We are thrilled to present you an interview with the talented Jeni Magaña, the creative force behind the solo project Magana. Best known as the bassist for renowned artists such as Mitski and Lady Lamb, Jeni Magaña is set to enchant audiences with her upcoming album, ‘Teeth,’ scheduled for release on March 25th through Audio Antihero Records and her own Colored Pencils imprint.
‘Teeth,’ Magana’s second album, emerges from her meditations and synth experiments, introducing a captivating genre she aptly describes as “Witchy Rock.” Departing from her previous works, the album delves into Acid Folk, Alternative Pop, and even Krautrock, incorporating a sonic tapestry that reflects themes of regrowth and a new perspective on the world.
In this interview, we delve into the depths of Magana’s creative process, exploring the influences behind ‘Teeth’ and uncovering the unique blend of genres that define her latest musical endeavor. Enjoy!
Jeni Magaña: I started my solo project after working as a bassist for a lot of different artists. It was a great intro into the creative process, because I was able to participate directly without having to be the catalyst. Eventually, I started exploring writing myself. I am so thankful to continue to work with artists that inspire me. If even a tiny bit of their creativity transfers to my process, my work will be improved by it.
Jeni Magaña: I wrote a LOT of songs, without consideration of style or genre. And then I sent a folder of demos to some friends, and my friend Michael DiSanto actually went through the folder and chose the songs he thought fit best together. So I owe a lot of the sound to him, actually. He narrowed down what was a vast jumble into a somewhat cohesive sound.
Jeni Magaña: Teeth is a reference to a line from the song Paul, “Truth was hiding behind all of your teeth / smiling back at me with endless eyes.” I mean it as a barrier in the song, holding back all the words that aren’t able to be said. I am so excited to release it on a full moon because putting this record out feels like an act of self actualization. Full moons are great for the culmination of a project, and I think that’s a great way to say goodbye to this project I’ve been thinking about and working on for years. The worm moon, specifically, is welcoming in spring after the long winter months. Once you hear the first track of the album, I think it’ll be clear how it’s related.
Jeni Magaña: When I started out, I had a sound in my mind but I didn’t yet know how to attain the sound. All of my projects have been representations of my exploring. It’s cool because I haven’t yet hit the mark, but the things that have come from that have been meaningful to me in unexpected ways. I think Teeth is the closest I’ve gotten so far.
Jeni Magaña: The communities that I have found in each city have been the most inspiring part. I got to know so many peers that I admired and wanted to emulate. I was invited to play in shows and see what other people were listening to.
I also have been inspired by the changing physical landscapes. I wrote a lot about the cold and dark when I lived on the east coast, because winter hit me particularly hard. I have songs now that reference the haze or the heat. Where I live shapes the very experience of being for me, so it’ll always find its way into my songs.
Jeni Magaña: Sure! Girl in Chains is about feeling trapped by a snare of your own creation. It has vague fairy tale themes in my mind – the idea of waiting for someone to come and release you from your chains, even though you are the one with the key. Afraid of Everybody is very much an insight into my mind. I was on the phone with a friend who was talking about enjoying themselves at a party and I was like, this sounds horrible to me. I am trying to let it go, but I do live with a lot of fear. Beside You is a tribute to my husband. Life can feel scary, and certainly it did around the lockdown era of covid. I wanted him to know he wasn’t alone, that I also was scared but that there’s some power that comes with facing your uncertain future with someone by your side.
Jeni Magaña: I chose the sounds because that’s what it feels like to me, I hope listeners take only what they need from it. I wrote these lyrics because I think it’s important to show up as your real vulnerable self. I also believe that if you put that out there, there will be someone who can relate. Maybe even who needed to hear that. It’s like I mentioned when I was talking about “Beside You,” it’s scary to face the unknowns of this world but it’s a comfort to know that you’re facing it with someone.
The album features instrumental interludes stringing together aching songs about regrowth. Could you elaborate on the significance of this regrowth theme and its representation in the album’s structure?The earth is a very good example of resilience. We do destructive things to it, and then we leave it alone, and then it heals itself. It’s not the same as before, like vines growing over broken buildings, but it’s something new and beautiful. I can’t think of a better metaphor for human resilience than that. We are broken, and then we heal. We are not the same, but something beautiful and new.
Jeni Magaña: It gave me time and perspective. I’ve always been working multiple jobs and then trying to hang out with friends and spend time with my family, etc. I’m like that now again, actually. The lockdown ripped all of that away from me (and everyone) and gave me a chance to really explore myself and the world in a new way. It was terrible for obvious reasons, but also enlightening. I stopped working all the time and started just messing around. It turns out that is a super important part of the creative process, and I hope that I remember that through all the busy normalcy that is my life now.
Jeni Magaña: Paul is not my story. It is my friend’s story, who luckily loves me enough to allow me to record it and put it on the album. These are words that she told me and as I tried to absorb them. It’s a story about love and untimely death and it’s hard for me to think of it without crying. Break Free is a kin to Girl in Chains. It’s about the will to change originating in oneself. Which makes it easier and also harder.
Jeni Magaña: Trial and error. It doesn’t always work, but I listen to a song and think, “What if this had a wind line?” and then I think, “It needs more width, what if I added bass synth?” Sometimes it goes too far and I have to scale it back. But that’s the part of the process that I love.
Jeni Magaña: I hadn’t even realized that! But I think it is related, because a lot of my journey has been about learning how to communicate with and in the world.
Jeni Magaña: I usually fill a specific role when I am working with other musicians. They come to the table with a certain skill set, and then I fill in some of the gaps. It’s really fun, sometimes I get to go from playing bass to filling in on guitar and keys or something. I have found that most importantly being somewhat fluent in multiple instruments helps me communicate ideas. In my own work, I have discovered I really like working alone specifically so that I don’t have to spend time communicating with anyone but myself. It’s a very private process, mostly.
Jeni Magaña: A lot of this record was inspired by Bon Iver. Jon Brion, too. The fitting together of sounds and general feeling of unabashed exploration really gets to me.
Jeni Magaña: I hope they take away the feeling that they are not alone, even in the worst moments.