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SOME KIND OF MAGIC
Local musician Niilo Smeds, mastermind of the indie rock band the Magic Whores, has put together quite a treat for Fresno music fans this week--a show that's as diverse in lineup as Smeds' own interests.
The Magic Whores will host avant-folk guitarist Sir Richard Bishop and experimental popsters Cars Flowers this Friday night at Tokyo Garden downtown.
Community journalist Jefferson Beavers talked with Smeds about life in Fresno's indie rock scene, the art of juggling a band with other interests, and the happiness that can come from a homemade CD.
You're a former member of Pinkeye and Rademacher, two popular local bands, and you're now fronting the Magic Whores. How does your role in those bands compare with your role in your current band?
Both of those bands had a frontman/songwriter, and it wasn't me. Now, it is. I played bass in both of those bands. Rademacher is Mike [Mancillas] songs. Pinkeye is Andy [Bunnell] songs. Now, it's my songs. That's the most obvious difference.
I had always wanted [to work on] my own songs. Eventually I got to the point where I was coming up with songs that were worthy of being played in front of people. When it got to that point, I was really busy in other bands. I started to feel like I needed time to work on my own music. So slowly, I eased my way out of the other things I was doing.
I've noticed that a lot of very talented local musicians are making good music right now, and the cast of characters seems to revolve in different combinations between bands. How does the musical chemistry among people in this loose circle serve your band well, and what are the drawbacks?
One thing that's definitely good is that it might be easier to be comfortable in a band with people you know. If you know them and have played with them, you already have communication. You sort of get an idea for each other's musical inclinations, and I think it lends itself to collaboration very well. It's actually a pretty large group of people that I've played with, even though it seems small. It's nice to know so many musicians in area who are willing to play.
The drawback is that no one has time to be doing a whole bunch of bands at once. There's always conflict with which band wants to practice when. When you're setting up shows, you have to be careful someone doesn't have something else going on. People around here still have their day jobs and whatnot, and that cuts into people's time too. It's hard to manage people's time.
The thing I like about this little scene of people is that it seems like everyone is always improving musically and trying new things. There's a lot of growth going on, and that's exciting to be a part of. We inspire each other a lot. It seems like there's a real willingness to try things. For some people who haven't played music before, more people are playing onstage.
If you had to describe the way the Magic Whores sound, it would be a cross between what band and what band?
The Marx Brothers and Royal Trux. That's what I'm going for, anyway.
Your MySpace page lists six people as "recent participants" in the Magic Whores. Does the performing lineup stay the same from session to session and show to show, or is this one of those "lead singer plays with random friends" kind of projects?
It has kind of evolved based on who is around and had time. The last two shows and the last few months it has been me, Reid [May] and Travis [Soward]. That lineup is pretty stable. Earlier shows, there were other people. Hopefully, they'll all play again in some capacity. People just have other things going on, and live in other cities.
I recently saw you perform solo at Tokyo Garden as Police Dog, and I read somewhere once that the Police Dog project was something you worked on when no one was willing to come over and play music with you. What's in store for your solo projects like that in the future, and how do they fit with your plans for the Magic Whores?
I don't really know what's in store. I kind of started [Police Dog] at home, by myself, and I wanted to do something. I came up with a couple songs by myself that I liked, and I thought, hey, I could do more of this. Then someone asked me to play it live. So I had to rush to come up with enough material for a half-hour performance. If someone asked me to play [solo] again, then I'd work on it again. But lately, I've been more focused on Magic Whores stuff.
Everything is in phases. One week, I get focused on things to do with the band. The next week, it's the other. I want to keep going with it because it's more an outlet where I can do whatever I want and kind of play with more electronic elements. [Police Dog] lets me get out some of the weirder things I like to do.
You've started your own CD-R label called Western Lots Unlimited, and have three-song EPs on sale by both the Magic Whores and Police Dog. What led you to start up such a venture, and have you been selling any CDs? Do you think that homemade CD-R labels are the way to go for local bands?
When you're at the level we are--which is very beginners level--I basically just want to have something to sell at shows for people who want CDs. Right now ... I wanted something done right away, rather than go through the whole process of gathering money and finding time to record and get a CD pressed up and whatever.
I like the homemade CD-R thing in a lot of ways. At this level, who are we to assume that people will want to buy our CD at $10 each? If you're going to have them manufactured, you have to buy like 1,000 of them. We're trying not to be presumptuous about demand.
I would ultimately like to have [Western Lots Unlimited] be something that can be more prolific. We can do them quickly and with nice artwork and such, as far as the CD manufacturing goes. I'd like pretty often to have stuff coming out. Maybe it won't be as hi-fi as things recorded in a professional session. But [it's good] to have something out there, at least on a certain lo-fi level.
Sir Richard Bishop is a guitarist from Seattle, and he has played with the Sun City Girls. ... Devendra Banhart [and others] have mentioned him as an amazing performer. His albums are exciting, and he's one of those people who can amaze you with what he can do with one instrument. I'm basically a big fan of his. I got in touch with him through some work-related stuff. He said that he'd never played in Fresno. And I said, well, you can if you want to. Then it sort of worked out.
All three acts are very different. Cars Flowers will be doing their electronic thing. Sir Richard [will be] with his guitar. And us, we'll be doing what we do. It should be an eclectic evening.
For details on Friday's show, check the calendar.