Eric & Magill create long-distance musical community on Night Singers
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When it comes to daily life in rural northwestern Kenya and the bustling concrete jungle of Brooklyn, one would be hard pressed to find many similarities.
But on former Milwaukeeans Eric & Magill’s latest album, Night Singers, members Ryan Weber (who lives in Africa and works for the Peace Corps) and Eric Osterman (who lives in Brooklyn) wanted to show that no matter where you go, there’s always a strong sense of community. With songs that blend cultures, music styles, and distances into an eclectic mix of electronic pop and worldly sounds, the album further advances the pair’s adventurous exploits that showed up earlier this year on their Two Travelers EP.
Album opener “What I Say” starts and ends with jubilant singing from a group of villagers that live near Weber. Their sense of community fascinated him, and he wanted to capture them on a few tracks. “There are these women groups that get together and write songs that they sing at night about social topics that affect their community,” Weber says. “And they’re usually called ‘night singers.’ I was lucky enough to have them contribute some tracks to the record. I like the idea of people getting together, like these people in these communities getting together to sing, because on most of our songs we get people from our lives and our past.”
“For our album All Those I Know, we tried to get as many people as we knew from touring and playing music with,” Weber continues. “So I thought that Night Singers was a natural extension of what we do, and a representation of where I am right now in Kenya.”
There are songs that reflect where Osterman is as well. “Psycho” is a song that is based on Osterman’s battles with a church and pastor that would play music loudly in the morning. “I woke up at 5 a.m. and took the stereo I had outside my house and played Houses Of The Holy by Zeppelin full-blast,” Osterman says. “It’s a reflection of both of us being psychos towards each other, both being crazy in our own way.”
Weber says that he doesn’t see traditional sounds (or topics) being mutually exclusive to more modern ones. “Through blending sounds you can create something cool and maybe something beautiful, and that’s what we’re after.”
No matter how difficult the conditions were, the duo found that there were always ways to keep their own community and create unique music. “Ryan went from being in Milwaukee, having a whole arsenal of musical instruments—more than you can imagine—and then moving to rural Africa,” Osterman says. “When I moved, I moved the majority of my instruments back to Michigan. When we made Night Singers, we didn’t have the same access that we did on All Those I Know and Two Travelers, and it certainly accounts for the vibe of the new record. But whether we have access to a lot or a little, we can still make good music together.”
Despite both the album and EP being released this year, they were written at different times. Weber and Osterman wrote the EP at the end of the time Osterman was living in Michigan and prior to Weber leaving Wisconsin in 2011, while Night Singers was written entirely from their new locations. “I think no matter where we were, we would’ve changed directions and styles slightly,” Osterman says. “Even on the record, I think there’s a pretty significant stylistic change from song to song. I think that’s something we like to do.”
Even though they create music over the web on laptops, Weber and Osterman use their live experiences from their time in Milwaukee bands like Camden to work productively. They were able to move past the technical difficulties of living in different parts of the world quickly, with the writing feeling organic and fun. “Since Eric and I had played together for years, we already had that vocabulary going into it,” Weber says. “When technology came in line with our ambitions, we were able to make it happen again.”