By Daniel Borgen, PQ Monthly
You can tell just about all you need to know about a band by live performances. From on-stage chemistry to energy to precision of craft, most of what you see and hear during live sets serves as a sort of harbinger—a gauge of a group’s trajectory and direction. While Magic Mouth definitely boasts a certain amount of charming rawness—as most evolving acts do—they also possess most of the aforementioned qualities in spades; they are, undoubtedly, a band headed upward. If chemistry alone dictated success, they’d have already gone platinum.
Magic Mouth built their catalogue—and following—playing live sets all around town; since their inception, they’ve played a variety of disparate venues, slowly, successfully building a reputation. Though bands aren’t often best described with mere words, a few apt descriptors get tossed MM’s way repeatedly: high energy, booty shakin’, a seamless melding of multiple genres—punk, rock, and soul.
Peter Condra, one of MM’s founding members (also vocalist and guitarist), sums up their style thusly: “Punk, R&B, and American spirituals are for sure our biggest influences. We experiment with different sounds but we’ve wound up making really pure rock music.”
Magic Mouth formed in the summer of 2010 when Peter and Ana Briseño — a frenetic drum machine (listen for screams of “Ana!” from audiences at concerts) — put together a show for a surprise birthday party in Astoria.
“We got our shit together, threw together a set with a few originals and some Nina Simone covers, all of which we performed as a two piece — White Stripes-style,” Peter explained. “Ana had been in lots of local bands for years in Portland and was eager to do a project that was more queer-focused in terms of our audience and collaborations. We started playing gigs like Sundays at Aalto, Not Enough, Queerlandia, and the Miss Thing Finale with Chichi and Chonga.”
Once momentum began, so did the collaborations. After several, the original duo found Stephfon Bartee — whose stage presence is nothing short of otherworldly — and Brendan Scott, and soon settled on the pair as full-time band members. Stephfon adds impressive vocals and a relentless tambourine, Brendan the steady bass.
“Ana has a lot of history playing punk and Latin music,” Peter said, expounding on MM’s current dynamic. “Brendan has great rhythmic sensibility — since his main craft has been DJing.” (Most know him as the popular DJ Pocket Rock-It.)
Both Peter and Stephfon grew up choir boys with mothers as pastors, a background Peter credits for their vocal relationship. “Even though we have different voices and styles, we have chemistry in harmonies and phrasing that is hard to find.”
When it comes to songwriting and arranging, MM starts when one of the foursome comes to the group with a simple hook or bass line, and the rest of the band starts piling on parts. Peter and Stephfon trade off singing, often crafting lyrics on the spot together, working their now-signature call and response angle. “It’s always a mystery what we’ll come up with,” Peter said. “We go to practice and our sound keeps morphing.”
Fortunately, Magic Mouth is in the midst of plans to record new music — and a video — with big plans for spring.
“We’re recording a six-song EP with local musicians and producers Nate Otani [Boys on the Storm] and Damon Boucher [hip hop producer and MC],” Peter revealed. “We want to share and document what we’ve done and then keep writing new material.” The aforementioned video, for their single “Believer,” has Helmy Membreno at the helm, and should be released in April — along with the band’s EP. To celebrate all this goodness, Magic Mouth will make their Mississippi Studios debut on April 11 — their official release party. Stay with PQ for details.
But you don’t have to wait until April to hear their music again. You can check out one of Magic Mouth’s notorious live sets Feb. 24, when they, alongside a slew of local favorites, play a show at Rotture — one they’ve dubbed “Party Language.”
And, take it from us, if there’s one thing Magic Mouth can do, it’s show an audience a good time. Or maybe go just so you can someday declare: “I saw them when.”
“Party Language” starts at 9 p.m. sharp. For the latest on Magic Mouth, follow them on Facebook. Or check out www.magicmouth.tumblr.com. We’ll have more MM on our blog.