By: Ashley Kane
Usually when you hear two young boys talk about playing in a band together, you don’t think much of it. Maybe you’re the type who pretends to be encouraging, who shouts, “Go for it, kid!” or maybe you’re the one who immediately offers up every other career opportunity out there.Either way, from now on, I dare you all to have a little more faith.
Meet Alex Caplow and Sam Lee, two musicians who first met as four year old boys in preschool. They grew up taking lessons from the same music teacher and played in some of the same bands throughout high school. Even after going their separate ways in college, the two still collaborated on songs and sent music to each other. Then in 2009, after working in France all summer, trading labor for board on organic farms, Magic Man was born.
They started with a laptop, recording their lighter pop-synth sound in true do-it-yourself fashion. Later, after releasing their tracks for free on their first album Real Life Color in 2010, everything else seemed to fall into place.
“Neon Gold, of Columbia Records, reached out to them because they found them on Bandcamp,” said Justine Bowe, who is a keyboardist and vocalist in the now five-piece band. “We’ve all really wanted to do this, play music, but I’m not sure we ever thought of it as an actual possibility.”
After Neon Gold signed them, lead vocalist Caplow and guitarist/keyboardist Lee reached out to their own friends. After playing live shows, they had realized the kind of sprightly, energetic experience they wanted to create with their live music, and a duo with a laptop wasn’t going to work any longer. Making music with friends had always worked well for them in the past, so it really wasn’t that surprising for them when college friends, Bowe and bassist Gabe Goodman, were an ideal fit.
Of course, then all Magic Man needed was a drummer. Connections through connections, their management put them in touch with Joey Sulkowski, who promptly packed up his car and drove across the country from LA two days after he got the call.
“I was a drummer out of work,” Sulkowski said, “I had my drumsticks on my back.”
Fortunately it was a good match, because right after, he jumped on tour with them and never looked back.
Since then, it’s all been a pretty steady ascent to success for Magic Man. In 2013, they released their EP You Are Here with a more distinctive, formative sound. Their sound became more intricate—some pop aspects, some rock, still some synth, and some incredible, multifaceted lyrics. Then in July of 2014, they released their full album Before the Waves. Since then, they’ve toured with Walk the Moon, Panic! at the Disco, and performed at festivals like South by Southwest and Boston Calling.
“We definitely have a lot of upbeat songs,” said Caplow, “but we try to counteract that with some weightier lyrics…something salty.”
“Something sour,” Bowe added.
And it’s this vital combination that works so well, that makes Magic Man’s music both vibrant and weighty. They are effervescent in pushing and pulling emotion, in juxtaposing experience with that raw kind of innocence that only comes from being young. It’s as if Magic Man has been able to straddle both worlds—with one foot in the sphere of professional, experienced musicians, because that’s what they are, and with the other planted in capturing the experiences of being young and the undeniable honesty that comes with it.
At first listen to their hit single “Paris,” which reached #33 on Billboard’s Alternative Song Chart and #1 on AltNation Alt 18 Countdown, you might not realize just how deep Magic Man goes. The song is incredibly catchy, and it will happily be stuck in your head all day long. Don’t worry, you won’t want it to leave. Then there’s lyrics like, “It’s just a fantasy, taking over like a disease” and “You never have to wonder, you never have to ask” that pull you out of any dream world you’ve been living in. This is where the magic is. The position of these upbeat melodies that make you want to dance, that sound like pop, but are mixed in with powerhouse guitar riffs and heart pulling lyrics to create a sound that is simultaneously wild and thoughtful.
Other tracks follow from the album follow suit, such as “Texas,” “Waves,” and “Catherine.”
The best part about Magic Man is how all the energy of their songs transfers effortlessly onto the stage. All of Magic Man dances on, as if saying, “Hey, listen, we know how you feel.” Their music, melodies, and voices tell us that. And then all the loyal fans, whose base is growing, say, “Thank you for getting me.”
Magic Man heaps in their success. They’ve realized their opportunity and hard work and now they continue to go with it. “We are generally a very hopeful, optimistic crew,” said Caplow. “We try to keep everything fun and not get dragged down by the little things. We are also privileged enough from our upbringing to feel like we can do anything. Our parents, our schools, they made us feel that way.”
As they continue on their spring tour, hitting up states across the nation, they plan to write and work on the future album. “We’ve got a dream team,” said Caplow. “Vibes are good and the morale is high.”
Keep that optimism coming Magic Man. You’re well on your way, and we’re right there with you.