1010 N University Ave., Norman
At the core of Magnificent Bird is Nathan Lofties, a Norman singer-songwriter who takes a cerebral yet deeply personal approach to the craft. His songs grow organically from an emotional place, but his darkly comic view of the human condition finds him continually cutting away at his winding musical ivy lest it reach pretentiousness.
This tone is omnipresent in Everything She Does is Tragic, Magnificent Bird's praised sophomore full-length album from 2016. It embodies the stark, enduring spirit of a break-up record, but within every bone of its structure is a hairline fracture of self-awareness. With each listen, the cracks grow wider until the thick sonic space of the album suddenly represents the space that wedges itself into human imperfections. With Steve Boaz at his side, Lofties finds grandeur in an utter lack of grandeur, and the two use it to create exceptionally human music.
Read on for an interview with Nathan Lofties.
Almost all of my life changed in one way or another immediately after that album came out. I grew up. I don’t live in a 300 sq. ft. apartment anymore.
Also, we got better.
Your new album, Everything She Does is Tragic, seems to have a narrower focus than Superdark. I'd argue that it's more intimate, with sparser instrumentation overdubbed and mixed to achieve a similar atmosphere, but to different effect. Would you agree?
As a teenager I built my first computer and bought the cheapest recording software I could find and immediately started recording every day. That's how I taught myself to write music―by sitting alone in my room and layering instruments until something came together. That was my main method of creating for years, but I think having such an open-ended approach began to limit how honest anything felt because it’s never really finished. There is always something that can be tweaked or layered. On Every Little Thing, there was a conscious decision to kick against that. I was much more interested in conveying as much as I could with as little sound as possible. I was far less concerned with loading every nook with sound. Of course, that still happened on a few songs, but it felt natural.
Did you have a more specific idea of what you wanted going in to the new album, or did you trust that your instincts would find cohesion on its own?
The songs were mostly written in a two-week period, and then it was just a wager with myself that I'd actually get something done. Steve and I have recorded a lot of material at Breathing Rhythm in the past five years that’s sitting in the vault unfinished because we had no real goal in mind. Doing this project was a way to get the blood moving again.
Early on, I knew that it was a kind of breakup album, but less narcissistic than that implies. Or maybe more narcissistic. I’m a poor judge. But that idea―a vague general shape coalesced in my mind. Soon, the landmarks and roadways began to appear, and I was able to map out the cities and the inhabitants and then an album was there.
Some people―myself included―have drawn a lot from the title as humorous and used it to inform the otherwise stark and introspective record. Do you ever feel like we read too much into that?
It was an intentional check. On one hand it's a very personal album, but it's also just the story of a few people going through dumb events in the course of their normal lives, which renders it remarkably universal in its pointlessness. Trying to put a name to the distortion of perception that occurs during a break-up, the world suddenly becomes tactile and unrelenting, and you’re sure everything has a deeper meaning, which is a stupidly selfish way of thinking. It doesn't really matter, and in a few months, you won't care as much. In a few years, you won't care at all. In a matter of decades, it’s completely gone. It seems tragic, but it is actually merciful. However, it makes turning your own little personal affairs into art or music very funny, as though memorializing this short, terrible period of time is an act of mortal defiance, like painting a portrait of a paper cut or a flat tire. You let your self-righteous resentment smolder forever, or at least until the cloud fails and all digital information is lost forever.
Sarah Reid's string work is excellent on this; what was your process in working with her?
She was in the band for a brief amount of time, so we developed a working relationship. Sarah can pick up on anything. For this album, I just invited her over, gave her a cup of coffee, let her play with my dogs, then hummed a few violin lines at her. She'd play them, then come up with something better. Then I recorded as many takes as I could, and we just pared those down when Steve later mixed the album.
"Texas" and "Colorado" relate semi-fictionalized events and epiphanies that occurred in those places. The instrumental "Storm" songs noted a shift in my life during different seasons, though the specifics are vague to me even now. I try not to hold onto the details.
Did you listen to any particular records while writing/recording the album?
It's hard to remember exactly. I think at one point I went back to Angel Olsen’s first album as inspiration for how to just play a song and be inside of it in that moment.
Do you ever write upbeat songs not suitable for Magnificent Bird?
I've got an external hard-drive full of material, hundreds of pieces from the past decade of home-studio recording, quite a bit of it up-tempo or different. Most of it's really layered stuff that would be difficult to play live, so I'm not sure what I'd ever do with it. I might put it all online some day and just leave it there until the cloud fails and all digital information is lost forever.
What is your live show like?
It tends to be a little louder than the record, but we try to stay true to the idea. Steve plays synth bass while drumming, which is always fun to watch.
Are there any venues that work especially well in matching the atmosphere of your music?
We played our Norman album release at an old decommissioned Catholic church near campus called The Chouse. We couldn’t have asked for a better atmosphere. Other than that we like any venue that lets us turn off the lights.
What can you tell us about the acts you're performing with at Resonator on Tuesday, February 21st?
Sun Riah is someone we both really love watching. It’s nice to see someone doing something so completely different. It’s pretty and raw and weird but in a way antithetical to the Flaming Lips school of weird, where you just throw confetti and do drugs and call yourself a freak. It’s weird to me for someone in Oklahoma to loop harp music and make a room full of people sit down and listen. That’s impressive.
I’m excited to get to know the other two bands.
Is there anything else you'd like to say?
The world is crashing down and our music helps with that.