It’s been a whirlwind year for local electro-rock quintet Magic Man, from playing May’s Boston Calling festival to touring nationally behind its major-label debut Before the Waves, released in July. “We’ve been really lucky,” says co-founding guitarist/keyboardist Sam Lee. “But we work really hard.”
Lee and the band’s ebullient singer, Alex Caplow, have been making music since they were classmates in Newton, cracking the local rock scene through house parties. “That’s really where we cut our live teeth,” says Lee, 24. “We came to appreciate the amazing, sweaty atmosphere you get in those shows. People have a great time dancing, and even though we’re now playing much bigger venues with real PAs and actual stages, we bring some of that basement-show energy.”
They hope to tap some of that intimate vibe when Magic Man returns to play the Sinclair on Dec. 19. It’s an all-ages “First Annual Holiday Party” with local friends Gentlemen Hall and the Novel Ideas, whose guitarist/vocalist Daniel Radin played bass on Before the Waves. The bands also play the night before at the Fete Lounge in Providence, Magic Man’s alternate base, where the group relocated before hopping its wave.
“We’ll all be back home for the holidays,” Lee says from Seattle. “We’re definitely going to try to make it an annual thing, a way to celebrate what’s hopefully a good year with friends, family and also bands from our hometown.”
Travel agrees with Magic Man, which even wove “Texas,” “Paris,” “Nova Scotia” and “Chicagoland” into song titles. “There’s always been a bit of wanderlust to the band,” Lee says. “We love traveling. That’s why being on tour is so much fun.” In fact, the band took root when the Newton friends spent a summer in France during college, volunteering on an organic farm in exchange for room and board.
“We’d take an extended siesta in the middle of the day when it’s particularly hot, so to pass the time, we ended up working on tunes on my laptop in GarageBand and really liked what we came up with,” Lee says. “Alex and I have been playing music together since we knew how to play the guitar. We had the same guitar teacher in middle school and learned how to play in bands together, but this is just sort of the first thing that really felt like it stuck.”
They brought home those European demos, which evolved into Magic Man’s 2010 self-produced debut EP Real Life Color, and began performing with a laptop and the occasional guitar or keyboards, “kinda like karaoke over a backing track,” Lee says. But that’s not what the duo really wanted to do. “We loved playing in rock bands, and we wanted to take our live show in more exciting directions.”
They expanded into a full band, more in line with grand indie-rock influences that included Arcade Fire and Explosions in the Sky. Yet Magic Man’s bright, synth-heavy sound most closely falls between the Killers and Passion Pit—“definitely another influence for us as another band coming out of the Boston area,” Lee says, “right as we were graduating from high school.”
Magic Man even tapped Passion Pit producer Alex Aldi for Before the Waves. “We had access to those techniques,” Lee says. “It was great because he knows that music so well, he made sure we weren’t treading too close.” The resulting album brims with sleek, swelling synths, its melodic hooks built around youthful, euphoric phrases like “sun-kissed light,” “Shout, shout, shout together” and “The morning sky has never seemed so clear.” It all seems primed for daytime dancing.
“We definitely have a taste for epic, triumphant music,” Lee says. And now, with fellow Newton native Gabe Goodman on bass, North Andover’s Justine Bowe on keyboards and drummer Joey Sulkowski, they’ve ditched the backing tracks.
“We felt a lot more freedom,” he says. “There are inherently some layers that you just can’t reproduce live, and that was a conscious decision on our part, to focus more on the energy of a live rock band.”