show and listening back again. Yeah, like Asbury Park, wow, smoking hot show. We were actually listening back to Asbury Park last night on our way here.
Are there other musicians who you see perform that inspire you or your performance? You mentioned said Bruce Springsteen, but any other acts you’ve seen while you were touring these festivals?
Zambricki: Yeah, we really like Bleachers. We just saw them play when we were at Firefly in Delaware. And we are playing another show with them in August with Alt 98.7 called Summer Camp. We try at festivals to go and see as many bands as we can, in between all the other shows going on. And sometimes we’ll go for like, three songs, and we are like, “Okay, I get it.” But those guys were like, we stayed for their whole set. They jammed.
Austin: I would watch them again.
Zambricki: I’d say that was number one. And then we toured with The Revivalists. We played a couple of shows with them. Those guys are great.