ALL HAIL... THE MAGNIFICENTS
Scottish underground heroes The Magnificents are the band you've been waiting for. Having come together at Edinburgh Art College around the turn of the century, these merry pranksters have toured with Mogwai, Stereolab and The Beta Band (the only band to ever do so), rocked SXSW in Texas, and released two outstanding albums of jittery electro punk of the highest order. The latest, recorded by Damian Taylor (Bjork, Unkle) and John Cummings (Mogwai), is called Year Of Explorers. Reverb caught up with Magnificents Tommy Stuart and Drew McFadyen to discuss The Illuminati, musical tomfoolery and all things frightfully loud.
So, is that story true about how you guys formed? For someone's birthday party?
Tommy: Yessir, our career as a function band has been crippled ever since. We played an eerie version of Harlem Shuffle, a Seeds track whose name escapes me, various mangled interpretations of Northern Soul Classics. It's about the only time we've played other peoples songs (excluding unconscious riff-nickery).
Drew: It is true, aye. It was a more traditional set-up than we have now, but we decided after it that we'd enjoyed it and might as well do it again. The next gig was more 'synths at dawn' type thing. Tommy brother Peter was leaving the band, so he was in a wheelchair (not for real) and we shaved his head for the encore.
Do you think studying at art school gave you a better view on the whole creative process, or maybe even made you understand how to absorb and use your influences?
Tommy: By the time we formed, we - to varying degrees - shared elements of a dirty, drunk Tollcross-inhabiting, Art-Bastard Mindset. It may be similar across other institutions, but Art School lets you fanny about for a few years, sticking to the like-minded types fannying about in similar spheres. Our fanny-spheres stuck together. As far as the teaching helping the process, it's maybe true to say, but of the thousands who pass through these institutions, only a limited lump end up making records. I had some inspiring, understanding tutors though, some of which helped me to channel a fair portion of the fairly repellent energy I was fueled with at the time.
By the way, what are the band's influences?
Tommy: Lots of stuff, over a long period of time. Sometimes shared, others more individual. Speaking for myself, I remember Make Up being important to us around the time we got together, Neu I (still) found exciting to listen to. Picking things out is non-representative and fairly random. There's nuggets in sh*te and vice versa.
What were some of the early gigs like?
Carnage. It's easy, and fun, to be nostalgic about those times - but I can clearly recall the pain, terror, joy and self-loathing that surrounded gigs. Happy days, genuinely f**cking awful, rewarding, excellently-sh*te times. Frightfully, frightfully loud. Songs were grinding, loose, really rather load and puctuated by tooth-grinding yelps.
What about the touring then, what can you tell me about what? I know you toured Europe before you even had anything out?
Tommy: That was a pressing error, good intentioned. We were lucky to have a 12" EP pressed by Mooner at EDM in Munich, he organised a tour of Germany and Switzerland over 10 days or so in May 2001. He placed his faith in us, so we made cases for things, bought some batteries and flew over. Sourcing the big bits of kit (drums etc) meant that when we were let down we had to improvise and make do, we wrote songs live as well - something we've not done a lot of. I had been prescribed Trazodone (a fairly industrial anti-psychotic) and have fairly limited memory of the whole thing. We have some recordings, and they have their moments. It was a great tour, playing to an audience with few preconceptions. We had a good response, I think. Yeah. The promoters and performers we met seemed to be good peoples too. I think we were on form by the time we got home.
How was it doing the Mogwai European tour?
Drew: Different. Probably different to many tours, we literally followed the bus in a wee blue MIDI van - just big enough for the four of us and most of our gear. I reckon it was maybe the best month of my life, despite feeling like we'd been through a mangle. It was top to see a smear of substantial venues, to munch the catering and make a racket every night.
Anyone jailed or hospitalised?
Tommy: The mother raper that stole our equipment will be when I catch the slimy little f**knuckle. Never forget.
How did you find SXSW?
The gigs were great. Our official one was awfy busy in a blistering hot club off 6th Street. I mistakenly wore a wool coat and lost plenty of sweat. We played on a BMX ramp too, which was novel.
Bands like Mogwai and The Beta Band, both influential bands themselves, have really got behind you in the past. What's it like to get that level of support?
Tommy: It's a great compliment, and I'll remain very grateful for the opportunities and experiences resultant.
Does it bother you that The Magnificents have never had that mainstream success of those bands?
Them's the brakes. I blame myself, others, society and you.
Can you tell me more about your press picture, that looks like you're all involved in some kind of Illuminati high-council meeting?
Tommy: That's a picture of us involved in some kind of Illuminati high-council meeting.
Drew: Thats a normal band meeting for us. You can't be coming to a band meeting with your normal pub clothes. We'll have none of that shit, no way. Get the hats on, your business hat. And that black urn is the founder of The Magnificents, we try to keep his ashes with us at all times.
What was it like working with someone like Damian Taylor, I know he's worked with Björk and Unkle? What tunes did he do?
Tommy: "Ring Ring." "Year Of Explorers," "Can't Explode" (to a degree). He's an amazing mann, his input to a lot of the songs is greatly valued. He shared his thoughts on a few demos, in addition to the ones he had production input to.
Drew: He's just come off The Prodigy stuff when he came to work with us, but he went off to work with Björk on her new album, Volta. He's in her live band now I think, playing a mad new keyboard thing (the Reactable). We did three or four tracks with him, then we went off to do the Mogwai tour, and John (Cummings) from Mogwai was doing our live sound so it was natural for us to record the rest of it with him.
What about the song"No Dialogue With C**ts" - what can you tell me about that?
Drew: I think the title speaks for itself really. It's not aimed at anyone in particular, just a general shout to all of them, past, present and future.
And "Dedridge Cowboys"?
Drew: Dedridge is a place in Livingston where I used to live. The title kind of sounds like Deadwood or something, and there's kind of similarities in that. It was the name of a documentary on the place that was on Channel 4 years ago about youth gone bad, so it ended up in a song.
"Ring Ring Oo Oo" is a really amazing way to kick off the album? Starts really minimal electro, then builds into something altogether more epic... what can you tell me about that tune?
Tommy: Ask Steven. It's his fault. I like the French horn in the middle. It's real. So, to recap: Nord Modular recurring sequence, with a switch programmed to create the high pitch doo-doo-be-doo-doo bit, played Modular over the top too, live drums, MS20 and guitar (tele) playing mostly in unison, Steven doing most of singing. MiniKong doing wee bits in the background of "Unlucky birds bit" - how anal do you want me to get?? Planet or Piano, can't remember. Might be a EDP Wasp in there too, I can't remember. Lots of clapping too, maybe.
What sort of set up do you guys have, what's all the synth stuff?
You'll have to insert another 10p for that.
So tell me, just what does the future hold for The Magnificents?
Both: We fancy making another record and there's nothing anybody can do to stop it. The Magnificents 'Year Of Explorers' is out now.