Rise and Shine: Psychomagic

How Psychomagic went from fooling around to a serious musical player during Portland’s “Barmageddon”

"I just remember singing a lot as a kid, just singing in the shower, a lot of Michael Jackson because my balls hadn't dropped or something, just hitting the high notes."

It's 46 degrees outside and raining both in Tucson and Steven Fusco's adopted home of Portland when I get him on the phone. We're both laughing about the emulation of his preferred music as a kid. As we talk, the weather outside is marking the coming of fall, bringing with it a string of West Coast tour dates with Fusco's band Psychomagic, adding to the list of hundreds of shows the Oregon-based act played this year.

In what some would call a masochistic fashion, Psychomagic had played about 150 shows by June of this year, rarely resting and preferring a pace that would exhaust even the most seasoned players. Fusco's soft-spoken demeanor, thought-out in response and without a hint of pretension, belies the way in which Psychomagic works.

Fusco's earliest musical memories hinge around familiar settings, familial interactions or the admiration of his parents' record collection. Laughing as he recalls these stories, they're relatable glimpses into his indoctrination to music, through a string of no-name bands in his teen years and now leading into the late blooming of his Portland-based surf-psych rock act.

This is the first "major band" that Fusco's been in, he admits, having been folded into the Lolipop Records stable in the past couple years. It's their blend of reverb-soaked guitar lines, Fusco's dusky vocals and deft composition from all members that calls to mind modern French pop-noir like La Femme, while still drawing equally as hard from early T. Rex and bands of that ilk. It's also an act composed of what Fusco refers to as "transients," with members hailing from Seattle, Minnesota, Bend and New York. Happenstance led them all to Portland.

"[Portland is] that type of community where it brought us together because we shared a common set of sensibilities about music and environment, and it's evolved out of that," Fusco says. "Being here and staying here, you can't help butr be immersed in the music scene with all of its friendships."

As a national face of Portland's independent music community, Psychomagic has also been present for the ebb and flow of the city's creative scene, currently undergoing what locals are referring to as "Barmageddon," in which small-capacity venues and bars are closing at an alarming rate. It's similar to the transformation Tucson has undergone in the past six years, where newer bands are having to resort to more house parties and garages in lieu of established venues. Given that Portland is similar to Tucson in terms of population and somewhat similar in terms of cost of living, such a drastic modification to our musical landscape isn't out of the question, but for bands who exist on a similar plane of success as Psychomagic, this decline could have a silver lining: The hands of larger venues are forced to book the local acts that were previously on the cusp of blowing up. For Psychomagic, this meant their breakneck run of shows at the beginning of 2015 brought them exposure on a number of levels, from friends' living rooms to some of the more venerated stages in Portland.

Prior to Psychomagic's success, however, Fusco was a bedroom troubadour of sorts, writing music for virtually no one but himself, "not really getting out of the house type of stuff," he jokes.

"I wasn't confident enough, I think, and that's where Psychomagic was born out of," he says. "It was a tongue-in-cheek self-defense mechanism where we weren't taking ourselves super serious and wanted to kind of have fun and be silly. Part of that is really a bit of self-defense because that whole attitude of having your head up your own ass isn't something I dig all that much [laughs]."

The sense of self-awareness and the lackadaisical approach Fusco takes to his music could almost be traced right back to the music that shaped him. Growing up in a household that sounds closer to a clan of influences than anything else, he was raised to cherish music that leaned toward the humorous and eclectic above all else.

"It was a family of connoisseurs of great music, they all had great taste," Fusco says. "I think Harry Nilsson, Tiny Tim—that had a huge impact on me as a kid. My mom liked really absurd, obscure music, like Andy Kaufman incorporating music acts into his performance. It's kind of opened my eyes and broadened my horizons. I was just kind of devouring anything and trying to process it, make it my own."

With Psychomagic, who have recently released their second album Bad Ideas on Lolipop Records, Fusco finally seems comfortable musically. He's shaping his own mold rather than trying to fit to one, even if the approach was never all that serious to begin with. With time has come honed appreciation for the vocalist, as Fusco says there's "as much beauty in a pop melody as there is in a three-piece Black Flag progression." It's safe to say that Psychomagic appeals to the former far more than the latter, as songs like "Colors of The Past" and "Go-Go Ladies (From Outer Space)" are wrapped around memorable, syrupy hooks.

The casual listener would never guess that, given the strength of songs on both of Psychomagic's releases, that the first record was recorded and mixed in a single day, and the second recorded in just three days. Fusco says these albums, while they do have their merit, were just "put together," but he's looking to a more crafted approach with their third album—if they ever get a break from the road, that is.

"We always feel like we're the underdogs, and we always want to prove to everyone that we can do it," Fusco explains. "We want to take advantage of every opportunity we're provided."

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