Like its namesake, a group of rarely encountered cephalopods, there is much to be learned and understood about The Magnapinna, a quintet with deep roots within Cork’s underground metal scene, yet who draw equally from the worlds of professional covers bands and indie pop. What twisted creature could emerge from such a mix?
As guitarist Daniel Howard and drummer Ed Blunden lift the veil on the mysterious world they inhabit, there is also the matter of their arresting debut album, Party Rumours.
The Magnapinna like to play the jester in the court of Metal. They perform at metal festivals dressed like a wedding band, and they’re more likely to unleash a pacey syncopated disco rhythm than a barrage of blast beats.
And then there’s their unexpected respect for soft rock, AOR and ABBA.
Like the type of creature after which they are named, Ed spent time at sea, and while he was there, he ‘plumbed the depths’ for musical pearls.
“I spent two years every night playing covers on cruise ships,” he declares, “so you learn how to write songs when you’re just playing other people’s songs constantly. So, no matter what the riffs are, the ideas are, a structure will just pop into my head straight away. And it will just be referencing, you know, Chaka Khan, all that 70s disco stuff. ABBA. Constantly playing that. And all those structures are great. So you just take an ABBA song structure and you put filthy riffs over it and you get something that people who like heavy music will listen to, and people who like pop music, where they don’t know they’ve heard the song before — because they haven’t — but they’ve heard the structure a million times before.
“Which is important and I think it’s something that can be forgotten in the more heavier side of music, as people forget about quick structure and hooks and repeating riffs.”
Bassist Mike Jordan and guitarist James Grannell are covers band musicians, and vocalist Xtian (pronounced Christian) also did a stint in a wedding band alongside Ed.
“I think learning covers is the best thing any musician can do, no matter what genre you’re playing,” the drummer counsels. “Learn covers because they just make you a better musician.”
Party Rumours was recorded and mixed in Dublin by Shaun Cadogan.
“We got a really nice mix,” Blunden reflects. “We could have just released that. It would have been fine. But we were talking about mastering and we were talking about sequencing, all those kind of things.”
“We wouldn’t put much weight on mastering at all,” Howard chips in. “It’s just something you do to get something ready for potential radio play, that it sounds okay.”
At this point, your scribe laughs sardonically, which prompts a torrent of ironic guffaws from Howard and Blunden.
The Irish media landscape remains a cold place for The Magnapinna. Howard notes that since February 14, they sent 383 emails to blogs, press and radio, only to receive 11 replies, most of which were automated responses inviting them to download their package. For their efforts they received a total of two reviews.
“The blogs are ‘pay to play,’” Blunden sighs.
We’ve been in the game long enough to know there’s no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow
“And all these things were on the IMRO website,” shrugs Howard. “We’ve been in the game long enough to know there’s no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. You do this if you love it and if you don’t love it don’t do it.
“But you’re being sold something that isn’t there. You’re being told that there’s a network there to support you and you’re being told that there are opportunities for people like you.”
Never mind all that, though. Instead let’s celebrate their remarkable choice of LA-based drummer and producer Simon Phillips to master Party Rumours.
Phillips has played with Jeff Beck, Peter Gabriel and, perhaps most fittingly, Frank Zappa, and has produced and engineered for Mike Oldfield, but the item on his musical CV that most recommended him for the task was his time, from 1992 to 2013, with American soft rockers Toto.
“Blame Mike,” laughs Howard. “He’s been an obsessive Toto fan since I’ve known him. He has every DVD, every vinyl. He’s met them all.
“When they come to play Ireland, he gets backstage passes to meet them and talk to them.
“He knew that Simon has a studio in California and Mike was saying he’d love to get him to have a look at it and see what he thought.”
After a bit of back and forth and when time became available, Phillips accepted the challenge.
“He told us we were his girlfriend’s favourite project he had ever worked on,” beams Howard. “It was a massive boost of confidence. It was like a lick of greatness,” he adds of Phillips’ contribution.
It was a massive boost of confidence. It was like a lick of greatness
Says Blunden: “He brought certain things up and put things in places that we wouldn’t have heard.
“He’s got an ear. He’s been playing music his whole life. He’s been in studios his whole life. He’s got an ear for it that we wouldn’t have.
“It was a great final piece, just to get that name on the album, but also to have the sound. He really knew what we were up to. He knew what we wanted when we didn’t know for that final sheen.
“He had a really good price and did really good work.”
The result is music as pure entertainment, which just zips along and carries you with it. It will make you mosh, but it will also make you dance and throw crazy shapes.
- The Magnapinna play Fred Zeppelins on Saturday, May 28, with Lugosi and Hashmaker.