- Photo by Molly Barrack
For Mrs. Magician, the past several months have been an indie-rock band’s dream. They’ve recorded an album with John “Swami” Reis, the veritable rock ’n’ roll laureate of San Diego. They’ve toured with Cults, a red-hot indie-pop band that’s been selling out shows across the country. In reviews, they’ve been compared to mad-genius Beach Boys songwriter Brian Wilson.
With all that buzz brewing, the surf-happy band is well positioned to blow up on a national scale. But they aren’t quite ready to give up their jobs and side projects for a chance at the big time. Instead, they’re going about their business in a way that only a San Diego band would—very casually.
“I’m not trying to make my band get to that next level where we’re somewhat, like, quote-unquote ‘successful,’” says Jacob Turnbloom, the band’s frontman. “But if it happens inadvertently by being a slacker, then that’d be kinda cool.”
The Beach Boys comparisons are probably overblown. While Turnbloom’s sharp, rascally voice does sound a bit like Wilson’s, the band’s retro, darkly humorous surf-punk bears a closer resemblance to trendy bands like Wavves and Best Coast.
Still, while Wavves’ first two albums were wildly sloppy, Mrs. Magician goes in the opposite direction on their debut full-length, Strange Heaven, which came out via Reis’ Swami Records in April (it was released digitally in March). Almost every song is a potential hit, from the sardonically cheery atheist anthem “There is No God” to the jagged-edged burner “I’m Gonna Hangout with the Lesbians Next Door and Drop Acid.”
Reis, host of the Swami Sound System radio show and a former member of influential bands Drive Like Jehu and Rocket from the Crypt, first heard about Mrs. Magician from a friend. When he got a copy of the 7-inch for their song “The Spells,” he ended up listening to the infectiously uplifting A-side 30 times in a row.
“There’s a simplicity to it that is really refreshing,” he says about the band’s music. “I think they have great taste, and they write good songs, and that was it.”
On a recent Tuesday afternoon, I sat down with Turnbloom, 28, and drummer Cory Stier, 26, for an interview at Golden Hill Park. The weather was breezy and bright, and we lounged on the grass beneath the shade of a palm tree. Turnbloom had the day off, and Stier, a booking agent who works for Soda Bar, was taking a break from email. Over the years, these two and guitarist Tommy Garcia and bassist Evan Ehrich have all been in much darker, heavier and significantly more serious bands. With Mrs. Magician, it seems they’re happy to cut loose for a change.
“It’s just super-easy,” Turnbloom says. “It’s never been this easy in any other band that I’ve been in.”
Since starting in 2010, Mrs. Magician have gotten a fair amount of attention and label interest, but plans to release an album they’d recorded kept falling through. When they finally penned a deal with Reis, he had them start fresh. They picked 13 songs out of some 40 that Turnbloom had written; working with Reis and engineer Ben Moore, they banged out the record using Reis’ 8-track tape machine. The whole process was fun but rigorous.
“[Reis] busted our ass,” Stier says. “We’re a band band because of John, pretty much. He’s pushing us to be an active band.”
They embarked on a two-month U.S. tour with Cults in March, just in time for the album to come out digitally. With crazy weather and lots of drama, the tour had its grueling moments—especially for Stier, who pulled double-duty as drummer for Cults and spent his spare time handling bookings for Soda Bar. Though Swami fans would show up just to see them play, their song “There is No God”—with deceptively merry lines like “You’re all gonna die” and “There’s no God”—didn’t always go across well. At a show in Baltimore, a young girl broke into tears.
In the end, though, Mrs. Magician pulled through with their enthusiasm intact. Looking back, the experience was deeply rewarding.
“You’re close to these people. You’re playing with them.
You’re living with these people,” Stier says. “By the end of it, it’s like, Do I want to keep doing this? Can I afford it? Do I like these people still? Am I still excited now? I feel like we are.”
Now, it seems, the band wants to strike a balance between work and play. They don’t want to slum it across the country with a band they’re not crazy about, just because it might be a publicity boost. But they don’t want to play five shows a month at the same San Diego venues and then fade away like so many local bands. Ultimately, though, they just want to have fun.
“I don’t think we all-the-way achieved it yet,” Stier says.
“Having fun? No,” Turnbloom says. “It’s not complete yet.”
Mrs. Magician will celebrate the release of Strange Heaven with New Mexico and Ditches at Soda Bar on Saturday, May 26. facebook.com/mrsmagicianmusic