Photo Credit: Fro Rojas (@frorojas)
By Alissa Arunarsirakul // February 10, 2020
What started off as a one man show in Miami has evolved into something so much greater than we could’ve ever imagined. On a mission to get everyone on the dance floor with their sun-soaked melodies, Magic City Hippies is the indie funk trio blessing our airwaves one groovy tune at a time.
To introduce you to these humble fellas (Robby Hunter, Pat Howard, and John Coughlin), we recently sat down with Magic City Hippies for an interesting conversation about police escorts, Canadian money, and their latest album, Modern Animal.
HH: As many of your dedicated fans know, you were once known as Robby Hunter Band. This is a question I’ve been wanting to get answered for a super long time now because I’ve been listening to you guys for years. Why did you guys change your name to Magic City Hippies?
Howard: When we first met Robby, he was playing solo. We were down to do the whole… like, “No, it’s fine. Let’s just be Robby Hunter, but the three of us make the music.” But then, we were like, “Well no, it’s gotta be some kind of band name.” We just didn’t have anything, so we were Robby Hunter Band. As we made the first couple songs and put them out, we had some luck on Hype Machine and we still had a small fan base. We didn’t think of Magic City Hippies until the first full length album, so it ended up being the title of the album. We were kind of kicking ourselves immediately because we were like, “Damn. We should’ve been called that.”
Coughlin: We just named ourselves with that album. At that point, we were like, “With the songs that were on Hype Machine, what if people don’t recognize Magic City Hippies?” We finally made the leap and started putting the new music out under Magic City Hippies. We’re all super glad that we did. We all still feel pretty good in that new skin.
HH: Magic City Hippies definitely has a ring to it! So you guys are an independent artist, right?
Howard: Yeah, we’re independent.
HH: Just from your personal experience, what complications have you come across as an independent artist?
Howard: Yeah, we don’t have any funding.
HH: Yeah, probably the biggest thing.
Howard: We’re self-funded. We fund everything ourselves. We own the rights, you know? Money we make from owning our own masters–that all gets reinvested back into our small business.
Coughlin: It takes a while to start making money from shows. Once you start making money from shows and streaming, it all has to get reabsorbed in order to keep the engine running. To be able to do new things, to be able to make new music and music videos, to promote them, and especially to get on the road. We saved up all of our Spotify money for such a long time to get out on tour and to be ready to lose money at first. Normally, you’d get funded that money from a label or publisher, but we’ve decided to do it ourselves.
HH: So now that you’ve been doing it for some time, do you see yourselves any time soon signing to a label?
Coughlin: It’d have to be a really sweet deal.
Hunter: We’re open to it, but it’s not the end goal. It would really just be a means of getting our record out the way we want it to.
Howard: Someone once told me that labels are particularly useful for taking things from 10 to 11. By the time we’d really consider signing with a label, we’d already be in a really good place. So what would take us further? I think in order for an artist to get a good deal nowadays, they have to have some leverage and be self-sufficient on a pretty high level. Not be really needing a label or maybe the deal’s not so much in their favor.
HH: Yeah, I agree. So whether you’re coming to terms with an ex or exploring open relationships, your recent album, Modern Animal, is flooded with real life situations. Which experience was the most difficult to write about?
Hunter: I guess… the title track is alluding to the fact that I eventually broke up an eight year relationship—the longest that I’ve had. So that was pretty difficult. It just came naturally because it was happening at the moment. I guess that one’s pretty hard. Even the song, “What Would I Do…” the meaning behind the song is pretty real. It’s talking about half the time you’ll come home and find the light on. Sometimes you’ll come home from the road and the vibe won’t be that great with your partner, you know? They’ll be upset and you’ve been gone for two months. It’s really hard to maintain that kind of relationship.
HH: Well, I’m going to trust that the two of you have been there for Robby in this time…
Coughlin: *Laughs* We just left him behind in the dirt.
Hunter: It’s also very important that we’re all dealing with similar things at once. We’ve all had serious, long-term partners that weren’t on the road with us and adjusting to relationships in 2020 without resentment and jealousy can be challenging. It’s really good that not one of us is alone in this, you know? There are seven of us in total out on the road and this is our longest headline tour we’ve ever done. Two months straight. We’ve got each other’s backs.
HH: That’s nice to know. As Pat has said before, any song off Modern Animal could be a single. How many tracks didn’t make the cut? You guys didn’t include “Heart Wants” and “Hush,” so what happened to those?
Hunter: “Heart Wants” and “Hush” were released in 2016. Those were immediate follow up singles to the EP. Those are songs we had to make in those moments because we’re constantly in the studio working on new music. We finished the EP, and we were working on more music. When we were deciding on the final tracklist for Modern Animal, it seemed like those songs were from a different era. So those songs wouldn’t belong on this album thematically or emotionally for us.
HH: Like you mentioned, you’ve been on the Modern Animal tour. What’s been your favorite memory so far? Have you had any crazy fan interactions?
Hunter: *Laughs* Chicago was great. That was the biggest headline show we’ve ever had.
Coughlin: We got escorted out of a cheap hotel by the police.
Howard: We weren’t doing anything… I swear! We showed up at like 2:30 a.m. because we usually don’t finish packing up after shows for a while. So we don’t get to where we’re sleeping until way late, and I guess some hotels give your room away after some time if you haven’t checked in by a certain time. The receptionist was brand new on the job and they were trying to help us, but they couldn’t. They wanted to give us the room, but they couldn’t figure out how to do that and they were blaming us for something. And we were like, “We’re not going to pay for this. You have our money and we paid for these rooms. What are we going to do here?” So she freaked out and told us she’d call the general manager. She disappeared and half an hour later, four police officers walked in.
HH: Oh my gosh! That escalated so quickly…
Howard: There’s not love everywhere. We do our best, but sometimes there’s no love for the hippies. But fans have been amazing. We come out after every show to the merch table to meet as many people as we can. This is the first time I’m noticing people tell us they’ve seen us six times.
Coughlin: People say that to me and I’m like, “Really? Are you okay?”
Howard: So that’s really special. It’s interesting to see what the culture of the fan base is becoming. There are people who are going to catch us multiple times on the same tour, which I thought is amazing. I never thought that would be a thing.
HH: How was Canada? That was your first time playing over there, right?
Howard: Yeah! That was our first time in Canada and people drove for hours from outside of Toronto to get there. To have this energy in the room of like, This is your first time playing in this country, was crazy. I had a kid in front of me that was air guitaring all of my parts like note for note.
HH: Oh wow!
Howard: Robby’s finally allowed in Canada too so that’s worth celebrating that we finally made it.
HH: Did you get to sightsee at all?
Howard: We drove past Niagara Falls… On the road, you go to all these cities and places, but it’s pretty hard to get around. Robby’s pretty good about getting out and wandering around and seeing stuff.
Coughlin: Everyone was telling us that the money smells like maple syrup.
HH: I’ve heard that. Did you confirm this?
Coughlin: It smells different. It’s made of plastic. I don’t know if I was smelling maple syrup though.
HH: Did you try to rip the money?
Howard: Oh, you can’t rip it. You can melt it though.
HH: One time I got a Canadian bill and I couldn’t rip it.
Coughlin: They got it down. You can’t rip it. It’s fancy money. Felt luxurious.
HH: So… Fox Sports, Black Panther, and “Fanfare.” How did this happen? What did that feel like?
Howard: It’s pretty crazy because some of us are active followers of football. We all definitely grew up with it being super important. I remember watching NFL Monday night theme song like, “Are you ready for some football?!” And I was like, “I’d like to make the song they play on the NFL. That seems cool. I can do that.” And I hadn’t thought about that in 15 years.
Coughlin: We’ve had stuff on shows over the years and it’s funny how that was the thing most people came to us about. It’s something that attaches itself to such a large fan base and viewership of the NFL and it’s such a cool way for our music to be featured. It was cool to have Chadwick Boseman in it too.
Howard: That was something Fox Sports got in touch a long time ago and you never know if and when anything will get used, so we were just like, “Sure.” And all of a sudden, there it is.
HH: I’m sure most of your fans were surprised and even delighted to hear it. Obviously, they’re not expecting it and then they hear “Fanfare” in the background.
Howard: Yeah, I think it’d make someone feel special to recognize something that’s not mainstream.
HH: Definitely! So what are your three hidden hits?
Howard: “Love U Like the Sun in June” by Ryan Scott. This guitar player is well known in the more virtuosic circles in New York City. He’s one of the nastiest guitar players ever and I don’t think a lot of people know about his solo work.
Coughlin: The number one record I’ve been listening to is from the band Lemon City Trio. I listened to their record like nonstop last year. They have an instrumental song called “16zz.”
Howard: Benny Sings is a god to me. I guess not a lot of people know about him. He’s an artist on Stones Throw who’s been around for a long time, but he just released a bunch of amazing music this past year and a half. He has a song called “Duplicate” that’s definitely a hidden hit.