Magic City Hippies Planning To 'Push Harder' on Winter Tour

Group plays on January 24 at House of Blues Cambridge Room

click to enlarge Magic City Hippies. - Courtesy of Tell All Your Friends PR
Courtesy of Tell All Your Friends PR
Magic City Hippies.
When Magic City Hippies singer-guitarist Robby Hunter was younger, his dad made him listen to classic acts such as the Beatles, the Beach Boys and Fleetwood Mac. As he got older, he turned to Sublime and singer-songwriter John Mayer for inspiration. You can hear all of those influences in the funk/soul/alt-rock band's sound.

“I liked a lot of hip-hop too,” Hunter says in a recent conference call with his bandmates, multi-instrumentalists Pat Howard and John Coughlin. Magic City Hippies perform on Tuesday, Jan. 24 at House of Blues Cambridge Room. “I used to do a lot of old school hip-hop covers. At the time, I thought it was unique. Now, it’s kind of a common thing. It was a lot of Frank Ocean and Kendrick Lamar and Red Hot Chili Peppers, especially for the live performance. It feels like that’s our vibe up there [on stage] a lot.”

After releasing Magic City Hippies in 2013, the Robby Hunter Band decided to change its name. Though it initially thought it was “too risky” since the group already had a following, it made the switch, and its audience came with it.

“It was the first time the music started to get out, and we didn’t feel like we were architects of it all,” says Howard. “We were horrified that all these breadcrumbs would just crumble. It took a couple of years and a lull between projects to decide to go for it, and it was scary. It ended up working out. A lot of people were able to follow along even though it’s like a new band from scratch.”

Released in 2015, the Hippie Castle EP signaled a breakthrough. It featured the hit “Limestone,” a low-key tune that features Hunter slipping into a soulful croon to the accompaniment of percolating synths. It piled up over 21 million Spotify streams. “Fanfare,” which received another 20 million Spotify streams, became just as big of a hit. The group played festivals such as Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, Hulaween, Okeechobee Fest, Electric Forest and Austin City Limits.

In a stroke of good luck, the band managed to complete an extensive tour in support of 2019’s Modern Animal before the music industry shut down.

“We finished the album cycle just in time,” says Coughlin. “We toured the whole country and did two dates in Canada. We felt like we came home as the conquering heroes. I love that record, and I’m glad it got the full treatment.”

Howard agrees.

“[After the tour,] we got back to Miami, and we celebrated,” he says. “It was the first tour we netted money — not a lot. It was just hard to get there. With original music, it’s hard to get there. We rented a small boat and raged together. Three days later, the world ended. We got our little triumph in. We felt astronomically lucky to finish the whole tour before COVID began to mess everything up."

The group didn’t let lockdown cramp its creativity, however. It managed to complete its latest effort, last year’s Water Your Garden, remotely.

“It’s not how we’re always going to work,” says Coughlin when asked about the recording process. “We were just in the studio last week working on new music, and a lot of the magic is starting songs together in the same space. We had our recording setups. We could start the production and send the songs to Pat [Howard], who is at the end of the funnel. It allowed him to feel creative and follow the growth of the plant seeded there. It sounds more like a record that’s all over the place — more like The White Album than a focused record like Abbey Road.

The LP commences with “Garden Fiya,” a tune that features a strange bit of spoken word along with ratcheting percussion and funky keyboard fills.

“I thought of it as a nice start to it,” says Coughlin. “You hear ‘Water Your Garden,’ and you think it’s going to be something very pastoral and acoustic guitar-y. It starts so intense, so you know it’s not that.”

“We’re just having fun,” adds Hunter. “We’re drinking a 12-pack and smoking weed and having some fun.”

The Prince-like “High Beams” pairs the group with fellow funk lover Nafets, who adds soulful vocals. Howard met the musician when working at a Miami recording studio called 10K Islands.

“We struck up an instant friendship and did some songs together,” says Howard. “About a year before the pandemic, I did a session with him in L.A. We weren’t sure what to do with it. Orphaned ideas are fair game, and I thought of that one. We were into Mac Miller’s album Swimming that had 'What's the Use?' on it. It was this new take on disco funk, and something that’s super-fun to play. I asked Nafets if I could build it out to a tune featuring him. He was very gracious and down. The cowbell sound is a cereal bowl. The other stuff is my lap. It started as a studio apartment demo. When we got ahold of it, I wanted to try a bunch of other stuff.”

The trippy instrumental “Hangunder” serves as a good mid-album interlude to a second set of more somber tunes.

“I do the set lists, and the final album order for this album was what I thought was a great idea,” says Coughlin. “It’s like the second side of a record. You’re flipping it over. It’d be the first half of a second album. It’s one of our very few instrumental tracks. There’s not a single vocal on the whole thing. It separates the first side of the album, which is more fun, and the second side, which is more intense.”

The band says it couldn’t be more excited to return to the road and get back on the stage, where its music really comes to life. It aims to bring some heat to whatever town it visits on its winter trek.

“This tour will be crazy,” says Howard. “No matter what happens in our lives or how cold it is outside or how tired we are, we go one hundred percent. With this one, I’m just feeling it. I’m looking to push us a little harder on this one. It’s more rock-oriented and more cohesive. The studio is one medium, but live there is much more room for guitar and sweaty rock ’n’ roll.”
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Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected].
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