MAGUS VAUGHN - Play To Your Strengths

credit: Kimberly Boss

credit: Kimberly Boss

WITH A VOICE LIKE AGED HONEY, Magus Vaughn has come into his own as a frontman and songwriter to be reckoned with. Just a few years after disbanding his group, now-local-legends The Comet Conductors, he decided to return to the stage and to the studio with a fresh outlook on life, and songs to bear it. Backed by a crack team of musicians lovingly called “The Movers”, Vaughn started putting in the work and pushing past the fear of the unknown to craft a unique sounds all his own.

While, like a lot of budding musicians, Vaughn played fast punk and metal tunes in his teens, he quickly was drawn to the blues and to the raw emotional expression of songwriting. Picking up where his previous work left off, Vaughn has crafted a thrilling combination of blues, soul, and acoustic-driven music, and relies heavily on strong collaborators to see his vision brought to life. The newest realization of that vision comes in the form of the buzzy single “Hummingbird”, backed with “Nothing Stays the Same”, a blues-dub infected tune. Madscience was joyously offered the task of creating a video for the former, a first for us, which you can view on our homepage now.

I caught up with my pal Magus right before his stellar set at The Willow Tree’s 1st annual TreeFest on 4/20.

Floyd Strange: So tell me about this band you’ve put together.

Magus Vaughn: A lot has been done. I kind of started writing these songs and had it in my head I would do it solo for awhile. Working with Chase [Chafin], then working with Justin [Hoard], it just became kind of easy for us to jam together. So I did some shows without a band name, just using my name, and had a rotating cast… I did a show after an impromptu cancellation and called my boy Daniel Byrd to open up. After our show, he was like ‘Y’all sound great, I’d love to play with you.’

FS: Oh yeah?

MV: It ended up being one of those things where I was, like, his style would fit so well with what we do, lead-wise. So, I pulled him onboard, and then we started jamming my songs… Basically, Dan came up with the name [the Movers]. We already had it in our heads that we could kind of gig immediately, but at the same time we put a lot of work in. Everybody’s got so many projects. This new thing has it’s own different chemistry, and it’s been really fun to mess with.

credit: Jed Baird

credit: Jed Baird

FS: Have you recorded the album?

MV: We’ve recorded a few songs. We’ve been taking it slow with that, because it’s really opened up opportunities to make the songs really groovy and different things. And where everybody has different stuff to do, it’s really dope but it’s also like… you can kind of let it open up more if you hear it and put in a lot of practice. 

FS: Right.

MV: So after going into the album, and practicing now… yeah. In a year we’ve had a lot of growth, as a unit. Daniel Byrd is, like, a monster, and we’ve all been learning a lot from him. But Chase is great too, and Justin’s amazing, playing the kit and singing the way he does.

FS: Are you playing bass or guitar now?

MV: For the Movers, I’m on guitar.

FS: Oh, cool.

MV: I was a guitar player for a long time, in my teens and up into my twenties and didn’t really do much bass besides [playing] Ramones songs with my brother… And then backing up my mother at times. Never really anything extensive. I didn’t really study any great bassists. I was more of a Hendrix guy and blues guitar guy for the most part. And then, you know, metal and some other different influences that kind of seeped in. I like it all…

FS: So is your whole family musical?

MV: When I grew up we were. My brother is, he really grew into a really good singer. He could do a spot-on Joey Ramone when he was, like, sixteen, and play the guitar stuff. That downstroke thing, he really got it down. And I was like ‘Alright, I’ll play the bass, and do backup vocals here and there.’ But that was my first time really trying to do vocals… and I think after going solo, and just really working on the idea yourself, you can really find a lot that you didn’t know was there at times. Or how to channel it. Like, you know something’s there but you don’t always know how to channel it. 

credit: Victoria Kelly

credit: Victoria Kelly

FS: Right.

MV: So it was really a huge deal for me to get away from any kind of noise for awhile and come back to it fresh.

FS: So what inspired moving to do solo stuff after being the sideman for so long?

MV: Well, we had done open mics before but we didn’t understand the branding idea. We always thought we had to be super precise on naming, and you know, you create a mystique around that kind of idea sometimes when you don’t push too hard into… I don’t know. I feel like… you can kind of give it more credit to what it is, getting out there and starting your own brand. Everybody should really be encouraged to have their own sense of self worth and the idea that you can create art. Sometimes people wonder what helps get you into shows and all this, and it’s really creating a brand and growing it. So whenever I got out of being a side guy and not trying to push myself… it’s really cool growth, but it is daunting. You know, there’s growing pains with that. If you’re not afraid to get out there and… for lack of a better word, make mistakes. You can go out that first time and be like ‘Oh my god, I fucking bombed but then that next time your’e like ‘that last time, well, it can’t get any…’ You push it to the next level. Pushing it to the point where it’s not really even thought too hard about. 

FS: Yeah.

MV: Working with great players helps too. You write a lot of songs, you kind of be artsy with it, but when you bring those songs to a band you have to think of [them]. I feel like it always grew the song. With “Hummingbird” there was just different ideas and it…. I don’t really write out my songs. Me and Jake [Quillin] ,forever, we wouldn’t write out our songs. 

FS: You just memorize them?

MV: Basically, yeah. We would just play them until… Which is fine, I mean, we know what we’re doing. But it’s like—

FS: —at some point you want to get it down.

MV: On paper? I mean, that’s fair.

FS: What was the hardest part about going under your own name again?

credit: Kimberly Boss

credit: Kimberly Boss

MV: Maybe… that’s a good question. Getting over the feeling that it’s going to be too hard or whatever. It’s one of those things like… getting outside of your own bubble sometimes. It definitely felt like there were some mental blockages before, and anytime you get around some of these magnificent singers we have around town you’re just like ‘Oh my god, should I even do this?’ you know—

FS: —well you’re kind of growing into that yourself. I’ve never heard you sing like this.

MV: I appreciate that.

FS: I feel like you’ve put a lot of work in and really honed your voice now.

MV: At the same time, I have issues with being in my own head, especially if I can’t hear myself at certain venues right now, being at this level of… there’s still a bit of uncertainty that actually kind of makes me feel good sometimes. Honestly I feel like if I can get better now, then I can get better later too. As long as I keep doing the right work to get there. I had a lot of fun playing and writing with Jake, we wrote a lot of the songs together… But I did let it slip a little bit when we were in the band together as far as playing my own thing. I have a family and do other things. So, I never tried to have my own thing before that. And whenever The Comet Conductors felt like something that couldn’t go on, for what it was, I do think that the only reason is that there was no more growth. And it was beautiful that we all found our own way to branch off into other things. I saw Mike [Lubrano’s] band not too long ago and it was dope. And everything Jake’s done has been really great. I try to learn from him, I try to learn from Dan, and Chase, and Justin. Everybody has something that they do so extremely well.

credit: Victoria Kelly

credit: Victoria Kelly

FS: And now you’re coming back together in a way. It’s got to feel good playing together again.

MV: Yeah. Days like today, when we get to have two sets each and you know we have some others later this year. It’s one of those things where it’s like ‘man…’ You have to—you can’t get caught up in the idea of a project.

FS: Right.

MV: That is the biggest thing about it. Your individual self is worth enough to think of yourself as… just worthy, in a sense. So Daniel Byrd’s Collective is playing right now. And, you know, they’ll back me up on some stuff. And then we’ll be backing up Jake later. So instead of treating people as if you’re tied to a band or you’re tied to this or that, you can really create a community, in a sense. And I would love to spread the love even more at some point. Right now it’s just tight enough. 

FS: I’m curious about where these songs came from. When did you start writing?

MV: Pretty much immediately after breaking up the old band. I had created a mental blockage, just created a lot of weirdness in myself. And the whole calamity of the issue of us not being able to get on [the same] page of musical direction… it was huge for us to have our own outlet. I was writing songs that were going a different way, he was writing songs that were going a different way. At that point, it was like I had freedom, in a way. And I don’t even really think that’s fair, because I think I had freedom before that. So, I was really quick to do something that could have just been—a break. 

FS: Right.

MV: I kind of felt like it was such a breaking point that it had to just be a ‘big bang’ of sorts. I don’t even necessarily know if that’s how it went down. But it felt like that was inevitable. But I wish I could have done it, and kept it up, because we did have a strong following. That was the roughest part: knowing that you helped create an infrastructure for something that is now—you’re entirely cut out. And you’re on your own. And nobody knows you for doing that. And it’s like ‘O.K.’

FS: Yeah. It seems like you’re exploring a lot of that in this new material. It’s really introspective to me. 

MV: Yeah. I think I write a lot of times in a sense that it is a lot about how I feel but at the same time it’s just things that kind of came out with the song. The emotion of the writing. And that is why I end up not writing what I get down, just because it ends up being… what it is every time I play it. Which is normally the same every time. But I can also switch it up and do different things. I don’t feel like, until I record it, I really have to write it down. 

FS: Hmm. 

MV: So I don’t always want to put my things to paper. I just end up… being a Dad. Getting new songs, saying to the guys ‘hey, it’s like this. I’m gonna say this’. [Laughs]. And the guys like being visual, too. That’s one of the things that’s interesting. I never did the thing of looking at charts. But Daniel is so good, that having charts—he likes to be visual with it…

FS: As a songwriter, I really enjoy talking to other songwriters. Especially lately. I’m always curious about where songs come from and how other people write and what their process is. So I’m just curious about yours. How do you think you work and where [your songs] come from?

MV: I definitely try to be positive but I also have that—I kind of identify with the pessimistic [side] but at the same time, encouraging.

FS: Right. 

MV: I don’t know. I always felt myself being…sometimes simplistic, sometimes… I almost always put it together with the band. Even “Hummingbird” had parts cut out once I brought it to a band. Just trying to be kind of orchestral with it, it already has that vibe. 

FS: Yeah it’s definitely kind of an experimental song, in some way. It’s some territory that I’ve never really heard you do before. I was honestly blown away by it. It’s hard to define, really.

MV: I’ve always had to try to play to whatever strengths I could find. Sometimes it was for fun… the music, for me, [it] tends to be really important for it to be expressive, but the more that I’ve gotten into the whole process… the idea of creating songs that are kind of like landscapes?

FS: Hmm. 

MV: Like that song ended up being kind of that thing, just drawing it out.

FS: It really kind of develops. The longer I listened to the song, the more all these things kind of started to come in…

MV: Yeah. It ended up being one of those things [where you say] ‘this is kind of reminiscent of something…’ You get to the last moment when I have that higher note… It felt like it finished out really nicely. I did spend a lot of time writing each part of that. I always thought of it [in] three sections. 

FS: It’s interesting you’re talking about making things sound like landscapes. That was one of the first things that came to mind, I immediately got all these visuals. Which I think is reflected in the video. 

MV: Totally. That’s a song that’s out of my norm, especially for band work. Fingerpicking, you know… I just kind of got it… Lyrically, I appreciate having the lyrics and the music all at the same time. I like to think about the lyrics, but every time I attempt that, it seems like I get things that feel contrived… Sometimes I’ll get flashes of lyrics in my head, like old Comet Conductors songs that ended up being some that people really liked—really were just quick things that come to the top of the head. 

FS: I’m always worried that I’m going to write a line that’s the most obvious, expected line. But sometimes if it’s what comes to mind, you can’t really stop yourself.

credit: Jed Baird

credit: Jed Baird

MV: And for real, there are ways to express yourself with minimal… I don’t know. For instance, I have a song I call “Come Back Baby” and it’s like, one verse that repeats, and a chorus that changes, which goes into a lead… One of those things where you just think—you write these songs for feels you know? You don’t have to be [Bob] Dylan. It’s cool as fuck if you can write [a song like] Dylan [laughs]. But, in this day and age, there’s room for me to feel OK about what I do. And I feel good about doing that. Sometimes just putting yourself out there just feels like… with my own work I’m so self-critical. It’s always been to a fault. I try to use it as a tool. You relax, and just let that fall into place… It’s not bad, it’s got a good vibe. Like—fuck it, play it. [Laughs]. 

FS: I think that’s the best line to end on [laughs]. Thanks for talking to me, man.

MV: Hell yeah, dude. 

FS: Appreciate it.

MV: You’re the man.

FS: You are too. 

Magus Vaughn is a blues and soul singer/songwriter from Kingpsort, TN who currently plays with Jake Quillin as well as his band Magus & The Movers. Their new single “Hummingbird” is available on Spotify, Bandcamp, and iTunes. Follow them on Instagram