Magnetic Flowers have earned a reputation as one of Columbia’s most artistically ambitious rock ‘n’ roll bands, so the awkward, overly wordy title of their newly released record, What We Talk About When We Talk About What We Talk About, is not so much ridiculous as it is just more proof that when it comes to making an artistic statement, the band is in a category of its own.
“It started as a Raymond Carver reference [to the author’s short story collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Love] and as a joke, just an absurd thing to call an album,” says singer and guitarist Patrick Funk. “It comes out of a line in the song ‘Talk Talk Talk Talk,’ this wordy way of saying something obvious to look smarter or cooler. That’s sort of what that whole song is about; it came from a conversation I overheard in the Art Bar.’”
“I just feel bad that it has to be written down,” adds Jared Pyritz, also a singer and guitarist in the band.
Four of the members sing a lead vocal at some point during any given show, and with Adam Cullum’s keyboards added to the acoustic and electric guitars of Funk and Pyritz, not to mention the solid rhythm section of Albert Knuckley on bass and Evan Simmons on drums, Magnetic Flowers use melody, harmony and percussion to create a cacophonous yet entirely musical result.
“The songs are never really done for us,” Funk says about how the band arrives at the layers upon layers present in their music. “With the ones on the new album, we played them so long before recording that we had some better idea of what to do with them.”
He adds that the recording process itself was more relaxed this time around, also.
“We took a lot more time,” Funk says, “The first album we only tracked for one day, this time we took four days, at least, then more time to mix it.”
From the opening moments of the rattletrap clap-along “Mouths Run Dry,” the album lurches and careens from barely controlled, uptempo roots-rock to melodramatic, poetic balladry and back again. It’s a hell of a ride not just musically but lyrically, with lines seemingly tripping over themselves in their haste to emerge. That’s appropriate, given the thematic link throughout is one of words, their use and misuse.
That theme is introduced in the opening track with the help of a snippet of the gospel classic “I’ll Fly Away”, and after weaving its way through the half-dozen other tracks it reappears on the closing song “Reprise.”
“Everyone identifies with that because it’s an old familiar gospel song,” Pyritz says. “We put it in a minor key and changed a lyric to ‘Mouths run dry’ to fit with the whole theme of the album. On the last track, we took out some of the creepiness; it’s meant to be much more sincere at the end.”
Funk says the band is realistic yet hopeful about their plans for this, its second album, even if sometimes it feels like they’re the ones with nothing who are still out there making music themselves. And there’s nothing like playing out of town to humble a popular local band, he admits.
“We have a decent draw in Columbia, to the point where we’re not worried about playing a show where nobody comes out to see us,” Funk says. “But when you play Athens on a Tuesday night at a coffeehouse with two people in the audience, it’s rough.”
What Funk, and the rest of the band might not realize yet is that the same word of mouth that has turned it into a big crowd pleaser here in its hometown will surely follow the band wherever it plays, when what those audiences talk about when they talk about what they’ve been talking about will be the music of Magnetic Flowers.
KEVIN OLIVER - The Free Times (Columbia, SC)