Brighton bred Gross Magic has had a hell of a 2011. Starting with a deal with Fat Possum, followed by his first EP release, a string of big name tours and ending with a set at David Lynch’s Paris based Club Silencio. Apart from a debut album and a wishful “sponsorship from @DietCokeUS!” Mcgarrigle has achieved nearly everything that one could hope for in a first year of a record deal. Yet he seems relatively nonchalant about it all, “I just put those [songs] up online, and then got an offer to make a record, just a 300 copy run, and that’s kinda how it started I guess”.
I first became aware of Sam under one of his early aliases, Contra, when I heard his remix of Chromeo’s ‘Call Me Up’ online. “I started remixing because it’s a good way to get exposed in that genre. People search on the internet for the song that you’ve remixed and sometimes your remix comes up, and they might like it.” His removal from the dance scene was because of boredom “and also I felt that it’s not a very welcoming side of the music industry . . . it might have been because I wasn’t very good at it too”.
Sam’s latest project, Gross Magic, follows a different genre – one closer to his heart. “I’ve always been interested in pop music to a certain extent. I guess that word ‘pop’ gets misconceived as chart music, but I mean older pop or bedroom pop, more experimental pop”. His brand of loud and hazy bedroom recordings dates back to when he was nine, when he recorded songs on a 4-track with his older cousins. “They were playing in this quite intense and political punk band, and they played with bands like Fugazi, and I think me and my mother were visiting my cousin when he said ‘do you want to go upstairs and record a song in my room?’ and we made a couple of songs. I think it was something about a chicken with no head, a monkey with a gun or something. Over the following couple of years we’d occasionally meet up with one of my other cousins and record a whole album worth of songs in a day”.
“I discovered a lot of artists who released records that were recorded in their bedrooms, so it made me feel less pressured to go into a studio. I felt a lot more comfortable doing it at home because you don’t have time limitations, or someone else to be worrying about like a producer. You can do it pretty much exactly your own way.”
Teen Jamz is a concept EP born out of being a teenager and fearing its end. “I wanted to try and write a whole new bunch of songs before I was twenty because I was scared of not being a teenager. I thought it was a big deal. I wanted to write universal romance songs, using little bits and bobs from how I felt then, like growing up and that sort of stuff. None of it’s really based on any actual situations that I’ve been in, but there’s in jokes that only I’d ever understand in some of the lyrics, solo in-jokes”.
“At the moment there’s this 90s revival thing going on in quite a lot of places, and I feel like I’ve been lumped in with it because the grungiest couple of songs have been the lead singles . . . I’d say it’s definitely more like ELO, 70s glam and psyche pop, that’s what I was going for. Maybe the grunge influences are sub-conscious but I totally agree with the Ariel Pink and ELO thing. I’ve pretty much just ripped off ELO for one of my songs, can’t get away from that.”
‘We’re Awake Tonight’, the ELO influenced track that Mcgarrigle refers to has, alongside his other single releases, warranted attention from abroad as well as in the UK. Alongside a European tour with Metronomy, Gross Magic was singled out to play MIDI festival in France, which has a habit of picking up talented artists before they reach the peak of their success. Girls, Ariel Pink and Animal Collective have all played there. “For years I’d always thought how cool it would be to get on a plane to go and play a show with your band . . . when we got there the hospitality was crazy, in Europe you get treated so much better than in the UK if you’re playing shows. And then we walked into this crazy chateau on this mountain overlooking this really beautiful city and you could see the sea, and there were just so many beautiful girls sitting around sunbathing and it was like some Beverly Hills house party or something. That was probably one of the best moments.”
A call to feature at David Lynch’s album launch turned out to be an invite to play his Christmas party at his club in Paris: “Our booking agent just sent us a message saying ‘Oh by the way it’s not for the album launch, it’s just ‘cause he’s a big fan’ or something, which is crazy, ‘cause I wrote this essay about him in my art foundation course and it’s the only essay that I’ve ever enjoyed writing, ‘cause I really like his stuff. To hear that even second hand was crazy. The Yuck tour and the Fanzine tour was rad too. That was another highlight. The Norwich show… ” – which I attended, was undeniably rad, seeing in the end of Gross Magic’s “EWW” tour with an onstage human pyramid.
2012 promises to carry on in a similarly blissful vein, with a spot at SXSW already confirmed. “Which is really cool because we were meant to play some shows in the States last year but they got cancelled because we couldn’t get visas”. The all-important first album has been started on too. “Since New Year I’ve not been going out, I’ve pretty much stayed in my room 24/7 recording demos for my first album. In terms of how it’s going to sound, I’m not entirely sure yet. I think it’s going to be more experimental, and a bit less riff heavy. I want to make it more musically sophisticated, try to push my songwriting a bit, and make things a bit less simple. All the songs that I had for my last release were pretty straightforward.”
“I’m not sure if it’s going to be a concept yet. I want it to be like a warped walk through my brain, bumping into different ideas on different things and stumbling across memories, and I’m going to try and figure out how that can fit into an album”. I hope he finds a way, as well as a sponsor to leave crates of Cola at his door.