Cincinnati’s Multimagic has finally released their debut album Manic Daze, an album that took a few years longer to release than we or the band’s Coran Stetter would have initially expected.
I met Coran years ago during a late-night showcase during CMJ where he told us he had a band that we would like. It’s the sort of thing you hear all the time but rarely is true. But upon hearing their music I was instantly sold with their infectious and joyous anthemic synth-pop sound and it helped, not to mention that they delivered a killer live show.
A lot has changed for the band since then, with Coran suffering a manic episode that put the band on pause and eventually on a self-imposed hiatus of sorts. He brought the band back to life with a totally revamped new lineup to help him see his vision through and finally bring Manic Daze to fruition.
Last week we had the pleasure to sit down on zoom with Coran, who was also joined by keyboardist/vocalist Meg Kecskes, guitarist Jimmy Ruehlman, and bassist Anthony Maley, who joined us about mid-way through our chat. We spoke about what it’s like to finally release their album, how the 2.0 version of the band came to be,
Find our full discussion below, which has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Will: Hey, Coran! Nice to meet you, Meg and Jimmy! How are you guys all doing?
Coran: We’re actually at this warehouse space that looks like the foot soldiers skateboard in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze. We’re completely renovating this space.
W: Is that going to be your new rehearsal space of sorts?
C: Exactly, rehearsal, studio, and then eventually live session and live streams to really lean to it since we don’t know how long it will be until we can play live. So we want to do it in the highest quality way we can.
Meg: A lot of the members have projects outside of Multimagic so it’s awesome to have an actual recording studio and a place to do recording sessions. So I think it’s going to be anything adjacent.
C: We’re trying to use this time to transition all of us into doing music and music-adjacent projects full time, not just Multimagic, but other stuff. So having a space that we can record other bands in, produce other things, that’s what we’re trying to do.
Meg: Switch that income flow!
W: Congrats on the release of your debut album Manic Daze. How are you guys holding up, how is your community handling COVID right now?
C: Obviously we’re excited with the record dropping, it’s been a long time coming. We’re in Ohio, Cincinnati specifically, it’s like a lot of places, an urban city that’s pretty progressive and liberal in the core and we’re in the middle of a red country and a state that is swing, that tends to lean red at the state level. So that’s made things kind of difficult in terms of getting the virus under control. We have a Republican governor, but I guess he’s considered a “moderate,” as far as Republicans go these days, but early on he and our former Health Secretary they were one of the leaders with getting things under control.
M: They rated the governors and he was top five in the country which was good, and we were doing well originally….
C: The first couple of months were really hard. The five of us have grown so close and prior to it, we were getting together for band stuff at least two to three times a week. We all live near one another and got together all the time, so for those first two months, everyone was worried about getting together. And then when Melvin, who put out our record on vinyl via his label, Soul Step Records, he had to put the album out in April, so we had to figure out what to do right around the time they started slowly re-opening things and figuring it out.
So early on we made like a blood pact that we are going to do what we have to in order to be safe and stick within your circle and only see your parents and other people and trying to get through this thing responsibly.
M: It’s hard because you want to keep moving forward with music, but how do you during the pandemic? So that was our question with Soul Step Records, do we continue to go ahead and release it in April? And like a lot of artists, we were faced with a question of “Do we release or wait until people can come out to shows on tour?” But we were so happy that we still released the vinyl continued to release singles digitally over the summer so people could have that music. So a lot of the bigger artists who held back their music, they may be wondering if they should have released just to help with the collective healing, you know? So I’m happy we went ahead with the decision to release the vinyl. But it’s still so cool to finally have the whole album out digitally.
C: I’ve had some of these songs for a long time and then we went back with this lineup to rework some of those old songs. And then some of the songs are post my manic episode, so for me, I always wanted to get to that moment. I feel like as much anticipation as a record comes out, I just want to get to the point where I’m ready to put the work in. I want to play live, create videos, all of that stuff. So it’s awesome that we are finally at that point now. It’s weird that we can’t tour but we have to just be creative and see what we can do. In a weird way outside of the major artists that have money, it put a lot of people on the same playing field, and its a matter of how creative can we be.
We haven’t really had a rehearsal space during the pandemic, we have been literally rehearsing at our bass players apartment (laughs), we invested in in-ear monitors, drum machines, and that sort of stuff so we could rehearse in an apartment. But he needed to move out so that’s where we got the idea to build this studio. So it’s kind of ironic that the week that we put out a record that we are building a studio and can’t even do live streams right now.
M: Yeah we’re spending our release day at Home Depot and Lowe’s getting supplies (laughs).
W: So I know you guys touched upon it already but can you take us behind the scenes of deciding how to release the album with the reality of the virus and not getting to play live shows, as I know you guys thrive in the live environment.
C: So last year when we announced the band was back with a new lineup, around that time was when we had met Melvin of Soul Step and initially he wanted to put out a 7” with two singles and planned that as our homecoming. We did a little small tour with a really cool band out of Texas called Wild Moccasins just to get the rust off and we were glad we did because a month later we had a homecoming show here. And I know the way nostalgia works, people who had seen the old lineup, they were going to compare us to that and I felt like we had to not only be as good but even better than people remembered. So we tried to conscious of that as I know that’s how I am when I see bands I like with new lineups, I compare it to how it was, you know? So we took a lot of time and it was actually Jimmy, whose a big Flaming Lips fan, that sorta helped serve as inspiration for the 7”.
Jimmy: They released a limited gold vinyl of The King’s Mouth on Record Store Day ahead of any digital release and to use to pros ultimate wisdom, I thought why don’t we promote our vinyl and just release it as its own entity, you know?
C: So we were going to do our release show and all that but when everything went down in March we were at our rehearsal for SXSW when we got the news that SXSW was canceled. And if you remember during those first two months, people were just learning what COVID is, we didn’t know that its mostly breathing and droplets, etc.
M: We were at the point where it was like, “do we walk out of our front door?” There was so much unknown.
Jimmy: My girlfriend actually had two positives tests. I quarantined myself even though I tested negative twice even though we were living together. But we were being safe, not evening kissing or sharing drinks etc. But that still kept me from working with the band for the entire month as I was self-quarantining.
M: We were all quarantining and we were all starting to coming out but we hadn’t seen Jimmy for what felt like months.
C: So essentially we weren’t sure if we should push back everything, but Melvin and the label are essentially non-profit and very artist-friendly where he puts out records, makes his money back and anything extra he splits with the artists and then invests the money to sign more bands. Awesome dude. But the thing is he can’t just sit on the product once it’s there. So he understood us pushing the digital back but he has distributors that want the record, I sold it to them, so it just made sense to do it, hope for the best, and then figure the digital thing out. It gave us a bit of leeway to have time to make some content and figure out how to release it when you can’t play live.
M: After we decided to release the vinyl we decided to put the focus to make it our limited circle and get together and the studio sort of naturally came out. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do so it was cool to get into live streaming and get the best audio and visual performances you could do out there.
C: I don’t know if its a Mid-West thing or a working-class thing or whatever, but we just always try to roll with the punches, so whatever happens, we can’t give up.
M: Gotta shift gears. What’s the silver lining?
W: Believe it or not, Coran, I first met you at CMJ (when that was a thing) about six years ago now. I don’t know where the time has gone. But it’s been a long journey for you and the band, a lot has changed over the years. Can you talk about how you guys all met and how this changed the identity of the band? The 2.0 backstory!
C: I was actually telling Jimmy earlier how you and I met at a showcase at Baby’s All Right and we were both there till 3-4 in the morning and then the next day we were there again at 1 p.m. and were like “I guess we didn’t leave” (laughs)
But back to 2.0…Jimmy and are actually third cousins, so peripherally we have always known each other and he actually had been to Multimagic shows before so as a friend/fan and in 2017 I had a period of a few months where I wasn’t doing anything with music or playing music, but the therapist I was seeing said I had to get back to my routine. And if playing music is a part of that, you got to do it. But unfortunately, no one in the old lineup wanted to hear that and they kept telling me they wanted to give me time, which is fine, but I know that I needed to be playing music.
So one night I was walking home and I saw Jimmy passing by…and actually, you tell this part pretty well…
J: I was in a pretty bad place myself as I just had injured my shoulder in a snowboarding accident and wasn’t playing music at the time. I was out of work and just playing some guitar and stuff on my looper pedal, as much as I could with a hurt shoulder. But Coran invited me to help him with Inhailer Radio and then from there it ended up leading to some jamming and I ended up playing drums as it was easier to play with a bum shoulder
C: We used to have this radio station, WNKU, and it was like our KEXP. Back when I had my manic episode they had announced that the university that owned it was selling the station. So part of my mania I was trying to raise money and save the station. It eventually led to starting this app and an online station called Inhailer Radio, which now three years later is crazily enough now our premiere “indie” station.
M: WNKU used to be “the local artist” station and really cared about the people that they featured, so for them to sell out was a huge hit for the music community in Cincinnati. So Coran in that mania, tried to resurrect it in a different light and now we have Inhailer, and all those artists went there.
C: Part of the thing was when the station was WNKU, we were trying to bridge the gap between being just a local band and taking it to the next level. So I didn’t intend to start a radio station, but rather a management company or artist development thing, so since the band was on hold, I wanted to find musicians who could help with the artist development thing and Jimmy was actually the first musician. Then naturally as time wore on, we started to jam together, we didn’t know if it was Multimagic stuff but I had these songs about what happened to me so we started working together and eventually Evan, who is our drummer now, he’s also actually a popular hip-hop producer in Cincinnati and had pitched me on a hip-hop podcast/show for the station. Although that didn’t work out as we stuck with a more indie-alt rock format, but we found out that he also played drums so he came in and Jimmy switched to guitar, and we saw that we had something.
It was about this time three years ago in September when it had been six months and nothing was going on with Multimagic and a bunch of the guys from the old lineup decided they were moving on. So that was when I went to Jimmy and Evan and saw that we had these new songs, could bring the old ones to the table.
J: I had been a Multimagic fan for a while and seen them a couple of times so I was all in.
C: The core at the time was the three of us and then Anthony, our bassist, was actually just a friend who played in another band, but he was a friend and supporter throughout everything. So me Jimmy and Evan got into the studio with producer Eric Tuffandsam, who has pretty much-recorded everything we have done. We went in knowing we didn’t have the full band but we wanted to work on some of the new songs, old songs, and re-record some new versions. But knew we wanted to retain the female vocalist element of before and Evan knew Meg and recommended her.
M: Anthony has been a fan of the band and actually worked with Coran at their other when he had the mania episode happen and was one of the few who stayed true to him. So they had that loyalty already. But yeah I was working with Evan at a restaurant and came up to me and basically asked me if I wanted to quit everything and join the band. But yeah I met Coran, met the guys, learned their whole story over coffee over four hours and it just felt right.
C: So the four of us started working together recording with Eric and when we were ready to move it live, that’s when we knew we needed a bass player to round out the lineup and Anthony’s band sort of round down and we came to him invited him and he was totally in.
J: The band was solidified a couple of weeks, maybe three weeks, before the big homecoming show!
M: Anthony told me he had played to bigger crowds there – and we had a pretty full house too – but he said just being there with you guys and playing that first official show just felt right.
C: That was June last year in 2019 and that first show really cemented the birth of Multimagic 2.0.
M: Speaking of nostalgia, some of the older fans came and knew the lyrics more than I did, singing them better than me during my first show. It was wild and magical night.
W: So before the self-imposed hiatus the band was gaining some momentum and buzz. Was it daunting to sort of hit the restart button or refreshing, or a bit of both? And for Meg and Jimmy, how was it to join Coran on this new journey together?
J: Coran has such a strong vision for the project, so it was actually really simple for us to learn the songs and collaborate on new songs. Our methods of collaboration are really strong, us three will pick out these hooks for our tunes or bring a post-chorus or intro really strongly together. And that’s all collaboration.
M: Bridging off that, he’s right. It starts with a certain place depending on the song and who came up with the idea. But in the end, to have five members equally collaborate to complete a song, it’s hard to find normally in a five-piece band. And I’m always going to hone in on the foundation of friendship. I’ve worked with groups before and was afraid it would turn into those other disasters but something felt right the whole time and a core gut feeling of feeling trust and realness with these people.
C: For me, everything that happened with the old lineup came out over the course of a few months. When I was working with Jimmy and Evan early on, we were just becoming friends and there was no ambition of “what’s it going to be?” There was no agenda. When I write a song and start it, it’s in my bedroom on my acoustic guitar and the music I love are big bombastic songs, the band’s I know you like, such as Future Islands, The National, Alvvays, are written by an individual in a time and place where they felt something, but ultimately they took it to the band, they collaborated with people, it made it bigger than that one person and when they reveal it live, it just becomes something else and that is the most powerful thing, as both a performer and an audience member. So I knew if I did Multimagic again, I didn’t want to lose that. So if I wanted it to be that, I knew it had to be Multimagic. So to do something else just wouldn’t make sense. The funny thing is, the old lineup actually never put out music, “Let Go” was the only song that I released, and that song was the one that got me that lineup.
About it being daunting or refreshing…kind of both? When you go through trauma and you’re in a new relationship, you’re going to at first compare it to an old relationship or if you can trust someone. So I think us taking a year playing live and “letting be,” it felt like we had been a band for a long time and took a lot of pressure of us wondering “what will this be.” Sure it did suck to lose some perceived momentum in the way the industry works, but honestly, my network of people I can trust, people that are allies, has only grown since then. So in a lot of ways, the narrative of falling and getting back up was a lot more inspiring than just being a guy in your late 20’s writing songs about how a lot of people feel in their 20s.
M: Me coming in and not knowing all of the stories within the band, I could see the big picture seeing Coran’s songwriting and how they transform into an anthemic way. As a writer, when he starts his song, they are an anthem for him to inspire him to get through what he’s going through that month, and he turns it into something inspiring and authentic and just amazing to see how they’ve grown over time.
C: One of my favorite albums of all time is The Killers’ Hot Fuss. It always stuck with me that you could have six or seven four-minute banger singles on a full-length record and they have pretty much stuck with that. I’ve tried to write slower songs and ballads and it just doesn’t feel genuine, so it’s like fuck it, I’m just going to write three-and-a-half minute songs.
M: Don’t worry I’m going to bring some in (laughs)
W: Can you talk about how you are able to channel topics like that into such a joyful life-affirming sound? It seems almost harder to do that than to make a typical “sad song.”
C: It’s what comes naturally to me, as long as I can remember, even just enjoying music before I started making it, I love melodic music with a good hook, but it needs to have that lyrical substance at the same time. I like the dichotomy of that “genuine sad authentic lyrics” but in a more anthemic upbeat package.
M: The music represents the silver lining, the hope. But your lyrics address the honest and vulnerable problem you’re dealing with.
C: Exactly. When I write something in my bedroom, it’s just to get a feeling out. But the moment that I share that with the band and we collaborate, then it becomes “our thing.” If we agree that it’s good enough to go out and spend time, energy, or money recording and people will connect with that and want to hear it live, it becomes another thing. Unless you’re completely narcissistic, what’s the point of doing that unless you want people to experience a piece of what you did too.
M: When that same authenticity from where you’re in your bedroom when you first wrote those lyrics and that feeling, and then is carried all the way to the stage and you see the audience connecting to it in their own way and emotion, that is the whole point of live music. I think it just comes down to that moment where you need to scream into a pillow, or you’re home alone blasting music dancing into the night. Usually, when you’re doing that, it’s because you’re frustrated, or sad, or you don’t know what’s coming next. So I love how Coran addresses these issues but delivered it in a way that feels cathartic.
W: I was pleasantly surprised to see “Let Go” on the album after all this time. Whereas sometimes when bands rehash their early releases on their album it feels “safe” but in this case with your journey, it felt right. How come this one survived and how did it’s meaning translate differently with this version?
C: So we re-recorded it with Meg’s vocals, re-did the synths and having the new lineup on it, and trying to stay true to the production, it still actually felt fresh and like us, and for me, I lived off that song for five years and I wanted to make sure it made the record because it was the song that sustained. I mean that’s the song Jimmy found us through. I think as far as keeping that song on the record, there are another four or five songs that may make the second record that are ones we could have chosen that were previously there, and some other new ones we are looking at. I look at Magic Daze as the beginning of an era but also the closing of a chapter, and “Let Go” was definitely a huge part of that chapter.
W: A lot has changed with the music industry since I first met you. For instance, where we met, CMJ, doesn’t even exist now. Music is so interchangeable with Spotify, playlists, the sheer volume of releases. What’s the goal of succeeding as an independent artist in today’s market? Pre-COVID or even with the current situation?
C: Anthony, our bass player, actually just got here and is joining us now!
For that question, at the beginning of streaming, a lot of people thought it would democratize things an in a way it has, but once the capitalists figure out a way to capitalize, they will. But finding the four of these people I’m playing music with now. I did it once before and enjoyed them as people, and that was a feat in itself. And to find four more people I love, love being around each other, write music together, and have these goals, to me that is making it now. Everything else is logistics.
Can we do to this point that we can do it for a living, or supplemental income, all of that stuff is the business side of things? We’d love to be at the place where we can do that. But outside of us, I think you’re seeing it, major labels are signing tik tok entertainers. I think that’s fine for entertainment, and I love Tik Tok and watching people who would’ve been vine stars 10 years ago, it’s entertaining. But is that the best for music in the future, no? I think who is going to write the best music is those who have genuine feeling that they want to get out and they find a creative way to do that. If you want to call it indie or underground or whatever, that’s why I think there’s always going to be passionate music lovers out there. We want humanity, the best music is connecting with people’s humanity.
M: You don’t want to say you it doesn’t really matter if you don’t “make it” because that’s a goal to make money and inspire people and help ourselves continue to survive. But to get to make music with my brothers and family, it’s getting to experience every single day together, knowing that we tried our best and making these memories, those present moments together hopefully shines through in the music.
W: You guys have strong roots in the live music community or “scene” if you will. Can you talk about how Cincinnati and Ohio have played a role in your sound?
C: What we consider the part of the Cincinnati music scene that we are really involved with started in 2012 at a place called Motr, it’s this guy Dan McCabe who has been in the scene for about 30 years, in a place called Over-the-Rhine that is basically our Williamsburg. He opened Motor when no one was coming downtime and there wasn’t a real music scene here and really created a place over the next five years that music could meet and in the independent rock scene. It was always original new bands, no cover, and that wasn’t something we had here. So that’s where we met a lot of people and bands literally formed at Motr.
After a few years, he then opened up the 700-capacity Woodward Theater across the street, which opened up new opportunities for everyone and was where we had our big homecoming show, where I met Anthony when he was playing for another band and we kept seeing each other there.
A: We met each other because both of our bands were playing the same, got each other’s phone numbers, and one thing led to another and we started making music together and here we are two years later.
C: Cincinnati, it’s like famously a little big city or a big little city, it is very tight-knit and there are a solid 10 people that really curate and connect the city to the venues, the promoters outside Cincinnati, the local radio station, music blogs, all of that.
This is important to know: You know how maybe in New York you pay a cover to see music, usually going to pay for a ticketed show with a venue at a bar. Motr was that but it was free all the time, which was great. But it also just set this standard that all local shows were going to be free. So for building a scene it was great but eventually, bands started to feel like they couldn’t put a value on what they did live as it was tough to transition to start ticketing people and bring in money, and once Woodward came in as a ticketed venue, it changed things a bit. And prior to the pandemic, this local ecosystem of transitioning from one venue to the next was really going, but then the Pandemic hit….
M: Dan is the man, he gave us that necessary step that a lot of local artists are missing, that chance. You could say the food, art industry, what Coran said about the big little city thing, it’s true, it all comes down to community, where artists may make it and give it back to the community and everyone is constantly helping each other.
C: In Cincinnati, 90% of our music scene is working-class people working in restaurants or bars, so not only do you become friends from making music but you become friends with them working the other 50 hours of the week, so it really is a tight-knit scene like a family. But also just like any tight-knit situation, it can be hard to break out of that and move beyond it as it’s very comfortable too. That was a challenge pre-pandemic, of figuring out how we don’t be stuck in that “local band thing” but being independent, how do we break out? And honestly, it’s just been us trying to pump our own money into things and trying to be strategic as possible. With the pandemic, it’s another logistical challenge to figure out what we are going to do instead?
W: You just only released your new album now but with all the downtime did you guys begin to write or record any songs for album number two?
M: Definitely some demos going! I feel that we all have this newfound confidence with whatever we do and I think that will show up on the next record.
C: We’ve got four or five old tracks that didn’t make the record that we will revisit, and if they make sense for the album, they’ll probably be on there. I got 10 other demos that are just in my head and I’ve probably shared three or four of those with everyone else. Meg is also a songwriter and has stuff she’s working on, Jimmy’s incredibly prolific. Anthony writes songs, Evan is a producer. So what’s exciting about the future is how Manic Daze is really my story interpreted by the band and I think the next record is going to be a lot of fun to see our story and where things go. The possibilities are endless.
It definitely won’t be five years before we put another record out (everyone laughs)
W: So Coran, the last time I saw you was very briefly at National Homecoming, in Cincinnati. When people come to NYC they’re overwhelmed with where to find the best pizza. So when I was there, it was the famous chili. So I wanted to hear from you guys, where’s the best place to get Chili?
C: Honestly, any Skyline you go to is going to be the best one. And sure there are some cool small locations that are decent but if you’re talking Cincinnati style chili, everyone would probably agree Skyline is the best.
M: But you know the small location or a mom and pop shop that has the one recipe that everyone goes to, Skyline is that and able to keep that specialty feel and make it happen all over the city.
C: I think if you want the best dine-in experience its Clifton.
A: I remember the first time I ever went to Skyline was that Clifton, I got two cheese coney’s with no mustard.
M: two cheese coney’s with no mustard! You got to write that down for next time!
W: I can’t remember where I went but I only found it cause Matt (of The National) joked about how it was Pete Rose’s favorite place?
[We eventually get to the answer, Gold Star, and they all collectively grown at my poor naive choice]
C: So your either a Skyline person or Gold Star person in Cincinnati but overwhelmingly it’s Skyline. The next time you’re here, we’re taking you to the Clifton Skyline.
W: And finally what books, movies, shows have helped get you through the past few months at home?
C: I’m really excited about The Killers record, I think it’s the best thing they’ve put out in a whole, it’s consistent throughout the whole record. I’m excited about the new Future Islands too! I love the new Phoenix track they put out from the movie soundtrack (On The Rocks). I’ve been watching Pose, I’ve learned so much about the trans community and it’s informative but also entertaining. Other than that, all of the usual episodes of The Office for the 1000th time.
J: I just finished Cobra Kai two weeks ago, it’s actually really deep. I’ve also been reading some books on foraging, what can of mushrooms you can eats, greens, berries, roots. Listening to: The Flaming Lips new singles were cool, I’m excited about the next album cycle for them.
A: I’ve been really interested in Yumi Zouma, they’re awesome. Tops are another one. A band from Nashville called Keeps. I’ve actually been watching Breaking Bad for the first time, it’s great.
C: When you watch Breaking Bad, aren’t you just like if we had Universal Health Care, this wouldn’t even be a show?
M: I actually don’t even own a TV, I’m still back on not even watching Tiger King yet when that was a thing back when Quarantine started. But listening, my taste is eccentric. I try to listen to a lot of their recommendations but end up getting back stuck on artists. Well, here I am wearing a Paramore shirt. I’ll be seeing what Billie Eilish is releasing and her music videos and then be rocking out to “Fat Bottom Girls” by Queen. And out of everybody in the band, I have a huge love of reggae.