An interview with Midnight Magic from Scion Dance Zine #3, published in 2011
While many “nu-disco” DJs continue to obsess over artifacts from the past (re-edits of old songs, lost punk-funk b-sides) and drop way too much money on obscure vinyl on eBay, Midnight Magic quietly elevates the game with brand-new music that feels instantly classic. From their 12-inch “Beam Me Up” to remixes for Corinne, Azari & III and Cut Copy, the NYC-based band make songs impossibly rich, catchy and full-sounding. Sounding this good doesn’t happen overnight. Since their late teens, producers Andrew Raposo (also the bassist) and Morgan Wiley (keyboards) have played together in numerous projects, including Dim Mak hip-hop outfit Automato and disco house superstars Hercules & Love Affair. Along the way, they soaked up knowledge from DFA label producers James Murphy and Tim Goldsworthy, and befriended vocalist Tiffany Roth, horn-player Carter Yatusake and the five other players who make up the group. “We feel kind of like a hillbilly family,” says Raposo, on the phone from Midnight Sun, the Brooklyn studio where he and Wiley are producing Classixx, Paze Infinite and a host of other artists. We asked Raposo how the magic happens.
Talk about some of the band’s shared loves, musically and aesthetically.
We all love pizza. We all love the realm of the surreal and the psychedelic, and horror films in particular. We all love Michael Jackson and Parliament and Bohannon and Sylvester—those are the four that we talk about a lot. The list goes on: classic soul and funk and disco, tropicália music from Brazil, the Ethiopiques compilations, Selda Bagcan and all the Turkish psych rock stuff.
How do you think growing up in New York has influenced you?
It has made me a little paranoid and neurotic, but extremely good at dealing with people and crazy situations. It’s made me fascinated by people and their lives. I don’t think there’s a more public city in the Western Hemisphere. I mean, I’m a rich kid from the Upper East Side, but you wouldn’t know it when you’re just walking around in the street. Everybody else could be from anywhere and you have to deal with them. You have to sit next to them on the train, you have to listen to what they’re listening to and look at what they eat.
Tell me about working with Eric Broucek, the former DFA engineer.
He is a zealot about the way he deals with sound. He sees sound as if everything is a landscape. The tree off in the distance is the synth line, the hill over here is the bassline. He is an artist unto himself, and as a result, you can listen to his mixes a hundred times and you don’t get bored. James [Murphy] is the same way. Try to tell James Murphy the high hat is too loud and he’ll slap your hand away from the board.
Speaking of the studio, how do you guys get everything sounding like it does?
With computer software that same string patch is always that same string patch, unless you put a different filter on it. We can’t work that way. It’s not that we don’t like it, it’s not how we’re programmed. We’re so used to turning knobs and plugging cords in and out. When people hear something in our songs and it sounds old, it’s because it is! Some days things aren’t working right. Sometimes the heat or the moisture affects the way an oscillator performs. Every day you’ve got a clear palette, and you come up with weird nuances and work-arounds. We use our ears and use gear that we’ve worked with before, but it’s also a total happy accident.
What’s the difference between working in Midnight Magic and working in Jessica 6, your other band with Morgan?
In some ways, Jessica 6 is all about spontaneity and Midnight Magic is all about method. Midnight Magic began as a studio project with me, Morgan, Tiffany and Carter. With Jessica 6, a massive piece of the pie is Nomi [Ruiz]. She is an aesthete, a brilliant producer and songwriter, and has a clear vision for how things should go. I don’t want to make one thing sound more conceptual than the other, but with Jessica 6 I just wait for when we’re all in the same room for the magic to happen. We combust very quickly and it can be very challenging, but we just let it be.
Most artists want to be the center of attention, but you and Wiley seem so comfortable helping others realize their sonic vision.
I recently saw Nick Cave and I don’t think there is a better frontman in rock & roll. I don’t like my voice. I don’t write poetry. I don’t think there’s a message that I need to get across that I’m not. Morgan is a keyboard and piano player and I’m a bass player—we’ll never be the frontguys in the band. We are collaborators more than anything else. We get really excited about working with other people and trying to make an idea as good as it can be. And we love having a great vocalist come in with a great set of lyrics. Not to be cliché, but that’s what really sets us on fire.