Magic City Hippies

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Their Floridian influences have shaped their indie-funk sound into a Modern Animal on their debut LP.

Fox Theatre | February 6
Gothic Theatre | February 7

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By Franz Hilberath

In a sense, the Coconut Grove police force deserves at least some credit for birthing Miami’s Magic City Hippies.

In the early 2010’s guitarist/vocalist Robby Hunter used to rock out anywhere he could; plugging his guitar and looping pedals in on the sidewalk or at any welcoming house party. When police made him move his one man act off the streets, he relocated for a regular gig at Barracuda Bar & Grill in Coconut Creek, Fla., where he would ultimately meet and form Magic City Hippies with drummer/ producer Pat Howard and guitarist John Coughlin.

In the six and a half years they’ve been making music together, Magic City Hippies have found success by adapting to the modern tools afforded to them and fusing it with their own unique, retro style. While bands of yesteryear were forced to pass out CDs and pitch to radio stations, the MCH trio found success initially by distributing from home.

“We got a big stroke of luck back in 2013 when we first were releasing music as the Robby Hunter Band,” said Pat Howard, during a recent full-band interview with The Marquee. “We weren’t on Spotify yet, only Soundcloud. I guess after a blog writer opened ‘Hard on Me’ [the band’s second song], we had a little viral luck and started to find a fanbase over the next few singles.”

Despite very little “wizardry or any crazy PR strategy,” the band was able to strike luck by landing on influential playlists, which brought in new ears and helped them gain momentum online. The band was not only able to earn recognition, but quickly they began popping up around the country, playing large scale festivals like Bonnaroo and Electric Forest. Their initial virality — at least according to lead singer Robby Hunter — is mostly due to the band’s ability to employ nostalgia within the music.

“I would say, when we released ‘Fanfare,’ people started associating that sound with the band,” said Hunter, MCH’s chest-hair boasting lead vocalist. “There’s something really quirky about that song, the kind of retro movie voice in the beginning. That nostalgia definitely helped us [find success.]”

The band’s catalog incorporates elements of reggae, rock and blues, and while every song might not have a James Brown horn in it, it mostly falls into line with their version of “indie funk.” Being Miami-based, the cultural significance of their city by the bay obviously engaged their early infatuation with funk.

“Obviously, funk comes from a long tradition of black musicians,” said Coughlin. “We’re indebted to them and all of history, but we have our own little corner of the funk world. All the music is danceable, even the ballads. We’re from Miami, so when people see music they want to dance to it and be entertained by it. They don’t want to just sit around and nod their heads.”

One way the band has been able to create such flexible, fun tunes is the process of how they put them together. With Howard leading on production, the group records its songs in the studio one element at a time. This allows them to manipulate sounds and add in quirky aspects like that heard on “Fanfare.” Additionally, the group isn’t dependent on each member being a stationary instrumentalist. Instead, they focus on who can play the best part, resulting in each member contributing multiple instruments and vocals on each project.

This process makes for a group that is sonically unpredictable, as they’re able to hone in on whatever sound, style or feeling they choose. This concept removes many of the boundaries of recording music live, and is one of the benefits of being a modern band today.

“I think it makes for a little bit more interesting palate because we’re not really considering any practicalities of playing live whatsoever,” said Coughlin. “It’s actually this crazy ordeal that we have, figuring out after we release a song how to play it live,” which, he added, leads to the song’s evolution. While quite a few MCH tunes are on the laidback side, they tend to “rock a little harder” when brought to life on stage.

This extends to the band’s debut LP, Modern Animal, which was released last August. They toured it briefly in the fall between festival dates at Suwannee Hulaween and Voodoo, but the band officially kicked off the Modern Animal Tour in January. Much like their previous work, the band is finding a “second chance” and “new life” for many of these songs on the road.

“There was stuff [on the album]that didn’t hit as hard as the singles,” said Howard. “Songs like ‘Body Like a Weapon,’ it doesn’t have that digital footprint, as much, but we figured out that’s like our favorite one to play live.”

Despite their successes, their growth, and the electricity of Modern Animal, the band is still very ‘millennial’ in their thinking. While they’ve got so much to hang their hat on, they only see the long journey ahead and the milestones that they’ve yet to achieve, but they also see that fueling their progression.

“I think we mostly only see the things we haven’t done,” said Howard, with bandmate Coughlin adding: “I think we’re hungry as ever. There’s always another wall to climb over.

Fox Theatre | February 6
Gothic Theatre | February 7

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