Strawberry Spotlight with Magic Mountain
Strawberry Spotlight is a weekly feature on Strawberry Tongue Radio hosted by Lady Audio. She chats with the bands you hear on Strawberry Tongue. In this edition, Lady Audio chats with James and Ashley from English shoegaze/synthwave band Magic Mountain.
This is a transcription of that interview which airs March 1, 2017, 1:00 EST, only on Strawberry Tongue Radio. You can also catch the re-broadcast of this show on Saturday and Sunday at 1:00pm EST. Be sure to tune in!
Lady Audio: Hello everyone and welcome to the Strawberry Spotlight Radio Show. I am Lady Audio and I will be your host. Our guest this week is Magic Mountain. We have James and Ashley with us today. Magic Mountain welcome to the show! How are you today?
James and Ashley: Hello, hi, we’re very good. Thank you.
Lady Audio: Who are all the members of the band and what do you all play?
Ashley: There’s three of us in total. There’s myself, Ashley, and I play the guitar, and then there is James…
James: I play bass and I sing, and then there’s Sarah, who’s asleep. (Laughs) She plays keyboards and she plays the flute as well.
Lady Audio: I’ll start with James. what attracted you to the realm of music?
James: Oh my gosh, my word, that’s a really good question. Music has been a part of my life since I was a little kid, I guess. When I was growing up, my dad used to play me old records like Elvis and Chuck Berry records and Everly Brothers and he was so excited about music. It meant so much to him. I think that’s what really got me into music. So, ever since then it’s had a really big importance in my life. I always wanted to play music and be as a musician, as well as listening to music.
Ashley: Also, it’s great form of expression as well. It’s opportunity to express whatever your feeling inside or whatever you need to say. It’s very direct as well so you can get straight to people who are listening and get across precisely what you’re feeling. Often those people can feel the same thing and plug into what you’re trying to express and so that’s quite a big thing, as well. That whole element of sharing something that means quite a lot to us.
Lady Audio: So how were introduced to music Ashley?
Ashley: Similar to James – music being played by my parents, but I think one of the most significant things was my Mother bought me – it no longer exists – a music newspaper called Melody Maker. That really sort of opened up the whole world to totally different types of music and bands and artists that I’ve never heard of it and probably would have never heard of if I hadn’t got a hold of this newspaper. Melody Maker, it was a brilliant thing, and it wasn’t afraid to say, for example, that a band was rubbish or not it was really quite opinionated but it definitely inspired you to say, “I’m gonna check that band out – or I want to find out more.” So that’s what really got me going down that avenue and getting more into music in a bigger way and about the same time I was given a drum kit and I was trying to learn to play the drums so that kind of started me together on the musical journey as it were.
Lady Audio: So how did Magic Mountain get started?
Ashley: James and probably best to tell this tale of how that got started…
James: Well me and Ashley we’re in a band, a while back, called This Dumb Desire. He was a drummer in that band and I used to sing, and my little brother played guitar. This was like the first band we did. Me and Ashley met at University so we started doing that band together. We had my little brother in the band, as well. We used to do lots of gigs and stuff and that didn’t last that long – about a year, I think. So then we did some different musical projects, separately. Then we sort of came together – oh gosh – a few years back. I’d just left a band that I was in and me and Ashley just thought well let’s just do some jamming. Ashley had learned to play guitar really well, as the drums, so we decided to just do some jamming up and Ashley’s attic. Ashley playing guitar and me singing and we just wanted to see if we can do some songs – if it would work and then we had a little drum machine as well. We sort of discovered we had kind of a sound and that’s something. Then we got Sarah to join as well, because we were going to play some gigs and we have to have a proper kind of sound. She plays flute, which is a really unusual instrument to have in a song. I think we just asked her originally to play flute on one song, didn’t we? That’s what it was. On the song Velvet and it was so good that we wanted her to be in and the band and play synts and flute on everything.
Ashley: It really fleshed out the sound.
James: So that’s how it pulled it all together. Sarah was Ashley’s girlfriend at the time, wife now. (Laughs)
Ashley: We’re Fleetwood Mac. (laughs)
Lady Audio: So it was the name behind the band? Why did you rename it from the other name you had before?
James: Yeah, that was awhile back that was a sort of a thing that we did with my little brother so it was a different sound and it was a different band. So Magic Mountain – there’s a book but Thomas Mann, he’s a German writer that I really like. It’s about a student who goes up goes up into a sanitorium in the mountains and has very strange experiences. It’s a very mysterious book – it kind of evokes different kinds of emotions and has a power to it. I always liked that name so that’s what we decide to call then, because it meant a lot to me that book. I don’t I don’t know why.
Lady Audio: So I want to ask about the album you have released right now called Innocence. How did you come up with the name for the EP?
James: Oh, Innocense, that’s the name of the song isn’t it?
Lady Audio: It’s a name of the song but it’s also the name of the album isn’t it?
Ashley: Yeah, I think we chose that song to be the title of the record, it just sort of it just summed up a lot of what we were trying to achieve, I think. It was also like a new start – in a new band – I don’t know it’s hard to explain really. It kind of opened a new door and if look at the cover you can see there’s a door and there’s a person about to step into the light or they just stepped out through the light. It’s like that innocent step forward or an innocent step backward – sort of along that line, really. It sounded good as well. (laughs) It’s wasn’t having a deeper meaning – it just seemed like a good title for the collection of songs that we had for that record.
Lady Audio: And speaking about the title track, Innocence, what is the story behind the song?
Ashley: It’s deep and intriguing and it changes some to a large degree, which he (James) presented to me. I dunno, just just one day that he had this song and at that point it was quite basic. It’s quite a simple song but we had it for a while and we sort of played around with it and we actually sort of forgot about it for a little while. Then we brought it back, but the actual sort of lyrics side of things is James is the best to get into that….
James: That song talks about waking – about horses and waking up. I think I had a dream. Basically I used to live in the “Forest of Dreams,” which is a mysterious forest near Wales. There used to be a field behind our house and there were horses that used to run around that field. That was one of the images in the song. I think it’s like – it’s sort of dream-like. It’s about forgetting yourself – maybe you’re in love with someone or you’re longing for something and you sort of disappear into this dream and then you come back and you don’t feel like the same person anymore. There’s certain images – things that I’ve learned from dreams that sort of came into the lyrics.
Ashley: It’s a dream-like song….
James: It is a dream-like song. The lyrics are kind of like a story…
Lady Audio: It reminds me of something I read a while back in regards to Druidry – and how – what the original meaning of nightmare was. Basically it was a horse that came to you and it was also a goddess – I can’t remember her name – but she would come to you at night to give you a message. That message could be good or bad it didn’t matter it was a night – mare. It kind of reminds me of that.
James: That’s interesting because that’s kind of an image in the dream does horses in that dream. It’s an interesting way to think about the song.
Lady Audio: Another song I really like is “Sublight.” What’s the story behind that song?
Ashley: Sublight was originally, an entirely different song that we were knocking about about in the rehearsal room. It just wasn’t happening in its current state.
James: It was fast…
Ashley: Yeah, yeah, it was trying to be a rock-y number. (laughs) We took the drums out of it and just slowed things down and then James started singing over the top of these two chords, that Sarah and I were just playing, ‘cuz we only had like eight or nine chords – it was real quite complicated stuff. We stripped it all the way back to these two single chords and it just really worked and it has dream-like quality to it. One of the the ideas behind that one – was definitely taking sort of a leaf out of My Bloody Valentine type of style. Drenched sort of guitar sound and the voice being in there talking – singing mysteriously. I like it because it has very nice atmosphere to it and it has a subtle dote to it as well. It works very well in a live setting to that’s not what people are setting expecting…
Ashley: …because in the next song, the drums are all gone and it’s just the keyboard in the guitar and James out front. He’ll just put the bass down at the back of the stage or wherever and so what’s going on at what’s happening now then what’s he up to now and so it just gets people’s attention because they’re not expecting…
Lady Audio: So who recorded and mixed the Innocence album?
Ashley: We recorded it at a little studio called Latent Lemon Studio which is in the town of Luton, sort of central England. The engineer was a chap called Justin Saban, who’s recorded all sort of different bands and all different styles of music. He’s a really nice guy to work with because he the way he produces you he won’t – he let’s you produce it rather than saying “I think you should be doing this…” or “Ashley I don’t think that sounds great…” That’s not really – he’s a bit Steve Albini-ish in the sense that he records your music and he will mix it for you, but, he won’t impose a dictatorial producers-style role that a lot of producers can do. They have their ideas you have your idea and usually the producer’s idea wins out. Justin’s not like that and he’s quite patient and listen to what we wanted to do and he be like “great, let’s do that then,” and he’d let you find your own way wouldn’t he? Rather than him imposing anything or any of his experience he let you find your way and then if we found it wasn’t working – it was because we found it wasn’t working or – if we found something that was working really well in the track – it wasn’t because Justin it said “yay or nay” or anything like that. What do you think James?
James: Yeah, Justin was great. I think he’s good at that and I think is good at getting out a good performance from us. You have to have lot of confidence when you are playing or singing and he creates that atmosphere, so you can get the best out of it.
Lady Audio: How long does it take to record the album?
James: Gosh, I think we did each song – we took a day over – took four or five days to do, a day, or sometimes only half. Some songs took longer than others but we didn’t record it all in one day. We did a song and then we’d come back and we do another. When we had enough money. (laughs)
Lady Audio: Yeah, I know the recording time studio time can cost can be a big expense that’s for sure.
James: Yeah it is, and some of them took longer than others. So, you know we’d go off into the night and adding tracks and tweaking it.
Lady Audio: So, now we’re going to do the scenario bit and I wanted to know if you we’re ready?
James and Ashley: The scenario…okay.
Lady Audio: Okay, we’ll start with you James since you’re on the line right now.
James: Yeah, okay.
Lady Audio: It’s night time and it’s dark and cold. You find yourself on the side of a snowy mountain – a Magic Mountain – and you look towards the setting moon and a chilling wind passes through your clothes. Off in the distance along the cliff you see fire light coming from the cave. As you approach the cave you can hear people talking and music being played, too. When you reach the cave entrance the people are very welcoming and ask you to join them. They give you the the choice to play a small piano, a drum, or a guitar. Which would you choose to play?
James: Just thinking – hold on – I think I would kind of play piano, actually.
Ashley: I think I’d be tempted to play the drum even though I can play the guitar. The drums are the first instrument I play, and I still can’t say no to playing a drum.
Lady Audio: And as you’re playing together you’re magically shown images on the cave walls. So what are the images being created as you play?
Ashley: Oooohhh…I think, for me, it would be some sort of a lion or a tiger type of thing that keeps
James: Really? (laughs)
Ashley: …yeah, yeah, that’s what the drums are bringing out of the rock. What about you, what do you see?
James: Yeah, so, I think – there’s a fire burning isn’t it there and up on the walls there’s images – I think I’m in the forest again. I think I’m amongst the trees…
Ashley: …and the tigers in the trees…
James: I can’t see a tiger, actually, that’s yours. (laughs)
Lady Audio: So you’re seeing trees….okay, great.
James: Yeah like big trees – you know in Penrhyn Curve, there used to be this big tree that we used to go to, it was this great beech tree that was in the middle of the forest , which had like a clearing around it.
Lady Audio: Did you say it was a beech tree?
James: Yeah, a beech tree.
Lady Audio: Yeah cool. Last but not least what is your favorite flower Ashley?
Ashley: Ooooh, favorite flower – I like – oh I think it’s not technically a flower – it’s just like what do you call them – oh, lavender. Lavender – there’s lots of flowers, but, I do like lavender. I’ve got some at work and in the summertime it’s quite nice when you step out the office door and you got quite a nice smell of lavender. So yeah – on a more general level, I like any flowers that are bright and colorful. But I’m really horrible at remembering their names. Sarah’s more the gardener and the flower expert than I am. I’m the one that digs the holes that she’s the one that picks the flowers. James, you say…
James: I’m going to say a Blue Bell.
Lady Audio: Ah, bluebell, nice. Cool.
James: So, when they come out and you see all together – the bluebells. It’s lovely, just a few weeks, isn’t it? It’s like a carpet.
Lady Audio: Yeah they don’t really last for long do they they just kind of last a couple weeks and then they’re gone.
James: Yeah, you have to go see them at that time…
Lady Audio: Well, that’s lovely. Where can people go to listen to and purchase your music?
Ashley: Ah, yes, you can see we’re really good at promoting ourselves.
Lady Audio: Thank you both for joining me tonight. I really appreciate you taking the time to talk about the album and to share a bit of the backstory behind the songs and behind the music.
James: Thank you for having us. It was a pleasure to talk to you.
Ashley: Thank you very much and all the best!
Lady Audio: And for everyone else listening thank you so much for visiting Magic Mountain’s Bandcamp and for giving them a “like” on Facebook and other social media, too. So take care until next week, bye!
Special thanks to James Percy and Ashley Smart from Magic Mountain for joining Lady Audio for this edition of Strawberry Spotlight. Listen to Magic Mountain, learn more about the band and find more links to their social media pages by visiting their bandcamp page.