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A Conversation With Matt Magill from The Magills & Co.

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By Johnny Griffith

Matt and Megan Magill love the stage. From the moment they met on stage in Oklahoma City years ago, through a decade in New York City, and a return to roots in East Texas, theirs is a marriage of music and ministry. As the “Magills” portion of The Magills & Co, the husband and wife duo take the stage singing songs of life, love, faith, failure, triumph, and trust. They like to call their music “grace music,” an honest conversation with the listener rooted in transparency, compassion, and music that flows from the lives they live together.

I sat down with Matt this month to get a better snapshot of who The Magills are and what’s coming up for them in the near future.

Johnny: When did you each start developing an interest in music, and what was really the moment when you realized this was something you wanted to do as more than just a hobby?

Matt: Ursula K. Le Guin said that “the creative adult is the child that survived.” Megan and I didn’t develop an interest in music. We just never left our childhood behind. We are children, and so making music is both hobby and vocation. It isn’t work to play. A child at play is unconcerned with things like deadlines or obligations. His/her life is an expression of possibility and joy. When considering “moments” that we realized music was something that was sacred to us, it’s more that there were moments that could have crushed us, that could have caused us to withdraw; rejection, failure, and discouragement did not have their way with us. Instead, our marriage has been a great gift to each of us – a friendship based on the mutual determination to remain open, expressive children, receptive to what we’re given and faithful to give it away to others.

Johnny: You two have a great story about meeting, whirlwind romance, marriage, and off to the Big Apple to “make it” where you persevered through struggles, eventually finding your way back to East Texas. How much of what you guys had to endure during that time period, going through the crucible of maturity and experience, influences how you approach the music today?

Matt: New York City was transformative for us because it’s an incredibly difficult environment to endure but also because we moved there two weeks after getting married. Cut off from our respective communities and parents, we had to learn who we are in light of our new city and new marriage. It changed us forever.

People often ask us, “Why would you all move (or stay) in Tyler, Texas?” or “Don’t you want to make it?” Our response is always that we’ve already made it, and we’re finally home. We dreamed dreams and lived lives in New York City and became a married couple there. We walked through “the fiery furnace of affliction” that is choosing to stay with someone who inevitably fails you from time to time. The commitment fuels the passion and as you look in the rearview mirror (which is all you have) you see that God was faithful to provide you the tools emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually that you needed to keep walking through whatever “valley of the shadow of death” you were enduring. Gratitude becomes the response, and hope springs eternal. Artists need to be critical of the status quo but hopeful about the future. Otherwise, what’s the point? If you’re not critical, then there’s no need to speak truth. If you’re not hopeful then you’re resigned to silence expecting truth won’t be received. Music is a means of truth in our lives both when it comes to us (and through us) as a cultural critique or an expression of hope. The roots of our commitment to and appreciation of this path were forged in our earliest days and darkest nights of our marriage together in NYC.

Johnny: When did you decide you wanted to make music as a duet instead of pursuing individual musical paths?

Matt: From the day I met Megan I knew my life would be better with her than without her. I feel the same way about our musical lives. I’m better when she’s beside me. Our sound is better when she sings with me. I’m a more honest performer when she’s there with me, and the reason is that I am who I am because she is my help-mate. I have become who I have become because of her help, and she has become more fully alive in that role. She is such a fully-realized woman….and probably because of how much help I needed! I HAVE to have her beside me.

Johnny: Do you primarily perform as a duet, or do you utilize a full band?

Matt: We love to play with our band. Collin Anderson (bassist and Meg’s brother), Chris Foreman (guitar), Loren Roe (drums), and Andrew Lindstrom (keys and trumpet) are brothers and are the most generous guys I know. We love to play with them as often as possible, but we also dig the intimate moments around town playing as a duo.

Johnny: Who are some of your most significant influences musically to this point?

Matt: I go through phases. When I was a kid I was crazy for Paul Simon, and I still am. Then I went nuts for The Black Crowes through high school, and then I got into southern California hippy folk rockers Gram Parsons and David Crosby type stuff, and then I got super into all the Tulsa Sound JJ Cale music and Leon Russell and Delaney and Bonnie. Currently Megan and I are huge fans of Dawes, and lately, an Ontario duo called Kacy and Clayton have caught our attention. We also really love Blitzen Trapper and their whole Portland, Oregon music scene. It’s so super rich right now (Fruit Bats, Vetiver, Blind Pilot, Laura Gibson just to name a few). And on the Gospel tip I still listen to old school stuff like Larry Norman, Andrae Crouch, and The Staple Singers – before the Christian music machine made everything sound the same. Don’t get me started on all that.

Johnny: How would you describe your musical style, and how much of your current set list is original versus cover songs?

Matt: We play songs we like to listen to as well as songs that I write. I’m a super record freak so I’m always discovering old tunes that I want other people to hear. So we learn them and play them. Learning the newest cover song that everybody is listening does not interest me at all. Megan loves the Standards (Great American Songbook) so we’re always mixing those in, and I’m always bringing the band songs from early Clapton or Spencer Davis Group or Steely Dan or Traffic or Sam Cooke. But, if people are listening, I’m apt to play more originals. So listen up, and you’ll hear them.

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Johnny: Faith is a big part of your lives and by extension, your music. Is that a deliberate decision to utilize music as a ministry tool, or would you describe it as simply an organic expression of your core selves?

Matt: We play with the same band that plays at Bethel Bible Downtown campus (above The Foundry Coffee House), so musically it’s like a “Farm to Market” band. We live lives alongside these guys; we pray with these guys; we break bread with these guys; we drink wine with these guys, so it follows that we would make music with them. Before we met, Megan and I were both trying to be something we weren’t yet. That’s what kids do. But God gave us one another to learn to become comfortable with who He created us to be and accept love. Because we have accepted that love (first from God and then from one another) we have become increasingly at ease with who we are. Whether it’s Saturday night music or Sunday morning music we are us – receiving love and giving love. We’re the same; our band is the same; our sound is the same. We’re not trying – we’re just being.

Johnny: What has been your best musical memory to this point in your journey together?

Matt: Watching the curtain close on Megan’s musicals each year fills me with so much pride. She has a musical theatre studio and teaches about 80 kids throughout the school year imbibing them with so much confidence and encouraging such profound character and emotional honesty in these kids. She writes these musicals that are just beautiful and so much work. When they come to completion it just fills my heart. As far as rock n’ roll goes, getting to play with Marc Ford of The Black Crowes, and probably the baddest guitarist ever, was THE highlight of my musical life. Period. (Not to mention he played guitar all over our new record, “Down is Up is Down” available on itunes, spotify etc.)

Johnny: What have been the biggest challenges to this point?

Matt: Megan and I don’t always agree. And mostly because I don’t want to be wrong. Our challenge is the same that any married couple working together experiences. I want her to think that I am strong and dependable and wise (the list goes on). But the trick is, when I fail her, I don’t want to admit it because it makes me feel weak and dependent and foolish. Vulnerability is the key, and it doesn’t get easier, but through the years we’re becoming more aware of our need to exhibit it. You didn’t know this was going to turn into marriage counseling, did you?

Johnny: What kind of experience are you hoping a first-timer gets when they come to a Magills concert?

Matt: On the best nights, they’ll get us talking into the mic saying things about our lives and laughing with the band. If we’re feeling good, giving grace to one another in the moment, then our music will sound great, our hips will be shaking, and I’ll probably be sweating. Those are the good nights – when the folks in our community are soaking up what we’re pouring out.

Johnny: What’s on the horizon in 2018 for you guys?

Matt: We’re thinking about taking all of our gear down to Meg’s folk’s lake house and setting up for four or five days with all the wives and kids and just working out some new tunes and writing together and living together for a while. The tribute shows at The Foundry will continue (we do four or five a year), and February 23rd-24th I’m putting on The 4th Annual Mockingbird Conference in Downtown Tyler. This year our musical guest will be Eric Earley of Blitzen Trapper. I’m a huge fan of this guy, and it will be an honor to host him in Tyler. Megan will put on another musical in May, and we’ll play all year long with the band that goes by “& Co.” on our never-ending “Stick Around Town Tour.” Why would we ever want to leave?

For more info on The Magill’s go to www.themagills.org or www.facebook.com/themagills.

Bands

October 13th, Award-Winning Band MercyMe in Concert

October 13th, Award-Winning Band MercyMe in Concert

MercyMe will be in concert at The Oil Palace is October and is guaranteed to sell-out!

Since their debut in 2001, Grammy®-nominated, multiple American Music Award and Dove Award winners, MercyMe has sold more than 8.5 million units in CD, single and DVD sales, garnered 27 No. 1 multi-format Christian radio singles and four consecutive mainstream radio hits with ‘I Can Only Imagine,’ (No. 4 AC/Top 25 on Top 40/Hot AC), ‘Here With Me’ (No. 4 AC), ‘Homesick’ (Top 10 AC), and ‘So Long Self.’

Their radio success has continued with recent singles ‘Flawless’ (No. 1 for 15 weeks) and ‘Greater’ (No. 1 for 16 weeks)​, landing them the Top Christian Airplay Artist spot on Billboard’s 2015 Year End charts.

MercyMe made history in 2014 as ‘I Can Only Imagine’ surpassed 2 million digital downloads, making it the first song in Christian music to go platinum and double-platinum in the digital domain. In 2009, Billboard named MercyMe’s ‘Word Of God Speak’ the No. 1 Song of The Decade and the group the No. 1 Artist of the Decade in both the Christian Songs and Christian AC Songs categories, recognizing them as one of the industry’s most notable talents.

They have sold out venues throughout the US and Canada, including Radio City Music Hall, and have appeared on The Today Show, CBS This Morning, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Fox New Channel’s Fox & Friends, CNN, ABC News, and in the pages of Entertainment Weekly, The New York Times, USA Today and more.

Their most recent project “MercyMe, It’s Christmas!” debuted atop the Billboard Top Holiday Albums chart and became an instant classic. Their eighth studio release, “Welcome To The New,” garnered Billboard Music Award nominations in all three Christian categories and two Grammy® nods; the album is available in stores now.

Tickets start at $19 and are available at oilpalace.com. The Oil Palace is located at 10408 State Highway 64 East, Tyler, (903)566-2122.

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Blacktop Mojo: Burning Up The Roads To Success

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By Johnny Griffith

About a year and a half ago I sat down to interview Blacktop Mojo, a Jacksonville based hard rock band riding a wave of momentum after several successful years together and an upcoming album release. The end of that interview finished with this:

“Blacktop Mojo can still be heard around East Texas on a regular basis, but I would definitely suggest checking out their website for more information and a sample of their music if you haven’t heard them. If it’s in your wheelhouse, get out and support a great local band that won’t be local for much longer at the rate their Mojo is working.”

As it turns out, I was a little more prescient that I anticipated as Blacktop Mojo’s stock has only risen in the ensuing months. With a successful album release, ever increasingly distant tour stops, and mounting accolades from industry critics and magazines, local BTM shows are becoming harder to come by.

In case you might not have heard of Blacktop Mojo, their sound can be described as “modern rock that got dragged through a puddle of southern rock and then dipped in a little bit of grunge”. The band was originally formed in 2012 and the current lineup includes Matt James on vocals, Nathan Gillis on drums, Chuck Wepfer on rhythm guitar, Ryan Keifer on lead guitar, and Matt Curtis on bass.  

With a huge sound and chest shaking vocals, Blacktop Mojo brings a high energy rock show that leaves fans wanting more everywhere they go. While in the midst of rehearsals last month for their most recent tour that kicked off in San Antonio on April 20th, we caught up with them to see what had been going on for the past year and a half and what was on the radar for the rest of the year.

Johnny: So it’s been about a year and a half since our last interview with you guys and the last time we talked there was an album in the works. When did “Burn The Ships” release and how was the process different from the first time around when you recorded “I am”?

BTM: “Burn The Ships” released in March of 2017. The biggest difference between this record and our first record, “I Am”, was the amount of time we took for pre-production. On “I Am”, we spent about two weeks getting ready and arranging the songs before we went in to record it, where on “Burn The Ships”, we spent about eight months demoing and playing around with different ideas.

Johnny: How has the reception been to the album so far and do you guys have your own personal favorite song from it?

BTM: The reception to the album has been incredible this far. We’ve had countless positive reviews and feedback from publications all over the world. Also, our first single off of the album entitled “Where The Wind Blows” reached number 27 on the Billboard Active Rock chart last summer.

Johnny: You guys got to open for Bon Jovi last year in a sold-out stadium. Tell us about that about how you guys got that honor and a little about the experience?

BTM: We actually won that honor in a contest the band was putting on. We submitted some of our original music and were picked by Live Nation and the band’s management to open up the show. The experience was beyond amazing and the crowd was very receptive to us. We cannot thank the Bon Jovi camp enough for the opportunity and for treating us so incredibly.

Johnny: Obviously that put you in front of a lot of potential new fans but what would you say the biggest takeaway from that event was?

BTM: Our biggest takeaway from that night was that whether you’re playing in front of 20 or 20,000 people, you should treat it the same way. Make everyone feel like you’re playing in a stadium even if it’s an empty room.

Johnny: Blacktop Mojo has been trending steadily upward the past couple of years with several accolades from industry publications, over 40 thousand likes on Facebook, a new album, and you guys seem to play everywhere and anywhere. What kind of effect has the increased exposure and success had on the daily routine and what kind of new challenges have came along?

BTM: Our daily routine hasn’t changed much when we’re home. We still write and rehearse on a regular basis and go about business as usual. The increased exposure has made touring opportunities more readily available for us and has increased the number of people we can reach with our music, which is super exciting for us.

Johnny: You have a pretty extensive tour coming up that you’ll already be on the road for when this goes to print. Is this the biggest tour BTM has embarked on and what goes into planning a 2-month long road trip that covers, as best I could count, 32 states, both sides of the country, Canada, and 43 shows?

BTM: This is our most extensive tour to date. A lot of planning, routing, and generally putting the puzzle pieces together has gone on over the past few months by us and our team to make this happen. We couldn’t be more excited to get back out on the road and see our friends across the country.

Johnny: I’d say it would be time for a break after that sort of trip, but you guys are right back at it, playing Rock Fest 2018 up in Wisconsin with some huge names, do you guys ever have to step back, take a breath, and say to yourself “this is our reality”?

BTM: We are very blessed to be able to wake up and do what we love every single day. They say “you never work a day in your life if you do what you love”, so I don’t think we’ve ever really thought about taking a break.

Johnny: Were you able to see yourself at this point back when you played your first show at the Neches Fall Festival or the first “official” show as BTM at the Shelton Gin back in 2012?

BTM: It would have been hard to imagine getting to do what we do now back then. We’ve always just been happy to be able to play music for people.

Johnny: With what’s on your plate for the first half of this year, I almost hate to ask, but what’s on the radar for the second half of 2018 that you can share with us?

BTM: We have plans to keep touring throughout the rest of the year and are currently writing music for our third record.

Johnny: What has been the best memory from the ride so far?

BTM: It’s hard to pick just one from all of it. One of my favorites so far was riding back into town off of our first tour last Summer/Fall. We’d been out on the road for over 60 days straight with 7 of us basically living out of our van. We were tired, beat up, and hungry, but everyone was smiling and joking with each other. It really felt like we had accomplished something.

For more information on Blacktop Mojo and when they’ll be back at a location near you, check them out on the web:

www.blacktopmojo.com 

www.facebook.com/BlacktopMojo.

 

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