MAGIC! frontman Nasri Atweh and drummer Alex Tanas remember sitting around one day in their adopted hometown of Los Angeles, looking up the publishing splits for major bands on Wikipedia. What they saw cemented their idea of how their new reggae-based pop band MAGIC! would operate.
“The ones that have all broken up, and had bad break-ups, didn’t split the publishing [songwriting credits and royalties]. Bands that all did, like Foo Fighters, Radiohead, Coldplay and U2, those guys are going strong,” says Tanas.
“Yeah, it was really interesting,” echoes Atweh. “The bands that split everything stayed together and the bands that didn’t fell apart. People want to feel like they’re worth something.”
So on MAGIC!’s debut album, Don’t Kill The Magic – which includes their worldwide smash hit, “Rude,” a No. 1 hit in Canada and the U.S. that spent six weeks on top of the Billboard singles chart, with sales of more than 3 million units in America, 270,000 in Canada, and a video with more than 186 million views on YouTube – Tanas and guitarist Mark Pellizzer each have songwriting credits on eight of the 11 songs; and bassist Ben Spivak (who joined the band in May 2013, when most of the songs were already written) has three.
“The bands that split everything stayed together and the bands that didn’t fell apart.” – Nasri Atweh of MAGIC!
Atweh is on every track and “fifth member” Adam Messinger, his production/writing partner of 16 years, is on nine. Together, as The Messengers, the pair has written songs for Chris Brown, Justin Bieber, New Kids On The Block, Christina Aguilera, Michael Bolton, and Shakira, whose latest album contains “Cut Me Deep,” featuring MAGIC!.
Atweh – who writes “99 percent” of the lyrics – could shoulder all the writing if he wanted to, and take all of the publishing for the songs, or just write comfortably with Messinger, but instead encourages his bandmates to contribute and then give them a piece. He’s not simply being nice; he knows their value.
“The way our band works is they understand that I have to do a lot more work on the writing side than they do, so instead of us splitting it, I’ll take a tiny bit more,” says Atweh. “But you just get what you put in. When all of us write, then everybody gets their piece, but at the end of the day I don’t do this for the money so I was just fine with whatever.”
Says Tanas, “The cool thing about Nasri is he’s open to other musicians, but that’s necessary for the success that he’s had. All the big cuts that he’s had with Justin Bieber and all these other artists have been collaborative – like with Adam Messinger, or Rodney Jerkins, or us… I think he realizes that there’s a lot to be learned and a lot to explore when you’re working with other musicians… I feel it wouldn’t be MAGIC! if it wasn’t the four of us and Adam Messinger all coming together. I feel like this sound is the five of our voices together.”
Talking with each of the members separately by phone from Las Vegas, where they were playing a show, every one of them says how generous Atweh is and open to their input. They praise each other’s talent and Atweh does the same. Everyone says they learn from each another. It’s a team built on friendship and respect.
All four members of MAGIC!, and Messinger, are Toronto transplants. Atweh moved to L.A. with Messinger in 2007 to further their production/songwriting career. A few years ago, Pellizzer went down to L.A. to see what doors he could open. He was staying at Atweh’s two-bedroom apartment when they started writing together. One of the early results was “Don’t Judge Me,” which grew out of an acoustic jam, and later became a single for American rapper Chris Brown.
Pellizzer is a schooled musician, a classically-trained pianist who boasts degrees from The Royal Conservatory of Toronto and the Jazz Studies program (in guitar) at the University of Toronto. He cut his teeth in soul/R&B bands and started producing and writing. He has co-written with Justin Nozuka, Vita Chambers, and has eight tracks on rapper Classified’s self-titled album, including the SOCAN No. 1 Song Award-winning single, “Inner Ninja.”
Pellizzer says it did take a shift in thought and approach when he began working in pop. “Studying complex theories and very difficult things to play at school and then suddenly finding yourself in a pop music situation, a lot of what you end up doing is reductionist, ‘Okay, let’s not do this there. Let’s keep it very simple,’” he says.
Atweh broached the topic of forming a band together when he heard Pellizzer playing a reggae groove: “I said, ‘Dude, I’ve always had this idea of starting a band that was almost like a modern-day Police. I think me and you can do it.’ And that was the start. We just went at it.” That riff eventually became “Stupid Me,” which is on Don’t Kill The Magic. Pellizzer brought in his bandmates from Nozuka’s band, Tanas and bass player Anthony Lavdanski.