Interview: The Magic Beans
“I think my spirit animal is a unicorn laying on its back drinking champagne,” Hunter Welles says smirking as strands of springy blonde hair bob outside of his ponytail.
It’s under an hour till The Magic Beans take the stage, and as Hunter and the rest of his band mates sit sipping beers in the green room, it becomes clear that his spirit animal is an appropriate analogy for their band. The Magic Beans are the unicorn in a heard of horses, standing out by bringing both a unique sound and a magical live experience. It’s an elusive combination, yet they seem to so naturally succeed at it.
Their talent and passion have always been rooted in a foundation of friendship and nourished by the simple intent of making good music, sharing it with everyone, and having fun. They’re doing all of that, and consequently changing music from a pastime into a potential career – one that could follow in the same footsteps as some of the predecessors turned peers whom they’ve already shared a stage with such as The Disco Biscuits, Umphrey’s McGee and Lotus.
For a band that’s still somewhat in it’s infancy, The Magic Beans have accomplished a lot: releasing the double-album Sites and Sounds, performing an entire Talking Heads bluegrass set, hosting their annual Beanstalk Music and Arts Festival, collaborating on a Coffee IPA with Odell Brewing Company, and all the while touring across the country playing everywhere from a friend-filled fire pit, a Phish parking lot, a festival main stage or a string of sold-out shows in their native Colorado. Their organic and open-minded approach to making music together has spawned a self-titled style of “space funk”, which is a far-out blend of genres that orbits around an array of influences without being bound to any particular one.
Some beans are bound for burritos, but the truly magical ones sprout into something much more significant, and these beans are destined to do just that. On a snowy Saturday at a condo in the tiny ski town of Avon, Colorado, AKcreative sat down with The Magic Beans to talk about mountain lion defense systems, play with cell phone sound effects, and discover how they are truly a champagne guzzling unicorn.
AKcreative: 2015 just started and you guys are already hitting the road running; coming off of a four night opening run for Electron, two shows in New Mexico, and now bringing it back to Colorado to continue your Cool Beans Winter Tour. How did you guys get the chance to partner with Electron?
Scott Hachey: I guess it was through our manager Ryan Noel who also works with the Disco Biscuits, and we were also openers for the Biscuits earlier in the year. They heard of us because of Ryan and then through playing with them a couple times we’ve become slight friends with them I think.
Casey Russell: The way they put it we’re ‘homies’.
Scott: Yea, that’s what they said on stage, that we’re ‘good homies’, and they really wanted to make an impact when they played here and fill the rooms so we helped them do that.
Would you say you guys share a similar fan base or demographic as The Disco Biscuits?
Casey: Definitely, I would say a big part of our fan base are people who would call The Disco Biscuits one of their favorite bands. Maybe not a big part, but definitely a certain sector and there’s also some similarities between both of our live shows.
In addition to the Disco Biscuits you guys have paired with tons of other musicians who are considered legends in the exact same scene you’re becoming a part of, like Umphrey’s McGee, Lotus, and The Motet. What has been the most memorable moment of your career thus far?
(Unanimously and without hesitation each member answers ‘Umphrey’s’)
Josh Applebaum: Yea, opening for Umphrey’s was pretty huge. We have all been listening to them since we started listening to live music and they’re honestly a huge inspiration for us so that was unreal.
Hunter Welles: Also Beanstalk (Music & Arts Festival)! The last Beanstalk was pretty epic and this year’s will be even more epic. I’m looking forward to it.
Scott: Playing with The New Mastersounds and the Particle guys was pretty cool. Luke Miller (Lotus) has played with us a few times too, which is just crazy because I’ve been seeing those guys forever.
Hunter: The Motet guys were a big deal for me to get to play with too.
Josh: That was a long time coming. We’ve known them for so long and always hoped to get to play with them but never had till then. (Hunter cues dream sequence sound effect as Casey makes note to recorder about his Afro)
When you were starting out as a band did you ever foresee sharing stages with acts like that and transitioning rather quickly from paying to see them to getting paid to play with them?
Hunter: Honestly I never imagined it, and it was never about that. Our path and where we’re going right now was never something that was imagined by any of us, except maybe Scott, since it’s been his dream.
Scott: I just wanted to be in a band, and people may not know that the first few years of us playing we played for free pretty much. Pooling all of our money together and saving to record this album that we just did a year ago, which I think says a lot about our crew and how it really was just for fun for a while, and still is, but now that we’re older and have a great fan base we’re really trying to see if we can make a career out of it.
Josh: Our fan base is the best part. People literally keep showing up show after show and there are some who have literally seen 50 or more of our shows, and they choose to spend their night or their weekends with us, which is so cool.
Casey: When we first started kind of getting a following at our shows we would see a bunch of our friends and then a few random people or friends of friends.
Hunter: That’s what was cool, is that it literally brought all of our friends together.
Casey: Exactly, it brought all of our friends together and now I’ll see a bunch of people that I don’t know and then in the back corner or wherever I’ll see all of our homies who have been there the whole time. They’ve seen the whole progression and we’ve obviously been there too so it’s still pretty crazy to us.
Cody Wales: For me it was weird joining the band and trying to get a grasp on ‘The Beans Family’. People would come up to me and be like, ‘dude I’ve seen you guys 45 times,’ and I’m just like whoa I don’t know any of these people, but I’m slowly getting there and it’s awesome.
Casey: We’re a family band and the fan base just started as a family thing. That’s what lead us to progress and now it’s just about trying to give back as much as we can to that, get as good as we can get, make it as big as we can, and help that family spread.
Hunter: I mean honestly one of my favorite things about the band is that I’ve met some of my best friends through playing music and all of our fans have been really cool people.
Scott: I agree with that. We’re all into the same things and we’re just fans too. I’ve met some of my best friends at our concerts, so we don’t even see them as fans. I think that word ‘fan’ is so weird and it’s just friends usually, unless we haven’t met yet.
How was it that you all first met and started making music? You recently posted about a monumental birthday party five years ago at your old mountain house west of Boulder, which sounded like it’s where the seed that has sprouted into The Magic Beans was first planted.
Hunter: That’s it! It was literally the first time we played for people.
Was it billed as a Magic Beans show or had you even come up with a name at that point?
Hunter: We were Mountain Lion Defense System. Basically I got a puppy and one of our roommates saw a mountain lion out on our deck so the idea was that we’re going to be a mountain lion defense system and protect my puppy by just playing jams all the time.
Had you guys actually practiced at all before that party or just loosely played music as friends?
Scott: I mean we played music together every single day, just jamming out, and I think we had maybe two songs at that point. It wasn’t really a performance, we had a party and all the equipment was just set up in one room so we just kind of billed it as we’re going to play a set of music. It was loose, but it was fun. Our first real gig was at the Fox opening for Springdale Quartet, and the first actual Magic Beans show with Casey in the band was at Quixote’s.
Casey: Outside, as it was raining and we played “What is Love?”
How did you guys come up with the name The Magic Beans after abandoning Mountain Lion Defense System?
Casey: There was this crazy homeless dude at one of those first shows just screaming about planting magic beans and we were like that could be a cool band name.
Could you tell when you first started playing together that, for lack of a better word, there was something ‘magical’ happening?
(Dream sequence chime sound effect – lots of laughter)
Casey: I would say that there was a definite chemistry, and I came in later so these guys kind of had everything already figured out. We all enjoyed the same things and when we played music together and hit a certain spot in a jam or something it was clear we were all on the same page.
Scott: You asked about when we played our first show, and at that point we would kind of just play a bunch of jams in different arrangements. When we decided to truly be a band, that’s when we had to actually write songs, so I feel like the chemistry you’re talking about in our improvisational parts was there way before the songs were since we’ve been playing together for so long.
What was the toughest part of transitioning from a group of guys who played at a party into a full-fledged band?
Scott: Deciding on a band name. The band name thing was tough.
Hunter: We were definitely unsure about everything when we first started.
Scott: We just knew we wanted to play shows so we needed a name.
Josh: Yea, we were Jamonster for a little while, but I’m happy with what we landed on.
Has your music always encompassed such a wide range of sounds and styles?
Hunter: Absolutely, we’ve gone through a lot of transition. When we first started we only had electrics and “Mind Over Matter” and “Underwater Oasis” were two of our only songs.
Scott: We had two areas in the house and whenever Josh came up we would do the electric thing, and once he left we would always be out on the porch picking acoustic. We probably did that even more then we played electric. I had songs written that were much more acoustic based, but then when we jammed out it was always way more fun and not very acoustic. To incorporate your last question that was one of the biggest humps for Hunter and I, tying to combine the acoustic and electric stuff and finding a tone on stage since playing an acoustic instrument in an electric band is pretty tough.
How would you describe your specific sound to someone who has never listened to The Magic Beans?
Casey: Space funk.
Would you say that is the defining term for your style, or is it a an ever evolving mix of space funk and other mashed up genres titles like ‘groove-grass’ or ‘jamtronica’?
Casey: That’s the really fun part about the music we play and depending on who is asking and where we are I’ll say things totally different and it will all be completely true. If it’s a guy who looks like he’s into country music I’ll say ‘we play a bunch of bluegrass’ and when we’re at a funk show I’ll say ‘we play a bunch of funk and other stuff too’.
Scott: It’s hard to describe our music because if you’re not in the live music scene you wont understand when someone says ‘space funk’ so sometimes I sugar-coat it for people and say it’s ‘bluegrass funk fusion’ and they’ll be like ‘oh that’s interesting, those are very different’ and I’ll answer ‘ yes, that’s why we’re fusing them’.
Hunter: We’ve got a certain vibe that we definitely try to bring into whatever genre of music it is that we’re playing. So even if it’s blue grass it’s still a certain type of ‘beans grass’ and if it’s funk there’s a certain way that we play it that’s never traditional.
Josh: You can’t say we’re a straight funk band, that’s the Motet. We’re ‘funky’ and we’re ‘bluegrassy’ sometimes so it’s become our own distinct genre.
Scott: Disco Stu says ‘We play party music yo’! (Cow mooing sound effect – eruption of laughter) Next question. (More laughing)
What are some of the ways that you guys attempt to stand out in a saturated music scene and not just be another average semi-memorable jam-band?
Casey: I would say we have an advantage because there are lots of different sides to our sound and that helps us stand out since it’s a big part of the whole jam-band, festival, or just live music scene, especially in Colorado. I think people get kind of bored of the same thing all the time, so it helps us stand out that we can kind of fill a couple different fixes of what people want in one night. People can stomp around and do the bluegrass thing, then get spacey, funky and all dance. But it is hard to stand out though; there are a lot of good bands out there doing similar things.
Hunter: I personally like to see bands that play a lot of different genres in one show. I’ll go to see a band sometimes, be like ‘wow, this is awesome’, and three songs later when it’s all sounding somewhat the same it’s still pretty awesome but I really like variety. I also like so many different genres of music that it’d be hard for me to just say ‘I’m going to be in a bluegrass band’.
Casey: Honestly I think that if I was in a different band that was just playing one thing I’d be bored. Maybe not, I mean if I was in the Motet I would love funk, but doing one thing just isn’t as fulfilling for me.
Scott: I came to a conclusion about a year ago as far as standing out in a competitive music scene, since I work so closely with it, and I’ve realized that it’s really important to kind of put on the blinders in some way and just hone the craft. That’s what I’ve been dedicated to these past couple years is trying to be a better musician and relying on what you know. It’s been hard to describe what we do, but it’s definitely been working, so I’m tapping into exactly what it is we do. It got a little out of control fast and we’ve gotten way tighter in this last year. We used to be really freewheeling in our live show with lots of energy coming off stage and we kind of learned to cap it up. It’s still that way we’ve just gotten more focused and understand that what came naturally for us before can now be controlled a bit more. Playing better music, that’s the way to get recognized. We’re already getting the gigs that we need to and I just want to see everyone enjoying themselves at our show, that’s the point, and if your music’s good you’re going to make it.
You seem to be succeeding with that mentality, and it’s a very genuine way of simply letting the music and your fans speak for themselves.
Scott: Word of mouth works great. If everyone has a good time they’ll be like ‘hey check this out next time other friend’ and that’s how it works right? I’m hoping.
What are you guys hoping to accomplish in this next year?
Hunter: Red Rocks would be nice.
Scott: We’ve done a ton of touring everywhere, so now we’re focused on picking out the towns where we’ve seen a response nationally and turning outward since we’ve been doing a lot in Colorado. Chicago, Minneapolis, Indiana and Austin are all places where we’ve gotten good responses so we’re going to focus on going there like three to four times in one year. Really making sure we build those specific fan bases as opposed to just trying to hit tons of different places.
To conclude our conversation, is there anything you’d like to tell your fans reading this interview?
(Short pause to think followed by loud cougar growling sound effect and more laughter)
Cody: That and thanks! We’re going to try our best to keep making good music and putting on interesting live shows.
Scott: No, no, no actually erase that last part – cougar growl!
To check out The Magic Beans in a city near you click here and to get a taste of some space funk watch this live video of The Magic Beans performing The Talking Heads’ “Life During Wartime” featuring Clay Parnell and Steve Molitz of Particle at 2014’s Beanstalk Music and Arts Festival.