MusicMusic Features

New Madrid Ramps Up the Intensity on magnetkingmagnetqueen

Georgia’s summer swelter has officially taken hold of our fair city. Flock to the nearest pool for a soothing dip, or beat the heat indoors with a cold beverage. Do whatever you must to keep the tension from running high, because although the season’s turn signals familiar benefits, this summer’s bound to bring a storm. And while local four-piece New Madrid has been calming Athens’ nerves for years now, the band’s latest album, magnetkingmagnetqueen, with its blend of expansive psychedelics and heady krautrock, is a far stronger storm than we bargained for.

Like any storm, the progression towards magnetkingmagnetqueen was a gradual build-up. The band’s reverb-washed debut album, 2012’s David Barbe-produced Yardboat, was the type of laid-back music perfectly suited for humid grill-outs, recalling early My Morning Jacket and classic Southern rock in proportionate measure. Over time, the band—guitarists Phil McGill and Graham Powers, bassist Ben Hackett and drummer Alex Woolley—would come to be recognized as one of the most exciting live groups in town, following up its debut with 2014’s Sunswimmer on Athens’ Normaltown Records. While Yardboat provided a low-key soundtrack to midsummer nights, the sophomore album kicked things up a notch, mirroring the sprawling, atmospheric intensity the band’s live shows had come to be known for.

It makes sense, then, that, after a couple years of relentless touring, the band’s most recent record placed it directly in the eye of the storm.

“Playing a lot of shows had more of an influence on this record than the last two records. When we had done Sunswimmer, we had toured a good bit regionally, but hadn’t really ever gotten in the groove of playing every night, of playing different places,” says McGill. “I think [magnetkingmagnetqueen is] more consistently propulsive and more of a drum-heavy record” with less breathing room, he continues. “We’re doing a little shorter sets with higher energy.”

There’s a striking dichotomy between the band’s newer, punchier songs and its jammier material that reflects the music’s recording locales: Chase Park Transduction, here in Athens, and Dogwood Lodge, an old, isolated church camp outside of Chattanooga that McGill attended as a kid.

“It’s funny, because once I really got into music and I would travel around, one of the things I’d [think] would be, ‘This would be an amazing place to set up and make music, or record a song.’ Any place I’d go, I’d be kind of scouting that out,” McGill says. “We just kind of got lucky that in the middle of the summer it wasn’t utilized, and we were able to make that happen.”

The band set up shop with a mobile recording rig in one of the facility’s big, open halls and began laying down material without outside distractions. “A lot of the songs that we got from that session are the bigger, longer ones that are vibe-ier, and then the ones that are a little quicker with more bite we did back at Chase Park,” says McGill, adding that the relaxed pace of recording allowed him extra time to record vocal snippets on his own. The devilish, 11-minute “Guay Lo,” for instance, stretched on from an original two-minute piece at Dogwood, and an alternate version McGill kept to himself incorporates samples of crowd noise from last fall’s Republican debates.

By far the most bold and diverse New Madrid record to date, magnetkingmagnetqueen embodies the contradictions we face on a daily basis, including the politically absurd. And though each of the group’s records has ties to summer, McGill’s says the third album represents the season’s unpredictability. “This is like summer turning into fall,” he says. “A lot more parched. Bigger storms. Definitely not as relaxed, not getting to fully enjoy summer in the same way.”