If you were to trace Magic Man's distinctive Americana synth-rock back to its first innocent
glimmers, you'd find a preschool in Newton, MA, where Alex Caplow and Sam Vanderhoop Lee
formed the friendship that's still at the heart of their band today. The pair started playing music
in the elementary school band, and in middle school, they added guitar to their wheelhouse,
dropping their other instruments when their parents said they had to choose ("A hard decision,
as the oboe always sounds so good," says Sam dryly). They took lessons from the same teacher
and joined up with two school friends to form their first band: Yello Sno, purveyors of self-
described "out-of-tune garage rock," whose merch featured a portrait of the band members as
captured by a bar mitzvah caricature artist.
Other bands came and went as the years passed, then the friends separated for college. Alex
headed to Tufts and Sam to Yale, studying child development and graphic design respectively.
As their freshman summer loomed, they decided to go WWOOFing, or to swap their labor
for room and board on an organic farm. They bought plane tickets to France, where Alex,
whose mother is French, was a native speaker. In the south of the country, the farm days were
sweltering, making it impossible to work in the middle of the day. Sam and Alex, sharing an attic
room with three sheepdogs, began retreating at noon to write and play music on a guitar with one
The material gripped them, and throughout the rest of the summer, they developed the songs as
they traveled. When a hippie circus festival stopped for the week at the chateau of another farm,
Sam and Alex befriended a young nomad who fumbled through card tricks and called himself
the "Magic Man." This aspiring magician was the first person to hear the rough demos, which
Sam and Alex finished that winter, sending edits back and forth from their dorm rooms. They
ended up with Magic Man's first album, called Real Life Color, recorded entirely on GarageBand
with a laptop's internal microphone.
In 2010, Alex and Sam put Real Life Color on the then-new platform Bandcamp, and the scene
picked up on their sound quickly: shades of warm Postal Service electronica and deft pop
structure are clear in early songs like "Monster," which garnered a Pitchfork feature. By the time
they took the album down, it had been downloaded over 25,000 times. When Neon Gold Records
emailed them the following summer, a wheel started turning that resulted in the band signing
with Neon Gold/Columbia in 2012, the same year that Sam and Alex graduated from college.
Magic Man was now a five-piece, with high school friends Daniel Radin on bass, college friend
Justine Bowe on keyboards and Joey Sulkowski on drums. The exuberance of their new live
set started to transform the band's sound, and when Sam and Alex retreated to the Providence,
RI flat they called the "Fox Den" to refine their material, the lo-fi, mellow warmth of Real Life
Color started shifting to the anthemic propulsiion that defines their EP You Are Here.
At the end of 2012, Magic Man emerged with the Fox Den Demos, three home recordings that
topped the Hype Machine and have been collectively played over 500,000 times, as well as the
roster of songs that would comprise their new EP and upcoming album. They've spent this year
out of the studio, touring with Walk The Moon, MS MR, St. Lucia, Ra Ra Riot, Grouplove and
San Fermin. In the months approaching the September 10th release of You Are Here, Sam and
Alex spent an intense fortnight in Dumbo working with Passion Pit producer Aldi Alex, and the
result is arresting: Bruce Springsteen for a generation raised on synth. “We try to evoke emotion
with our music, rather than just trying to make something cool," says Sam, but it's clear that
Magic Man's managed to do both.