Interview: Magic Bullets’ seven-year search for the perfect sound
Photos by: Nicole L. Browner
“Never say never,” say the members of Magic Bullets, who are just as uncertain as anybody else about whether or not tonight’s show at the Rickshaw Stop will be the band’s finale after seven years together. It’ll definitely be the last show for a while, as the band’s sixth drummer, Alex Kaiser (formerly of Tempo No Tempo), departs for graduate school.
Seven years can produce a lot of memories, temporary band members, shows to forget and those to remember. The original members – guitarist Corey Cunningham, vocalist Phil Benson and bassist Nathan Sweatt – have been “pretty tight as a unit,” Corey said. The three have been playing together as Magic Bullets since 2004, with a fair share of struggling to find the right supporting members.
Once keyboardist Sean McDonnell joined the band, after the release of their self-titled full-length, Magic Bullets finally had enough people on the same wavelength. “
[Sean] envisioned perfectly what we’re doing,” Corey said. “It just breathe[d] new life into us, and I personally felt super inspired having someone like-minded in the band . . . It wasn’t our lowest point, but after an album cycle happens, you hit this dead time where you’re questioning everything, and Sean coming along really motivated us.”
Phil met Sean back in high school at a Round Table Pizza in Menlo Park, meeting regularly as a short-lived punk rock club called SUCK (Suburban Underground Conspiracy Kids). SUCK put on punk and art shows, aligned with Food Not Bombs and were generally “trying to be active in our community and not let the adults tell us what to do,” according to Phil. Years went by, and at some point Sean’s musical tastes came full circle, and he fell perfectly in line with the needs of Magic Bullets. He tried out for the band when they were looking for a keyboardist, without having a keyboard let alone any real knack for it. “I was excited because the music I was listening to, I didn’t know anybody else that listened to it besides these guys,” Sean said, and so it worked.
From there, the rejuvenated band was off to the East Coast and to major independent festivals like SxSW and CMJ, having more fun together than ever and making more memories in the process. In New York on a tour, Sean was mistaken for Seinfeld, which Corey claims is his “all-time favorite moment in his life.” They laughed about a show in DC that resulted in a session of destroying cinder blocks with sledgehammers for fun behind the venue with its staff. There have been nights where their silliness has caused them too much embarrassment to sleep anywhere but in or on top of their van. Dull times hardly seem to be a part of the band’s seven years of history.
That history also includes a full transformation musically. “We’re a different band now than when we started – we look different, we sound different,” Phil said. As time passed, Benson wondered, “who wants to sing about something they don’t really care about anymore?” Corey added that he felt the first album had less focus than their sophomore full-length, or a forthcoming EP tentatively expected to emerge early next year on Mon Amie.
The new songs are about personal things happening in Benson’s life right now, but while that’s the same as always, Corey asserts that they are Phil’s best lyrics yet. “A lot of [the EP] shows all of what we’re capable of doing,” Corey said. “It shows some of our influences, they are really readily apparent there.”
What’s to take away from this? Is it the end? “I think we’re just going to wait until Alex gets out of school,” Sean joked. “I think that’s the best course of action.”