Q&A: Do Magic Bullets Sound More Like The Smiths or The Pretenders?

MagicBullets.jpg
David Bornfriend

When music director Alexandra Patsavas picks an indie band for The O.C., Gossip Girl or most recently, the Twilight soundtrack, a rise in its fame is practically guaranteed. When she listed San Francisco's Magic Bullets as one of her favorite bands and featured its music on Gossip Girl., people began posting Magic Bullets songs on Youtube. Today Magic Bullets' second album, Lying Around comes out, putting Patsavas' influence to the test.

Corey Cunningham, Magic Bullets' songwriter and only remaining guitar player (the other left for the indie rock band Girls)  told All Shook Down that he was displeased with the band's first album, but is happy to report that Lying Around comes closer to his ideal sound. In the spirit of candidness, he blew his cover and revealed his secret identity as a downtown grocery store employee. But he insists that there's no self-promotion taking place when he's working there alongside Magic Bullets' singer Philip Benson, or while eating pho at Turtle Tower in the Tenderloin.

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The new album comes out Tuesday. How do you feel?
Corey Cunningham:
I'm so excited. It's taken forever to get this to happen.

How long have you been working on it?
CC: The recording itself only took a weekend. But we've been writing material for a couple years. It was weird because we lost a couple of members and we had to rewrite songs.

Is the sound on the new CD a lot different than your past recordings?
CC: I think so. By the time our first album came out, we didn't even sound the same anymore. The new CD is a lot more reflective of the kind of music we like. At the same time, we didn't really set out to sound like anyone.

You guys are always compared to The Smiths. How do you feel about that?
CC: I think they're a great band. It's really flattering, but there's maybe a couple songs where I could say, "Oh, I see the comparison."  Overall, I think the sound of the album comes from a lot of places. I would probably say we sound more like The Pretenders on some songs than The Smiths.

Are you even fans of The Smiths then, or is that reference out of left field?
CC: It's not necessarily out of left field, but it's not something we consciously did. It's funny -- when I was writing some of the riffs, I may have absorbed some of Johnny Marr's influences coincidentally, because I like Nile Rodgers [of Chic]. But I never emulated them specifically.

What about getting referred to as "80s post-punk"?
CC:
We get that tag a lot. I like the mid-'80s English pop groups, but not so much the post-punk. I feel like people just throw that term around. It can mean so many things. Pitchfork called us "New Pop," which I thought was a nice tag. I've heard the tag before in reference to Haircut 100, Aztec Camera and Orange Juice.

Did you plan what kind of sound you wanted to have, or did it just happen?
CC: The only thing I remember us sitting down and throwing out there was that we wanted to get more playful. That first album is pretty straightforward, and it's not that complex melodically. We wanted to sound more mature in that department.

Are you satisfied with your first album?
CC: When we were recording it, it was piecemeal and it was a lot of material that was battered over the three years before we had recorded it. I was never happy with it when it came out. It didn't sound like the kind of music that we liked. It seemed like a document of what we sounded like at the time, for better or worse. But my instinct said worse on that one [laughs].

You've been featured on Gossip Girl and other TV shows. Did you actually watch the episodes with your songs?
CC: I remember the first time we were ever on a TV show. I sat down and I was really excited, and I couldn't even hear the song in the show because people were having dialogue while the song was going on. It was super anticlimactic. I think it was Ghost Whisperer. But it's kind of cool that I get to see these shows for the first time usually. I don't watch a lot of TV.

I've read that the band is from San Mateo and San Francisco. Can you clear that up?

CC: We're from the Bay Area, because Phil, myself and the new drummer live in San Francisco. Everyone else -- the other two guys -- live on the Peninsula in San Carlos. But everyone is from the Peninsula except for me. I'm the only one who's not from California. I was born and raised in Nashville, Tennessee -- Music City.

Did that influence your sound at all?
CC: Actually, there's one part of the album where I did a country thing, on the next-to-last song called "China Beach." There's a steel guitar sound which I did on guitar, because I don't own a steel guitar. But I emulated it.

How do you like San Francisco?
CC: I love it. I haven't been to Tennessee in years. Whenever I go somewhere, and I'm thinking to myself, 'I want to go back home,' home is San Francisco. I love to shop at Grooves. That's one of my favorite record stores. My favorite place to eat is Turtle Tower. It's a Vietnamese place. Oh my God, it's so good.

Do you have any other job, or is it strictly music?

CC: I work at a grocery store during the day. It's in Downtown actually. Our bass player teaches music classes for kids. Our singer also works with me at the store. Our keyboard player - I don't think he's working right now. And our drummer works at a lab at UC Berkeley.

Are you planning music together in the grocery store?
CC:
No [laughs]. We try not to talk about it too much. It's sort of like having a secret identity.

What are you most excited for people to hear on Lying Around?
CC: I'm really excited for people to hear the very first song and to see how different it is from the first record. We snuck in a distorted feedback guitar track, which catches people off guard. It's funny, because every time I play it for people, they think they're about to listen to a metal album or a garage album. People are always so confused when they hear that.

Is there anything else that you want people to know?

CC: There's a B-side on the 7-inch that I really like. I think it might be the best of the songs that we've recorded. It's called "Thoughts of You."

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