Chicago – Imagine packing your bags with the bare minimum and spending three months road-tripping across North America with some of your best friends. Now imagine yourself documenting your adventures and experiences through art. Sounds pretty darn amazing, right? Well, that’s exactly what L.A. indie-folk trio MAGIC GIANT has been doing.
The group, comprised of Austin Bisnow on lead vocals, Zambricki Li on banjo, mandolin, and fiddle, and Brian Zaghi on upright bass and acoustic guitar, formed in 2012, originally as duo, after Austin and Zambricki both made New Year’s resolutions to follow their passions. Their passion project fizzled… until a talent-buyer from the Sweetlife Music Festival came calling in 2014. The guys reunited and recruited Zaghi, thanks to a YouTube video showcasing his musical chops and salsa moves. In 2015, the trio released its debut EP Magic Giant. This year the band began working on a new album, but with a schedule chock-full of festivals, MAGIC GIANT was faced with a bit of a dilemma: put recording on hold or travel back to L.A. between gigs?
Luckily, the trio devised a genius plan: convert a bus into a traveling recording studio. Since May, MAGIC GIANT has been traveling across the U.S. and Canada in an old bus turned solar-powered studio, which the three musicians outfitted themselves, and between shows and festival appearances, MAGIC GIANT has been recording an album… though, admittedly, the band is used to finding musical sanctuary in unconventional locations.
Best New Bands spoke with MAGIC GIANT, while the band was stopped in Eden, Utah. Austin Bisnow, Zambricki Li, and Brian Zaghi talked about recording in both an old bomb shelter and in the band’s mobile studio, as well as recording a music video under a strawberry moon.
You traded in a subterranean bomb-shelter-turned-recording-studio for a portable one, by making a touring bus into tricked-out-solar-powered-studio on the go. There’s so much to love there. First of all, tell us about “The Bunker” and how you turned a bomb shelter into a recording studio, and then tell us about how you made a studio in a bus!
Zambricki: Yeah, we still have “The Bunker.” The solar-powered bus is an extension of the bunker, it’s not replacing it. I found a house online… I went to check out this awesome house in Silver Lake. The studio is out back. When they were showing me the house, I was like, ‘What is this door right here?’ They were like, ‘Oh, don’t worry about that.’ When they walked away, I snuck down there and saw it was an old bunker… I have the paperwork and everything. It was built in 1941. It was totally permitted, so it was all good. Brian came over, and Brian, what did you do?
Brian: We took to converting it, which meant cleaning it up, drying it out, and putting power into it…
Zambricki: Brian’s dad helped build the panels.
Austin: It was a family affair!
And now you have this bus – an extension of the bunker – that you’ve been traveling and recording in.
Zambricki: We left the sanctuary of the bunker about a month and a half ago and put half of our stuff into this bus, that we actually bought only about three months ago.
Austin: Back story: We had an old van, this old plumber’s van, it broke down on one of our tours, but Brian fixed it.
Brian: But we thought, ‘Oh my God, this thing is on its last leg!’ So we were like, ‘Okay, we might as well upgrade.’
Zambricki: We were looking in towns where there aren’t a lot of artists, and we found a bus in Sacramento… Brian went up there with a suitcase full of cash. [laughs]
Brian: I had a backpack full of cash! I met up with this guy who had a ton of Sprinters… I brought it back to L.A. and spent the last month working on it, building it out, and redesigning it. We put a California King in the back, that folds up and stores all our equipment securely underneath it… We put solar panels on it. We have a desk in there.
Zambricki: We have an inverter, so that it charges as we drive. It doesn’t have to charge while in park. When we pull over to places to record – we were in Zion, Moab, wildflower fields, an old barn – we’re able to scout out locations that have a ton of vibes, sound really good, and are really just fun to record at. We can pull up our bus, grab our extension cables, and…
Brian: And it’s been working so well. You can hear the birds chirping and the river running. It’s the most beautiful thing. You can’t fake that; you can’t fabricate that; you can’t get that anywhere else.
That sounds amazing!
Austin: Marble, Colorado!
Brian: Yeah, Colorado was amazing!
Zambricki: We recorded on an old air strip, in wild flower fields, on a private lake, and we were at a festival and ran into a friend whose family has property out there. We were about to go somewhere else. He was like, ‘instead of taking a right, make a left.’ It was this magical place. We were there for days!
Austin: Fun Fact: All the marble for the Lincoln Memorial came from…
All [in unison]: Marble, Colorado! [Everyone laughs]
Do you have a title for the album? Or have you been playing around with some ideas?
Zambricki: Well, the tour is called #InTheWind, so we’ve thought about calling the album that, as well. One of the concepts – well, sometimes people make an album and record it in a sterile environment, but then they make it sound sexy and fun so it has some vibe on it. We’re doing the opposite. We’re getting all the vibe first. Then we’ll go back to our studio and clean it up a bit, maybe take out a few birds chirps.
Brian: Take some of the wind out.
Zambricki: Yeah, because right now, oh man there’s a lot! [laughs] But right now the working title is In The Wind.
You recorded a video for “Nothin’ Left” in a field, during a lightning storm, with the Strawberry Moon glowing down on you, making for a magical performance. Tell me about the making of this video.
Austin: Yeah, it’s really funny, people actually messaged us and were like, ‘How did you get that fake lightning?’
Zambricki: Yeah, or ‘Nice effects guys!’ [laughs]
Brian: That was really cool. We were actually setting up our whole – we had our bus pulled up to this barn – we were setting up to record in this beautiful, old barn – that’s like thirty miles outside of Toronto, but it’s a totally different world. It’s amazing! So, we were all set, ready to record, and some of our crew were taking a walk before we started recording and were like, ‘Oh my God, you guys have to come back here and see this, there’s a lightning storm.’
Zambricki: We had to do something to capture the moment. Plus, the lightning on top [of the moon], it was like a strawberry lightning storm!
Brian: We ended up breaking the back of the bus up, and instead of recording in the barn, we recorded in the field and made a video.
Austin: It was one take. It was so spontaneous.
It was brilliant, just like MAGIC GIANT! The trio is finishing up the #InTheWind Tour and will be performing at Wanderlust Festival: Squaw Valley, July 14-17. MAGIC GIANT will also be performing a homecoming show on July 29, at The Troubadour, with Spencer Ludwig. Magic Giant is available for purchase on iTunes. Follow MAGIC GIANT on Facebook and Twitter.
After attending The School of the Art Institute in Chicago, Sarah went on to study education at Dominican University, earning a degree in history. When not teaching, writing, or taking in a show, she is most likely to be found with a camera to her eye or hanging out in a darkroom.
You can follow Sarah Hess on twitter at @Sarahhasanh and view her music photography on her website: smhimaging.com.