An unintentional self-portrait

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Tara Gracer

Boulder’s self-proclaimed non-genre-conforming band Magic Beans has been around the block once or twice — after 10 years together, their sound has continued to evolve and change as they have, maturing from its early stages into a well-aged outlet for artistic expression. Now, after more than a year off the road and ample time spent cutting music in a home studio, Magic Beans is back with a new record that the band dubbed their “unintentional self-portrait.” 

When asked about the new music during a phone interview last week, Magic Beans’ lead guitarist and vocalist Scott Hachey cut through the line with a triumphant and enthusiastic, “Slice of Life, baby!” This is, of course, the name of the new 14-track album, and true to its name, the record incorporates cross-sections of many different styles to cultivate a colorful and eclectic mix of musical showmanship. 

“With this new album, we tried not to overthink it,” Hachey says. “We’ve never wanted to restrict ourselves to one singular genre, and this record really holds that intention. With each release we hone in more on our sound, and the early influences we relied on fall away. Now the music is just coming from us. As young men growing up, as we’ve become more mature, we understand more what we want out of our art and what we want to say.”

The album’s sound ranges from crackly vinyl funk to pedal steel guitar, bluegrass to electronic drums and synths. They borrowed many different sounds to create something new for themselves; It’s like a cork board, tour manager Austin Koontz says, or collage art — perhaps a nod to Slice of Life’s album cover.

Magic Beans’ roots run deep in Boulder, the town of their inception, where Hachey, Casey Russell (keyboard and vocals), Chris Duffy (bass and vocals) and Cody Wales (drums) first started jamming together in their 20s. 

“We’ve been lucky enough to weave ourselves into the fabric of our fans’ lives and the music scene here,” Hachey says. “They’ve grown up with us all these years, and been a part of the experience.”

In the early days, the band lived together in a house up Four Mile Canyon, which quickly became a hub for showcasing their musical stylings. Before the group even had a name, the boys would create Facebook events for their “shows,” picking folks up in rented school busses at the (now defunct) Goose Bar and shuttling them up to the house for a good old fashioned living room jam session — perhaps cracking a cold one or two along the way. Eventually Hachey, who was at the time a marketing intern at the Fox Theatre, got the band a slot to play, and they’ve been rolling with it ever since. 

“We just love music,” Hachey says. “We have had so many influences. We love old soul and R&B, P-Funk and Prince! He’s huge for us. A few members including myself are from Minnesota, so he’s sort of one of our unofficial heroes.”

The band has also evolved in ways apart from just their sound. Around nine years ago they launched BeanStalk, a music festival that started small and has now become a big part of Boulder’s burgeoning summer arts scene. The festival, which started as a place to showcase and launch new talent, has become a large-scale music event that mingles big names, like The String Cheese Incident, with lesser known bands in an effort to help usher them into the scene. Bringing in smaller bands to play with or right up against the big names, Hachey says, gives them an opportunity to prove they’re just as talented. 

Slice of Life is of particular importance to the band and all those who worked on it because, as Hachey says, the entire album was a home-grown, grassroots effort. The songs were recorded in his home studio with no third-party producers or studio rentals. The aformentioned Koontz, fan turned tour manager and videographer, collaged the album cover art. The only outside addition to the record was David Glasser, a mastering engineer whose accolades include work with The Grateful Dead. 

“We were able to spend all of last summer listening and editing and mixing the music to just where we wanted it,” Hachey says of the experience. “When you’re working with producers and recording studios, there’s usually a fire lit under your ass to get it done in a certain time frame, but because it was only us in our own studio we were able to just take our time and give our music the treatment it deserved.”

It’s also a notably special record because the songs have never been heard before — this may seem the norm when a band releases new music, but jam bands, Hachey reminds typically do things in reverse: songs are performed live many times in many iterations, and then end up on the records that follow, so fans are already familiar with them. However, this year, because of the pandemic and complete suspension of on-the-road tours, Magic Beans had the opportunity to try things a different way. 

“After 10 years, we’re ready to stick our flag down in Colorado and try to become even more a part of the music scene here,” Hachey says. “We’re a Boulder band through-and-through. Our first show was at the Fox Theatre, and the music styles of the town are steeped in our blood now. We’re proud of that heritage, and proud to represent Boulder.”

For now, the band is jazzed about the new album, but is also looking to the future, patiently waiting to get back on the road and re-connect with fans. Until then, Hachey says, they’ll keep recording, 

“This album really is just an amalgamation of our experiences,” Koontz says. “Everything came from us, and everything, from the album art to the music to the mixing, is an indecipherable part of our art for the first time. As hard as this year has been, we were given the time to slow down and make this [album] the way we wanted. The pandemic could have illuminated our weaknesses, but instead it emphasized our strengths and allowed us to grow more together.”