By Juliana Russell
The Magickal, a Salt Lake City-based duo, just released their debut EP “Surrender” in March. Vocalist and lyricist Kami Hall talked with Juliana Russell from Black on the Canvas, where she shared her thoughts about their collaborative compositional processes, empowering lyrics, and ways of getting through challenges.
Thank you so much for doing this interview! Let’s get right into it. How did your band start out?
Kami: Oh my gosh, how did we start out. Well, Dori and I have actually known each other for a long, long time. We were actually in a band together in high school. Since then, we’ve actually done a bunch of other things, I’ve been in a bunch of other bands. We got together at some point, and realized, “Why don’t we make music together again? It was always a good idea before. Let’s finish something, let’s get to work and do this!” So yeah, it’s kind of a full circle thing—this band is a big cumulation of years and years of knowing each other.
So it’s just you and one other person?
Kami: Yes, me and Dorian. Now, there was a third member—his name is David. He left the band recently, just to go do other things that he had that were a bigger priority for him.
Did he participate in the last EP that you did?
Kami: Yeah, he did help with a lot of that. Most of the front-running though was always still me and Dorian though anyway.
Okay, so how would you describe yourselves as musicians, and the music that you write and perform?
Kami: Ah, I am definitely the voice of the band, kind of in every way. (laughs) Dorian is much more shy—he likes to be behind the keyboard and do his thing in the background. He doesn’t necessarily want that spotlight as much, you know? He’s the maestro, he does all that work behind the keyboard. He’s really just self-taught, he started playing his parents’ piano when he was a kid. We started writing songs that way. We were both really into music, always, even as kids. That’s how we met, talking about music. So eventually, we were like “Let’s start a band!” (laughs)
And then I’ve been singing since I was born, pretty much. I sang in church when I was like five years old. And I’ve been in all kinds of different bands, and done a lot of different stuff. So this is really me coming back to my roots—this is the kind of stuff that we did when we were in high school.
Yeah, okay. So when did you come back together again? How recently was that?
Kami: This band, probably about two and a half years ago. We started by releasing a few singles, and then we’re like “Well, we got all this stuff, we need to get finished!” And finally we were like “Wow, we have an EP!” (laughs) So we just released that.
So do any of you have any formal music training? Or are you mostly self-taught?
Kami: Well we were actually all in choir in high school. So we do have some training, and even vocally, singing classical music. And I’ve taken voice lessons. But other than that, we’re pretty much self-taught. But there is a little bit of that in our background. David, the ex-member, had a lot of classical training—he was a classical pianist.
All right. So what are some of your main influences and inspirations, whether other musicians or simply other aspects of your life?
Kami: Well, we’re obviously very influenced by a lot of the 80’s new wave music—something we’ve always really enjoyed listening to, and has a huge influence on what we do. But we really do listen to every kind of music that’s out there—all genres are kind of in there somewhere. (laughs) We take pieces of everything we’ve heard, everything we’ve loved becomes part of what we make, even subconsciously.
Yeah, awesome. So what programs and equipment do you use to make your music?
Kami: Oh man. (laughs) That is definitely a Dorian question! I am not very good at tech question, at all! (laughs) Just me and my microphone. We did record the whole thing in Logic, and mixed it all ourselves, and everything. But keyboards… He has so many keyboards! He has a lot! (laughs)
All right, that’s a good enough answer! (laughs) So what’s your creative process like? How do you usually write a new song?
Kami: That really varies! I just heard a piece of music one of the guys had been working on, and the melody inspired me to write some of the lyrics. But I’ve also written a few of the songs just a capella. I don’t play an instrument, so sometimes I’ll just get a melody and a line just kinda rattling around in my head. And I’ll end up writing a whole song just a capella, in my head. And actually, there’s a couple of songs on the EP that were done that way—Surrender, and Late and Leaving. So what we did is record them to a click track, and then Dorian made the music underneath it.
Oh okay, nice!
Kami: And I’m always just like “Whoa!” I can’t believe the stuff he comes up with sometimes! It’s so far beyond what I could’ve imagined!
Yeah, that’s awesome, it totally transforms it! Okay so talk about your new EP “Surrender”. Are there any standout tracks, in terms of lyrics or composition, or any other aspect that you’d like to talk about?
Kami: Gosh, well you know how it is. They’re kind of like your kids—you have a personal stake in all of them. (laughs) But so far, what we’ve done has been kind of heavier subject matter, deeper kinds of things. I’m pretty proud of the lyrics for “Apple Eater”. That was a fine line to walk, because I wanted to make this point of feminism, and the patriarchy, and its negative effects on everyone really—not just on women.
Kami: And address this huge subject, in a small amount of words, and also not sound like a total man-hater, which definitely is NOT the point of the song, at all. Which is a worry. We get that, we strong women get that!
So that was one I really sat down with, and contemplated, “How do I want to say this?” And in the second verse, I really do call out women. I say, “You know what? If we want to be respected, maybe we need to act like people who deserve respect!” (laughs) It’s on us, too! And then the bridge pulls it all together: we’re all human, we’re all the same, let’s just all respect each other, and it’ll be fine. So that one, I’m pretty proud of lyrically. But yeah, there’s a little bit of love in every track. (laughs)
Okay, so did you face any technical or creative challenges while writing or recording any of the tracks on the EP?
Kami: Yeah, actually because it had been years since we’d worked, Dorian had to do a lot of upgrading—we both had to do a lot of upgrading, tech-wise, to be caught up with the world and how everything works nowadays. It’s a LOT different than it was back in the 90’s! (laughs) It’s a completely different world, so that was definitely part of it, to just get upgraded in general, with everything. And then mixing is always… It’s a wonder that we didn’t kill each other. (laughs) Cause you’re in a room, just listening to the same song, over and over and over again, and we all have these crazy OCD ears, but in different ways. (laughs) So that’s always an interesting process!
(laughs) So in general, what do you do in the face of adversity, when things don’t go as you had originally planned?
Kami: Oh wow. (laughs) First, you throw a tantrum. You get angry, you throw some things. Even snap at each other, because it’s like… Even if it’s not the other person’s fault, sometimes you gotta get it out. Then we laugh about it, and go “Sorry!” (laughs) And then, you just figure out a different way to deal with it! And then, you know, it’s okay. What can we do? That’s definitely always part of it. It’s good to have a plan, but you also need to know when to let that plan go, and work with what you got. So it’s a balance between those two things.
Okay, yeah. So how did you come up with your band name, “The Magickal”?
Kami: (laughs) So we were thinking something along the lines of “Muse”. We wanted something big and epic, but simple, you know? We were like “Gosh, Muse is like the greatest freaking band name, EVER.” And it suits them so well. It is so hard to name a band nowadays, just because you’ll have a great idea, then look it up, google it, and… It’s taken. (laughs) So when “The Magickal” popped in my head, I just thought “Oh, I’ll google it. I’m sure, it’s totally taken it.” I really did not expect it, at all, to be there, and it was! No one had taken that name. I just sat there staring at the screen for like ten minutes, going “How is this right? How can no one have taken this name?” (laughs) And the spelling is slightly different, with the “ck”, but it’s not an unheard of spelling, by any means. So yeah, we even got the “dot com”! I couldn’t believe it, it was quite a score! So we felt like that was a little bit of a digital SIGN that that was the right one.
And we put the K in there, by the way, because the K actually symbolizes more of that real type of earth magic, not just kind of new-school cartoon, Disney magic, with the C.
Ooh, okay. So do you perform live very often?
Kami: Oh, actually, this band has never performed live. At this point we’re still a studio band, just because we don’t have material yet to play a live show. So we’re working on more. In fact a big part of our goal for this year is to just get more music done, so we can start doing that.
Okay, cool. So what are some of your future plans? What are you working on now?
Kami: Well, we have like four or five songs that are pretty close to ready, or at least written in one shape or form or another. So that’s gonna be the big goal this year, just to finish more music, and get that ready, and then we’ll start thinking about shows and playing live.
All right, awesome! That’s all I have! Do you have any final thoughts?
Kami: Yeah, our EP has done pretty well! We had 1,000 listens in the first 5 days, which for us was pretty freaking cool!
Yeah cool! Thank you so much!
Kami: It was nice to talk to you! Thanks, Juliana!
Check out The Magickal’s new EP “Surrender” on Soundcloud: