BROOKLYN, NY — “I have a fever for this machine,” says Jen Turner of Here We Go Magic.
Although it wasn’t always a smooth ride, she quickly fell in love with the 8-track reel-to-reel that captured almost every note of basic tracking on Here We Go Magic’s latest release, an EP titled The January. “It’s very dear to me. I was sitting next to it for three months, practically stroking the thing,” she continues admiringly.
But according to Turner, the vintage Tascam Model 48 used on the sessions for The January and its predecessor, Pigeons, “would only work for about five days at a time.”
“[Guitarist] Mike [Bloch] would have to go behind and put a drumstick in the electronics to make it work. It would be perfect for another five days, until he’d have to come back again and stick some chewing gum in there.”
Requisite technical hiccups aside, it was an unusual process that led to an uncommon recording. From the first plodding bass notes of the opener “Tulip,” HWGM’s newest release doles out twenty-one minutes of big, fat chamber pop. It’s dense, atmospheric, ambitious, and invites comparisons to some of the innovative work by Caribou and Grizzly Bear, or the most forward-thinking moments of 60s cult favorites The Zombies.
“On the next release, some of us have a desire to make the sound a little less crazy. But personally, I’m all for crazy,” laughs Turner, the band’s bass player, and de facto producer for Here We Go Magic’s two most recent records.
On these releases, pillowy textures and contrapuntal rhythms form a blurred bed of sound for songwriter Luke Temple’s ephemeral, high-reaching vocals. Like Pigeons before it, The January was recorded over a stretch of months upstate in “a house in the middle of nowhere,” and stands as a far cry from Temple’s sparse solo effort on this project’s self-titled debut. It serves a satisfying soup of sound that asks for detailed listening and suggests an unexpected expanse of space between the speakers.
“I really like pushing the limits of what could work sonically,” says Turner. “I like being surprised by all these different rhythms coming together, and I love not being able to pick out exactly where every element is coming from.” Turner likens this effect to Cuban Bata music where the listener becomes “so absorbed by the final rhythmic mass that comes from each person doing their simple part.”
Mixed by Matt Pence of The Echo Lab studio in Denton, Texas, The January still shows the influence of a bass player working on the bright side of the talkback button. As much as this production blissfully keeps its head in the clouds, these rhythmically cohesive tracks have deep, driving roots: Whether it’s “Tulip”’s minimal quarter-note throb, or the ornate cascading rollercoaster of “Backwards Time,” The January’s basslines plow out perfect foundations of solid earth.
Jen Turner describes herself as an accidental engineer. Originally a session and touring guitar player, her production experience was relegated to her own solo project, Inner, until her run-in with Here We Go Magic.
“I was never really happy being the frontperson,” says Turner. “I love all the work that goes into the whole [recording] process, but I’m not as comfortable with all those other parts where, once you’re finished, you’re supposed to go out and say ‘Hey, look at me in this great new outfit!’“
As years went on, Turner began to gravitate more and toward bass, and, after touring with Santigold, got turned on to Here We Go Magic at a live show.
“It wasn’t really an intellectual decision,” Turner tells us. “I heard them, and I just got it. It was a lot like what I was trying to do, but maybe better. It’s one of those times where there’s just great synchronicity. I met them at a party a few weeks after seeing them play and just said ‘I really wanna play in your band!’”
It turned out that Lucas and company were looking for a new bass player. Turner auditioned the very next day.
Originally, engineer and friend of the band Victor Magro was slated to engineer, but due to scheduling conflicts, he was only able to help out on weekends. “During the week, I just ended up filling in the gaps,” says Turner, who soon found herself running tape and setting levels day-to-day.
“Soon, I became obsessed with it, to the point where I was the only pale one in the band! Everyone else would go swimming while I’d sit there listening to take after take. But I like that feeling. Having a vision in your head and figuring out how to get there is so much better than just staring out blankly into the void.”
The record was completed with minimal, but pedigreed equipment. A small-format Toft ATB console fed the ½” 8-track. Turner says they had no compressors on the session, but she experimented with hitting tape extra-hard at times:
“If you listen to [the blown-out] sounds on ‘Mirror Me,’ that’s not a drum machine. That’s Luke playing drums and me just turning everything up. There were a couple times we’d end up hitting a 4-track into the 8-track, just driving them both and really slamming it.”
“We had one outboard preamp, called the [Groove Tubes] Brick that we used on a lot of the bass and keyboards. Just a really good tube box for those sounds. We used a [Roland] Space Echo a bunch. There was one other reverb unit we had, but it sounded just way too intense to use. Everything was instant ‘Carnegie Hall.'”
For these sessions, the band tended to focus on one song at a time, rather than record instruments in sections. “A lot of it was recorded live,” says Turner. “We’d wake up in the morning and Lucas would write a loose sketch of a song.” She recounts that band members would come up with parts and develop the arrangements throughout the day, recording as they went along. “Then we’d come back the next day, and record it again. Some of these songs went through eight versions before we got to what you hear.”
As for challenges, Turner says that “Luke is really interested in showcasing the vocal to make sure you can hear the story. That’s the challenge: To develop the textures and still keep the vocals constant and clear. But the way he sings, it’d be hard for it not to become the centerpiece. I think your ear goes there pretty naturally.”
Here We Go Magic have already made one big sonic shift since their first eponymous LP. Turner, now, gears up for another.
“It’s interesting. When I joined the band they’d been doing it this way for a little while, and were already getting ready to change things around. It’s funny, because I’m still loving it so much that I could just keep playing this stuff forever,” she laughs wistfully. “But everything, and everyone, changes.”