Interview by Joyce Peters
Reprinted courtesy of Taconic Press
I caught up with John Magnie from the subdudes by phone from his home in Colorado. John had just finished a session in his basement studio and took a break to talk about glockenspiels, red bees, and pre-show humming.
JP: The subdudes have been described as a “naturally luxurious brand of Americana.” How does that strike you?
JM: Alright! I like luxury. Maybe that means you can put it on and it feels good.
JP: What makes the subdudes distinctive?
JM: We grew up on New Orleans music which is real rhythm-oriented. We also like harmonies, which may tend towards a country type of approach. Along with the harmonies, we don’t really have a drum kit. Steve Amedee lays it out on a tambourine, which is a little more primal.
JP: You play organ, keyboards, accordion and the glockenspiel! How did that come about?
JM: Well, being my major in college [laughs]. Well, no. It happened to be there in the studio. It was a really nice glockenspiel with some heavy metal tines. There are more letters in the word glockenspiel than notes than I actually played [laughs].
JP: What are you most proud of?
JM: Us getting back together. We did end up with a lot of animosity towards each other and I think we all felt like we’d never play with those blankety-blanks again [laughs]. It took us six years to rest and get away from each other and to realize we do better when we unite our forces. It¹s a second chance.
JP: What do you want to happen next for the subdudes?
JM: I just want to make the richest music that we can make. We’re beyond hoping for money riches. We know better than that by now [laughs]. We also realize from our breakup that we’re gonna be playing music anyway. What makes a band feel best in the long run is if people say you had good music.
JP: What music excites you these days?
JM: I hear stuff all the time that I get excited about. I discover old things. The Golden Gate Quartet recently just blew my mind. That¹s a gospel, totally a cappella group from the 1930’s. They’re just incredible. They have a bass man who is so percussive, he just holds the whole thing down. It is so intricate, it¹s just amazing.
JP: How do you find solace while on the road?
JM: It has to do with getting your own room [laughs]. We haven’t always made much money on the road, but we’ve always had our own room. You can go to your own cell. After sound check, unless things break, you’ll have an hour or three to just chill by yourself.
JP: You’ve collaborated with some great musicians like Bonnie Raitt and Little Feat. Who are you just dying to collaborate with?
JM: Ry Cooder.
JP: Describe your strangest gig.
JM: Oh, wow. There are so many. Hmmm….this goes way back to a band that myself and Tommy Malone were in before the subdudes: L’il Queenie and the Percolators. We were together in New Orleans from ’75-’81 and we had a gig at the University of Southern Mississippi. They had this theme where the students were dressed as these red bees. Everybody at the dance — these were college kids – they were all red bees! Our lead singer, L’il Queenie, was a commanding performer. She sort of took over. Some where in the night, all the bees were bowing down to L’il Queenie [laughs]. It felt like we were inside a bee hive. We were playing music while they bowed down to the queen.
JP: Do you have any pre-show rituals?
JM: We’re all individually and collectively into the quiet time — just being by yourself. Then a little bit before we go up, we do our set list ritual, which is something that everyone kind of throws in on. About half the time, we get together before we go onstage and we grab hands together and do kind of like a chant or hum. We just start humming. You can just feel the power that winds up like a top.
JP: What can we expect from your performance at the Towne Crier?
JM: Agony. Ecstasy. [laughs]. Groove. Hopefully some revelations. Not that we’re taking credit for that, but just the experience with the audience and things happen.