Magdalena Bay's uplifting pop is what we need right now
The LA-based duo on how Grimes inspired their catchy bops and the release of their debut EP 'A Little Rhythm and a Wicked Feeling'.
Photo by Kate Biel.
Matt Lewin and Mica Tenenbaum are psyched. They’re sitting in their home in Los Angeles surrounded by planets, balloons, angel wings and a giant bubble, all of which were used as props in their most recent photoshoot. “It kind of looks like a school play,” Tenenbaum jokes. The duo are currently living most young people's fantasy; on one side of their apartment is a green screen that they use to make visuals, on the other is a bare-bones studio where they write and record deliciously peppy pop songs as Magdalena Bay.
The duo has a lot to be excited about. Magdalena Bay just released their debut EP A Little Rhythm and a Wicked Feeling on Luminelle Recordings — the same label that’s home to Jackie Mendoza, MUNYA and Hana Vu — just performed in DC with kiwi indie-pop band Yumi Zouma (the rest of the tour has been cancelled due to the COVID-19 virus) and will soon join Kero Kero Bonito for five shows at the end of April and early May.
Lewin and Tenenbaum grew up in Miami and admit to snubbing pop music as teenagers. In high school they were in a prog rock band and adored some of the whitest music ever made — Yes’ Close To The Edge and Rush’s Moving Pictures. “We put out two albums with that band and the second album had a twenty minute multi-part epic,” Lewin proudly notes. “I definitely was not listening to pop music before we started Magdalena Bay. I was a prog rock guy who thought pop music was against everything music was supposed to be.”
“We were really pretentious 17 year olds,” snarks Tenenbaum. “When you’re a teen I feel like there’s this pressure to not like pop and girly things, so I got into My Chemical Romance and more emo stuff. Then I ended up getting into Radiohead.” Pop music didn’t enter their lexicon until much later, when they decided, half-jokingly, to challenge themselves by writing a song that was outside of their comfort zone.
Lewin and Tenenbaum found pop music by mistake, but it’s a good thing they did because they’re damn good at making it. So good, that when they first started posting mini music videos that they made on YouTube last summer, fans demanded they also upload the songs to Spotify. The short collection titled mini mix vol. 1 features a spacey, vaporwave cover, and showcases Magdalena Bay’s origins as a raw, limitless pop group. “The idea was to just put it on YouTube, because there’s so much less pressure to just release something unofficially like that, rather than to go through a distributor and make it a formal release,” Lewin explains. “We were kind of just experimenting with them and seeing how people would react.”
Since dropping mini mix in July, Lewin and Tenenbaum have been on a creative sugar high, making and releasing content nonstop, often in the form of eye catching, DIY music videos. They started with “Venice,” a self-described “apocalyptic summer jam” that pokes fun at the excess they’ve witnessed in their adopted hometown. Then came “Good Intentions” and “Killshot” (the song has it's own Instagram filter) -- the two songs sound like Britney Spears outtakes -- followed by a collab with LA popstar Disco Shrine titled “Power.” Three more Magdalena Bay bops, “Oh Hell,” “How To Get Physical” and “Airplane,” were released that appear alongside newer hits “Story” and “Stop & Go” on A Little Rhythm and a Wicked Feeling.
If you’ve been riding the wave of 90s nostalgia that’s dominating pop music, you’ll instantly get a crush on these songs and visuals. They all sit in that sweet spot between Top 40 and experimental pop music by the likes of Grimes, Charli XCX and PC Music’s Hannah Diamond. While Magdalena Bay never set out to sound like any of them, comparisons to the idols they never had are inevitable. It’s hard to be 100% free of outside influences when you’re making it and simultaneously listening to it for the first time.
Because he didn’t grow up with pop music, Lewin says that when he first started listening to it he went looking for something experimental to bridge the gap. He found it in Grimes’ fourth studio album Art Angels. “The production is so intricate, there’s so many details that captured my attention,” he says. “My only exposure to pop music before that was hearing Top 40 on the radio, which over time I think I’ve come to appreciate the craft of as well.
"I think as we discovered new types of pop it started feeding into our music," Tenenbaum continues. "Those references started becoming prevalent and maybe shaping our sound a little bit.”
Learning to be pop stars is something they’re also still coming to grips with. But for now they’re just keeping it real. On Magdalena Bay’s Instagram you’ll find a mix of selfies, green screen shenanigans, and photos dating back a decade to when they were 14 years old. It’s all very wholesome. “We always wonder, should we be more outlandish, do we need to get face tattoos and die our hair green?” Lewin jokingly asks. “It’s a tough thing,” says Tenenbaum. “You kind of have to be yourself but amplify it when you become a pop songwriter. But we never want it to feel like we’re not being ourselves. We’ve been trying to figure out our personal narrative, but for now we’re just being ourselves and hopefully it’s not too boring.”