The Gross Magic of Sam McGarrigle

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Sam McGarrigle is the mastermind behind Brighton's Gross Magic. He released his debut EP Teen Jamz on Fat Possum in October, and then contributed to a four-band 12-inch put out by Marshall Teller Records in Britain with Noveller, Echo Lake, and The History of Apple Pie. We talked about tours, gear, and his ideas for his next record.

Did you and your band enjoy your big tour with Fanzine and Yuck? Everyone getting along? Notable stories or adventures while about on the road?

The tour with Yuck and Fanzine was the most fun I've had being in a band. Everyone was very kind and funny. When we played our last show of the tour Yuck and Fanzine played our last song with us. Then at the end of the show we all made a human pyramid on the stage.

How did you link up with London's Marshall Teller Records for the upcoming split 12” you all are sharing with Novella, Echo Lake and The History of Apple Pie?

I'm not sure. I think our friends in The History of Apple Pie told us about it. It's cool. I really love the art work and the colour of the vinyl.

“Yesterdays” sounds like it picks up where “Sweetest Touch” left off. What is your guitar pedal setup that allows you to create those monster big chorus leads?

I just plugged my guitar into my computer and put lots of distortion on it. I can't remember what the effect was called now. But I have rat distortion pedal for when we play live shows and my guitarist has a little big muff.

What types of effects gear do you use to give your vocals that singing-underwater effect?

It's just chorus. I use chorus on nearly every instrument. When I recorded those songs I was thinking about a studio in a swamp in a jungle or something.

How did the event of recording Teen Jamz EP come about, did you already have the entire sound sorted out or did it come from locking yourself in a room with your favorite '70s and '90s records, instruments and a Tascam 4 track?

I was playing in a band with my cousin. It was me with a guitar and him playing the drums. It was really fun, but I began to get frustrated with the limitations of only having 1 guitar. So I just started to record songs on my computer for fun. I put loads of instruments on there and I discovered lots of old records through friends. I made “Dream Gurl” and then I made “We're Awake Tonight”. They sounded like the end and the beginning or something to me. So I decided I would make 3 songs before I turned 20 because I thought it was a big deal.

“We're Awake” is the perfect opening and introduction to Jamz, with the piano rhythm and swirling production of vocals and some electric organ bursts amid the omnipresent guitar fuzz. I like that you guys are bringing back the importance of the introductory, lead off track in a time where music exists in the vague, sometimes shapeless and nebulous 'cloud.' Do you feel that musicians are starting to treat EPs and LPs as tangible, visceral, and defintive articles again? Could this be a response to the lack of respect and investment we have seen in the mp3 explosion that plagued the music of the oughts?

Thank you. The EP was the first time I tried to write songs to be played in a certain order. I thought about how each song started and finished and how fast or slow they were. I think a lot of people just listen to their favourite songs from albums a lot. One of my favourite albums is A Wizard A True Star (Todd Rundgren). I love the way all the songs go into each other. It's kind of like the medley at the end of Abbey Road. I like to think of it as a story, but not in a lyrical way, but in the way that the sounds take you through different emotions, like a film.

With all the press lauded labeling of glam, how do you respond to the notion of revivalism within your own music?

I don't mind. I feel like people worry too much about things sounding 'new'. That doesn't bother me. I just wanted to make something that sounded like my favourite artists, but also like me too.

I do like how tracks like “P.Y.T.” make me feel like I'm inside of a live chorus from T. Rex's The Slider while “Sick” almost sounds like a lost Brett Smiley 45 that Andrew Loog Oldham produced and shelved. Do you feel that your music gives us alternate listenings to those vague tunes that we all carry and have buried deep in our unconscious?

Maybe. I struggle to stick to a certain style. I have ideas for lots of different albums. So I guess naturally I end up squashing these big ideas into single songs. Also I am a big fan of pop music so my songs usually follow some kind of recognizable rhythm.

May I ask about the story behind the name Gross Magic?

Well, I made lots of songs over a year or something. I have tons of songs on my computer. Just before I made “Teen Jamz” I was a car boot sale and I saw a Gross Magic brand magic set. The font looked really cool so I said to my sister “That's cool. Remember that phrase in case I forget.” when I got home I forgot what it was. So I asked her and she remembered. The magic set is awesome.

I enjoyed the Bowleg session of “Sweetest Touch,” the guitars are really highlighted. What are the secrets and challenges of bringing your sound from the studio to the stage?

We just kept trying out different pedals and we asked our friends which guitar pedals we should get. We know a lot more about pedals now and we bought some better ones. My guitarist will has a new amp now too, it sounds really good.

Being that Teen Jamz EP has all the trimmings of a miniature LP, how massive will the full album be?

I've only made a few demos so far so I'm not sure. Im going into a studio next week, I've never done any Gross Magic stuff in a proper studio before, but I'm just going to try it out. I'd really like to get my own space and get my own mics and stuff. I want to produce my album myself.

With the success of the Jamz EP and the buzz stirred by the Marshall Teller split 12'', what further details can you divulge about the upcoming Fat Possum LP? Tentative release date?

I have no idea when my first album will come out. I think next year. I've been thinking about the word shampoo all day, maybe I'll call it that.

Any producers/engineers in mind, or are you gonna do it yerselves?

I'd like to it myself, but I have some people in mind who I would like come and play some stuff for me, like the drums and stuff.

What other musical directions can we look forward to?

One day I want to make an album like Off the Wall. I've been listening to it a lot recently.

And any other notable Brighton folks out there making some good sounds that you guys are into as of late?