Longtime friends, Alex and Sam grew up together but split paths after high school to attend separate universities. The summer following their freshman year, the two decided to volunteer in France for the summer to do some organic farming through WWOOF. During their downtime, the twosome worked on music that ultimately followed them back to the states, and after adding a few new members to the band, Magic Man was formed.
Every year, thousands of people volunteer to work on organic farms in exchange for room and board through a program known as WWOOF (“World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms”). The idea of working on a farm 4-6 hours a day may not sound appealing to some, but it’s a great way to travel and see beautiful parts of the world that don’t exactly attract tourists. For many volunteers, WWOOF allows them to see a different part the world for a few weeks or months, experience a different lifestyle, and hopefully make some friends along the way. For Alex Caplow and Sam Vanderhoop Lee, the experience was all that and much more.
AltWire had the chance to have a conversation with what should have been Sam and Alex of Magic Man; but unfortunately, Alex was absent for most of the interview, making it just Sam and AltWire. Alex did have the chance to reconnect at the end, giving Sam and our writer Mattison the opportunity to have some hilarious fun at his expense! Check out what Sam had to say below.
Mattison [AltWire]: Magic Man started out as a ‘band of two’ that started while organic farming in France. What made you guys want to volunteer for the program?
Sam Vanderhoop Lee [Magic Man]: It was a couple of things. I had been studying French in my first year of College, and Alex’s mother is French. Alex had been going there since he was a kid and he spoke the language pretty well. I, at the same time, had also been working on my school’s organic farm, like a small sort of urban farm that you could volunteer on, and I just wanted to find a way to travel. Ideally, [with me] speaking French [I wanted to go to France]. The program was paid, they paid for your room and board in exchange for working on the farm so it was a great way to be outside the part of France that you may not normally see as a tourist. It ended up being a great, literally, life changing experience.
AW: What exactly fueled the idea behind starting a band while you were volunteering?
Sam Vanderhoop Lee [Magic Man]: Well, we’ve been playing music together since we learned how to play the guitar, so playing music together wasn’t really a new thing. I think I had started writing some demos, because mostly it was just when we were together on the farm. In the middle of the day it was pretty hot outside, so there was an extended siesta, where we had time to work on some songs. Originally it was just to pass the time, but we ended up really liking what we came up with so we started to pursue it and started to finish the songs when we got back.
AW: How did you come up with the name Magic Man? Was this something that came about in France as well?
Sam Vanderhoop Lee [Magic Man]: Yeah, it was. Eventually, we met a guy over there who called himself the ‘magic man’. This was on one of the farms we were volunteering at and it happened to be sort of unexpectedly hosting a circus. It was a music, arts, kind of hippie lifestyle living festival and there were circus performers. One of them was this young guy who called himself ‘The Magic Man’, and he wrote songs in charming French accents. He was sort of one of our first friends at that time and showed us around, and he was one of the first guys to listen to the songs we were working on. So when we were thinking of names we did the whole writing down different words we liked, and eventually, this one felt the most appropriate.
AW: Magic Man has been described as a “Bruce Springsteen for a generation raised on synths”. Would you say Springsteen has an influence on your music/writing style?
Sam Vanderhoop Lee [Magic Man]: Yeah, definitely. He’s one of my personal, favorite artists. My mother first gave me her Bruce Springsteen CD, when I got my first CD player or something like that. I’ve been listening to Springsteen for ages, and I feel Bruce [contributed an] inner, epic, American quality to the music that I feel a lot of artists try to get but don’t really get right. That’s always something that has truly inspired me, personally.
AW: Who are some of your biggest influences?
Sam Vanderhoop Lee [Magic Man]: When we first started writing for Magic Man, we listened to a lot of The Postal Service, Arcade Fire, and obviously The Killers, a band that’s super influenced by Bruce Springsteen as well. They are definitely, from when I first started playing in bands, one of my favorite bands from high school. We try to draw from many different spots really, whether it’s pop songs on the radio or something more obsequious, there’s always something you can find.
AW: Magic Man has already toured with some really talented, well-known artists, such as Panic! At The Disco and New Politics; but how does it feel to be invited to tour with Smallpools, a band with a sound much like your own?
Sam Vanderhoop Lee [Magic Man]: It’s gonna be a lot of fun. We’ve played one or two shows with them before, and we know some of their crew as well. We know them a bit, which is great, so yeah, I think it’s gonna be fun and there’s definite similarities, especially with the openers Panama Wedding and Waters. It’s gonna be a good night of music. Hopefully, people will be dancing from start to finish.
“At the end of the day, I love it. I love touring and that’s why we’re doing what we’re doing.”
AW: I actually had the pleasure of seeing you guys open for Walk The Moon, Twenty One Pilots, and Panic! At The Disco, and you were absolutely amazing on stage! You’re so upbeat, have so much energy and certainly know how to keep a crowd entertained. To be honest, you go to a concert for a headliner, and when standing in a crowd for so long the openers can sometimes drag on, but I didn’t feel that way with Magic Man. You came out and kept the energy alive. If your goal is to make people dance, then you are doing it right!
Sam Vanderhoop Lee [Magic Man]: Thank You!
AW: Is there any one place you are most excited to go on your upcoming tour?
Sam Vanderhoop Lee [Magic Man]: Well, we’ve been there a couple of times before, but I must say that I’m very excited for Washington D.C., at the 9:30 club on Halloween. It’s one of our favorite venues, it’s got a great staff, a really professional crew, and you can see the stage and hear really well from pretty much anywhere in the room. They give you cupcakes (to the band) when you arrive. It’s just an amazing place to play. It’s one of my favorite venues, and obviously, Halloween is always fun. We’re trying to think of our Halloween costumes, so if you have any recommendations we’d love to hear them.
AW: I have no idea what to recommend! There are so many different ideas you could come up with though, I really excited to see what you guys do! Is Smallpools planning to dress up as well?
Sam Vanderhoop Lee [Magic Man]: If they aren’t, we are going to do our best to force them to! But I think everyone should try to do something fun. You know it’s always fun; definitely going to try to encourage the fans to dress up as well.
AW: It seems like you guys are constantly touring, how do you stay sane while on the road?
Sam Vanderhoop Lee [Magic Man]: What makes you think we stay sane on the road?
AW: [Both Laugh] Touché.
Sam Vanderhoop Lee [Magic Man]: It’s a combination of keeping perspective, and making sure you get enough water and sleep. That’s important to your physical health and sanity. At the end of the day, I love it. I love touring and that’s why we’re doing what we’re doing. It’s tons of fun, but it can be tiring, and lots of long drives, but at the end of the day, you have to remember how lucky you are to be doing what you’re doing. Playing music you love for people who appreciate the music and are supporting you by coming out to the show. A lot of bands don’t have the opportunity. Feeling lucky and grateful to be where you are really helps you kind of enjoy the whole thing.
AW: Do you have any pre-show rituals?
Sam Vanderhoop Lee [Magic Man]: We do, but they’re top secret. So if I told you, I’d have to kill you. That’s the cheesiest thing I think I’ve ever said.
AW: [Both Laugh] I’m okay with that, just let me get the interview posted, then you can do what you must!
Sam Vanderhoop Lee [Magic Man]: We got a couple of things. It’s mostly just about preparing yourself and getting ready for the show. We have a whole sort of warm-up routine. Our drummer, Joey, has this drum routine that he does; where he does slow-motion drumming to rhythmic warm-ups. I usually just pace around, awkwardly, until the show starts. I can’t tell you all the secret, weird stuff we do when no one is watching.
“Sometimes things just feel right from the beginning, and this just felt right to us right from the start.”
AW: Maybe it’s best you guys keep that between the band then! Which of your songs is your favorite to perform?
Sam Vanderhoop Lee [Magic Man]: Well, they’re all fun, but there are some where we let loose at the end a little bit. Our song ‘Texas’, is one of those. Alex once ripped our bass player’s shirt, during that moment he just ripped the sleeve clean off. He’s actually supposed to be on this phone call, but I haven’t heard a word from him yet.
AW: Yeah, I didn’t even realize. I wonder where he went!
Sam Vanderhoop Lee [Magic Man]: I don’t know, maybe we lost him. But yeah, ‘Texas’ is always a fun one! Obviously ‘Paris’, that’s the one that most people know, usually, so we get to hear them sing along, it’s an awesome feeling.
AW: I can imagine! I had discovered you guys the day I got to see you, so honestly, I didn’t know much of your music, but the energy was definitely there and you guys have such a great time on stage. I love that!
Sam Vanderhoop Lee [Magic Man]: Alright, well when we get to see you, we’ll quiz you on all the lyrics!
AW: Oh no! I better get to studying!
Sam Vanderhoop Lee [Magic Man]: I’m just kidding. I would never do that, it sounds horrible.
AW: Have you ever received any bizarre gifts from a fan?
Sam Vanderhoop Lee [Magic Man]: I’m not answering your questions at all, but we actually, as an end-of-tour prank, went into the crowd during Walk The Moon’s performance and threw all of our underwear onto their stage. That was the last show of our first tour with Walk The Moon. That has happened to them at least once, I can confirm it because we did it. Let’s see, the craziest gift we’ve ever gotten from a fan, was from one girl, she was a talented artist from Canada, I believe, and she gave us a bunch of little figurines. They were clay figures, key chains actually, of ourselves, one for each member of the band. These little miniature Magic Men and that’s not something you really expect to be handed. A little miniature totem of yourself, it was great.
AW: How about signing things? Have you ever signed anything super crazy?
Sam Vanderhoop Lee [Magic Man]: I feel like I’ve signed a lot of things. I’ve signed CDs, Vinyl, posters, tickets, pieces of paper, cell phones, cell phone cases, shoes, faces, arms, shirts, pants. I feel like, I’ve signed more things than I haven’t signed, which definitely isn’t the case. Every time someone comes up to me, there’s always a different weird thing they want you to sign. Which is nice, and I obviously appreciate the dedication of the fans coming up and asking for your signature. It’s all been PG. It’s great to meet the fans, we love doing it and we try to do it after every show
AW: I once met a band who signed a piece of pizza, which I thought was absolutely crazy. So I always like to hear what crazy things fans are asking artists to sign.
Sam Vanderhoop Lee [Magic Man]: Wow, I take everything back, I still have a lot to learn!
“We’re always writing. It’s sort of our addiction, for better or for worse. “
AW: You guys recently (a couple of months ago) released a new album, ‘Before The Waves’. Would you say the creative process for ‘Before The Waves’ is different than any of your other work?
Sam Vanderhoop Lee [Magic Man]: Well, ‘Before The Waves’ was definitely a little bit different, in that it was the first time we kind of set out and decided, “were gonna make an album”. Let’s try to plan this thing, let’s try to write a ton of different demos, and really figure out exactly what we want to do with the whole album rather than what to do with each song. We worked with a producer in New York called Alex Aldi, and he definitely helped us think about the album as a whole and how to put together the sound and how they can compliment each other, making sure they’re not too similar or too different. It was just a really in-depth, lengthy process but I think it was, hopefully, worth it and it was a lot of fun.
AW: What inspired the name of your newest album?
Sam Vanderhoop Lee [Magic Man]: Well, it’s lyrics from our song ‘Waves’ and as for what inspired it, we kind of went through the lyrics and just general things that were inspired by it, and what we thought captured the feelings of the music, made a huge list, and ‘Before The Waves’ just kept popping up on everyone’s list of favorites. It kind of captured the balance. It’s a nice kind of calm before the storm type of imagery because we definitely feel like our music cuts the balance. That, and how all the dynamics go from a calm, beautiful part to a louder, more rock section, a lot of upbeat dancing, but we also want to include more intimate, glorified moments to the album. A lot of things especially in this world you agonize over, like the name of a song, or trying to figure out exactly how to arrange it, and them sometimes things just feel right from the beginning, and this just felt right to us right from the start.
AW: Which of Magic Man’s songs means the most to you?
Sam Vanderhoop Lee [Magic Man]: Well, they’re all special, like I said before. We went through so many revisions when we worked on the songs, they’re all kind of like our babies at this point. It’s sort of like asking who the favorite child is of a parent. ‘It All Starts Here’ would definitely be a special one, because from very early on we knew we wanted it to be the closing song on the album, so it was always there in the back of our minds when we were thinking about the structure of the album. Thinking about which song would come first, and how it would connect with the song we were pretty sure we were gonna have at the end of the album. Like I said, they’re all special. We’ve been doing it for a long time, and, I think, finally got it right. It was always there in the back of our heads that that’s how we wanted to close the album. They’re all our beautiful little babies.
AW: I know you guys just recently released an album, but are you working on any new material?
Sam Vanderhoop Lee [Magic Man]: Yeah, I mean, we’re always writing. It’s sort of our addiction, for better or for worse. We’ve been doing a lot of songwriting for other artists but were always working on other stuff. Were always working on new stuff like remixes, songs for other people, and songs for ourselves, just songs that we’re working on that we’re not sure exactly what to do with yet. We’ve been trying a lot of different styles and covers, but yeah, we’re always working on new stuff. Hopefully, we’ll be able to play a little bit of it on this tour.
AW: Well, that’s all I have for you. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Sam Vanderhoop Lee [Magic Man]: Just to check us out on the road, this fall, with Smallpools, Panama Wedding, and Waters. We’re really excited to get back out there and hopefully see as many new people and places as possible.
AW: Well, thanks for taking the time out to do the interview with us! We really appreciate it!
[During the goodbyes, Magic Man front man, Alex Caplow, who had gone MIA for the entire interview, magically (pun intended) reappeared in the conversation. Because of this, Mattison and Sam decided to have a little fun with him.]
Alex Caplow [Magic Man]: I’m so sorry! I missed the whole interview! I’m so sorry, I’m sure Sam had a lot to say.
Sam Vanderhoop Lee [Magic Man]: We were actually waiting for you, are you ready to start?
AW: Yeah, we’ve been waiting this whole time.
Alex Caplow [Magic Man]: Wait, you’ve been waiting?
Sam Vanderhoop Lee [Magic Man]: Well, I couldn’t start without you, are you ready?
Alex Caplow [Magic Man]: Uhh, yeah, I thought you meant to come say hi as in you were done.
Sam Vanderhoop Lee [Magic Man]: No, we’re just kidding. We did the whole interview already.