Exclusive Interview: John Baumann

John Baumann is an unassuming yet confident man. He strolled up to our interview at Austin’s Houndstooth Coffee wearing a black Under Armour polo with a subtle line of color running horizontally across the collarbone, matching his black Ray Bans with clear trim around the inside. He’s not flashy, but he understands how little accents of differentiation can go a long way in helping one stand out.

The rest of Baumann’s character fits with his style of dress. His handshake is firm and strong but not overbearing, and his Texan accent is the same, laden with a twangy warmness that evokes his southern pride without ever coming off as elitist. The man knows who he is, that much is clear. His strengths, weaknesses, likes and dislikes. He bares it all openly, just as he does in his music.

The San Antonio-raised Baumann, who now calls Austin home, is almost five years into an ever-more promising career that started with the humblest of beginnings: writing songs in his car during 15-minute paid “breaks” from work:

I graduated from TCU around Christmas of 2010 and after moving home for two-to-three months I ended up getting a job at a call center in Austin. I always had a love for songwriting, country, folk, and americana, and I always found myself going down YouTube wormholes at work to listen to other artists. Before I knew it I was sneaking out to my car, taking 15 minutes off from work here and there, writing songs on a 3/4 size acoustic guitar. I was always cheating the system (laughs). The ‘West Texas Vernacular’ EP was totally written in the parking lot of my job or at my apartment.

Now Baumann is being managed by Pat Green’s drummer and Willie Nelson’s tour manager, just two of the Texas legends who have inspired his love for singing and songwriting. He’s almost ready to release his third project, a six-song EP which will follow the aforementioned West Texas Vernacular and 2014’s High Plains Alchemy. He’s also recently engaged to his long-time sweetheart, and he’s taking life’s twists and turns graciously — step-by-step, day-by-day.

Read on to hear the now clean-shaven Baumann talk about the legendary ‘stache he was rocking on the West Texas Vernacular cover, the knee injury that led him to teach himself guitar, and where he sees himself within the tradition of Texas music.

Interview by Cameron Gibson and Yunus Church, words by Yunus Church.

How did the first EP, 2012’s ‘West Texas Vernacular’ come about? Who produced it?

Rich Brotherton produced it. He’s Robert Earl Keen’s guitar player. I just sent him an email and he called me and let me know who he was and what he was about… Which was funny because I already had heard of him since I was a kid. You grow up listening to Robert Earl Keen, you listen to the No. 2 Live Dinner album, and it’s Rich Brotherton on the guitar, so… I just went into the studio and they brought the whole band in to back me up. It’s easy, they just write music charts out that the whole band can follow.

That was my first professional studio experience and it was kinda like a holy crap moment. It’s weird being 24-years-old with a bunch of professional musicians and not really knowing what you’re doing. You go out and you have this really professional sounding record, and then you have to play a live show with your friends who aren’t pro musicians, they’re just your friends. The first two-and-a-half years were really tough. It’s hard to be a band. It’s a whole lot more than just songwriting and playing a guitar. You have to be an electrician, driver, manager, you know…

Were you doing all the social media and marketing/promotion stuff up until recently?

Yeah, and I still am doing a lot of social media stuff. At the time I really liked it, it was fun. Lately it feels a lot like more work (laughs).

Who were you listening to growing up who made you want to write songs?

James McMurtry and Robert Earl Keen were big ones. Guy Clark is another one. So many great songwriters come from the state of Texas and there’s such a long line of tradition. In my head it was always like, you want to be in that echelon. There’s something integral and there’s integrity in the Texas songwriting tradition that I’ve adored since I was 12 or 13 years old. When I got [to Austin] I started really thinking, “I can do this.”

When did you pick up the guitar?

About 13 or 14 I would say. I played high school football, tore up my knee in an Oklahoma drill, and it sucked, man. I was cooped up at my house for six months and I learned four basic chords on Guitar for Dummies and went from there. I was writing songs on Microsoft Word and I would print the lyrics out and leave them in the printer, my parents would find them and be like, “oh, what’s this song about?” They probably thought it was neat but I was always a bit ashamed of it (laughs).

I thought it was kinda silly so I kept it on the quiet throughout all of high school. I would pull the guitar out at a party here and there. People were into it but I would hate to know what I sounded like, looking back.

Did you ever get voice lessons back then, or did that start when you moved to Austin?

Yeah, at the request of one of the guys who’s managing me. It wasn’t like I was at the far end of the bad spectrum or anything, but I just had to get better at studio recording. Singing live is one thing; you’re feeling it, your whole body’s working, there’s something about it. It’s like being an athlete. But the studio is different. There’s strangers in the room, you’re paying for your time, and it’s sort of an uncomfortable feeling.

So I took some vocal lessons from a dude in Pittsburgh. I would call him twice a week and spend 30-45 minutes on the phone, for about three or four months. Learning how to go from your chest to your head, doing scales.

Was there a song on ‘West Texas Vernacular’ that really made you feel like you could do this?

Yeah, “Midland” was the one. I wrote it at my apartment in about 20 minutes. It was funny how that happened. It was just a reflection on some love experiences gone awry from the college days, of course. Some tongue-in-cheek sarcasm, nothing meant to hurt any feelings. The first time I ever played it was at an open mic and everybody there was just like, “damn!” I remember getting an applause that night and I was like, “alright, I can do this.” I got a rush that night and from there it was no turning back.

You are definitely a storyteller. Is storytelling a main focus when you write?

Yeah, I listened to other storytellers growing up. I’m not a great storyteller if we’re just sitting around drinking beers, I can’t always articulate from point A to point B and deliver the punchline, but if you give me a guitar and three-and-a-half minutes, I can put together the bits and pieces to get the story across and make it interesting. Sometimes to me, it’s harder to not tell a story.

You recently signed with Red 11 Music. How did that come about?

Pat Green’s drummer and Willie Nelson’s tour manager heard me on the radio one night and decided to reach out to me, it was incredible. They’re managing me now, and they helped open doors with Red 11. It’s a great opportunity. Every musician has knocked on doors that turn into dead ends at one point or another, so I’m just grateful.

We cut eight songs this past December and January. It’s me post-vocal lessons, a little more mature, a little more developed sound. We’re putting out a six-song EP and saving two songs for an upcoming LP. The EP will be out this October. It’s getting mixed and mastered in Nashville right now, and we’re going to release a couple singles to Texas/Americana radio next month.

Any plans to tour?

We’re out on the road pretty hard right now. I just bought a 15-passenger van and I’ve got the LLC set up (laughs). We’ve only busted out of Texas one time so far, which was for a show in Oklahoma. There will be more out-of-state touring soon, but I’m kind of waiting as long as I can. I can already feel everything ramping up a bit, and it’s like once you’re gone, you’re gone. Being on the road is awesome but you give everything up for it.

We’re out Thursday-Saturday every week, going to DFW, Houston, Lubbock, Midland, Odessa, San Antonio, etc.

What does the term ‘High Plains Alchemy’ mean to you?

Basically, the guy in the song is asking for rain. He’s in a drought scenario. This guy doesn’t know whether he should ask the Native Americans, or ask God, or who to talk to for rain. The bigger metaphor for me is that he’s looking for some help. If you boil the term down real fast, ‘High Plains Alchemy’ sounds like ‘help me’.

I’ve always been so fascinated by the imagery behind the high plains. The sky, the terrain, and mixing that with the notion of being up high on a different plane of thinking. But I really wrote that song thinking about performing it live, which is why it’s easy to sing along to.

Do you write most of your songs with the live experience in mind?

Not really, no. I write ’em all pretty much with the idea of somebody listening to the words. My joy is mostly found in the writing. I’m not the best singer or guitar player, but I feel like an English major with a guitar in front of me sometimes.

Where is your favorite place to play?

Gruene Hall in New Braunfels, TX. It’s a 100-year-old dancehall in a river town that’s geared towards my style. I opened for Pat Green and Turnpike Troubadours there. We were just getting mobbed by people after the show who were like, “Keep going! Keep going!” It gives you that fuel.

In Austin I really love playing the Saxon Pub. Also Stubb’s, but in terms of a place to listen, Saxon Pub has the best sound.

Who would you like to open for if given the chance?

I’d really like to open for Sturgill Simpson. Jason Isbell. Willie, of course. There’s a guy named Bruce Robison who’s a huge hero of mine. There’s a long list, but those are just a few.

At the end of the day when it’s all said and done, where do you envision yourself within the tradition of Texas songwriting?

That’s a great question. It’s funny, my dad wrote me a letter one time that said, “I don’t know if this road is going to bring you fame, riches, or personal fulfillment…” I’m not rich by doing this, but lately I’ve been feeling incredibly fulfilled. So that’s good.

In terms of my legacy — if there is a legacy — I would love for songs that I’ve written to be staples or standards. Not in the sense that you can listen to them on a jukebox, but more so for people to say, “man, that was a damn good song. That guy really knew how to write a great song.”

You’ve gotta grow the ‘stache back, man (from the ‘West Texas Vernacular’ cover).

That cover was a total joke! That picture was for my work ID badge at the time (laughs). So I was like, “this will make for a hilarious album cover.” Little did I know.


Website: johnbaumannmusic.com

Twitter: @jebtunes

Facebook: www.facebook.com/JEBtunes

And be sure to download JamFeed for free right now and follow John Baumann to stay up-to-date with his latest news, releases, and tour information as he announces it.

‘The Monsanto Years’ and ‘Before This World’ Reviews: Checking In With James Taylor and Neil Young

It’s not a bad time to be an old man in the music industry. Paul McCartney has been spending time with Kanye and Rihanna; Bob Dylan, moonlighting as a nightclub crooner on his new album, and Tom Waits were featured in the final nights of the Late Show With David Letterman; the Brian Wilson biopic Love and Mercy has been positively received by critics; Billy Joel is continuing his run as the first-ever music franchise at Madison Square Garden; Elvis Costello is hopping around England and the U.S. this summer and Sting and Paul Simon just finished their successful two year world tour in April.

The privilege of this age is that no one is seeking to tear you down anymore. More often than not, respect is paid to musicians who are still producing and performing material past the age of sixty. They can try and fail more easily and are rarely accused of selling out. Even if their later works do not completely hold up next to their classic hits, retrospectives and eulogies will be kind to the twilight portions of their career.

This is all to say that James Taylor and Neil Young’s latest works do not completely hold up, but do nothing to damage their respective legacies. They are fascinating and frustrating portraits of two old artists wrestling with the same question: what more do I have to say?

In Young’s case, quite a lot. One of the best protest songwriters of his generation, Young has never avoided the issues of his time. Living With War, his righteously indignant 2006 album, features the song “Let’s Impeach the President” and 2009’s Fork In The Road promotes Young’s interest in alternative automotive technology.

The release of The Monsanto Years (out June 30th) marks Young’s 36th studio album, which is both an impressive and exhaustive feat. Accompanied by the country-rock band Promise of the Real, Young goes after the titular agribusiness, Walmart and Starbucks with the vigor of a well-oiled curmudgeon. “The farmer knows he’s got to grow what he can sell, Monsanto, Monsanto / So he signs a deal for GMOs that makes life hell with Monsanto, Monsanto,” he sings on the title track, with his scratchy, iconic voice still in fighting spirit. Those are maybe the most subtle lyrics on the entire album as Young paints broad strokes across each underproduced song. “A Rock Star Bucks a Coffee Shop” employs a lazy, whistled refrain, while “Rules of Change” sounds like an extended jam session gone awry.

While Young’s passion is as unguarded as it’s ever been, there’s no polish to his outrage. “People Want to Hear About Love” links autism with pesticides while criticizing the Citizens United and Chevron, but fails to engage rhythmically. It sounds like Young is just checking off an angry to-do list. There’s a rushed quality to the entire album, which was recorded from January to February 2015. It plays like an urgent, frustrated thesis that is still in the first-draft stage, or a passionate op-ed, which, come to think of it, may have been a more effective use of Young’s energy.

As Young has continued to attack the world head on, James Taylor managed to retreat from it. Taylor has kept busy in the twenty-first century, performing across the world and releasing a polite covers album in 2008. Before This World, released on Tuesday, is his first original work since 2002’s October Road. Taylor’s decision to return to new material has led, if Billboard is correct, to his first ever No. 1 album.

While his return to songwriting should be greeted with enthusiasm, a thirteen year absence has given way to some rust. The opening track, “Today, Today, Today,” is a safe reminder of his trademark clarity, while “Angels of Fenway” (go Red Sox!) reflects on his grandmother’s devotion to a heartbreaking team with pandering, yet delicate charm. “Montana” seems to mimic the melody of “Sweet Baby James,” but offers a sense of longing that seems appropriate after an extended absence from songwriting.

His great talent has always been tailoring music and lyrics to his uniquely aloof voice. There’s an anxious, provisional quality to his singing that always sounds, in his best works, concerned yet reassuring. His voice adds complexities to songs like “Fire and Rain” or “Her Town Too” that might not be evident when performed by other artists. Before This World is a reminder of his savvy technique, with minimal arrangements throughout.

Taylor and Young’s careers thrived in the early 1970’s but despite mutual respect and collaboration, they were thematically at odds with one another. Taylor was content on staking claim as the quiet, sensitive confessional; more accessible — if less poetic — than some of his contemporaries. Young meanwhile found success merging the personal with the political, and his catalogue features songs that are as wistful as they are assertive.

They also each lacked qualities that the other skillfully possessed. If Taylor never reflected the decade as effectively as Young, he managed to disarm audiences with a sublime eloquence and simplicity. James Taylor would have never written a song as haunting as “Ohio,” but Neil Young never quite knew how to write a reflective ballad like “Carolina in My Mind.” The 1980’s saw both artists struggle to stay relevant as folk-rock began to diminish from the culture. They survived and reemerged antithetically; Young widened his focus and kept getting louder while Taylor grew even more meditative and found new ways to stay quiet.

That simple truth remains in their newest works.

Both artists still understand how to earnestly reflect reality, but perhaps they could still learn a thing or two from one another. For all of its pleasant virtues, much of Before This World feels too introspective, and quickly becomes monotonous. Only towards the end, when the album wanders into a traditional Celtic folk style, do the melodies begin to feel engaging. One of the best songs, “Far Afghanistan,” is a cinematic look at a soldier’s plight and features a dark, pointed verse that reminds us of Taylor’s lyrical gifts:

They tell you a tradition in the hills of Kandahar 

They say young boys are taken to the wilderness out there 

Taken to the mountain alone and in the night 

If he makes it home alive they teach him how to fight

Neil Young doesn’t have time for such sober poetry on The Monsanto Years. He’s too busy raging against the machine to infuse his purpose with a deeper spirit. In doing so, he ignores one of his greatest lessons: even Richard Nixon has got soul.

Artist Spotlight: Jamestown Revival

Jamestown Revival’s Jonathan Clay is no stranger to the music industry. The Magnolia, TX, born-and-raised singer/songwriter has been active as a solo artist since the release of his debut EP, 2006’s Whole New Me. From there Clay was able to sign a development deal with Atlantic Records and released his second project, Back to Good, in 2007. A third album, Everything She Wants, came in 2010 amidst various song placements for shows on MTV, ABC, and FX.

However, accomplishments rarely ever hold any real weight by their lonesome. What good is a dream come true if you can’t share that dream with your best friend — especially if that best friend is someone as musically inclined as Jamestown’s other half, Zach Chance?

Speaking with Clay (and briefly with Chance) on the phone for about half-an-hour, it quickly became evident that the joy of creating something meaningful alongside another meaningful person is the ultimate reward for the childhood partners-in-crime, who reunited to form Jamestown Revival in 2010. I could keep writing cliches about friendship, or I could let Clay explain why: “We just enjoyed playing music together a lot more than playing it apart.”

Five years later and the southern folk-rock duo find themselves in the midst of an extensive tour for their highly successful and critically acclaimed debut album, UTAH, which was released in September of last year. The tour has brought them in front of massive festival crowds at Austin City Limits (a homecoming of sorts for them), Coachella, and Wakarusa, amongst others, with an appearance at Lollapalooza on the horizon later this summer.

But as much as Jamestown appreciates the overwhelming love and support, they remain some of the most humble and grounded musicians that I have ever spoken to. Indeed, if I didn’t know anything about them, I very well could have mistaken them for a far less established group. Perhaps this ego-less approach to life is why they opted to forego the expansive studio budgets and bright lights of a big city recording experience, instead finding a log cabin high in the mountains of Utah to track the aptly-titled album entirely to tape.

The story of Jamestown Revival is really that of two best friends who help each other remain true to themselves, relying on and sacrificing for one another in the midst of a crazy musical journey through an even crazier music industry. Read on to hear directly from Jonathan (and at times, from Zach) about his thoughts on Jamestown winning iTunes’ singer/songwriter album of the year, why they don’t record while on the road, a preliminary release goal for their UTAH follow-up record, plenty of stuff about their current home of Austin — which they share with JamFeed! — and much more.

L-R: Zach Chance and Jonathan Clay of Jamestown Revival. Image courtesy of the artist.


Interview by Julia Waicberg.

How did you guys get started as musicians?

Jonathan Clay: My dad played guitar, music was a big part of my household growing up. Zach’s mom sings and his dad played piano, so it’s something that is in both of our family lineages. None of our family members performed professionally, but music was on both sides of our families. We wrote our first song together when we were fifteen. At first we were friends, but then that friendship developed into a bandship. But we started as friends, and first and foremost, we still are friends.

You (Jonathan) had a solo career for awhile. Why did you and Zach reunite to form Jamestown Revival?

JC: We just enjoyed playing music together a lot more than playing it apart.

Who are your musical influences?

JC: Guy Clark, Willie Nelson, and John Prine are big ones. Everybody from James Taylor to The Everly Brothers to The Rolling Stones… a lot of classic music. We don’t listen to a whole lot of current music. Zach does a better job of listening to more current music than I do, but I’m a bit of a grandpa.

You call your fans “revivalists.” Where do you find your biggest fan base?

JC: Austin, LA, New York, Boston, and Chicago. I guess that parallels all of the biggest cities, but it’s where we have the biggest shows… We can rest assured that the fans are going to be there, and that they are going to have our backs.

You moved from Austin to California in mid-2011. What caused the move away from your home state?

JC: We just wanted to change it up. We wanted a change in scenery. We felt like it might inspire something, and that it did. It inspired an entire album!

You lived near Bakersfield, CA. What about that area allowed you to write so much of UTAH?

JC: I think it was just being away from home and feeling completely displaced. There was a longing for familiarity. And the mountains and the water were all new to us.

You guys have been touring for awhile now. What are your thoughts on recording while on the road?

JC: For us, if you’re tracking vocals and guitar for a song and you don’t finish it that day and you want to come back and finish it the next day, you’re not going to be able to get the same sound. You can never repeat. When you break down and then come back, you’re never going to get the same sound twice. And I think that holds true in a larger sense. For us, the album should really be one complete thought. It’s a really important thing. And I feel like it would introduce a bit of a disjointed quality if you were doing a couple songs in a studio here and a couple songs in a studio there. The whole cohesiveness of the album is a really important aspect of it — for it to read like a book from start to finish, for it to feel like a complete thought, and to feel like all those songs are of the same family.

Do you have any necessary touring rules?

Zach Chance: You can tell when people aren’t in a good mood. You know, when someone needs their space. There are some general unwritten rules, like if you’re lucky enough to be on a bus you need to be clean. But nothing too crazy. Everyone’s pretty respectful.

Is there anything you make sure to do while you’re on the road to take your mind off of music?

ZC: We always make a point to get some camping in. We really do enjoy the outdoors. You get out and collect your thoughts, even if you’re not writing a song about hiking. I think doing that, stepping away from your phone and the congestion of the city, is a really good place to figure out where your head’s at. So we try to make time for that. We’ve also gotten really into bowling.

What has been your favorite festival to play at?

JC: Being from Austin, I would say ACL. It was really cool. That was the first festival I had ever been to, just as a fan… That was five years ago. And then five years later, being able to play that festival, that was pretty special.

What is the next step in terms of your next album?

JC: Our plan right now is to finish a song or two by the end of the year and follow it up with an album early next year.

Do you have plans on where to record yet?

JC: No. We haven’t gotten to that part yet… Making an album is a team sport. You’ve got me and Zach, you’ve got our management, our band, our producers, our label (Republic Records). We have a lot of people involved and it will be a decision that we all make together.

iTunes named UTAH the Best Singer/Songwriter Album of 2014. How was that experience for you?

JC: That was really cool! You know, when you create something like an album, and you listen to it so many times during the mixing process and the recording process, you can’t even tell by the end of the process whether or not it’s good. So getting a little bit of recognition, it gives you some much needed approval and affirmation that what you’re doing is worth it, and that you’re not crazy.

Do you listen to your old music still?

JC: Oh, no. Once we’ve signed off on the final master, we don’t ever listen to it… It’s kind of like “Okay, I think I look okay in this picture,” and then “Okay, I’m done with this. I don’t have a need to look at this picture ever again.” Whereas, your significant other, you could look at them over and over. But when it’s yourself, it’s not fun to look at necessarily.

How do you know that a song is good and complete?

JC: It just has a bit of magic to it. And sometimes finding that bit of magic is really difficult, so when you find it, it’s obvious. Sometimes it feels like you’re digging for a needle in a haystack, and then all of a sudden you prick yourself. And then it’s obvious that it’s right there… When you get it, you just know. You just think to yourself, “Okay, that’s it.”

You guys are from Magnolia, TX, but lived in San Marcos and have been residing in Austin (for the second time) since late 2013. Your sound seems to fit into the Austin folk scene, would you agree?

JC: Yeah. And from a larger perspective, just Texas and southern music in general. Austin is obviously a very dynamic, eclectic place. There are so many different kinds of music, but I do feel like we took a lot of influence from the south and southern music. You know, Texas songwriters. Guy Clark and Willie Nelson, to name a few. We merged that with kind of our own inclinations and I guess this is what you get.

What is your favorite venue to play in Austin?

JC: To have a show at Stubb’s Outdoors — that’s the goal. That could be my favorite place. We’ve played inside at Stubb’s, but yet to play outside.

You’re playing at Blues on the Green in Austin later this summer. Have you played before, and are you excited about it?

JC: We’ve been to Blues on the Green before, but haven’t played. But we’re very excited. It seems like in the city of Austin, we’re legitimately building a musical home. It’s always been our home in the truest sense of the word, but now it’s starting to feel like a musical home as well.

What is your favorite national park in Utah?

ZC: Man… Utah is a well-kept secret. Zion is great. I’m pretty partial to Bryce Canyon, just because we took this backpacking trip there. I think we did 18 miles in a day-and-a-half and were covered in blisters, but we spent several days out there and had a great time. And obviously, Zion is awesome. Utah is amazing. And Park City, we always love getting up that way.


Follow Jamestown Revival on JamFeed to stay up-to-date with all of their latest moves, and if you’re in the Austin area be sure to catch them at Blues on the Green on August 5th.

Ranking the Best Musical Moments on ‘Mad Men’

The series finale of Mad Men is this Sunday at 10pm on AMC. Right now I’m going through the seven stages of grief, landing somewhere in between bargaining and depression. In an effort to keep this show alive, I’ve been re-watching old episodes (my favorite? season 5, episode 5, “Signal 30“), recounting classic scenes, and reading every single thing on the internet that I can find. I binged through the first season on DVD (remember those?) back in July 2008 and have watched every subsequent episode in real-time over the course of the final six seasons. I don’t know what I’m going to do without this show, but I figure I may as well play some small part in trying to keep it alive.

One of the many virtues of Mad Men is its commitment to finding distinct, credible, and compelling musical moments to accentuate many aspects of the wide-ranging territory that it covers. The 1960’s produced some of the most memorable music of the 20th century, but creator Matthew Weiner and his team found ways to capture the songs of that decade as they happened. This comprehensive guide shows how the vast majority of the song choices fit the timeline of the series, with a mixture of classic cuts and forgotten one-hit wonders sprinkled throughout each season.

Here are my ten favorite musical moments during the eight years of Mad Men. A few disclaimers: I didn’t include any songs that were not recorded. That leaves out “Zou Bisou Bisou,” Bert Cooper’s touching farewell, and an unfortunate moment from Roger Sterling. I also left out music from this final part of season 7, which include some very fine tracks.

Oh and just for kicks, here’s my prediction for Sunday’s final ending credits song.


10. Frank Sinatra, “My Way” (season 7, episode 6, “The Strategy”)

Let’s begin with arguably the most famous artist to be featured on Mad Men. One of Ol’ Blue Eye’s last hits, “My Way” is used here to wrap up a moving conversation between the show’s primary characters. Their intimate dance doesn’t just symbolize the importance of their relationship; it also represents a passing of the torch from master to protege as Peggy crafts the perfect pitch to the Burger Chef.


9. Nashville Teens, “Tobacco Road” (season 4, episode 1, “Public Relations”)

Mad Men goes electric as Don recounts SCDP’s heist-like departure from PPL at the end of season three. The brash, pulsating guitar hook ushers the British invasion into the show and echoes Don’s public display of swagger and confidence.


8. Vic Damone,  “On the Street Where You Live” (season 1, episode 1, “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes”)

The first ending credits song of the series shows Don kneeling in between his sleeping children’s beds as Betty looks lovingly from the doorway. This syrupy Vic Damone cover is a classic from My Fair Lady, the most popular Broadway musical of the late 50’s and early 60’s. It’s the first glimpse into the home of this seemingly happy American family in the Ossining suburbs, blissfully unaware of the secrets and lies of their patriarch.


7. Chubby Checker, “The Twist” (season 1, episode 8 “The Hobo Code”)

This song comes during a pivotal moment in the relationship between Pete and Peggy. After a long day at the office, which included their second and final sexual encounter, she playfully twists her way over to him and invites him to join. He squashes her enthusiasm with icy control. Sitting alone and quietly judging her, he replies “I don’t like you like this.”


6. The Zombies, “This Will Be Our Year” (season 7, episode 2 “A Day’s Work”)

I’m a bit biased since The Zombies are one of my favorite 60’s bands. Still, there aren’t many better songs you could ask for to end this episode, which features Sally quickly telling her father “Happy Valentine’s Day. I love you,” as she heads back to boarding school. Don’s stunned, poignant reaction is followed by the affirming piano introduction. It gives us hope that the wayward protagonist just might be on his way to finally turning his life around.


5. Big Brother and the Holding Company, “Piece of My Heart” (season 6, episode 10, “A Tale of Two Cities”)

Pete Campbell smokes a joint and, if only for a brief moment, joins the counterculture. Need I say more?


4. Jack Jones, “Lollipops and Roses” (season 2, episode 3, “The Benefactor”)

While Weiner often inserts songs that tie into the action of each episode, he will occasionally choose music that contradicts or subverts theme and mood. This episode concludes with a tense but ultimately successful dinner between Don, Betty, the seedy Barrett’s and clients from Utz. On their drive home, the alienated Betty begins to cry as this soft, charming ballad begins to underscore the tension in their relationship. “When I said I wanted to be a part of your life, this is what I meant. We make a great team,” she says, still largely ignorant of Don’s many infidelities.


3. The Beatles, “Tomorrow Never Knows” (season 5, episode 8 “Lady Lazarus”)

Procuring this song cost Lionsgate, the studio that produces Mad Men, $250,000. This may have been a power play by Matthew Weiner to show that he would let nothing derail his creative vision. Regardless, the song thoroughly represents Don’s growing disconnect with the latter half of the 1960’s. He’s never been one to “surrender to the void.”


2. Judy Collins, “Both Sides Now” (season 6, episode 13 “In Care Of”)

I’ve always felt that this scene could easily have been the final moment of the entire series (especially given the discovery in last week’s penultimate episode). What could be more profound than Don, for one of the first times ever, having an honest moment with his children as he shows them the tattered home where he grew up? The knowing glance that Sally exchanges with her father solidifies, to me, the most interesting and touching relationship of the entire series. The song perfectly accentuates Don’s ambivalent quest to sort through the “illusions” and realities of his past.


1. Nancy Sinatra, “You Only Live Twice” (season 5, episode 13, “The Phantom”)

From one Sinatra to another. This single was written for the 1967 James Bond film of the same title and it’s use here is fitting as Don Draper and Bond share many qualities — drinking, womanizing, and persuasiveness are a few that come to mind. This closing scene, which caps off the series’ strongest season, is structured perfectly with this full but quiet song from the very beginning as Don walks away from Megan and into the darkness. Shots of Peggy, Pete, and Roger show their own diverging paths before settling back on Don at a bar. He has “one life for himself and one for his dreams.” He is asked a pointed question but we don’t need to hear his response. We know that, like Bond, he is perpetually alone.


And here’s ten more that just missed the cut:

Rosemary Clooney, “Botch-A-Me” (season 1, episode 7, “Red in the Face)

Bob Dylan, “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” (season 1, episode 13, “The Wheel”)

Kyo Sakamoto, “Sukiyaki” (season 2, episode 2 “Flight 1”)

Peter, Paul & Mary, “Early in the Morning”  (season 2, episode 8, “A Night to Remember”)

George Jones, “Cup of Loneliness” (season 2, episode 12, “The Mountain King”)

Simon & Garfunkel, “Bleecker Street” (season 4, episode 7, “The Suitcase”)

The Rolling Stones, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” (season 4, episode 8 “The Summer Man”)

Sonny & Cher, “I Got You Babe” (season 4, episode 13, “Tomorrowland”)

The Kinks, “You Really Got Me” (season 5, episode 11, “The Other Woman”)

Paul Mauriat and His Orchestra, “Love is Blue” (season 6, episode 5, “The Flood”)

Artist Spotlight: Magic Giant

L-R: Brian Zaghi, Austin Bis, Zambricki Li

“People come to shows and for the first song they have their arms crossed… By the third song they’re full on krunk. Mothers of two just slam dancing.”

If anyone else would have described their show like this, I would have been skeptical. Magic Giant, however, I believed. I got to sit down with Austin Bis and Zambricki Li between SXSW shows, and never have I been met with so much energy. No handshakes — hugs only, and constant laughing. The band’s personality matches its music. Nothing, however, can compare to Magic Giant’s live shows.

Austin promised me “full on krunk,” but I assumed that a rainy morning show at Whole Foods might be an exception. But the show played out exactly as Magic Giant said it would. The small crowd milled around as the first song started, but within 30 seconds everyone drew near the stage. Within three minutes, we were all out dancing in the pouring rain. The music was infectious, and so was the energy.

Austin singing, Zambricki on harmonica and strings, and Brian Zaghi on cello/bass and guitar. No one ever stopped moving. Austin danced into the crowd and climbed a retaining wall. Needless to say, I attended a second… and a third show. If you haven’t been able to experience a Magic Giant show yourself, get to one soon. But in the meantime, get to know Austin and Zambricki.


Your sound has been described as rave-folk. Is that accurate? How would you describe it?

Austin: We like that because it paints a picture of what the live shows are like. So often people come to the show and the first song they have their arms crossed and by the third song they’re full on krunk. Mothers of two just slam dancing. For that reason “rave folk” is accurate. I don’t know if it’s accurate sonically, necessarily. We do have EDM elements in our music, and it’s a dance party, so we’ll take it.

Zambricki: We were describing ourselves as “folk revival that likes to dance.” We’re more progressive than a lot of bands that would call themselves folk revival.

Austin: A lot of folk that we’re drawn to is so mellow, so “rave folk” nails it, in that it’s banjo and fiddle, but jumping up and down.

Zambricki: We like creating dense party tracks with a lot of organic instruments.


Y’all incorporate a ton of instruments. Zambricki, what’s a mandolin?

Zambricki: The mandolin is tuned like a violin and strummed like a guitar. Using instruments other than guitar lends itself to hearing other things, like the DJ samples. The mandolin gives variation to the sound and makes EDM elements stand out.

Austin: He also plays fiddle, banjo…

Zambricki: Austin went to school for music composition and I’m self taught, all the string instruments. When we’re making recordings it’s really cool because we basically have a full strings section. We did like 87 parts. It’s like Austin’s the conductor and I sit in chairs around the room to create this whole spacial sound. Cello, viola, violin. It’s kinda bananas, creating an orchestra piece-by-piece.


Sounds busy.

Zambricki: I’m pretty busy during live shows. I play two instruments at a time. That allows us to bring sounds from the recordings to live shows.

Austin: Maybe one day we’ll have a string section.

Zambricki: But for now we’re a four-piece band, and everyone is just really busy.


When did you have your first “we’ve arrived” moment?

Zambricki: Our first show was the Bootleg Theater in Los Angeles. Austin and I knew each other musically and personally for a couple years, but when we got with our bass player Brian, that’s when things crystallized for Magic Giant. Things happened really fast.

Austin: That first show there were 70 people who couldn’t get in.

Zambricki: It’s been 11 months, and we’ve been busy. We self-produced an EP recorded in Venice, just going for it.

What led you to the decision to self-produce?

Austin: We just wanted to create something that was authentically us, where we had full control and experimental creative control to show who we are, putting our thoughts and our hearts into the music.

Zambricki: We have experience writing, so it wasn’t our first rodeo in the sonic realm. We’re absolutely open to working with producers in the future — that’d be dope. But these first couple, we did that. That was us. If there’s ever a situation where we’re recording with someone, since we’ve done it on our own we have a good standard. It’s not like, “Here’s my demo I did it in my bathroom.” It’ll be more like, “How would you get this to the next level?”


What’s your writing process like?

Zambricki: It’s a true collaboration. It goes song by song. Sometimes someone has one solid idea that we can hash out, but sometimes having someone get a complete thought on it is nice because then everyone focuses in on helping rewriting and improving. That can be really powerful. Last song we wrote together was two-and-a-half weeks ago just standing in the kitchen, and it took us an hour-and-a-half.  It’s like playing tennis — bam bam bam, bridge, second chorus!

Austin: You never know when inspiration strikes. To be able to have an iPhone in your pocket, waking up from a dream, half asleep, and have an idea, which happened with “Glass Heart.” Or just talking to someone and saying, “Hey that’s a cool way to phrase it, mind if I write that in my phone?” Then we bring it to each other and it can blossom from there, and turn into us.

Zambricki: It’s fun going through voice memos. The other day we were sitting in the yard listening and found 75% of another song. “That’s right… we have another song!” Finger on the trigger, man!


You met Brian through salsa dancing. Let’s hear about that.

Austin: He taught classes at UCLA. He has an amazing mustache. He’s really well known and respected in the salsa community, which is a niche community, but anywhere he goes in the country he’s got salsa friends.

Zambricki: This is his first time playing SXSW, but it’s his third time dancing in Austin. When we played in New York he disappeared. The show was over at 2:30, I’m putting all my stuff up and he’s off to dance in Brooklyn. We created an instrument he plays that’s a hybrid of a cello and a bass.

Austin: He obviously loves dancing and the bass is a big instrument, hard to maneuver and clumsy. So we built something so that he can dance while playing.


I watched the videos y’all filmed with KEXP. How’d you get hooked up with them?

Austin: A series of different people saw our shows and heard we were going to Seattle. All of our LA friends just reached out to people they knew in Portland, Seattle, San Diego, and New York and told their friends, “You have to go to this,” and I guess they told KEXP, “You have to have them.”

Zambricki: When we got there, we were so excited that the DJ we did the show with was a true fan. He was excited we were there and stoked we were there. It was a great show.

Austin: And we look up to him! John Richards — he’s been on the air 15 years.

Zambricki: One woman came up to us [at the next show] and said, “I was on the beach. I heard you on KEXP. I climbed a small mountain because I don’t have a car. I took a bus for six hours.” It was like a pilgrimage. People love KEXP.

Austin: John Richards hadn’t had a band on the air in 2015 because apparently he’s really picky. We really look up to him.

Zambricki: And KEXP turned NPR onto us. NPR featured us on Songs We Love. It was exciting. It was one of those moments when your phone was blowing up with texts saying “heard you on NPR!” They played “Let it Burn,” our current single.


You collaborated with Rashawn Ross of Dave Matthews Band and Spencer Ludwig of Capital Cities. It’s interesting because it seems like DM and CC have pretty different sounds — how does yours mesh with each?

Austin: They’re both renowned trumpet players (Rashawn and Spencer), and they’re both so different.

Zambricki: Spencer is totally new age, super progressive. Rashawn Ross… I felt like we had Charlie Parker at our studio. It’s like having Miles Davis hanging out in your house.

Austin: It’s like any note anyone has every played on the trumpet, he’s played it. He’s amazing.

Zambricki: We did some really innovative stuff with their trumpets. We took some liberties and had a lot of fun. We’re nerds in the studio. We started tweaking it and synthesizing it in a way that’s never been heard before: Rashawn Ross and Spencer Ludwig chopped up and filtered.


Everything about Magic Giant seems serendipitous — the Sweetlife Music Festival guy found you after a six month break. So which do you live by… hard work or fate?

Austin: A little of both.

Zambricki: The little break we had was really cool for our growth. During that time Austin was writing for other artists, like a cut on the David Guetta album Listen.

Austin: I don’t know if we were ready to be with each other back then. The extra time finding ourselves, writing for other artists, meeting Brian. He really completed us.

Zambricki: We became a family. Having a third really balances it. To oversimplify, I’m a little more country and Austin’s a little more rock. So Brian is a third creative partner, but also a sounding board. Someone who has a totally different skill set from us. He’s an engineer; he has a lot of skill with editing and stuff.

Austin: He’s also a good measure of what’s cool. Brian keeps us in check.


Y’all played for a full house at the Troubador in LA after less than a year as a band. What was that like?

Zambricki: Bananas. We did a 17-day tour and ended at Troubador, which was so cool because it was a hometown show after meeting thousands of people all over the country. In LA we have a lot of friends and family that come out to shows, but at Troubador we didn’t recognize anyone there, and it was sold out.

Austin: And they all knew our words. That’s the power of the road. These two girls came to one show two nights ago, then came to yesterday morning’s show, then came to yesterday afternoon’s show, and then tried to come last night but couldn’t get in.

Zambricki: There’s no limit on how many shows you can come to! Come to every show!

Austin: Some fans come up and feel awkward asking for pictures and saying hi, but no one should. They’re the reason we’re doing as well as we are. We want people to keep coming and engaging and bringing friends.

Zambricki: It’s not a party without people. People are really latching on.


Plans for the next step?

Zambricki: It seems like for awhile our schedule is going to be record, tour, record, tour, record, tour.

Austin: It’s the dream.


You heard them — get to a show. Only 11 months old, Magic Giant’s success is meteoric. But more importantly, through the success they remain genuine people with a unique vision. I understand why people are willing to trek to shows far and wide; I plan to whenever possible.

Follow @MagicGiant on Twitter and Instagram, add them on Facebook, Pandora and Spotify, and go to magicgiant.com/join to get a song for free. Keep up with the band through JamFeed to keep up with all of their upcoming releases and tours.