Magic Giant is a folk revival trio from Los Angeles, CA that brings unrivaled energy to every performance they give. Their single “Set on Fire” collected almost 4 million streams in less than a year and continues to be their most popular song amid a discography that is as lively as a kid on Christmas morning.
From the moment they stepped on the stage in Atlanta, members Austin Bisnow (lead vocals), Zambricki Li (banjo, violin, harmonica), and Zang (acoustic guitar, cello) were all smiles and the positive energy was felt throughout the room. The trio danced to every single song and came off the stage numerous times to interact with the audience at the barricade. The highlight of their set, however, came when the guys jumped into the middle of the crowd for an acoustic version of “Great Divide”. The audience’s undivided attention was on the trio and time seemed to stand still for four minutes as everyone sang along to the entire song. Magic Giant’s catchy melodies, exuberant dance moves, and contagious smiles are sure to leave anyone reminiscing long after the show ends.
I caught up with Austin, Zambricki, and Zang after their set and got to chat about recording their debut album In The Wind, taekwondo, and memes.
In The Wind was recorded in a solar powered mobile recording studio. Can you tell me a little bit about what that process was like.
Zang: Yeah we had this tour, it was a mostly festival tour, and they were in these beautiful places across the States and Canada. And so we pulled out the map and decided let’s book time off the road and record in these really cool fields and places that you wouldn’t expect to record. We had to do an album and we were like instead of doing little shows in between these cities we’ll ask our agents to leave us free so we can go record. It was amazing what we came up with and how different it was to be out there than to be in the studio. So we recorded a bunch of things like redwood trees and a two mile long tunnel and all these really cool sounds and took all that stuff to the studio and pieced it all together and realized a lot of it was very special and we couldn’t replace it. So it was just such a cool experience to do a style of recording that we had never done and that I’d never expected to do in my life. It has such a different value and emotion.
Zambricki: I think it made us have to be kind of present with the writing and recording because when you’re on tour you’re kind of on an adventure and you’re just out there giving yourself over to the journey. To be able to write and record as we went, there’s all these moments in the record that are tied to people we met along the way on tour or tie into the places. So we’ll listen to the record now and it’s such a nostalgic trip. It’s really special. It’s made us have a difference sensibility around recording and being present in places where we were.
Zang: It’s very very memorable. I’ll never forget this record.
What were some of the biggest pros and cons of recording in the way that you did vs. recording in an established studio?
Zang: So the cons. The wind and the rain. It was very difficult because you can’t mute the rain.
Zambricki: And it’s arrhythmic so it doesn’t match your beat.
Zang: You can use an umbrella and sure it might dry off the recording environment but then all you hear is rain drops. It’s never in beat. You can’t make rain beat on the beat.
Zambricki: And the gear. We had all our gear out in the elements and I had these like expensive microphones and stuff and they were getting rainy and dusty.
Zang: Permits was another thing. You’re supposed to have permits in national parks when you do recordings. We got shut down in Moab.
What about some of the pros?
Zambricki: You know especially today so much stuff is done in computers and it’s done with plug ins and things inside a box, which are trying to emulate some of the sounds you find out in nature like big echoes and stuff and people will try to make a plug in but the plug is trying to make it sound like it’s inside of a tunnel. So we just went to the tunnel instead of making it happen with a plugin.
Zang: It allowed us to kind of commit some of the sounds while we were doing it.
Austin: You could say this is a pro or a con. There’s less control of the final product when you record outside, it is what it is more or less. Where as if you record it in a very muted studio you more control with it. But you’re also not going to the primary sources.
Zambricki: I mean we have some cool studios but some studios can be the worst place on the entire earth. There’s a clock on the wall, someone’s making coffee, people are stressed out about whatever. So when you’re out there it’s like no one could even call us, our phones weren’t working.
Do you guys think you’ll ever record creatively or outside a studio like that again?
We’re recording in outer space. Is that off the record?
Zang: Yeah I think absolutely. I don’t know if that will be a theme but I think we’re just interested in breaking out and seeing what we can do that’s not so similar to maybe other things that we’ve done. Just trying things and not just doing it for the sake of ‘let’s push the limits’ but like what would happen if we recorded under water?
You guys are so lively on stage. Where do you get your energy and drive from every time you perform?
Zambricki: For me, it’s from music first and then it comes from the people who are in the room with us then when those things collide it’s like I’m all jazzed up. Today we played an office that was basically a work room and after that performance I was all jazzed up like I was ready for a knife fight. And there wasn’t even a PA system, there wasn’t even a microphone. There was just like literally seven people sitting there. So I used to think it was that audience that got me jazzed up and there was no audience and I was jazzed up.
Austin: It might be the fact that there were even are people that you’re interacting with. Whether they’re stale or jazzed already.
Zang: I think there’s also this internal element. I don’t know if it’s my history or my past- things I was maybe once angry at and now it’s turned into drive or something that comes from within and I can let it all out.
Did any of you guys come from like creative households and do you think that helped or hurt in any way?
Zang: My father was an inventor, an engineer, and he was creative but in a completely different way. He thought music was just a hobby. He would tell me every day like “it’s so nice you have a hobby” and that I needed to do school and study and that sort of thing. So there was a part of me that was like I needed to prove that wrong. But I do think he inspired me very much with my creativity in his inventive side. He was so creative and he would try to create anything out of nothing and that really drove me.
Austin: Neither of parents or brother were musical but they did support and encourage whatever our passions were. They tried to make us do a bunch of things and if we didn’t like it at first that was OK. As long as we got good enough to make a decision whether we liked it or not, and not just quit baseball after a couple games because you don’t know how to hit the ball yet. That sort of thing. So I’m so grateful for that.
Zambricki: I think it helps sometimes to have a parent who is creative because a lot of times I know people that are sons or daughters of whatever artists and they kind of think it’s a joke or they saw so much in their life like”oh yeah my dad does it” and they were not attracted to it anymore and makes them want to do something else. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not. It’s like when you don’t have that [creative background] it’s like I’m so interested in that, I want to know everything about it. You love to learn it.
Austin: When people do with their parents did sometimes I wonder is that what they’re actually meant to do or were they pushed into it or did they not know and so that was the easy thing. But I think it’s cool when there’s not a path. Literally my parents were like “I have no idea how you can break into music like but let’s try to figure it out”.
Zambricki: For me I didn’t I didn’t have any music or creativity in my family. I mean I did when I was a kid there was a lot of stuff going on, a lot of drama and death and darkness, which as a songwriter it kind of has given me a lot of insight and I think sometimes if you don’t have anything going on in your life, I don’t know how you actually write songs that people who have gone through things would relate to. So I feel like in a way like I was lucky because it led me to where I am and it makes me grateful because now I have kind of a chill life and I have something to judge it against. So nobody ever pushed me into it but it was made for good fodder.
Why did you guys choose careers in music versus the more typical careers I guess like your parents would have had.
Zang: Initially my career was in software engineering. I did think this was a hobby until Magic Giant came up and I was just like “I’m gonna take this, this is my only chance. The older I get the less likely it is that this will happen”. And then it just flourished into this.
Austin: Once I discovered songwriting I couldn’t see myself doing anything else. It was like I had blinders on and this is my life.
Zambricki: For me, especially coming out of high school, I always felt like I had angels tugging on my shirt sleeves and that I had a kind of direction. I didn’t know where it was but it felt like it was the right direction. So for me it was like even moving to Nashville and going out to other places, it was like I never really had a plan but it always felt like it was supposed to be there.
So we have a few questions from Twitter from some of your fans and they want to know what your favorite meme is.
Zambricki: A meme isn’t the same thing as a gif, right? A meme can be a gif.
Zang: One of my favorites is the guy from Willy Wonka, what’s his name? Gene Wilder? And he’s doing that face.
Zambricki: There’s one on my phone is like this little baby and she’s in front of these trophies and she’s just doing some weird dance all excited and I find myself texting it so I guess it’s a meme. I guess that’s how I feel. I feel like a little baby dancing with trophies behind me.
The Twitter fans also wanted to know: what inspired Jade?
Austin: We were playing an untitled song at a festival and afterwards a girl came up to us and told us that her best friend passed away when she was 16 and she couldn’t help but feel the presence of her friend when we played that song. So as we finished writing it, the song became about her friend and her friend’s name was Jade.
Is there anything that your fans might not know about you guys?
Austin: No one knows I did taekwondo as a kid.
Zambricki: Did you really? I also did. What level? I feel like every kid has done taekwondo.
Austin: Everyone say what belt they were at the same time. 1 2 3.
Zambricki: You got to green?! Nice. I think I was yellow in karate and might have got to green in taekwondo, but taekwondo is easier. They tried to give me a green belt and I was like come on I don’t deserve green because I broke a board.
Austin: Oh you broke a board?
Zambricki: Yeah I broke a couple boards