Magik Markers

Somewhere in Budapest, Hungary in 1999, Pete Nolan waited in a long line of people to use the internet at a youth hostel. Elisa Ambrogio waited in that same line, talking to someone about traveling to Iceland. Nolan’s ears perked up the mention of Iceland—he was excited about going there himself. “I heard her say something about Iceland being really expensive. I was really freaking out because I didn’t really have any money and I was gonna go there for three days. I started asking a lot of questions and then we just started hanging out a lot for the rest of the time that I was there.”

It would be another two years before Ambrogio and Nolan would start playing music together, with the addition of Leah Quimby, as the Magik Markers. Nolan continues, “We didn’t start playing music together until 2001 or 2002. [Elisa and I] lived together in Hartford, [Connecticut] and I was always having shows [at the house]. Friends’ bands from Massachusetts would play. We were going to have one last show in this house and we wanted to play. So we formed a band, just me, Elisa and Leah, who also lived in this house.”

Eventually, Leah Quimby would leave Magik Markers. Ambrogio says that Quimby viewed the Magik Markers as a exclusively improvisational. “Pete and I agreed with [this],” Ambrogio adds, “but the fact is, we were not stretching the limits of that and it was becoming redundant and useless. We were already falling into patterns while we were playing live. Pete and I just wanted to make [the live shows] more sonically interesting and alive.” Ambrogio also suspects that the touring stopped being fun for Quimby. Nolan suspects the same, saying “We toured pretty heavy for five years and she just got sort of burned out.”

Despite going from a trio to a duo, Nolan believes that Magik Markers’s sound is focused and pure. “We’re unchained. Our ideas are freer now, freer to flow. But then it also changed in the studio. Elisa and I had our ideas of what we wanted to do. And we were allowed the space [this time]. Leah would sometimes drag her heels a bit in the studio. She wasn’t into that whole scene. She was more into playing live and that whole thing.”

The newest Magik Markers studio effort, Boss (Ecstatic Peace), is the latest in an expansive (and widely unavailable) back catalogue, most famously labeled as noise. However, Boss eschews the noise label with songs like “Bad Dream/Harford’s Best Suite” that display a singer-songwriter quality and push Ambrogio’s voice and lyricism to the forefront.

“What affected my writing the most [for this album] was attempting to write the kind of songs I like the most,” says Ambrogio. “I heard this Lightnin’ Hopkins interview when he talks about the power of the rhyme, leading to incantation, the power and the weight of the rhyming syllable. I had never heard it put that way before.”

The two also tried a new approach to writing songs. After Ambrogio wrote the lyrics (that, as Nolan says, Ambrogio “seems to suck out of the ground”), the two would write the music. In a fatherly tone, Nolan adds, “I hope in the future the vocals are as audible. In past records, you have to really tune in to get the message. She has such incredible lyricism that she will just generate on the spot…It’s cool that it’s finally getting its due. We have ten albums of this Hendrix business. She really worked on this album just crafting the songs. That was the initial birthing of this record—the word. We worked in the studio really hard on the record to frame the lyrics as beautifully as we could.”</p>

Boss is also Magik Markers’ first proper studio recording, also notably produced by Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth. Nolan thinks of their time with Ranaldo in the studio as a synthesis of ideas. “He brought his own element to it. He and Elisa would get into these weird tangents together and that sprouted new ideas. It was a real synthesis. Some of the stuff at the time, I’d be like, ‘I don’t know if I like this,’ but then I’d go back and listen to the mix , and then I’d be like, ‘That first mix he did was so sick.’ I don’t know how he did it. He would do these things I didn’t get. Then [I’d] go home and listen to it. It was just like, ‘I didn’t see that. I didn’t even think of that.’ It turned out really nice.”

Ambrogio is more succinct about her feelings of having Ranaldo in the studio, writing, “Just yeah! Lee is a total yes.”

The limits to which they pushed their music in the studio will somehow have to be rendered for the live stage, made all the more difficult because the two ended up playing a variety of instruments in the studio themselves. Thus far, the band has played material from Boss at a show in in San Francisco with positive results. “It was fucking awesome!” says Nolan, and adds, “Ben Chasny [Comets on Fire, Six Organs of Admittance] played too. Elisa listened to the tape and said it was one of the best shows we’ve played. We’re playing the songs on the record, but they’re deconstructed. It was insane onstage. It was like being in a vortex.”

However they choose to articulate Boss live in the future, Magik Markers set out to do what they wanted to do, which was make a solid record. Asked to expand on the significance of the title, Nolan responds simply, “It’s boss.”