In the summer of 2009, Alex Caplow and Sam Vanderhoop Lee traveled through southern France, and while trading labor for room and food, they were inspired to start a band and record an album.
Magic Man is a five-piece synth-rock band from Boston, Massachusetts, composed of Caplow (vocals), Vanderhoop Lee (guitars), Gabe Goodman (bass), Justine Bowe (keyboard) and Joey Sulkowski (drums). Caplow and Vanderhoop Lee produced the band’s self-recorded debut album, Real Life Color, which was released on Bandcamp on Jan. 25, 2010.
Columbia Records signed Magic Man in 2013, and the band went on to put out its first major full-length album, Before the Waves, on July 8, 2014. The band’s music is a perfect blend of synth-pop and rock, resembling the sounds of Walk the Moon and Passion Pit.
The Chronicle spoke with Vanderhoop Lee about how Magic Man got its name, recording Before the Waves and where the band draws inspiration for its music.
THE CHRONICLE: Where did the name Magic Man come from?
SAM VANDERHOOP LEE: When [Caplow and I] were traveling in France, we were volunteering on organic farms, and one of the farms we were working on was hosting a circus festival. We met a lot of crazy characters, and our first friend was this amateur magician, who was our age, maybe a little younger. He called himself the “magic man.” He didn’t speak English super well. It was kind of charming. He wasn’t so good at magic, though. When we were thinking of band names, we did the whole thing—make a huge list of potential band names and potential words that you think sound cool together—and eventually we decided [Magic Man] was appropriate.
CC: Who are some of the biggest influences on your music?
It depends. A lot of times we’ll be inspired by different music. We might be inspired by a Taylor Swift, we might be inspired by some out- there instrumental track. When we first started playing in bands, we were listening to a lot of Arcade Fire, The Postal Service, The Killers. That music has been consistent for us, at least in our influences of how we think about writing music and playing in bands. It’s tough to say. We try to take inspiration from all over the place.
CC: How was the recording process for your album Before the Waves different from recording Real Life Color?
It was pretty much different in every way. Real Life Color was recorded on a MacBook with the built-in MacBook microphone. We mixed and mastered it with a little help from some of our friends but no professional help or studio time. For Before The Waves, we built a lot of it ourselves. We went into it with a plan, knowing what we wanted to do for the album. From a technical standpoint, the gear upgrades really helped the sound quality. We were able to work with a producer who really helped us out with structuring the album and helped us look at the album as a cohesive project instead of just a collection of songs.
CC: How has living in New England influenced your music?
I would say that one thing that was really important for us was growing up and playing shows in the Boston DIY scene. There are a lot of house venues, basement venues, frat parties and college shows in people’s living rooms. I think that experience helped us learn how to play shows when you might not have incredible production value or really good sound. But with those shows, you can still play them and have a great time and put on a great show. We learned how to play shows in that environment and learned how to bring that energy and intensity to the bigger stages we play now.
CC: What has the response to your album been like?
It’s honestly been great. We’ve been amazed with the fans coming to the shows knowing the lyrics to every song [and] requesting older songs. It’s been incredible. We have some of the best fans in the world. They’re really caring and amazing. They put a lot of time and effort into coming to shows.