Interview with Magic Man’s guitarist, Sam Vanderhoop Lee
(Hey guys, it is a pleasure to bring you this interview that I’ve been excited for some time to do. Magic Man is a band that is rapidly becoming one of the most popular alternative synth rock bands today. They have had their music featured on BBC Radio 1, SiriusXM (where their song “Paris” took the number one spot in Alt Nation‘s Alt 18 countdown), The Guardian, FIFA 15, and so many more places. They are on the path to super-stardom and it is a pleasure to share this interview-about anything from Magic Man’s songwriting to video games-with the guitarist for this amazing band!)
Derek Kortepeter: 2014 was an insane year for Magic Man. Your music from Before the Waves has been given tons of accolades that most bands only dream of. How are you processing all of this? Is it overwhelming at all?
Sam Vanderhoop Lee: It’s honestly been incredible—we feel super lucky to have such great fans and support. It’s important to stay humble and work hard—we’re always trying to get better and do more.
DK: Are there any specific moments from this year as a band that really stand out to you?
SVL: So many amazing moments—playing our first shows overseas, playing Boston Calling to a crowd of thousands of people, watching our album go live on iTunes, listening to Before the Waves on vinyl for the first time at our manager’s house in Austin, TX, our sold out holiday show with some of our best friends in Boston, and most importantly, meeting so many amazing fans, bands, promoters, and other awesome people while traveling around the country and world.
DK: So let’s talk about how you guys got started as a band, was it something you kind of fell into or did you all just get together and say “alright this is what we are going to do?”
SVL: Alex (Caplow: lead vocalist) and I have known each other since preschool, and we’ve been playing music together since we first learned how to play the guitar. Magic Man was something we did just sort of fall into—we were traveling together at the time, and to pass the time we started to work on some instrumental demos I had just put together on my laptop. It was totally impromptu but once we finished a few songs we realized we had something cool brewing.
DK: Who do you consider your musical influences (I’m detecting a Killers/Tears for Fears mix…), and how did you develop your unique take on the synth pop genre?
SVL: Not far off! When we first started playing in bands in high school, we were listening to a lot of Postal Service, Arcade Fire, the Killers, Coldplay… I think those guys all definitely influenced the music we made once we started writing our own.
DK: Since you are based in Boston and I do not hail from there (I’m a native Angeleno), I’m curious about the music vibe in your city. How would you describe the Bostonian music scene? Was it immediately receptive to the music that you were putting out? Did you find your niche audience pretty quickly?
SVL: Boston has a great music scene. The DIY music community was really instrumental in the early days of Magic Man—we cut our teeth playing DIY shows in people’s basements and living rooms. With bare bones gear, you’ve got to make the show exciting on your own terms, with your energy and commitment, and that was a great learning experience for us.
DK: Can you walk me through the process that you took when creating Before the Waves? How did you go about finding the inspiration for the songs as well as putting all the elements together in the studio?
SVL: Alex and I are the main songwriters, and typically one of us will come up with a basic idea, then the other one will refine and develop the idea further. We like passing songs back and forth, each adding a little element here and there until we get to a place where we can take it to the band to learn for recording and playing live.
DK: Of all the songs on your LP, “Tonight” is easily my favorite as it is incredibly uplifting and melodically powerful. Can you talk about the origins of that song, how it came to be etc.?
SVL: “Tonight” was one of the last songs we wrote for the record. I was working on a song in our home studio room, and I heard Alex recording what later became the chorus of Tonight in our kitchen, on his laptop. It’s always funny hearing the vocal parts coming from the other room, but not being able to hear any of the music. When I heard the first demo, all the random stuff I had been hearing clicked into place, which is a great feeling. Once we had a rough demo, the song came together quickly and became one of our favorites on the record. I think we finished the majority of the song in a day or two.
(Magic Man performs “Tonight” live in this link)
DK: Incidentally “Tonight” was the first song I ever heard from Magic Man, actually while playing FIFA 15. What was it like getting approached by EA to put your song in that massive video game franchise? Being the huge nerd that I am, I also have to ask, are any of you guys gamers or soccer fans (if yes to the latter question please say that you cheer for Manchester United and for the love of god not Liverpool or Man City…)?
SVL: Having our song in FIFA was an incredible opportunity that we were super excited about. It’s funny, the summer we made Before the Waves, when we were staying in New York working on the album, the guys I was staying with used to play FIFA all the time. I would always come back from the studio and find a bunch of them hanging out and playing the game. I’m still pretty terrible at it (just played a few games with Gabe, our bass player, in which he firmly trounced me), but I’m slowly improving! Our manager is a big Man U supporter, so luckily we’ve got a soft spot for them.
DK: Every band experiences a connection with their audience during live sets in their own way. What would you say you bring to the crowd each and every show that keeps them coming back?
SVL: Our good looks and stylish hair dos. Just kidding. Maybe. I’d say our energy is one thing that’s a strength of our live show. We try our best to bring as much raw intensity to the shows as possible—we want Magic Man shows to be engaging and dynamic and add a new level to the recordings.
DK: The music industry has changed so much since the dawn of the 21st Century, and in many ways it is still trying to figure out where to go. Where do you think the music industry should go in the future? What do you think it can improve on and what should artists do to make that happen?
SVL: Tough question! I think it’s great to see more direct interaction between bands and fans—whether it’s a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for an album or a band doing a twitter Q&A, it’s easier than ever to connect directly with the people who appreciate your music. For us, this has been really essential in getting our music out there, and we are lucky enough to have an incredible group of supportive listeners and fans. One area the music industry could could certainly improve on (and this is obviously not limited to the music industry alone), is the number of women in music, whether it’s as artists or as in the industry, and the way they’re treated. We’ve certainly come along way, but being on the road it’s immediately clear how much of a male-dominated industry the entertainment business is and how much further we have to go.
DK: 2015 is upon us, what are the plans for you guys now? I’d imagine you need a break with all of the crazy touring you’ve been doing…
SVL: Nope! More touring! We’ll be embarking on our first national headline tour this spring, and we couldn’t be more excited. We all can’t wait to get back on the road.
DK: You never know who might be reading this interview so…are there any artists you would love to collaborate with in the future?
SVL: Kanye. Brian Eno. Taylor Swift. St. Vincent. Too many great and inspiring artists out there.
DK: I really appreciate the time you took to do this interview, I had a lot of fun doing it. Before we close, is there anything else you would like to say?
SVL: Thanks for reading! See you all on the road.
Magic Man can be found at: