Magneta Lane returns with Witchrock
She may have hated herself and had “no f**king clue about anything” back in 2003, but that did not stop 17-year-old singer-guitarist Lexi Valentine from forming a band with her drummer sister Nadia, then 15, and their bassist friend French. Nor did it stop them from becoming, for awhile at least, the toast of Toronto’s indie rock scene.
The band was (and remains) Magneta Lane, and their debut EP, 2004’s The Constant Lover, won them much attention, perhaps more than any teenager could reasonably be expected to attract and yet remain level-headed.
“You would have punched yourself back then,” Nadia says.
“I would have,” Lexi, now 26, agrees. “If I would have met myself at seventeen and met that bratty girl... Because, oh my god, I probably would have been like ‘Shut up! You don’t know what you’re talking about. Just calm down.’”
One decade, two full-length albums, and a few record deals later, Magneta Lane is, for lack of a better word, back. Their new EP Witchrock came out this Tuesday through the band’s own Splendor House label and eOne Music, and was inspired by the “dark period” (Lexi’s words) that descended upon them in the wake of their last album, 2010’s Gambling with God, put out through Metric’s label, Last Gang Records. Questions about their management, label, and sound led the trio to take a break in order to recharge creatively, practice their craft, and learn their business, something about which they knew precious little when they were signing contracts as teens.
“It’s so important, knowing your business, being in music,” says Lexi. “Especially now, because you can’t be Kurt Cobain anymore. You have to be Kurt Cobain and Donald Trump. You know what I mean? It’s not as easy. You can’t be this tragic rock star anymore because it’s not going to do anything for your business. And it’s double the work, but it’s worth learning.”
While she initially felt “discouraged” about the state of the band’s career post-Gambling with God, Lexi eventually “got mad.” She started sitting in her basement with her guitar and headphones, using a “super-awful” recording program to sketch out songs that sounded unlike anything Magneta Lane had recorded before.
“We write our songs together, and now that we’re writing for the full-length, we’ll definitely all write together. But at that time, for some reason, I was just like ‘I need to write this because I’m pissed.’ That was my way to deal with it. And then when they heard it” – referencing her bandmates – “they liked it, so that’s a plus.”
A mutual acquaintance introduced them to Finger Eleven members Rick Jackett and James Black, who agreed to produce the four songs that make up Witchrock. The band started pre-production in November 2011 and worked on the material on and off for the next four months at Coalition Studios in Toronto’s east end, an experience that proved to be exciting for more than creative reasons.
Says Lexi: “The thing about this place that is so cool is, because it used to be this old monastery, there are sections to it that have stained glass windows. And I actually, not to sound like one of those people that are like ‘I so believe in ghosts,’ but I’m totally one of those people that’s like ‘I so believe in ghosts.’ I’m very superstitious too.
“But I remember having the headphones on, and you can tell when they are studio sounds. But some of the sounds that were picked up, it was like ‘This is so creepy. There’s definitely something going on here, right?’ But whether it was a ghost or not, I don’t know, but the idea of one is pretty awesome.”
Given their ages when they first started out, I wonder how the role of Magneta Lane in their lives has changed since they formed back in 2003.
Says Lexi: “I think it’s still the number one priority in our lives, which I think for a lot of people that changes. And I think that’s why a lot of people give up, because they think, ‘This is becoming exhausting. There are egos in the band, and hardships and stuff.’”
“There are no egos in our band,” adds Nadia. “We’re just like ‘Lex, you do all the interviews!’”
“How it’s changed is maybe just our outlook on things,” says the frontwoman. “I think before, we were kids just trying to find our feet in this industry that we wanted to be a part of. We wanted to be part of a band. We didn’t really know what came along with that until it actually started happening.
“People used to ask us all the time: ‘Are you guys a feminist band?’ I still don’t consider us a feminist band. But at the same time, now that we’re older, the role that females play in our industry is so important to me, and it is so important to me what young girls are listening to out there. That stuff now is super important to us, and that’s stuff that we didn’t think about back then, because we were just like ‘blah.’”
Magneta Lane will celebrate the release of Witchrock by playing Toronto’s Rivoli club February 14 at 10:15 p.m.