“…inhabiting a sweet spot right at the nexus of country, soul and psychedelia.”
Magpie Diaries released their impressive debut album Sanctuary last year (read our review) and with it came some wonderful singles – ‘When Love Comes’ and the latest, ‘Honey’. They’ve been getting out a lot lately with plenty of live shows in 2019, including the current run of dates listed below. Ahead of their Sydney show this Thursday (June 20th) at Django Bar, Marrickville, main man Magpie Johnston kindly took the time to answer our Six Strings Q&A.
What was the album that first led you down the dusty path of alt-country/Americana music?
I grew up listening to lots of my parents’ vinyl but pretty sure it was a Merle Haggard CD that got mixed up in the punk records that really enlightened me as a teenager.
Describe your latest release, Sanctuary…
Circa 2015, I had a fair few songs up my sleeve, but not really playing much. Generally a bit low on confidence and bogged down with shit. That’s when the opportunity came about to record a few songs with producer Matt Sherrod. Matt really did inspire me and built the energy to create the album. Some of the songs felt quite old by the time they got to the recording stage, so I was happy to relax and allow the songs to evolve through the recording process. It was a pretty daunting, yet rewarding, experience and I’m proud of the results.
What’s been the most memorable gig you’ve played?
Probably the spontaneous one that happened at a Gum Ball wind down party a few years ago. Day 3 of the festival, I guess you could say I was a bit affected, emotional and blinded by the stage lights. Against my desires at the time, I got ushered up to play. Just me and a nylon and Jess came and joined midway. My memory is like that of a vivid dream, magical yet real.
How did you learn to play your main instrument?
My brother taught me ‘everybody hurts’ by REM when I was 14. That gave me the skill to play bass guitar in a punk band. Off I lept, self-taught from there.
What do you consider the finest song you’ve written?
Tough question. Probably ‘Strawberries and Cream’ as its captured a moment in time with my wife, and now we get to sing it together when we perform.
If you could sit-in with one other musician (living or dead) who would it be?
Neil Young, Bobby Darin or Lyle Dennis.
Do you feel there is a strong alt-country music community in Australia and if so, what does it need to keep growing?
Yeh alt-country in a broad sense seems pretty healthy. The music feels like it’s always been there evolving, just like the fashion around it. To continue to grow is to evolve as an individual, and I guess in a business sense maybe continue to reach into more international markets.
What can we expect from your live show?
Five people perfectly interwoven delivering Magpie’s story through the vice of soul, melody and musicianship. (Sorry that’s the best expectation I could come up with.)
What’s been your favourite Americana/alt-country release over the last year?
I’m not too sure, there’s a lot! Locally I think Ben Leece’s album is exceptional for its relevant content. Abroad I’m really digging Cordovas from the US, good songs, great harmonies.
What are your musical plans for the next 12 months?
Aside from the likelihood of sporadic touring overseas. Dashville’s building a recording studio at the moment, so probably finish that, then try record our follow up album.
MAGPIE DIARIES TOUR DATES
∙ June 20 – Django at Camelot, Marrickville NSW w/ Katie Brianna & Kyle Jenkins (Suicide Swans)
∙ July 4 – Gunnedah Hotel, Gunnedah NSW
∙ July 5 – The Tamworth Hotel, Tamworth NSW
∙ July 12 – Darwin Railway Club, Darwin NT
∙ July 17 – The Rock Bar, Alice Springs, NT
∙ July 19 – Wheatsheaf Hotel, Adelaide SA
∙ July 20 – The Gem Bar, Collingwood VIC
∙ July 21 – Union Hotel, Brunswick VIC