December 13th, 2007 | Interviews

dan monick

Magic Lantern is a five-piece band from Long Beach who named their Myspace after Magical Power Mako. They also enjoy racquetball and film and include several side-and-solo projects (Eureka, Super Minerals, and Sun Araw). They meet early in the morning for coffee at Portfolio. Bassist Gavin Fort and drummer Chip Knechtel could not be present.

Were you on NPR before you ever even played a show?
Cameron Stallones (guitar, vocals): We were.
William Giacchi (guitar, vocals): Actually, this messageboard I post on—we recorded, pretty much just me and Cameron and Phil, and I posted a link to the page with some clips on there, and a guy who also posts on there was interning for NPR at the time and he was totally into the music. He said, ‘Send me a CD with a few tracks.’
So you wrote a few tracks.
W: We only had like four or five songs at the time, so I sent them that, and said, ‘We’re really interested in playing this fifteen-minute track on the open mic show.’
C: I don’t think we were ever on the actual radio-radio, but it was a weird cultural nexus—‘Can we play our 15-minute psych jam on NPR?’
Was that the longest uninterrupted psych jam ever played on NPR?
C: That’d definitely be my guess.
Where were you before you played the first show?
Phil French (percussion, winds, keys, trumpet, vocals): We were rotating around the idea that would soon become the band. We had to graduate college before we could do this. It feels obligatory, but we’re stoking on Long Beach right now. Billgazer is rocking the Prospector, the Midnight Gardeners are a local band we’re pretty excited about—obviously Crystal Antlers. I like that you don’t have to drive to L.A. or Hollywood to have something going on that’s not Sublime. And we love {open} too!
C: Phil lived in Whittier—we all did—and we migrated down here. We were jamming and recording a lot, and having the music and the vibe ready to go helped. We’ve been in bands together—Beat Happening playing the Zombies. It sounds awesome but it wasn’t! Really inept ‘50s R&B covers. I’m really into ‘60s soul, pre-rock and stuff—we wanted to be like one of those Nuggets bands that always played covers. We didn’t have any songs. We did ‘These Arms Of Mine.’
W: ‘Be My Baby.’
C: That was our set closer. Our friend Jeff played drums, and he wasn’t a drummer, but he could do, ‘BOOM! BOOM BOOM KAAH!’ And we did open for Cold War Kids in Whittier.
Are you more into magic lantern, the early invention in cinema, or Magic Lanterns, the band that Albert Hammond started out in?
C: I would say the Haymarket Square album. But there was a magic lantern show that my film archive put together, but I didn’t go to it—I felt like a bad employee.
How about the Godz?
C: It’s an album we all love. It’s not the most consistent of all time, but ‘Permanent Green Light’ is totally foundational. We’ve been talking about covering it for a long time. And ‘Radar Eyes.’
What contemporary director would make the best use of a Magic Lantern song?
P: For some fucking reason Cronenberg comes to mind. Maybe because he’s psychedelic.
C: Maybe David Gordon Green. I was gonna say Terrence Malick but that’s bullshit.
P: Gregg Araki.
Block out the scene.
P: It’d be like Sympathy For The Devil, all jamming in a two-story-tall cedar recording studio.
C: Then you need Godard to guide it through—a total tracking shot.
P: Uninterrupted jammage.
C: Fonda and Hopper wandering around.
P: The graveyard during Mardi Gras, eating fistfuls of acid.
How do you each of you fit together in this band?
C: William was the genesis—he wrote and recorded the first few tracks. ‘Mountains of Madness’ William did by himself. Then we started jamming the three of us—doing the more psych-drone thing.
P: Not having a drummer at first made us pay attention to the tonal qualities of the guitar—what makes good drone.
What makes good drone?
P: It’s decorative but not intrusive.
Like good curtains.
P: Exactly. You don’t want to intrude—don’t wanna be boring.
C: Good psych has to be super-progressive. Not in the sense of prog rock, but constantly leading somewhere—even if this doesn’t have a huge climax.
P: A journey—when we play any Magic Lantern song, but especially like ‘Mountains Of Madness,’ I’m thinking of a journey.
To a riff-filled land?
P: Following the weedian caravan. It’s facilitating a place where an individual listener can have an individual experience. It doesn’t have to confirm to a certain narrative—they can have their own particular journey.
C: It’s safe to say we’re not waking anybody up, but I’m cool with that.
P: People will wake themselves up. It’s not our job.
C: There is something definitely spiritual and transcendent about good psych—transportive. For us, it’s definitely about transportiveness. Getting to a different place by the end of the track.
P: We’ll play live, and I’ll look at Cameron and William just riffing—I’ll become more of an observer. I love losing myself in the guitars that are flanking me. I look to the left and I look to the right and I’m bound to run into something rad!
How confident are you that you really did make the best cassette single of 2007?
P: We’ll take their word for it!
C: Online review hyperbole gets to the level of Aquarius Records reviews—but I was so pumped on what he said! We got some new stuff coming out on Ruralfaune, a French label. We’re like 70% done.
And you are not now and have never been on Tee Pee?
C: No, but we played that cool first show—I could never hate on Myspace because Tony emailed me to see if we wanted to play with Earthless, Entrance, Titan…
P: We’ve been into their music for the last couple years—it’s a super-big honor.
What’s going to be on the full-length?
C: It’s gonna be full-length length. We’ve still got the rock ‘n’ roll going on, but there’s a little more of the drone-space.
Who else should reach out of the Myspace fog to grab you?
C: It’s absurd but I’d love to play a show with Bardo Pond—not that they ever play on the West Coast, but we have the same psychedelic mindset as far as the idea of the jam.
What is the idea of the jam?
P: Being exploratory.
W: They kind of straddle being really serious about the drone, and they’re also very comfortable with rockiness. They straddle that line really well.
What’s the earliest drone you remember hearing?
P: My dad was a real jazz head, so he exposed me to really killer free jazz—like Bitches Brew—and that was really cool to hear. I think my foray into kind of untraditional music started with my dad turning me on to jazz tracks. He was semi-pro with trombone—he was in a couple of pretty good bands in college. He opened for Bill Cosby!
C: I have to give a shout-out—the first band that got me into music in a real active way was Starflyer 59. The first record was total My Bloody Valentine shoegaze scene—that’s what got me to play guitar. I remember stories in the liner notes of the second album—four Marshall stacks—one high, one mid, one low…
And one for scenery?
C: Exactly.
W: I was just thinking—‘Love Me Do,’ something about the really early Beatles stuff that—I don’t know, but even when I was a kid there was something alive and vibrant about those songs.
What was the last time you cried at a movie?
C: I don’t wanna be too complicated, but there’s two scenes in all of cinema that I get really affected by. In De Palma’s Hi, Mom, the ‘Be black, baby’ sequence—it’s so freaky, and I watch a ton of messed-up stuff, and every time I see that it totally gets me. No gore—really documentary-style confrontations.
P: And then the bell-maker scene in Andre Rublev—after the boy gets done building the bell, and Andre holds him and they realize their purpose in life. One of the most devastating scenes in any movie.
C: Another thing that always gets me—Nights of Cabiria, the scene where they go to the Madonna, and the uncle tries to walk and eats it.
Have you gone to Cinefamily yet?
P: We’re stoking.
C: We’re big New Beverly devotees. After Sherman died—we’re still trying to support. We go quite a bit. That’s where we got our film education—we were there like every night, driving up from Whittier.
Did you all sit together and watch movies and cry?
C: We had a routine—we’d go to Cinefile Monday nights, and the Whittier public library, and two of us had Netflix… Cinefile was such a long drive and the late fees are so brutal, so we’d go EVERY Monday night.
P: We watched every obscuro film that entire year.
C: The horrible VHS bootlegs of Satyajit Ray films.
How did you not exhaust your interest in film?
C: It was a time of life thing. We couldn’t do it now. I keep a spreadsheet of all the movies I’ve watched—like that summer, I’d be like, ‘I HAVE seen this!’ But we like other stuff, too.
P: We’re just these pasty-faced film geeks, eating burritos…
C: If it’s not four hours long, don’t talk to me.
Have people learned your songs by now?
C: At Echo Curio, we started ‘Mountains of Madness’ and people were like, ‘Yeah!’ And we just did a jam session at the racquetball courts in Long Beach—me and Phil are big racquetball players. It was late at night and I’d never seen it locked before—but it was locked! There are no outlets so we did a total acoustic jam—ukelele, acoustic guitar, bells…
P: It’s a total jam space.
C: You can’t even have a conversation because of the echo—it’s a cement box!
P: We jammed midnight til four AM.
C: We were passing equipment through a hole in the fence.
Which Beefheart guitar commandment most guides the band?
W: I think the bird one kind of applies—we’re really interested in sounds and tones in general, finding like really natural kind of tones, I guess. Listening to everything and trying to capture something that pertains to life.
What kind of natural sounds?
W: A lot of times, just natural drone.
Like power lines?
W: The hum of something when no music source is available—you’re kind of forced to just listen to whatever natural sound is going on. Some people would like to get away from that in music listening. For me, it’s not an escapist thing so much as a keeping up with the natural rhythm of things to be into drone.
So all you need on your desert island is some powerlines.
C: Waves would suffice.
P: And a couple birds wouldn’t hurt.