“Each song has a different story,” says Pellizzer. “For ‘Rude,’ Nasri and me did pre-production on two versions. We came up with the hook, ‘Why you gotta be so rude?’ but it didn’t have a light-hearted story to it; it was more severe in nature about a girl that got drunk and was yelling at him. So he flipped the whole story with our producer Adam and that song took shape. At that point, I just played some guitar and helped out with the arrangement, put a guitar solo and put some other instruments in there.”
Before “Rude” was ever released as a single – which was before the album was even finished – Lavdanski ended up quitting in early 2013. Spivak, another friend trying his luck in L.A., already hanging out at the house working on music with Pellizzer, was asked to step in.
“No opinion or suggestion is a bad one. You just want to come up with the best product you can.” – Mark Pellizer of MAGIC!
Sometimes the input of the rhythm section isn’t as welcomed in a band, but when your band is reggae-based, its importance is hard to deny. In MAGIC!, Tanas isn’t “just the drummer” and Spivak isn’t “just the bass player.” Tanas also plays a decent piano and when he began producing was making hip-hop beats, and Spivak released a self-titled album in 2010 on which he played all the instruments.
“We have a song on our album called ‘No Way No’ and it’s more led by Ben and I,” says Tanas. “He came up with the riff and I came up with a lot of the musical stuff behind it, and Nas came in with a couple of lyric ideas. It was really working together and we’re able to do that because everybody wants to serve the music, as opposed to just get in their personal ideas.”
Spivak says he was integrated immediately into the writing process: “They had about half the album done, so it was just working on those songs for live, and the rest of the time was spent in the studio. So I was there, coming up with bass lines, trying out different things. As a reggae band, as a band that’s based on songwriting but trying to keep things in 2015, bass is very important… Now I’m at a great place where I’ve got Mark and Alex and Nasri to bounce ideas off of.”
And Messinger’s role? It extends beyond that of producer or co-producer to being an integral part of the songwriting. Atweh says, “Everybody allows me to lead and to make the end-of-the-day decisions, which I do 50-50 with Adam. He just comes in with an unbiased opinion.”
“He’s a fifth member of the band creatively and artistically,” says Spivak, “just like George Martin was to the Beatles, just like Dan Lanois or Brian Eno was to U2… Adam is such a huge part of our sound.”
“I don’t view him as an outside songwriter because he’s so much a part of the process,” adds Pellizzer. “I just see him as one of the songwriters that is part of the team. He’s also a multi-instrumentalist and approaches things from that standpoint where he’s thinking about the functionality of the various instruments in order to make the best mix at the very end.”
So why doesn’t Atweh carry MAGIC! on his own, or just with Messinger?
“I’ve always had the choice to do it by myself, but Mark is an exceptional person to collaborate with, so he only enhances what I do by a kazillion percent, because he’s truly gifted at enhancing the emotion of what you’re going for,” says Atweh. “He plays every instrument. He’s kind of a freak. But he’s also a good singer, and he loves good melodies, and you have more fun because you feel like you can go to another level with him. It’s very similar to the way I write with Adam.
“What I like about Alex is he’s like the other side of me; he’s the swaggy side of me… Alex is always right there with me because he grew up listening to younger music and what was on the radio, and even the way we dress, we’re a little more hip. So everything about Alex and I is [about] it sounding cool, and simplifying, and taking something and finding that balance. He’s also great drum programmer and he’s has really great ideas. He’ll always surprise you.
“Ben is a guy who’s newer to the writing process with us, but he’s quite talented as a musician, too. He’s kind of like Mark. He can play everything. But Ben listens to a lot of the Beatles and Tom Petty. His influences are a little more on the rock side so he’ll come in with ideas that Mark wouldn’t come in with because Mark comes from a soul side… Ben always keeps it a little more simple. He just gives you the line. There’s no embellishments.”
Pellizzer best sums up the magic of MAGIC!: “It’s important to take care of each other’s feelings. I don’t want to sound really sappy but most bands break up, right? A collection of four or five guys or girls, it’s hard to last because it’s a complicated relationship of unique individuals together, but I think the way that you can stand the test of time is, you literally take care of each other, and make sure that everyone’s voice is heard, and there’s a mutual respect that underlines how you conduct yourself.
“The good thing about MAGIC! is we’re grown-ass men. We realize that we have to make each other feel comfortable in these writing situations and these production situations. No opinion or suggestion is a bad one. You just want to come up with the best product you can, and the most meaningful song, that has the best music behind it. We’re all on the same page about that.”