Band of the Month: Magnet School

Magnet School pops and swells

The first time I spun Magnet School's debut EP, Crush, in 2006, the title song became lodged in my brain for weeks. Bassist Brandon Tucker, guitarists and vocalists Mark Ford and Michael J. Wane, and drummer Jason Ferguson – all bona fide fixtures in the Austin scene for the last decade-plus – are masters of explosive melody. None of the sugar, all of the fun. Last year finally saw the drop of Magnet School's premiere full-length, Tonight We Drink … Tomorrow We Battle the Evil at Hand on local imprint Arclight, and while the word is just now getting out, these boys know exactly what they're doing. Tucker took some time out to chat via e-mail about the band, the album, and that Big Rock sound.

Shut Up: I know all you guys have known one another for quite some time now. Can you tell me about the formation of Magnet School?
Brandon Tucker: Aside from Mark and Jason, we've all known each other for about 10 or more years. Mark and Jason were childhood friends from Tulsa, so they go way back. But we're all transplants; Mark, Jason, and I are from Oklahoma, and Michael J. is from Colorado Springs. We've all lived in Austin since around the mid Nineties. Like most people, we moved here to play music and soak up the culture.

When Coco Candissi broke up in 2004, Mark and I chatted about me playing bass with this new band. He had recently decided to leave Schatzi as well, and I knew he was hungry to play guitar again. When he mentioned Jason and Michael J. being onboard, I was immediately interested! They're all badass musicians, and I knew it would be very exciting and challenging for me. … Well, we instantly hit it off and loved playing together. We all knew something really cool was about to happen.

SU: As veterans of the local scene – Experimental Aircraft, Coco Candissi, Xcella, Schatzi, A Covert Operation, etc. – the four of y'all have played pretty much every form of rock & roll. It seems to me that Magnet School is a return to the basics, incorporating melody, hooks, and power. Did you go into this with intentions for a sound?
BT: In some ways, we did have a sound in mind. It might have been more internalized, but we all have similar tastes and influences such as Swervedriver, Ride, Shiner, Jawbox, the Jesus Lizard, Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr., Hum, Pixies, the Smithereens, the Life & Times, My Bloody Valentine, … And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead, and many others. But what came out of the songwriting I think surprised all of us. Because of our collective broad backgrounds, we weren't afraid to try things and experiment with different tunings and time signatures, etc. Nothing we do is in standard tuning, and that gives us a unique sound overall. We strive for that Big Rock sound but also try and keep the pop alive by being crafty. We push each other to not settle for less than par; we want great, or we move on to other ideas and come back to cool riffs that need something more to take it over the top. We all agree on this approach and think it sets us apart from other bands.

SU: It took awhile for y'all to release your (awesome) debut LP last year. How did you hook up with Arclight?
BT: It did take us awhile, mainly because we recorded ourselves at Ohm Recording Facility. In the beginning, Mark was part-owner of the studio, so we could record for free but had to squeeze in between other paying gigs. Plus we are very anal about getting perfect takes and didn't want to cut any corners, so we would track and then retrack some things, and that took lots of time. All in all, we feel good about it and are very fortunate that the sole owner now, Chico Jones, let us finish it up and even helped us track vocals and mix. He's a stand-up guy and a great engineer, as well.

Mauro from Arclight is a friend, and we chatted before about the possibility of releasing a full-length on his label. After we released the Crush EP on our own, we knew we had good material but needed some label backing to get it out to the world and expand our fan base. … Arclight agreed to have us come aboard, and we were very excited because we knew we'd be in good hands. They really take care of their bands and get shit done. They have released 22 albums since their 2003 inception, and that was very impressive to us.

SU: Presumably, you've been playing the songs on Tonight We Drink … for some time now. Are you working on some new tracks? Plans for a second release yet?
BT: We have some really cool new material we're working on: a few songs that have been around for a while (but nobody has heard) that we're reworking and a few recent new ones we've played live the last two shows before South by Southwest. We're looking forward to writing more and can hopefully release a sophomore LP in 2009.

SU: Your cover of Swervedriver's "Never Lose That Feeling" is spot-on, and clearly, they're a big influence on you guys.
BT: We always said if we did a cover, it would be a great cover of something we truly love and not just a radio party anthem for the crowd. Mark had the idea to try and cover it, and we all took to our parts like glue – it was awesome! It's always a highlight when we play it live and you see the Swervie fans faces light up in awe! We tried to keep it as much like the original as possible but still have a few guitar swells and nuances that we added just cause it feels good.

SU: Anything else you'd like to add?
BT: We're just having a great time writing and playing out! And we hope all the folks that haven't heard our album will eventually pick up a copy.

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