Magic Fight made some noise locally last year when they released their debut album, participated in the Music Video Race, and capped it off with an appearance at our very own Bay Brewed. Sadly, they became yet another casualty of rising rents in the Bay Area, with front man Alex Haager moving to Portland to start Breakup Records, which will retain a strong local presence despite their headquarters up north. Tomorrow, they’re releasing their final release, two songs as part of a split cassette single with Frozen Folk. You can’t purchase the cassette until tomorrow, but you can listen to “Teenage Warpaint” and “Barcelona” below, followed by a conversation with Alex Haager about ending Magic Fight, moving to Portland, and starting a record label.
The Bay Bridged: So why’d you move to Portland?
Alex Haager: I went to Portland in September to visit for a weekend and fell in love as soon as I drove into the city. I moved to Portland with my partner, Sierra Frost, the following month and we decided to start a company rather than look for jobs doing who knows what. Portland is beautiful, not completely full of people and there is a sense of community and camaraderie in the music scene here that I have noticed lacking in larger cities.
TBB: Could you elaborate on the “community” aspect a little bit more?
AH: There are way more small and mid-size venues, as well as a number of all ages spots – though still not enough. There are a plethora of shows every night of the week and since it’s a smaller city, you end up seeing the same folks all over the place. It seems like everyone is in it to help each other out. Even the bookers seem to be way more interested in the music than in how much money it can make the bar, which isn’t so much a difference in values, but a difference in the financial pressure venues experience. With affordable rents, venues can afford to have slow nights with mellow draw so bookers have the luxury of focusing on the music.
TBB: Why did you choose to end Magic Fight?
AH: Moving to Portland left me with two options: find new people to play the songs with or make a clean cut and start fresh with a new project. The MF songs are not very timeless in my mind; they are about specific moments in a very short period of time in my life. As such, it made more sense to me to do the latter.
TBB: Did you consider restarting Magic Fight with new members in Portland?
AH: It did cross my mind. Magic Fight was always a sort of isolated project, though, based around a very small number of acutely personal, kind of dark songs I wrote and recorded alone when I was living in Oakland. While it worked well and transformed pretty seamlessly into a full-fledged band of musicians whom I really enjoyed playing with, I realized that this would be a good stopping point and an opportunity to start something new with less time-and-emotion-specific baggage.
TBB: What can you tell me about Breakup Records?
AH: We started Breakup Records as a platform to work with the bands that excite us. It has expanded to now include 13 bands, 10 of which are based in the Bay Area. We have a huge number of releases planned for this year, as well as some really exciting live and video projects in the works.
TBB: What’s your ultimate goal with Breakup?
AH: The music we’re attracted to comes from interesting vocalists and strong personalities. We like deeply personal lyrics and ugly pop sensibilities that derive their grit from experience and vulnerability rather than some affected rock n’ roll image. Our intent is to nurture and facilitate growth in new artists who bring more to the table than three chords and a reverb pedal.
TBB: How did you form your initial roster of bands, and how do you plan to find new bands in the future?
AH: The initial gang included bands that we were either friends with or were affiliated with in some way. Growing into our current roster has been a quick, organic affair. I think our model and approach appeals to industrious musicians because there’s no magic or mystery in what we do, just love and elbow grease.
As hardcore music fans and avid supporters of independent music, we are constantly scouring for bands whose songs knock us out. If anything, the challenge will be refraining from taking on too many bands at once.
TBB: How does your experience as an artist affect your approach running a label?
AH: I think acting as an artist and as the head of a label balance each other out nicely. As record label heads who know firsthand the challenges of being in bands, we recognize the mammoth importance of our bands’ material and journey as creative individuals. We aim to be a big part of our artists’ growth in a way that is very hands-on and that doesn’t take advantage of their art. As a musician, our experience acting as a conduit between other people’s music and the world at large puts my own creative process and my personal expectations and ambitions into perspective in a very healthy and manageable way.
TBB: What are the advantages and disadvantages of starting a band/label/PR company in Portland as opposed to the Bay?
AH: It would be ridiculous at this point not to mention that even as new small (music!) business owners, we afford at least quadruple the space in a beautiful neighborhood that we could in SF, so that’s a huge advantage.
I know that social tensions are over the top around income inequality and the housing crisis in SF, and I’ve certainly seen the short end of that stick. But in my opinion, the past 15 years or so of mindless, derivative music put out by people who pine desperately for the past is just as damaging to the future of music in the Bay Area as the burgeoning tech industry is; the oversaturation of “garage rock” is counter-productive to moving the medium forward in many ways. The prevalent music culture in San Francisco discourages rock n’ roll innovation in favor of music that seems to aim solely to replicate the sounds of our parents’ generation. Indeed, all pop music is derivative, but we need new voices, new perspectives, and honest forward-thinking rock n’ roll.
TBB: Do you think Magic Fight’s success was hindered in any way because you weren’t playing “garage rock”?
AH: I definitely think it made it harder for the band to incorporate into “the scene” in San Francisco. In the end, it’s a moot point because this is the type of music I make. I doubt I would have had much fun in that kind of band, even if the project enjoyed some local acclaim. If I wanted to play pretend in order to be famous, I would have been an actor.