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Here We Go Magic: Indie Rock’s (Dis)appearing Act

Here We Go Magic / Photo by Bryant Eslava

A Different Ship, Temple says, is a “do or die” record. “For one, we’re broke,” he says, swarms of moms and strollers cruising on either side of him along the waterfront. “We’re all in our 30s. People want to survive, they want to feel like their investment is worthwhile. It has nothing to do with the music. But I feel like the songwriting on this record is some of the best I’ve ever done. I think that once people internalize it and it starts to vibrate with people on a personal level, there will be a natural build. That’s what I hope. I mean, we won’t make it otherwise.” He looks over his shoulder at the water and tightens his jaw. “I’ll be fine in the end. I’m going to do this until I die. I’m 37, almost 40. But I feel like I’m just beginning.”

At dusk on the third and only soggy day at Bonnaroo in June, a young couple has spotted the Shins’ frontman James Mercer standing alongside a friend in an small but relatively empty plot of grass in the center of the grounds, surrounded by festival goers napping in rain-spackled ponchos. They’d like their picture taken with Mercer, and though the latter is thoroughly captivated by what’s unfolding on the festival’s tiny Sonic Stage nearby, he obliges, even making a bit of conversation before his fan disappears. Here We Go Magic are shouldering their way through their second set of the day, 30 minutes to no one in particular but James Mercer and a constant stream of kids running past just in front of the stage, along a path from one crowded tent to the next.

Hours later, I meet the band backstage, under a canopy. We can make out faint ribbons of Trey Anastasio’s guitar sounds floating outward from the festival’s largest stage, through curtains of rain. In the weeks since the release of A Different Ship, the four of them have already made their way through Europe and across the U.S. and back, picking up one very famous hitchhiker on the way: director John Waters, who they found, by accident, standing alongside an off-ramp in central Ohio, holding a sign that read: To The End Of Route 70 West.”

Photo by Bryant Eslava

Waters was on his way to San Francisco, hitchhiking the entire way as part of an experiment for a book. Here We Go Magic were running late for a date in Indianapolis. “The intrigue of having something to get the day going was enough to turn around at the next exit and figure out was going on,” Bloch says of the moment they passed Waters and decided to turn around. “I open the door and he plopped himself down on a seat and said, ‘I’m John Waters’ as if he had meant to be in that van.” When they finally reached the West Coast a few days later, Waters had them over to his apartment in San Francisco for dinner.

“There’s always one thing,” Bloch says. “One thing that is weird and good and crazy. Whether it be meeting the guy who’s going to produce our next record or a girl in an ice cream shop. If you don’t keep the attitude that something magical might happen, you might not notice that it’s happening.”

“Yeah,” Hale adds. “You have to be believe in magic. He shrugs and smiles. “Or you’re dead.”