Coachella 2018: Magic Giant Are Cool as Folk
By Brett Callwood
It’s the final day of Coachella, weekend one, and in the relative comfort of the media area, the fatigue is showing. Much of the perky enthusiasm so apparent on Friday has melted away with the relentless sun, and the lack of sleep hasn’t helped. The vibe is still generally one of contentment — we are at Coachella, after all — but it takes a little extra effort to focus.
So frankly, it’s the perfect time for an interview with local indie-folkies Magic Giant. The trio — Austin Bisnow, Zambricki Li and Brian “Zang” Zaghi — have been at Coachella since Friday despite not performing until 2:15 on Sunday afternoon. Yet, two hours after they exited the stage, they’re full of life, popping out jokes and smiling like the Cheshire Cat.
It’s impossible not to get carried away with their wave of joy in person, though the sound is equally transformative. The music of Magic Giant is perfect festival fodder — chill, emotionally engaging, and catchy as fuck. The “rootsy-folk meets anthemic indie” angle is one that will appeal to fans of The Lumineers and Mumford & Sons. Lots of chirpy tunage and “Woah-oh-oh” sing-alongs.
“They actually told us to headline instead of Beyoncé but we said no, we’d prefer to do the daytime show,” jokes Zang. “We called and asked her if she’d cover for us.”
Yeah, that didn’t happen. But still, a solid number of people made their way over to the Outdoor Theatre to catch Magic Giant’s show.
“We had a lot of fun,” Li says. “We’re never trying to have a perfect show — we want to connect with the audience. When we feel like we connect with the audience, then it’s a win. It’s not about playing the songs exactly how they were done on the record. It’s about going out and trying to feel something with the crowd.”
2018 marks Magic Giant’s Coachella debut, though they are no stranger to festivals in general. Li says the idea of performing at festivals played a big part in their decision to form the band in the first place.
“You step into a different world for a couple of days,” he says. “Every festival has its own vibe. It’s like a different country. The country of Coachella. For three days, everybody’s here and we’re all residents of this country. It’s got its own rules and laws. So it’s an opportunity to step into a different world for a few days, whereas with club shows, every club is kinda similar.”
Prior to the start of Coachella, Billboard named Magic Giant one of the 10 bands to see at the festival. That’s quite an honor, considering some of the giant names that missed out (X Japan, Portugal. The Man, Chic).
“It’s interesting,” says Li. “Everybody has different things that they get excited about. There are certain people, when they saw the Billboard thing, they got really excited for us. Other people, when they hear us in a Home Depot, they get really excited for us. Some people, if they hear you on the radio then whatever, but if they hear you in a Bed, Bath & Beyond, they send us a video of them rocking out. Billboard covers a niche audience, I guess.”
Having triumphed with a well-received set during weekend one, Magic Giant could be forgiven for taking an “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” approach with weekend two and playing exactly the same show again. But that just isn’t their style.
“Every set, we like to change it up,” says Zang. “We have a lot of people that come to 12 shows in a row. So we have to make it interesting. I think that might be why they’re coming more and more. It’s like this vicious cycle. Now we’ve got to make it even more interesting. But it’s cool.”
One of a healthy number of L.A.-area artists at Coachella this year, the men of Magic Giant are proud to be repping the city they call home.
“Growing up in L.A., this is the festival,” Zang says. “All we talked about was going to Coachella, so I feel at home and like I’m doing the city a service as one of the artists representing L.A.”
“I moved from Tennessee to California a number of years ago,” Li adds. “When you see Coachella when you’re not in California, it looks like such a magical thing. It’s the quintessential California experience. We started this band three or four years ago, and to be able to be here and be a part of that magical experience is amazing.”
The band’s debut album, In the Wind, came out last year, and immediately prior to the festival they released a digital-only acoustic EP called In the Wind — Acoustic. The release is, they say, a gift for their loyal fans.
“It’s songs from In the Wind, but totally reimagined,” Li says. “We really did it for the fans. They’re called the Magic Misfits, a tribe of people who have been following us around coming to shows. We do this thing where we play a little acoustic set before the show, and a few songs during the show. It’s such a different thing to the rest of our performance, and we wanted people to be able to have that. It’s another side to Magic Giant.”
“It’s great for drinking a glass of wine, cooking spaghetti,” says singer Bisnow, who had been quietly observing until this point. “The reaction to it has been great. You seem excited about it.”
To be fair, he’s right.