Joshua Bruner has been making a simultaneously gentle and intense style of music that blends the Bay Area’s love of psychedelic and folk music with his own unique African and Eurpean psych rock influences. But as the sound of Josh’s music has become heavier, it makes more sense to simply call it by his band’s namesake: Magic Leaves.
Back when we first started filming this year’s series of Parlour to Parlour interviews, The Blank Tapes’ Matt Adams was quick to ask after we wrapped episode 26 if we’d be including Magic Leaves in the series. At that point, I hadn’t yet become immersed in Josh Bruner’s music, though I had heard him play guitar with The Blank Tapes. What’s more, Magic Leaves had Jessie Woletz‘s seal of approval, so I knew I had some further investigating to do.
Over the past couple of years, the version of Magic Leaves that the San Francisco Bay Area music scene came to know and love was indicative of Josh’s early musical vision – a calm, soothing, psych-folk tapestry of tripped out bliss and pastoral beauty, tempered with the occasional rough edge and tinge of melancholy. Often times, the recordings were made mostly by Josh on his own. It was a musical style that was very much in sync with the rest of the Bay’s folk scene, but it wasn’t bound to last.
At some point, Josh told me some months before our interview, he felt he needed to do something different in order to keep his audience focused on what he was doing. He found himself competing for attention amongst crowds of talkers, who were missing out on Josh’s songs. And so, a radical change was in order.
Anyone who was familiar with the old Magic Leaves sound was in for a surprise when their Chasing The Moon premier took place last December. The sounds matching up with what was presented on the screen were LOUD. It was as if the band had suddenly morphed into an afro-kraut groove-centric version of Black Sabbath, with heavy metal guitar riffage filling the room like straight whiskey in an ice-free glass. And yet, this was still the same chill, gentle Josh. As it happened, the premier took place at the very first Beehavers show where I played bass, and lead Beehaver Bryant Denison remembers this very well. Bryant’s memory for such details generally isn’t the greatest, so if he’s still talking about it ten months after the fact, you know Josh succeeded in getting folks’ attention.
In the months since, Magic Leaves have played some of their most memorable gigs, both abroad and at home – including a special night at San Francisco’s Slim’s, where Magic Leaves had the honor of opening for African guitarist Bombino, one of Josh’s biggest musical influences. In fact, the night before we filmed this interview, Magic Leaves and the Beehavers shared a bill at Amnesia, playing before a packed and enthusiastic crowd who soaked up the band’s music in rapt attention.
Given the supercharged evening the night before, this interview was a natural way to re-enter our non-rock lives. Josh currently lives in the picturesque environs of Marin County, and it was as beautiful a day in Marin as we could have hoped for. So we talked out on the porch as a team of young female soccer players practiced in the field down below, and enjoyed the sun’s rays like cats on a window sill.
A note about the performance:
In much the same fashion as Ash Reiter and The Beehavers before him, Josh Bruner was not content to simply strum a guitar in his living room for his performance. Once we made it to Josh’s chosen spot – the historic Battery Wallace in the Marin Headlands – it was very easy to see why. It’s a spot where Josh plays music often, and with its colorful natural surroundings and stunning vistas, it’s a spot where many locals enjoy having picnics and chilling out on sunny days.
Rather than play one of his new songs, which are written very specifically for maximum volume rock shows, Josh instead chose to cover Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” infusing it with the feel of the Brazilian music he has been enjoying during his private listening time as of late. It’s a beautiful performance, showing yet another side of Josh’s music that may not have been immediately evident from his past recordings, and one that fits the autumn of the year all too perfectly.
Magic Leaves, “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”
- Buy GLOW (2011, the latest all-electric Magic Leaves album)
- Buy Everything Has a Face (2010)
- Buy The Big Surreal (2009)