Three Music Thingz with Magana

Three Music Thingz with Magana

Waowaowaow, it's another rendition of Three Music Thingz, the blogseries where I ask musicians for three thingz that are essential to their music-making.

Today we have Jeni Magaña, who records in sunny Los Angeles as simply Magana. She's a multi-instrumentalist who plays bass in Mitski's live lineup, comprises one half of the indie pop duo pen pin, and just put out her second solo album a couple of weeks ago: a complex and raw project called Teeth.

Teeth, by Magana
14 track album

Teeth is a remarkable album. The songs range in sound from ultra-lo-fi folk to grand, orchestral indie rock, and sweep in subject matter from romantic struggle ("To My Love") to violent dehumanization ("In My Body") to the seeming impossibility of self-liberation ("Girl in Chains"). Magaña plays just about every instrument on Teeth other than drums, violin and cello, and the musical compositions often mirrors the turbulence of the lyrics; sounds take solid shape, then dissolve beneath fuzz, mist, shrapnel.

Holding everything together: some extremely propulsive bass, which, especially on tracks like "Matter" and "Break Free," adds an audacious stomp to the proceedings. It evokes a productive destruction—kicking down the doors of a haunted house and letting some light in.

I was lucky enough to receive three thingz that inform Jeni Magaña's music-making, which you can read imminently...(also biased but as an Alt contributor, definitely also recommend checking out Magana's track-by-track album commentary over on The Alternative!!)....

  1. Experimentation
    Without finding new territory, it's hard for me to stay creative. I want to get out of my habits. I don't want to do the same thing over and over again; I want to take risks and try new things. That can be scary and hard, but experimentation comes in and helps make the scary thing irrelevant. It's like taking a stroll instead of demanding that you make it from point A to point B.

    2020 was a good time to learn about this, because for a brief moment there wasn't any expectation on me to deliver a product. More than that, there wasn't anywhere to go physically either. I re-learned the art of the stroll during that time. I was just walking to get outside, and I was just making music to try something. There was no goal other than to be in the present moment, which took off so much of the pressure I was used to feeling. I honestly think I wouldn't have made this type of record without this wake up call.
  2. Pro Tools
    I don't actually advocate for Pro Tools specifically. If I had learned on something else, that would have been what I put here. But the ability to record my ideas and change them and throw weird distortions and delays on things has become and integral part of my music making. When I go on tour, I very often don't even bring an instrument. I just work with what virtual instruments I have installed or record sounds on my phone and then try different edits based on that stuff. If I relied only on what I could remember and create live, my music would sound drastically different. The ability to record myself has also let me try things that I would be mortified to do in front of someone else. I have been locked up in my little office screaming and singing opera and basically crying into a microphone. I have way more space for creativity than when I am renting studio space or someone else's time.
  3. Limitations
    Weirdly, I find that I'm most inspired when I'm trying to learn something. When I don't know how to make something happen, I try and try to find a way to work around that. Very often my failed attempts to learn something end up spiraling into something new and unexpected. Once I get to the place where I feel like I know exactly what I'm doing, it becomes much harder to feel inspired by something new. Everything becomes predictable in a way.

    When I was working on the tracks that would eventually become my new record Teeth, I was fascinated with the vocoder type effects that I'd heard on vocals. I started trying to figure out how to create harmonies like that without any special tools. I had very few plug ins at the time, very little knowledge of what I would even purchase, and even less money to make said purchase. So I recorded some clarinet lines and started with the pitch shifting plugin that comes with Pro Tools. When that sort of reached its limit, I turned to Alterboy. I did a low and high octave and then started to learn how to automate pitch for a more controlled harmony. I honestly use this trick all the time now, but the first uses of it still feel totally inspired. You can hear all of those experiments on Teeth.

[ed note: adding in this additional note as-is, because I think it's great!]

All of the instruments except the following were recorded by me:
Drums: Jonathan Smith
Violin: Jenna Moynihan
Cello: Marie Kim
Track selection, sequence and master by Mike DiSanto
Mix by Jonathan Smith
PR by Audio Antihero

In a very isolated time in my life, the help from these people was everything. Essentially I had a large folder of very meticulous demos. It took the outside perspective of people like Jonathan and Mike to see and help shape a record out of the random assortment of tracks that I had amassed. And then the record sat on my computer until I had almost forgotten about it. It took Jamie (Audio Antihero) to encourage me that maybe someone would want to listen to it and help me get over myself and put it out. Without them, this record would be nothing. I suppose that means "community" is the final and fourth ingredient to making music, because no would have heard this otherwise.

Beside You, by Magana
from the album Teeth

Thank you Jeni! Go listen to Teeth right this second. And thanks for reading I Enjoy Music. If you like it, tell a friend about it.